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Monday, November 4, 2013

Halloween Bio-Art: The Centaur of Tymfi.

It's been a while since I did one of these. Vacations and a certain piece punched a ton of holes in my sense of time sense of duty, and I've actually all-but-landed a real job! My next post will probably talk about reptiles more; look forward to that. :)


Wait a sec....was that a real centaur skeleton?

No. It's a fake made for the International Wildlife Museum in Tuscon by sculptor and zoologist Bill Willers. The whole point of the exhibit is to make people question how we know what we know. That centaur looks pretty darn real, and, doubtless, some silly internet ad with "Real Or Fake?" will pop up. Don't even click that; it's a very well-made fake, but a fake nonetheless.

Everything about this centaur is a brilliiant piece of psuedo-science. "Tymfi" is not a real city in Greece, but it sounds Greek enough to make people buy it. The whole history of the centaur's excavation is fake, but adds more flesh on the bones, if you will. The exhibit tries its hardest to make you believe that centaurs once existed. It will be leaving in 2014, so if you happen to be around Tuscon (AZ?), check it out while you can.

The exhibit also features a few real skulls and bones. These are all tied into the whole "explaining myths" idea. For example, like the Field once did, they cite the Protoceratops as the likely inspiration for the gryphon, a mythical lion-eagle hybrid. They have also added a "cyclops" in the form of a Mastodon skull and a few other such specimens. Neat.

Museums do this sort of thing all the time. New York's Museum of Natural History had a "Mythic Creatures" exhibit that got extended by popular demand. The Field had something similar. Fantastic creatures are a huge draw, to the point where one wonders if such a thing is really OK for museums.

At some point, I likely mentioned the idea that it was not OK to put things like white tigers in zoos. The argument goes that white tigers are not natural, and thus do not belong in an exhibit detailing what tigers are really like. On some level, I agree with this; white tigers are indeed exceptionally bastardized, and are only found very rarely in the wild. Better there than in somebody's backyard regardless.

Unlike with, say, white tigers in zoos, mythological animals like centaurs and griffins are A-OK in museums. At one time, people thought chimaeras and dragons were real. It just goes to prove that science, and our perceptions of it, are constantly changing. I particularly like this quote emphasizing Willers's intent behind the centaur:

"I want to trigger that belief and extend it, to trigger a feeling of wonder that connects people to the natural world, to see a person like themselves as a wild animal," says Willers.

Does he succeed? Post below. :) 

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