Museum exhibits are wonderful, but what I absolutely adore are the collections kept under wraps. Give me a room lined with file drawers filled with carefully labeled pot shards and I'm in heaven. That's why I love this photo, taken in the Hippo Room (!!) in the Mammalogy Department of the American Museum of Natural History, by reader Mindy Weisberger, who works with the museum's Exhibitions Department. She says:
These are male and female hippo skulls from all over Africa, each weighing an average of about 200lbs. These and other large animal skulls were obtained by museum expeditions up until the 1950s/1960s, with the objective of building a collection that represented a range of morphological differences (based on sex and varying environmental conditions) and developmental stages. While the collections are not open to the public, they are utilized daily by the museum's own research associates and curatorial staff, and by visiting scientists from around the world.
Museums keep research collections like this tucked away in attics, basements and back rooms. In these quiet, little sanctuaries, touching is allowed. Getting access (albeit limited) to the collections at the University of Kansas' anthropology museum was one of the high points of my undergraduate experience. Mindy says the AMNH even has a few secret corridors where it stashes treasures. Great stuff!