The Horse Exhibit at the AMNH

One of the cool perks of being a scienceblogger and going to a meetup this year was the opportunity to go and see the Horse Exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and to recieve (as we were not allowed to take pictures in there) a CD with some of the pictures. You can also see a lot more text and pictures, pretty closely following what is on the exhibit itself, on the excellent Horse Exhibit wesbite.

So, on Saturday afternoon, after the Meet-the-Readers event, several of us got on the subway and went up to the Museum. And I was not disappointed. You know I love horses and have been voraciously reading about them all my life. Yet, I still learned a thing or two new to me at the exhibit. The first thing one sees when entering the room is this huge and beautiful diorama, with various species of now-extinct equids:


The exhibit itself put a lot of effort into dispelling the old textbook notion of a linear progression (from Eohippus to Equus caballus) of the horse evolution, the 'ladder', and tries to present the more realistic way of thinking about it as a 'bush' (I am surprised Brian never moved that post to his new blog) with many twigs, and with many species of horses living simultaneously in many parts of the word.

The video (featuring, I think, Ross MacPhee) next to this part of the exhibit, explained how scientists figure out these things, like ages of fossils and genealogical relationships between extinct species - a good antidote to the inevitably static nature of the exhibit, i.e., the Facts, as opposed to the Process.

A similar video about the way scientists study the early domestication of horses serves the same function - it shows the method by which we get to know what we know, not just what we know. The portion of the exhibit about domestication, as well as the one on the natural history (evolution, behavior, extinct and living relatives, etc.) were very well done - there were no usual factual errors that often creep into such exhibits, books etc.about horses.

The rest of the exhibit was devoted to the relationship between horses and humans - how the two species affected and changed each other over the past six millennia. From the use of horses for food, bones, hair and milk, through domestication, riding, driving, warfare and work and today - to sport and the protection of the horses. How horses were bred for different purposes at different times, for instance for large size and carrying ability:


...or for high speed needed to deliver mail from East to West Coast:


It was great fun, especially seeing this together with some knowledgeable SciBlings like Brian, Grrrl, Josh and others who will probably write their own reviews soon. If you can come to NYC before January 4th 2009, make sure you take some time to see this exhibit. Perhaps it will go on a tour of other cities afterwards. In the meantime, peruse the Horse Exhibit wesbite for more information.

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You're right, Bora; I should revive that horse phylogeny post and update it.

"The video (featuring, I think, Ross MacPhee) next to this part of the exhibit"

It was Bruce MacFadden, if I remember correctly, talking about using carbon isotopes to determine diet (and consequently ecology). Like I mentioned to you at the exhibit, though, we need more people working on fossil horses; there haven't been any really good overviews for a long time.

Agk! I knew it. But when I was writing I could not remember the name except that it was a Mc name....