Photos: Watch the Natural History Museum of Utah take shape

Photo by Stuart Ruckman

The doors to the brand new Natural History Museum of Utah are officially set to open in a little over a week. On November 18, the state-of-the-art facility will welcome visitors to take sight of part of the museum’s collection of 1.2 million objects of natural history and science–think dinosaur bones, rare insects and pre-historic tools–in ten brand new, interactive galleries.

The new building, which will be called the Rio Tinto Center, features a stunning design inspired by Utah’s landscape and was built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) “gold” standards. The museum gets its name from Rio Tinto, the UK-based parent company of Utah companies Kennecott Land Company, Kennecott Exploration and Kennecott Utah Copper, who donated $15 million to the project back in 2008. Fittingly, the exterior of the museum will be partially covered in copper. The building itself is located in the University of Utah’s Research Park, allowing easy access to footpaths and trails, as well as views of the Salt Lake Valley.

Click through the gallery below to watch the building as it took shape.%Gallery-137427%

Last month, Salt Lake City also opened a The Leonardo, a combination science, technology and art museum. The addition of these two new museums are just two more reasons to visit Utah, giving travelers a little something to do indoors when not skiing, hiking, horseback riding, or taking in the incredible beauty the state has to offer.

(Photo by Stuart Ruckman)

Bronx Zoo cobra on the loose takes Manhattan…and Twitter

Bronx Zoo cobraOn Friday, an adolescent Egyptian cobra escaped from New York’s Bronx Zoo.

The reptile house closed immediately after her escape, and zookeepers are saying she could take weeks to come out of hiding. While we can’t vouch for the authenticity of the snake taking Manhattan, you can follow her adventures on Twitter, where @bronxzooscobra has been chronicling the travels of the errant snake with over 25,000 followers and counting. So where does a young snakess on the town go?

She first mused over a Broadway show, then taunted followers with her location in front of “the original” Ray’s Pizza (good luck checking all 46 locations claiming to be the first). After taking in the other wildlife at American Museum of Natural His(s)tory, she went downtown for a workout at Equinox Gym and a slither atop the High Line park. The Bronx Zoo cobra then tweeted about getting tickets for Jimmy Fallon before spotting Tina Fey at Rockefeller Center and heading back downtown to Wall Street. Despite asking for a vegan restaurant near Union Square, she ended up way uptown at Tom’s Restaurant from Seinfeld, where she may have found a hiding spot for the night in an unsuspecting apartment. Where will she go today?

Any New York travel tips for the cobress? Have you spotted any snakes, tweeting or just taking in the sights? While she is just 20 inches long, she is venomous, so watch your ankles!

Archaeology reveals the best way to drink: from a human skull

archaeology, skull, skull cup
Archaeologists in England have discovered three prehistoric skulls that were used as cups, the BBC reports.

The skulls were carefully worked into the shape of bowls. They were found in Gough’s Cave, Somerset, and are 14,700 years old. These make them the oldest skull cups discovered. Investigators found other human remains in the cave that suggest people split the bones to get at the marrow. As any dedicated carnivore knows, the marrow is one of the richest and most nutritious parts of any animal, humans included.

Skull cups were used by many cultures for many reasons. Some were involved in rituals to remind one of death, like this carved Chinese example photographed by user Shizhao and posted to Wikimedia Commons. Other cultures, like the Vikings and Scythians, drank from the skulls of their enemies to brag about their victory or get the power of the slain warrior for themselves. The archaeologists studying the Somerset skulls have published an interesting article about skull cups. The BBC also interviewed one of the researchers and their video of the skull cups is below.

So next time you’re in a museum, keep a sharp eye out for skull cups. The Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena has one, as does the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. London’s Natural History Museum sponsored the research and is making a reconstructed skull cup that will go on display in March.

Have you seen skull cups in other museums? Tell us about it in the comments section!

American arrested for stealing 299 stuffed birds

Here’s a new low in the annals of crime. An American man has been arrested in England for stealing 299 stuffed birds from the Natural History Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire, England.

The unnamed 22 year-old has been arrested in connection with a break in at the museum back in June. The birds that were stolen were all rare and would have fetched a fair amount on the black market, showing that the unnamed suspect knew what he was doing. Most of the stuffed birds have now been recovered.

The Natural History Museum at Tring is famous for its collection of more than 750,000 preserved birds, 95% of all the world’s species. If you’re not in the neighborhood, you can still check out their species of the day, a feature running throughout 2010 in celebration of the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity. Today’s species is the Welwitschia mirabilis, a plant that can live for up to 1,500 years despite living in the harsh Namib Desert.

This seems to be a mixed year for museums. Hundreds of historic treasures have gone missing in Pennsylvania and the Met had to fork over some stolen Egyptian artifacts.

On the bright side, museum attendance is up as people try to save money by visiting sights close to home. Hopefully none of these folks are stuffing dead critters into their coats.

[Photo courtesy Sarah Hartwell]

Ghost Forest brings attention to rainforest threat


A Ghost Forest is stalking Europe.

Giant trees from Ghana have appeared in Copenhagen, Trafalgar Square in London, and now Oxford. It’s called the Ghost Forest Art Project, and it’s an innovative way to bring the plight of the world’s rainforests to public attention.

Artist Angela Palmer wanted to share her concern with the public about tropical rainforests, which are disappearing fast. An area the size of a football pitch vanishes every four seconds, and most are never replaced. Not only does this reduce biodiversity and nature’s way of absorbing atmospheric carbon, but it leads to soil erosion and long-term economic problems. Since Europe is a major consumer of rainforest wood, and there are no rainforests in Europe, Palmer decided to bring the rainforest to Europe.

She hauled a collection of stumps from the commercially logged Suhuma forest in western Ghana all the way to Europe. Ghana lost 90 percent of its forest due to overlogging before the government got serious about conservation. Now the remaining forest is being logged in a sustainable manner under strict supervision. The stumps mostly fell due to storms, but three were actually logged. To offset the carbon footprint of shipping these behemoths hundreds of miles, Palmer contributed to a project that distributes efficient stoves to Ghanaian villages. These stoves use less wood than traditional stoves and reduce the need for cutting.

First stop was Copenhagen, just in time for last year’s UN Climate Change conference. This was followed by a visit to Trafalgar Square before the trees were installed in front of Oxford University’s famous Museum of Natural History. A fitting display for 2010, which is the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity. Next year will be the Year of Forests.

I’ve seen this exhibit in person and I have to say the stumps are truly awe inspiring. Their sheer size, and the realization that they were once alive, made me think about our place in this world. My four-year-old was impressed too, and I hope that some of these giant trees will still be standing when he’s my age.


Image Courtesy Ghost Forest.

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