SITE VISIT: Digital Paleo Museum

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Science  12 Mar 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5408, pp. 1599
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5408.1599d

Curious about when the Cretaceous Era began and ended (146 to 65 million years ago)? Wondering what a quagga is? Then visit the University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology Web site, where grad students have created a huge digital museum that answers these questions and more.

The online exhibits, called Paleontology Without Walls, are divided into three “wings”: phylogeny, geologic history, and the history of evolutionary thought. More than 1000 exhibits range from a couple of screens on the quagga (an extinct relative of the horse) to several pages on 19th-century evolutionary biologist Thomas Henry Huxley. There are also stand-alone, special exhibits for some subjects, including extinct sabretooths, vertebrate flight, cladistics, and plate tectonics—complete with movies of shifting plates. Photoessays describe field research to places like the Winter Coast in Russia, a site for Vendian (about 550 million years ago) soft-bodied creatures, among the oldest macroorganisms known. All the pages are connected with hyperlinks and a menu, so one can jump among taxa and time periods, call up a glossary, or link to the museum's specimen catalogs.

The museum staff is also building an interactive section for children and their teachers. One feature will permit them to classify fossil fragments in an online lab. Such programs promise to draw even more visitors to the site, which already gets about a million hits per week.

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