If you're from out of town I'll let you slide, but if you're from the greater Washington, DC area and haven't seen the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History's new Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th Century Chesapeake exhibit yet, you have no excuse. No, seriously, you need to get there right now. It's AWESOME.
Granted, there's no rush, as the exhibit will be there until February 2011, although I have no idea what they think could replace it.
Now, admittedly, it might take a person with a certain, shall we say, perspective, to truly get the most of this. My wife bravely made it into the first section before departing for fairer seas, but it's her loss. She didn't even get to see the skull shattered by a pipe bomb. However, my four year old really got into it. By the end of it, she was pointing out most of the major bones in the body and watched, enraptured, the entire video. And ok, it was a little weird watching her and some other kids laying down on the superimposed graves on the floor in the Harsh Realities of Life in Jamestown section.
Written in Bone is wedged between two of my favorite exhibits: the Western Cultures Hall and Osteology: Hall of Bones. Granted, I like quaint old 1960's exhibits that reveal more about the time they were built than the subject they were discussing. You know, the ones that start "Someday, computers will be small enough to fit on your desk." But I digress, start from the Osteology end; the exhibit flows better that way. And it's a natural lead in for an exhibit dealing with bones.
I'm not going to tell you too much about the exhibit itself, as I expect each and every one of you to get over there yourself and see it. I'm not talking to you until you do. But the exhibit lays out some fascinating background on forensic anthropology before entering into individual case studies of remains found in Jamestown, VA and St. Mary's, MD. My personal favorite was the poor bastard who was mercifully killed by an arrowhead as he had a visibly abscessed jaw. Fun stuff.
But the highlight was the hands on Forensics Lab at the end. Go past the skeleton of Professor Krantz and his Irish Wolfhound and take a left (yeah, it's that kind of place). I imagine it will get crowded but you can play with bones and castings to your hearts content. A highlight for me was the casting of a skull of a soldier from Custer's Last Stand. This is interactive as it should be; handling real things while discussing it with the experts. Not some fancy touch screen that ends up just surfing the web.
I guess the only bad thing I can say about it is that I no longer have the Western Cultures Hall to myself. Small price to pay.