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MPM gives us our first look at a gallery, exhibits from the new museum

An artist's rendering of two Torosaurs butting heads with a Tyrannosaurus rex looming in the background behind a group of trees.
Milwaukee Public Museum / Thinc Design

As promised last week, the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) today revealed its first set of sketches and details from one of the five permanent galleries that’ll be part of what it’s calling the Future Museum.

Dubbed “Time Travel,” the gallery will contain exhibits separated into three geological eras: Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic. MPM President and CEO Dr. Ellen Censky said as a whole, the gallery will “trace the distinct origins and adaptations of life on our ever-changing planet and prompt visitors to wonder what life on Earth looked like millions of years ago.”

As someone who — as a child and as an adult — delighted in the T-rex vs. triceratops diorama, I was most curious about whether either of the dinos would make the trip to the museum’s new home. It turns out one of them will, although it seems the brutality won’t.

In the details revealed today, the MPM said the Tyrannosaurus rex gets a ticket to the Future Museum, although it’ll be in a supporting rather than starring role. Ol’ rexy will loom in the background of a headbutting contest between two Torosaurs, leaving it up to visitors’ imaginations whether it’s waiting for an easy meal or just taking in some Mesozoic pugilism.

I suppose the MPM has its reasons for leaving the more gory elements behind. Although if I can make a small request, some fake thunder and lightning would still be kinda fun.

Here are the rest of the details about the new galleries and exhibits provided by the museum via press release this morning. Bear in mind this isn’t an exhaustive rundown, as the MPM noted, “The final gallery will include many more exhibits, collections items and opportunities to learn.”

The Paleozoic Hall

An exploration of the deep past, the Paleozoic Hall of the gallery will include exhibits that investigate the unique planetary conditions that supported evolving life between 540 and 250 million years ago and demonstrate how that life impacted the planet.

Here, visitors will learn about some of the earliest life on the planet, the process of fossilization and the ways in which the Earth’s landscape has changed through plate tectonics, the impact of water and more. The following are two examples of the exhibits that will be on display in this area.

At the Silurian Reef, a key immersive exhibit in the Paleozoic Hall, exhibit visitors will feel submerged into the tranquil, shallow waters of the Silurian seas, which covered the land that would eventually become Milwaukee when it was located near the equator 425 million years ago.

The exhibit will be influenced by the more than 122,000 Silurian fossils in the collections and will teach visitors about the evolution and diversification of marine life through a multi-sensory approach, complete with a soothing wave soundscape, aquatic models that float above the visitor space and an interactive, tactile tabletop where visitors will be able to touch replicas of ancient sea creatures, including coral.

An artist's rendering of a reef from the Palezoic era, with a squid-like creature suspended from the ceiling and a large tank will replicas of sea creatures.
Milwaukee Public Museum / Thinc Design

Among the many collection items to be on display in Time Travel’s Paleozoic Hall will be the Cambrian Diplichnites fossil, or Cambrian Trackway — a 2,600-pound slab of sandstone discovered in central Wisconsin containing animal tracks that are half a billion years old.

“The Cambrian Trackway is one of the earliest pieces of evidence demonstrating how and when animal species moved from water to land – and for years, it has been sitting in the basement of MPM with no place to be put on permanent display,” said Dr. Censky. “For the first time since 2017, Future Museum visitors will be able to examine this massive, influential fossil and learn how its discovery impacted human understanding of science and natural history.”

The Mesozoic Hall

The Mesozoic Hall in the Time Travel gallery will look at a time when dinosaurs dominated the Earth alongside other marvels of the era and the legacy that continues to capture our imaginations today.

Mesozoic Hall exhibits will also evaluate the unique planetary conditions that supported the ever-changing Mesozoic life as well as humans’ shifting understandings of the era. In the Mesozoic Hall, visitors can expect to find familiar exhibit elements in new, reimagined contexts. A favorite feature among current MPM visitors, dinosaurs will loom large at the Future Museum in exhibits that will demonstrate what scientists have discovered about the creatures and environment of the era.

The Future Museum will showcase the Torosaur Clash, a diorama of two Torosaurs locked in a ferocious battle — one depicted using the fossilized skeleton currently on display at MPM and the other a model indicating the size and might of a fully fleshed dinosaur. Visitors will encounter this larger-than-life battle scene and feel as if they are part of the clash.

“The Torosaur Clash is a dramatic scene and a prime example of how scientific research and discovery by MPM experts informs what we know about science and history,” said Oronde Wright, Senior Exhibition Designer at Thinc Design and a lead designer on the Future Museum project.

“The exhibit is inspired by a puncture wound on the Torosaur skeleton that, through scientific research, was determined to be caused by another Torosaur. Because of that wound, we can better understand the behavior of the species of the Cretaceous period — like how they fought over resources or mates — and what they left behind.”

Visitors will find many exciting surprises in keeping with the spirit of the current MPM. For example, the famous T. rex will make an appearance in the Torosaur Clash, this time lurking around a bend, possibly waiting for its next meal.

The Curtis L. and Jean E. Carter Cenozoic Hall

During the more recent Cenozoic era, Earth became the planet we recognize as home today. In the Curtis L. and Jean E. Carter Cenozoic Hall, visitors can explore the evolution of mammals through fossils of saber-toothed cats and other creatures of the era, see the impact of the arrival of the first humans and take a closer look at how our changing planet responds to and influences human behaviors.

At center stage of this area of Time Travel will be the Hebior Mammoth Hunt exhibit — an iconic MPM scene shown from a new perspective. Visitors will come face to face with the imposing skeleton of a wooly mammoth. Perched above it on the edge of a bluff, a stealthy group of human hunters prepare to strike.

“It’s a story of predator/prey dynamics, coevolution, adaptation and human ingenuity,” said Dr. Censky.

An artist's rendering of complete skeletons from a mammoth and other animals from the Cenozoic era on display in a museum.
Milwaukee Public Museum / Thinc Design

Providing context for artifacts and telling robust stories detailing how humans know what they do about history has been a priority in the exhibit-planning process. In the Hebior Mammoth hunt scene, a mini diorama will explain how humans butchered the mammoth they hunted and how scientists determined their methods by studying marks left on the mammoth’s bones.

“Exhibits are about more than the display of objects — they are about sharing the knowledge of how we know what we know,” said Helen Divjak, Senior Curator, Experience and Interpretation at Thinc Design and a lead designer on the Future Museum project. “How do we interpret what we know? By looking really closely at that artifact and looking at the clues and the evidence."

A dramatic audioscape will further propel visitors into this scene and many others throughout the Future Museum, creating a truly immersive experience.

MPM Time Travel Gallery