Sunday, March 1, 2009

Who Made the Dinosaurs?

I watched Bill Maher's movie Religulous over the weekend. One of the more memorable segments was a visit to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. One of the star attractions of the museum are the 80 lifesize dinosaur sculptures and animatronics shown alongside human beings. There were saddles on triceratops and animatronic T. Rex's running behind animatronic human children. The thing that I found remarkable was the quality of the dinosaurs. It made me think - who made these things? Where do you find the designers capable of creating hyper realistic Cretaceous-era dinosaurs, but at the same time are willing to install them on a model of Noah's Ark?

I met a guy at a dinosaur egg museum in southern Alberta who was an interpreter at the site and a model maker. He needed to know a lot about biology and palaeontology to create lifelike models of the dinosaurs found at the site. The creative side of his job went hand-in-hand with the science of the site. You can't make those models without knowing a lot about dinosaurs and you can't know alot about dinosaurs without knowing that they lived millions of years before human beings.

I'm an archaeologist, so the reproductions that I make for museums have nothing to do with dinosaurs (at least in every museum in the world other than the Creation Museum). I've been fortunate that I have only been approached by organizations who I trust to accurately represent the materials that I provide them with. The only time I can recall turning down work from an ethical standpoint was when a tourism operator wanted to buy reproductions so that he could plant them on beaches and make spontaneous "discoveries" when he pulled up with groups of kayakers. But declining that contract only cost me a couple hundred dollars -- I can't imagine what a contract for producing 80 life-size dinosaurs would be worth.

Anyhow, the dinosaurs in the Creation Museum got me thinking about some of the difficult choices that makers face when we're approached to do a job. Jeff Goldblum said this in another movie about creating dinosaurs and I think it could apply to the fabricators of the Creation Museum's animatronic dinosaurs;

"your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Have you ever had to decline a job that you could do because it was at odds with what you felt you should do?

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