Spoiler alert: Do not read this text if you intend to go see this museum.
On one of the “Top things to do in L.A.” lists I consulted, I found this museum. It didn’t say much about it, “the place needs to be experienced”, it advised. When I suggested it to Emily, she enthusiatically added it to our activity list. But she, too, did not want to inform me further on what was there to see. As you understand by now, I trust Emily’s judgement on these matters fully, and just tagged along.
We got to the museum that didn’t look very museum from the outside and entered a very dim-lit room with a for American standards quite not friendly cashier. (I today believe it is part of the concept.) We bought our tickets and went into the still very dark exhibition that started with declaring what the museum’s mission was, namely, to provide “the academic community with a specialized repository of relics and artifacts from the Lower Jurassic, with an emphasis on those that demonstrate unusual or curious technological qualities. On the other hand the Museum serves the general public by providing the visitor a hands-on experience of ‘life in the Jurassic’.” Hmm, okay, I thought, why did Emily think this would be something I should see? But I was trying to be open and wandered through the collection in which it was strictly prohibited to take photos or use one’s phone. In the style of a 16th century cabinet of curiosities, the museum displayed a a mixture of artistic, scientific, ethnographic, and historic items, as well as some unclassifiable exhibits. The connection to the Jurassic age was extremely unclear to me.
We looked at Collections from Los Angeles Area Trailer Parks, micro-miniature sculptures, each carved from a single human hair and placed within the eye of a needle (currently on display: Goofy, Pope John Paul II, and Napoleon I.), decomposing antique dice and an oil portrait gallery of the heroic dog cosmonauts, among others. All displays came with an elaborate explaination. After reading those and applying my historical knowledge, it dawned on me. Their seemingly scientific interpretations sounded pretty credible at first but when pondering what it actually said, I started noticing thing didn’t add up. Skillfully, they had presented information that almost could be true (in a text about a (probably alleged?) medieval German polymath they mentioned his visits to lots of German cities that were definitely relevant in the era, but then here and there things were just off or just a little too much to be true). As we went further through the exhibition, it grew more and more abstruse – and at the same time thus entertaining. “It’s basically a giant elaborate prank”, Emily mused. She also explained that one of the donors to the museum is a well-known comedy writer. This made total sense to me: The Museum of Jurassic Technology (I mean, the name alone? What technology in the Jurassic age?) is part comedy, part art installation to challenge visitors’ critical thinking. In the age of fake news, I find this a brilliant institution!
My favorite part of the exhibition was probably “Tell the Bees: Belief, Knowledge, and Hypersymbolic Cognition: An exhibit of pre-scientific cures and remedies”. There, they claimed that there used to be a ritual in which you had to inform the bees if something happened. If the matriach died, you needed to visit the bees and say “Little brownies, little brownies, your mistress has died”. If they hummed, it meant they consented to carry on living. You also had to formally invite them to the funeral. If you think this is an obviously made up ritual, consider the duck cure: If a person had bad breath, they claimed, people in former times put a duck’s beak into their mouth to cure it. Sounds totally crazy and implausible? Well, as a historian I can tell you that in the late 1800s, they put little German Prince Wilhelm’s disfigured arm into a dead rabbit daily because they thought it helped. You never know when the Museum of Jurassic Technology is fooling you or not…