Re­built skele­ton of­fers look at ice age

Ex­hibit will be high­light of new Al­berta mu­seum

Edmonton Journal - - CITY - CLAIRE THEOBALD twit­ter.com/ClaireTheobald ctheobald@post­media.com

In­side a ware­house in a se­cret Ed­mon­ton lo­ca­tion, a 13,000-yearold ice age horse gen­tly grazes as it awaits its new home at the cen­tre of one of the Royal Al­berta Mu­seum’s largest ex­hibits.

This skele­tal mount of an Equus con­ver­si­dens, a horse that wan­dered Al­berta’s Pleis­tocene plains un­til as re­cently as 8,500 years ago, is one of two life-size mod­els be­ing cre­ated by ex­hibit spe­cial­ist Peter Milot that will form the cen­tre­piece of an ice-age Ed­mon­ton ex­hibit in one of the new Royal Al­berta Mu­seum’s nat­u­ral his­tory gal­leries.

“In my hum­ble opin­ion, I think this ice age ex­hibit is go­ing to be one of the finest, if not the finest gallery in North Amer­ica,” Milot said Wed­nes­day, adding these two skele­tal mounts have been six years in the mak­ing.

Milot and his team are work­ing on bring­ing eight large Pleis­tocene mam­mals — in­clud­ing a mastodon, a mam­moth, a sabre-tooth tiger, a giant ground sloth, a giant beaver and a camel — back to life by re­con­struct­ing their skele­tons from fos­sil casts and pos­ing them in dra­matic dio­ra­mas.

“It will take you back to Ed­mon­ton about 30,000 years ago,” said Chris Robin­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Royal Al­berta Mu­seum.

At the cen­tre will be two skele­tal mod­els of Equus con­ver­si­dens horses, as­sem­bled with casts from seven fos­sil spec­i­mens col­lected from St. Mary’s Reser­voir near Card­ston.

“It’s very rare to find even a par­tial skele­ton, never mind enough to do a com­pos­ite skele­ton,” said Milot, adding he was able to find enough pieces to as­sem­ble 89 per cent of the skele­ton from fos­sil casts with the last 11 per cent cast from bones of modern Prze­wal­ski’s horses, which Mil­ton says are nearly iden­ti­cal to their ice age rel­a­tives.

Milot’s work began six years ago with or­ga­niz­ing fos­sils from seven par­tial Equus con­ver­si­dens spec­i­mens be­fore pre­par­ing the bones for cast­ing. Milot then cre­ated moulds from the fos­sils and filled those moulds with polyurethane resin. Those pieces were then strung along a hid­den metal ar­ma­ture to form a com­plete model skele­ton.

The cast­ing and as­sem­bly process has al­ready taken around 16 months, re­quir­ing ex­ten­sive re­search to keep their mod­els as close to what a com­plete skele­ton of an Equus con­ver­si­dens would have looked like in life as much as 30,000 years ago.

“Cap­tur­ing a mo­ment in their lives is what makes look­ing at these mounts so much fun,” said Milot, adding his area of ex­per­tise re­quires re­search and artistry in equal mea­sure.

When Milot first joined the Royal Al­berta Mu­seum as an as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor of qua­ter­nary pa­le­on­tol­ogy in 1987, the col­lec­tion had about 650 ice age fos­sils.

“To­day, we’ve got over 35,000,” said Milot, adding pieces col­lected from around Al­berta have helped fill in gaps within the fos­sil record.

The new Royal Al­berta Mu­seum boasts more than dou­ble the gallery space of the old mu­seum build­ing, said Robin­son, al­low­ing more of these im­por­tant spec­i­mens to be put on dis­play.

“We con­tinue to col­lect, we con­tinue to study on a daily ba­sis,” said Robin­son. “These are the things that our sci­en­tists, our staff, our his­to­ri­ans and our an­thro­pol­o­gists have col­lected over the last 50 years that we haven’t been able to dis­play. More space means more sto­ries.”

The new Royal Al­berta Mu­seum at 9810 103A Ave. is ex­pected to open in early 2018.

IAN KUCERAK

Peter Milot, a pa­le­on­tol­ogy ex­hibit spe­cial­ist with the Royal Al­berta Mu­seum, said it took six years to pro­duce this skele­ton from a horse known as Equus con­ver­si­dens that roamed South­ern Al­berta 8,500 years ago.

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