Have you heard about the new baby in town? She is a 40,000 year-old
baby mammoth named Lyuba (pronounced Lee-OO-bah) and trust me when I
tell you that she is a must-see.
The Field Museum's exhibit Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice
Age opened just over a week ago and is the first exhibit of its kind in
the United States. I had the chance to check out this fabulous exhibit
with my nearly four and fifteen-month old sons last Friday.
The highlight of the exhibit is Lyuba, a one-month old baby
mammoth whose remarkably intact, preserved body was discovered in 2007
by a Siberiean reindeer herder and his sons. Scientists believe that
Lyuba was a healthy one-month-old when she got stuck in mud and
suffocated (poor little thing). It is amazing to see how perfectly Lyuba
is preserved -- you can even see tufts of hair on her ears and belly.
It is hard to wrap your mind around the fact that the specimen before
you is over 40,000 years-old.
The exhibition also includes virtual projections, videos, hands-on
activities, and large skeletons and animal replicas that you can
actually touch. Visitors can view the scientific evidence that
researchers used to gain insights into the lives and habits of the
species. They were even able to examine the preserved contents of her
stomach - 40,000 years later. Totally amazing.
Little visitors will be particularly interested in the hands-on
components of the experience. My son was totally, completely enthralled
with the "guess which animal made this poop" interactive. He could have
stayed there all day. He also enjoyed the opportunity to engage two
mammoths in a battle with their tusks. Museum-goers can actually touch
scale models of the tusks and teeth of both mammoths and mastodons.
I learned a thing or two during our visit that I thought might be
helpful to other parents. Here are some things to keep in mind before
you bring your little ones to meet the mammoths:
This exhibit is intended to be interactive -- and it is (sort
of). Kids are encouraged to touch and get up close to many -- but
certainly not all -- of the features in the exhibit. For example, kids
can feel replicas of tusks and trunks and engage in some hands-on
activities. However, many of the components of the exhibit are marked
with signs that say, "Do not touch" or "Do not climb." So remind your
little museum-goers of the general "look-but-don't-touch" museum rule
and stress that they need to ask you if it is okay to touch something
before they do so.
No strollers allowed. Strollers are prohibited in the exhibit
(there is a stroller parking area just outside) so my toddler was on the
loose as we toured this exhibit (making me all the more grateful for
the interactive nature of the experience)
Do some advance work. Before you trek down to the Field Museum,
take some time to prepare your kids for what they are going to see. Look
at the Field Museum's online site so that your kids can get an idea of
what a mammoth is (and if you are like me, you can get some information
about what the heck a mastodon is). The scale of the skeletal replicas
of the mammoths are obviously quite large and I think that some kids
might be frightened because they don't know what to expect. A little
preparation can go a long way in helping your kids enjoy and understand
what they are about to see.
Prepare your kids for the sensory components of the experience.
Mammoths and Mastodons is set in a dimly lit room and Andrew Bird music
plays in the background. As an adult, I found the music to be evocative
of actual elephant calls and I thought that it really added to the
experience. My four-year-old seemed sort of unnerved by the limited
lighting and loud sounds. Before you enter the exhibit, take a minute to
talk to your little ones about the music and lighting so they have an
idea of what to expect.
Advice from an expert. I had the opportunity to ask Project
Manager Tom Skwerski what advice he had for parents who wanted to
prepare their kids to visit the new Mammoths and Mastodons exhibit.
Skwerski said, "There are a number of interactives really targeted for
smaller children, plus a number of touchable elements. Philosophically,
we wanted to make this exhibition much more 'hands on' for our audience.
All of the life-size replicated creatures were created to be
touchable." Skwerski added that older kids who are interested in this
subject area should check out the children's companion book called
Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age. The Field Museum created
this book for "young scientists" between the ages of 9 and 12. He also
recommends Mammoths: Giants of the Ice Age by Adrian Lister. Both are
available in museum store.
This exhibit is at the Field Museum through September 6th and then it
will begin on a four-year tour throughout North America and overseas.
Make your plans to see Lyuba right here in Chicago before she embarks on
her world tour.