The Oakland Museum of California has finished its three-years-plus shutdown of the Natural Science gallery; the new Gallery of California Natural Sciences had its grand opening today. I got a backstage look at it earlier this week and gave it a thumbs-up for KQED Science yesterday. For me the highlight is the gateway section of the gallery, all about Oakland. All except for Oakland (and California) geology. As far as geology goes, the museum’s great serpentinite boulder on the roof, shown here in 2000, is still as good as it gets.
You’ll see in the new gallery how Oakland looked 300 years ago: its forests and grasslands and marshes. But you won’t see how it looked 30,000 years ago, or 3 million, or why those times are still relevant today. You won’t get a clue to the underlying framework that explains this landscape, or the deep history encoded there. You won’t see a hint of the active faults that shaped, and continue to shape, our region, nor will you see how they link us to California—how all of California is united—in a tight tectonic embrace. You won’t learn where and why the first Oaklanders dug for stone and gravel and water, or why they stopped. You’ll be able to add your backyard oak to a biome database that maps the ghostly living traces of our original forest—a marvelous thing!—but not your backyard outcrop or neighborhood roadcut.
All those things would have been simple to weave into the plan. The geologic subtheme would have enriched the whole exhibit and made it more truly a natural sciences gallery. Instead the new gallery is stuck, geologically speaking, back in 1969 when the old gallery was built. I’ll keep doing what I can here to fill the gap.