Look at enough dinosaur displays and you begin to ask questions beyond the scope of the exhibit. What would a sleeping dinosaur look like? How do you clean one of these things? Where’s the cafeteria?

It’s not that the dinosaurs themselves are uninteresting — the danger they suggest infuses museum halls with a sense of potential energy. Instead, it’s the fact that once you’ve seen one T. Rex, all other T. Rexes start to look alike.

And there are a lot of them out there. Indeed, dinosaur mounts have become so fundamental to our idea of what makes a natural history museum that it can be difficult to imagine the institutions ever existing without them. Yet the “fearfully great lizards” made a relatively late appearance in the tradition of collecting and displaying the Earth’s artifacts. The Egyptians were collecting exotic wildlife as early as 1400 B.C., and… More…

For a long time the cultural war over evolution was relegated to courtrooms and classrooms. But increasingly the battle is being waged on an unexpected front — the natural history museum. Traditional museums continue with their business of explaining evolution, but have become a bit more explicit in their support of the theory than in the past. After putting its Darwin exhibit on the road to Boston, New York’s American Museum of Natural History opened a new Hall of Human Origins in April. The Texas Memorial Museum will soon be the latest home of the traveling “Explore Evolution” exhibit. And in Chicago, the Field Museum’s “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries” runs through September, “Darwin” until January. Meanwhile, this year also saw the opening of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Among other claims, the museum proffers that the Earth is just 6,000 years old, and that dinosaurs walked with humans.

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