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Hidden Artifacts Featured in Recent Television Series Come Out of the Vaults and onto Display
Bunjie: Champion English Bulldog (1933-1936). © ROM, 2011.

TORONTO.- For a limited time, visitors to the Royal Ontario Museum have access to an array of exceptional artifacts rarely seen in public. From Saturday, February 5 to Sunday, February 27, 2011, objects representing a wide spectrum of the ROM’s collections of Natural History and World Cultures will be showcased in Canada Court on the Museum’s Level 1. These hidden treasures were recently seen on History Television’s intriguing series Museum Secrets in an episode devoted to the ROM and the mysterious, surprising or long-hidden objects among its collections. ROM curatorial representatives introduced viewers to some of these artifacts which are virtually unknown to the public. This extraordinarily well-received episode now gives rise to the latest installment of the ROM’s successful, ongoing Out of the Vaults series.

Objects highlighted by Museum Secrets and now on display at the ROM include:

Infant Mummy
Dating back 2,000 years, this child likely died at less than six months of age. The infant is properly mummified, with internal organs removed and packing material inserted in the chest and abdominal cavities. Painted images on the mummy’s wrappings speak of parental love and care in Ancient Egypt and show the child embraced by the jackal god Anubis while a grieving parent makes offerings to the infant’s spirit. Egyptologist Gayle Gibson offers a well-informed hypothesis on the infant’s life and death.

Mystery Vessels
The unusually high temperature at which these small 13th century Islamic clay vessels were fired, as well as their walls--over twice as thick as those of other containers of similar size--renders these vessels highly mysterious. Robert Mason, specialist on the material culture of the Middle East, addresses the question of the vessels’ purpose. His sensible explanation is that they were hand-grenades. The components of gunpowder were certainly known in the Middle East at this time, and the strength of the vessel would create a bigger explosion and deliver more deadly shrapnel. When modern replicas of these containers are exploded by gunpowder, their patterns of breakage echo those found in the ancient examples, strongly supporting Mason’s hypothesis.

Lost Dinosaur
Owing to the many moves of the dinosaur collection over the years, the bones of a dinosaur lay scattered and uncatalogued in the ROM’s collections room for decades. Once discovered and assembled, a 90-foot sauropod dinosaur, the Barosaurus, emerged and took its rightful place as the centerpiece of the ROM’s James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs. Recognized as the second most complete specimen of this species ever found, the ROM’s Barosaurus is the largest dinosaur on display in Canada. Representing the sauropod here is a scapula (shoulder blade), discovered in Utah and dated to 150 million years ago. Palaeontologist David Evans was newly appointed to the ROM when he found the bones hiding in plain sight.

Medieval Crossbow
In much of late 15th century Europe, the distance weapon of choice was the crossbow. It took no time, however, for the known to be replaced by the unknown: the musket. Why was the crossbow so quickly dismissed and replaced by the lethal, but untested, new weapon? The featured artifact, from South Germany or Austria, is an early example of its type and is dated to c. 1480. Corey Keeble, an internationally recognized authority on European arms and armour, conducted investigative field tests to determine the reasons behind the crossbow’s rapid descent into oblivion.

Headdress associated with Sitting Bull
This stunning artifact is certainly rare and valuable. It has been identified as a Sioux headdress dated to c. 1875, but did it ever belong to Sitting Bull (c.1831-1890), the legendary Lakota chief who defeated the U. S. Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of Little Big Horn? While in exile in Saskatchewan, Sitting Bull is said to have given his headdress to his friend Major James Walsh, the Northwest Mounted Policeman. Walsh gave it to his friend Sir William Van Horne, who in turn donated it to the ROM around 1914. Arni Brownstone, a specialist of Native American Ethnography and Culture, has found numerous written references supporting this collection history. However, none of these documents cite their source of information. For this reason, and because one should be particularly skeptical about attributions to famed individuals like Sitting Bull, the headdress may still hold a secret.

Champion Bulldog
Bunjie was a three year old, international champion, perhaps the most famous bulldog in the world when he died suddenly in Toronto during an extreme heat wave in July, 1936. Bunjie’s owner donated him to the ROM to serve as an ideal example of his breed. Seventy-five years later, the modern bulldog displays a number of remarkable differences from Bunjie, including shorter legs, a much shorter face, and a more rectangular stance. With today’s bulldogs experiencing health issues related to their form, breeders have expressed interest in returning to some of the characteristics evident in Bunjie. Mammalogist Mark Engstrom leads an examination of Bunjie’s mounted remains, uncovering revelations about the unintended consequences of selective breeding.

The ROM’s curatorial representatives are scheduled to be available to visitors each weekend to answer questions and provide additional information about the displayed objects.

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