Rebuilt skeleton offers look at ice age
Exhibit will be highlight of new Alberta museum
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.
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.