A New Season, A New Exhibit: Mastodons Return to Diamond Valley Lake

by Brittney Stoneburg, Marketing & Events Specialist

Welcome back to Insert Exhibit Name Here!

Having said our goodbyes to Stepping Out of the Past, the Western Science Center is preparing for the opening of our most ambitious exhibit yet: Valley of the Mastodons.

As you may know, over 100,000 fossils were found during the excavation of Diamond Valley Lake. Included in these bones were things like giant ground sloths, bisons, camels, even mammoths – but perhaps the most interesting is the mastodon.

So what is a mastodon? It may look very similar to a mammoth, but Mammut americanum is only distantly related to mammoths. Mastodons are, in general, shorter and stockier than Columbian mammoths, with a sloping skull, straighter tusks, and a set of teeth that shows they had a completely different diet from mammoths (the name mastodon literally means “breast tooth”).

So, when we’re talking about mastodons, we’re talking about this:

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Artwork by Brian Engh (dontmensswithdinosaurs.com)

Not this:

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Artwork by Mauricio Antón

Dozens of mastodons were found at Diamond Valley Lake, so much so that Hemet is sometimes known as Valley of the Mastodons (hence the title of the exhibit). Mastodon fossils are also more prolific at Diamond Valley Lake than mammoths – the inverse is true at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum, only eighty miles away. Perhaps the most famous mastodon at the museum is “Max” (whom you can find on Twitter @MaxMastodon), who is also the largest mastodon ever found on the West Coast.  Max is no ordinary mastodon, however – he has several injuries to his jaw, likely the result of a fight, and his teeth are unusually small for a mastodon. The other mastodons in our collection harbor similar mysteries. So what’s a museum to do? You call in back-up!

To this end, Valley of the Mastodons isn’t just going to be an exhibit – it’s also going to be a scientific workshop, bringing researchers from across North American to the Western Science Center to study the museum’s mastodon collections. It will be three days of research, lectures, and collaboration as the scientists make discoveries, and then present those discoveries directly to the public.

What will they find? We don’t know yet – and that’s the fun of it! From opening up the in-floor case of the mastodon “Little Stevie” for the first time in 10 years, to a newly commissioned piece of artwork featuring Max’s fight, Valley of the Mastodons will prove to be the largest exhibit of mastodons in the world.

Valley of the Mastodons opens to the public on August 5th, so keep your eyes peeled on Insert Exhibit Name Here for more behind-the-scenes sneak peaks as we get ready to open our biggest exhibit yet!

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Museum Marketing 101: Science is Cool

by Brittney Stoneburg, WSC Marketing & Events Associate

Insert Exhibit Name Here has been floating around the museum blogosphere for a few months now, and I help keep this blog running, coordinate posts, and come up with all of the (extremely witty) titles.

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My mugshot for #MuseumSelfieDay

I like to think I have a unique perspective to offer when it comes to this exhibit. My academic background isn’t in science; I graduated with an English degree in 2012. However, I’ve always had a love for science, natural history, and the like, which eventually led me to the Western Science Center as a volunteer and later as a staff member. It can be intimidating to walk into a room full of professional scientists when you don’t have even a hint of a scientific background. I can’t really offer any insight on the stone making abilities of early man, or the evolutionary line of Neanderthals – but I can listen, and learn.

In a meeting, when the students are discussing the finer points of hominin behavior, I’m thinking: how are we going to present this information to the public? What’s our social media campaign going to look like? How can we get people to not only understand, but to care? I’ve often explained my role as the person who isn’t doing the actual science, but who helps explains why the science is cool! I’ve found my position at the museum to be a great marriage between my passion for natural history and my skills as an editor, writer, and former journalist, and it has been especially fun to pour my efforts into Insert Exhibit Name Here for the past few months.

Projects like this blog allow us to give visitors to the museum an inside look into the process of exhibit design, something they wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. An exhibit never just springs out of the ether, fully formed and ready to dazzle visitors with knowledge. It is the culmination of the hard work and dedication of dozens of people, toiling behind the scenes to explain, interpret, and present.

Normally, visitors to the museum don’t see any of that; they just see the finished product. But with blogs like this one, we can engage our community before the exhibit has even opened, and invite the public to be a part of the process. What better way to get people excited about science?

Working with the students throughout the semester has been an eye opening experience for me. They each have so much interest and energy invested in the topic, and I’m sure that will be evident throughout the exhibit when it opens this fall. That kind of passion for science can’t help but bleed through!