Peter Roberts with model of Acanthostega.
Source: Museum Victoria
Museum Victoria staff are working steadily on the next stage of the Science and Life Gallery redevelopment. The upcoming exhibition, 600 Million Years: Victoria evolves, uses a local focus to answer a big question: how did life on Earth come to be the way it is?
Curator and palaeontologist Wayne Gerdtz said, “it’s very ambitious in the sense that it’s condensing 600 million years into 400 square metres – not just life, but the landscapes as well.” Visitors to the exhibition will walk through a history of evolution with pivotal moments – “great leaps forwards, and dramatic events” –illustrated with fossils, models, animatronics, projections and live animals. One of the major stories is how our ancestors, the early vertebrate fish, made the transition from aquatic life to walking on land.
Referring to the planned Queensland Lungfish display, Wayne noted that “live exhibits might seem counterintuitive for an exhibition about ancient life.” The Lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri, retains an ancient body plan that first evolved around 380 million years ago and has changed little in 100 million years. “There’s a misconception that more complex animals push out the primitive ones,” Wayne explained. “Being an advanced animal is not necessarily an advantage. It’s the simple, generalist animals that tend to survive mass extinctions.” Although rare, lungfish still live in Queensland. They can survive in water with very low oxygen levels by gulping air from the surface.
Lungfish belong to the group known as lobe-finned fish, which have fleshy fins rather than the ray-like fins typical of most living fish. Museum model-maker, Peter Roberts, created a model of another lobe-finned fish, Acanthostega, to show the evolution of fleshy fins into true limbs. Although it was entirely aquatic, Acanthostega had features of terrestrial amphibians such as distinct limbs with digits. The model will be submerged in water for several years, so Peter created it from tough materials and sealants that won’t degrade.
It was an Acanthostega-like animal that made the marks preserved in the Genoa Trackway, which will also appear in the exhibition. Wayne described this extraordinary object from the museum’s collection as “a fossilised slab of mud from the banks of an ancient river bed from about 350 million years ago. It’s one of the world’s earliest examples of one of these creatures coming out – or almost coming out – of the water.” It features two sets of footprints with individual fingers and toes, and sweep marks from the creature’s belly. “It’s wonderful to have the two moments preserved in one rock. It’s been on display before, but never interpreted like this.”
600 Million Years: Victoria evolves will open in June 2010 and complements the first two Science and Life exhibitions, Dinosaur Walk and Wild: amazing animals in a changing world.