Changing Planet

D.I.Y. in the Sea Monster Lab

In 2012, the Spitsbergen Jurassic Research Group led by National Geographic Explorer Dr. Jørn Hurum finished off their final field season on Svalbard. After eight consecutive years, the project of locating and excavating marine reptiles from the Upper Jurassic has been a success. Nevertheless, the team is not as dead as the reptiles. Down in the dark basement of the Geological Museum there is a laboratory, where all the prehistoric sea monsters from Svalbard are brought back to life.

By Aubrey Roberts and Victoria Engelschiøn Nash

The Sea Monster lab in the basement of the geological museum of Oslo leaves much to be desired, particularly in interior design. It needed a woman’s touch, so we gave it an extreme makeover.

So, we decided the lab looked a bit a drab. Spending most of our days here, it is kind of like home. Although not so homely. Prehistorical equipment (which has not worked for years but is still firmly screwed to the wall), gas pipes along the ceiling, broken chairs and metal cupboards splashed in plaster. Not to mention the small dinosaur silhouettes on the wall. How unacceptable is that, a lab that prepares marine reptiles only has dinosaurs on the walls!? What an outrage. This had to be fixed!

Bones make a lot of dust, so the walls had to be cleaned. Is this what they mean by a “woman’s touch”? Photo courtesy of Victoria Nash
Bones make a lot of dust, so the walls had to be cleaned.Is this what they mean by a “woman’s touch”? Photo courtesy of Victoria Nash

Artistic Help Required

Okay, eager to get to work. May-Liss, the reigning queen of the lab, let us, her subjects, do as we pleased. However, even enthusiasm cannot completely replace artistic abilities. Luckily, the artist Esther van Hulsen, the illustrator and co-author to the children’s books on the prehistoric monkey “Ida” and “Svalbard’s Sea Monsters”, was able to come to our rescue.

Esther has put us to work. Aubrey’s revising the anatomical principles of ichthyosaur skulls. Esther van Hulsen to the left, Aubrey Roberts to the right. Photo courtesy of Jørn Hurum.

A Bit of Paleofantasy is Allowed

Naturally, everything had to be anatomically correct, in particular the skulls and limbs. Though bones usually are not the most colourful objects, we offered ourselves some paleofantasy. After collecting all the old paint used for different exhibits, it gave us a reasonable colour palate. So, as a group effort we starting painting: Esther a plesiosaur on the wall, Aubrey skulls and flippers from ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, Victoria an ichthyosaur, and a plesiosaur, and of course their favourite: the ammonite.

We even got Jørn’s daughter Ida in to help us give some colour to dinosaur silhouettes and paint an ammonite. Krzysztof also contributed a bivalve to the wall. Among other things.

Please ignore Polish humour in the bottom right corner. We do not usually find ourselves to be superstitious, but it was quickly removed. Photo Courtesy of Jørn Hurum.
Please ignore Polish humour in the bottom right corner. We do not usually find ourselves to be superstitious, but it was quickly removed. Photo Courtesy of Jørn Hurum.

At the end of a hard days work, Jørn walked in with a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our fantastic painting and also the completion of the ichthyosaur Mikkel’s skull (which wasn’t really there). What a great guy, he really knows how to make the technicians happy.

Aubrey is putting the finishing touches to the ichthyosaur skull while Jørn opens a bottle of of Champagne
Jørn opening a bottle of sparkling for our efforts. Photo courtesy of Victoria E. Nash.

 

NEXT: Read All “Sea Monsters 2013″ Blog Posts

 

Jørn Harald Hurum was born in Drammen, a city on southeastern Norway. Since childhood he has collected fossils and minerals in the Oslo region.

Since 2000 he has been employed at the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo where he works as an associate professor in vertebrate paleontology. At the University he teaches paleontology and evolutionary biology and supervises masters and Ph.D. students.

One recent outreach effort brought him on stage before a general audience interested in his Arctic island project excavating fossils of ancient sea monsters. “There was a four-year-old in the front row and he couldn’t stop asking questions, really good questions” Hurum remembers. “This little boy was so excited to know there was somebody else who understood the things he was wondering about. He made my whole day! As a child, I felt very alone with my interest in fossils. Finally at age 13, I discovered there was a museum in Norway that actually employed people to study paleontology. I started corresponding with those scientists and it was such a relief, such an inspiration. I hope I can give some of that spirit back to the next generation.”

Learn More About Jørn and His Work

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