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April 30, 2008

Press Release:

The Virginia Museum of Natural History received a Silver MUSE award from the American Association of Museums during an awards ceremony held on April 27 at the Colorado Convention Center during the AAM Annual Meeting in Denver. The museum received the award for the interactive bone-bed in the "Carmel Church" exhibit located in the "Uncovering Virginia" gallery.

The MUSE Awards are presented by the Media and Technology Committee of the American Association of Museums, recognizing outstanding achievement in museum media and technology. Now in its 19th year, the MUSE Awards competition received almost 200 applications in 2008 from a wide variety of museums in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Past MUSE awards recipients include the Field Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, Museum Victoria in Australia, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and more.

The "Carmel Church" exhibit represents an active VMNH research site near Richmond that is a dense bone-bed of fossil whales, sharks, and other marine animals that lived 14 million years ago. The centerpiece of the award-winning "Carmel Church" exhibit is a reconstruction of the partially-excavated Carmel Church bone-bed, with numerous fossil remains, a monitor-and-track-wheel control panel in front of the reconstruction, and an overhead projection screen presented as if looking up from the seafloor. The control screen displays a navigable image of the bone-bed, which visitors can explore using a cursor designed to look like an paleontological brush. When a bone from the model is selected, a new screen appears with an information page about that bone. In keeping with the active research theme, the data are presented in a "field notebook" style, and the text is a font based on the lead scientist's handwriting. In addition, some of the specimens are only partly identified or listed as "unidentifiable" to emphasize the incomplete nature of the research.

Four of the species in the bone-bed offer a special surprise. When a visitor selects the bones of a whale, shark, ray, and sea turtle, they trigger an animated silhouette of the selected species, swimming overhead, as if they were under the sea looking up towards the surface. The presence of more than 50 specimens representing 20 species in the reconstruction, with only about 10 percent of them activating an animation, keeps the visitor engaged and ensures that repeat visitors never have exactly the same experience.

"I am very pleased that the museum, in cooperation with Cortina Productions, has received this prestigious award from the American Association of Museums," said Timothy J. Gette, executive director of the Virginia Museum of Natural History. "Our state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits are the result of a collaborative effort involving VMNH scientists, educators, and other staff working with exhibit designers and fabricators. This award helps to place VMNH among the highest quality natural history museums in the nation."

The "Carmel Church" interactive bone-bed and other VMNH multimedia components were produced in conjunction with Cortina Productions. For more information about "Carmel Church" or other state-of-the-art, interactive VMNH exhibits, visit For more information about Cortina Productions, visit