Sean Duran and I collaborated on this assemblage that acted as an homage to 19th century paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope.
In one of the weirdest “coincidences” ever, E. D. Cope reached out to us from beyond the grave via this part of the exhibit!
The not-so-short version: when Cope died in 1897 he willed his body to science, according to some sources, to have himself designated as the type specimen for all humanity, because Carl Linnaeus, when describing the species Homo sapiens, had neglected to designate a type specimen. The number emblazoned on his skull is 4979.
Here’s what www.strangescience has to say:
Cope even willed his own body to science, but when his bones were delivered, they were badly decalcified and shelved. His skeleton eventually wound up in the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia where it was retrieved by Louie Psihoyos (a National Geographic photographer researching a dinosaur book) and eventually relayed to paleontologist Bob Bakker. In 1993, Bakker wrote a description of Cope as the type specimen the example by which the species is measured for Homo sapiens. (Cope's brain remains in the Wistar Institute, near that of another great 19th-century paleontologist: Joseph Leidy.)
For obvious reasons the Academy didn’t want me retelling this twisted and hard to substantiate tale in the show. Instead we piled dog skulls randomly in a display case in front of Cope’s bust. The good doctor had amassed a gigantic pile of dog skulls in his many years at the Academy, studying their morphology and amusing his colleagues a bit with his avid collecting of dead neighborhood pets.
After the show opened I was toured some of Connie Soja’s Colgate college geology students through the show, and stopped to tell them this whole twisted tale. One of her students then pointed out the collection number clearly emblazoned on the biggest dog skull placed directly in front of Cope’s bust: 4979! Coincidence? What are the chances?? It sent chills down my spine.
Dancing to the Fossil Record at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA. 1998.