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The Field Museum Announces Exhibition of the Machines that Helped Create the Modern World
Horse armor. In 16th-century Europe, the armor worn by horses rivaled that of the knights who rode them. This German horse armor includes the chamfron, which covered the horse’s head and carried the rider’s family crest or coat of arms; the crinet, which protected the horse’s neck and was made of overlapping plates so the horse could move its head; the crupper, which shielded the horse’s hindquarters; the saddle, which kept the rider’s waist safe from lances, spears, and arrows; and the peytral, which was worn over the chest and raised or flared outward to provide freedom of movement for the horse’s legs. © AMNH/D. Finnin. © The Field Museum.

CHICAGO, IL.- A powerful thoroughbred, its mane flying, crosses the finish line in triumph at the Kentucky Derby. A young rodeo rider grabs his saddle horn and holds on tight as a bronco bucks and lurches beneath him. Heavily built draft horses strain hard to pull wagonloads of grain over a rustic landscape. Thrilling, romantic, and nostalgic images such as these often come to mind when we think of horses.

But an important new exhibition at The Field Museum, The Horse, invites us to see horses as much more: the machines that helped create the modern world.

"Puny but clever, enterprising humans needed an animate energy source that was both mobile and controllable—hence the domestic horse," says exhibition curator Ross MacPhee of the American Museum of Natural History. "What no one could have foreseen was that, over the millennia, while we molded the horse to our ends, the horse also molded us by changing the scale and scope of what could be carried, traded, fought over, or used to make life better—in short, civilization as we know it."

The Horse is a comprehensive exhibition that tells the story of the how the horse became the most important animal ever to interact with humans. It features spectacular fossils, models, dioramas, and cultural objects, including several from The Field Museum's extraordinary collections. The exhibition runs February 18 through August 14, 2011.

The Horse is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, in collaboration with The Field Museum, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau-Ottawa, and the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Because of the quality of its collections, The Field Museum played an important role as an exhibition collaborator. "The Field Museum houses a major collection from the site of La Solutré, France, where humans hunted horses. That site, dated 20,000 years ago, contains more horse skeletons and artifacts related to horse hunting than all European archaeological sites combined. Artifacts and bones from the site are featured in the exhibition," explained Field Museum anthropologist James Phillips.

Other highlights of the exhibition include equipment such as a full suit of armor from 15th-century Germany and a horse-drawn fire engine from the 19th century. Visitors can also explore new archaeological discoveries concerning the domestication of the horse and examine the role of horses in sport throughout the ages. A large-scale diorama depicts some of the horse species that lived 10 million years ago in what is now Nebraska.

The Horse also offers numerous interactive stations that invite visitors to discover characteristics of many different breeds of horses, and take a virtual look inside a life-size horse. Visitors can examine different gaits of a horse by looking through a zoetrope—a precursor to the modern movie projector—seeing a revolutionary series of images by photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

These, and many other highlights, make The Horse a must-see exhibition for the entire family.

The Field Museum | Ross MacPhee | Chicago |

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