Friday, 29 January 2010

Ode to a Dung Beetle

I have an appreciation for dung beetles and, perhaps surprisingly since I work in a museum devoted to southern Alberta history, I have talked about dung beetles with a lot of students in the past year.

We had an exhibit on ancient Egypt last year and discussed why the dung beetle was considered sacred. The Egyptians observed the beetles' practice of rolling a ball of dung across the ground. And they compared this with the sun being rolled across the sky. The dung beetle thus became equated with eternity and creation. (also because they thought the young beetles appeared out of nowhere and believed the scarab was a symbol of spontaneous creation)

And then, ending this Sunday, we had an exhibit on Dinosaurs (and other animals) who roamed Alberta 75 million years ago. One of the favourite pictures of many of the students was a picture of coprolite (fossilized dinosaur dung). Students were amazed at how large the dung was and it led me to remark to the classes on more than one occasion that I truly love the dung beetle. Just think how different the world of 75 million years ago and today would be without this interesting little insect cleaning up after dinosaurs and elephants and the rest? If you haven't had a chance to come and see the picture of the dinosaur pooh (and, of course, the rest of the Dinosaur exhibit) make sure you do this weekend as it closes Sunday at 4:30 pm.

I don't think I'll have much opportunity to talk about dung beetles in the upcoming year as our exhibits are on (respectively) unique objects from our collection, Blackfoot shirts and the history of the 1910 Galt Hospital building. But I'm sure there will be lots of other interesting discussions with students in the months to come. Especially since I know the morgue of the hospital will have to be part of my discussion/tour of the hospital (at least with the older kids). And cemetery tours start up again in May.

But, as always, long live the dung beetle.

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