I had a free day before my talk on Theology versus Science, so, after a big Scottish breakfast (minus the beans and black pudding), I went to the National Museum of Scotland, a wonderful place that combines Scottish technology, natural history, and human history. A few highlights:
My first Irish elk (actually a deer)! This species, Megalocerus giganteus, lived from about half a million years ago to about 10,000 years ago, and may have gone extinct owing in part to human predation. It had the largest antlers for its size of any deer we know of: the males had 90-pound antlers on a five-pound skull! And they had to be regrown each year! As I tell my students, imagine yourself walking around all day with a teenage girl on top of your head.
Imagine, too, the metabolic energy (and neck strength) that these antlers required—all in the name of sexual selection (males with big horns were more attractive to females). This was the first complete skeleton of the animal to be found, recovered on the Isle of Man in 1819. It’s thought to be about 12,500 years old:
A rear view of the skeleton showing the lovely open interior of the museum (exhibits are around the side):
A saber-toothed cat (they didn’t give the species, but it’s probably the amusingly-named Smilodon):
There is simply too much to show from the Museum, but I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Edinburgh. Entry is free.
Here’s what is supposedly the world’s largest example of scrimshaw: two sperm-whale jaws that were extensively carved by a sailor:
Jackie Stewart’s (now “Sir Jackie”) Formula 1 racing car is there, too. The cockpit is extraordinarily small! It’s the most successful Formula 1 chassis of all time, with 8 wins in 1971 and 1972, powered by a Ford-Cosworth DSV engine. The variety of stuff in the museum is astounding, and you can spend many hours in there, no matter what your interests:
Don’t miss the rooftop terrace, with a fine view of Edinburgh and the castle:
Solipsistic self portrait (in shadow) with Edinburgh. I had to climb up on a wall to take this, and the guard eventually yelled at me to get down, but not before I snapped this panorama:
Museum-going is of course thirsty work, so I repaired to the nearby Guildford Arms, my favorite pub in Edinburgh. It has a gorgeous Victorian interior and about ten real ales:
Which to choose? (This is only half of their selection):
I drink only one pint at lunch, so it was a hard choice between Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted and one of my favorite dark beers, Orkney Dark Island. I chose the former, but was able to accompany it with a steak-and-ale pie made with the Dark Island:
If you are in Edinburgh, the Guildford is only a short 2-minute walk from Waverley Station, the main railroad station. It’s one of my favorite pubs in all the UK.
I am in St. Andrews today, visiting an old friend, but will head to Glasgow for my talk tomorrow evening at Skeptics in the Pub (information here).