At long last, we no longer have to think that Shelley the Glyptodon‘s feet are four cylindrical poles. They aren’t!
Owing to online shopping, we have managed to obtain modern casts of all her leg bones from the professional fossil replica artists at Gaston Design Inc., who also provided her new head. Over the course of the fall semester, we have carefully painted the casts in colors similar to those of the original of the Ward’s cast, which resides in the Natural History Museum of Dijon, France, nowadays part of the Jardin des Sciences.
When Orange Judd donated Shelley to Wesleyan in 1871, she arrived with one hind leg, as shown in the catalog and photographs of the museum. Since the museum in Judd Hall was emptied to make space for laboratories in 1957, Shelley’s skull and hind leg have been lost. We know that the crate with the head and foot in 1957 were placed in the room at the end of the tunnels under Foss Hill where the carapace was found in 2017, but there are no records from 1970, when many specimens, including Shelley’s tail, were moved to the penthouse of Exley. It seems probable that the crate with head and foot disappeared between 1957 and 1970, during which time many specimens were vandalized or stolen, as reported in 1970.
Fossils casts produced in the 1800s used latex as a molding material, with plaster of Paris as the main casting materials. These plaster casts are not only heavy and brittle, but capture relatively few details of the original specimen. Modern casts such as Shelley’s skull and legs are molded in silicone and cast in lightweight modern resins, which captures the exquisite details as can be seen in the original biogenic structures.
The trickiest part in this project of adding feet to Shelley is the building of the armature that supports the various leg bones in a naturalistic pose while fitting it between the support structure of the carapace, while keeping scientific accuracy of the position of the feet and showing a lifelike position. Bruce Strickland of the Machine Shop is our skilled Glyptodon Engineer, who is designing and crafting these customized pieces of hardware.
In the Spring of 2019, we hope to welcome the rest of Shelley back into Wesleyan, as she is reunited with her limbs. We literally can’t wait, and we hope you feel so too.