Dinosaurs in the Vault and the Environment

In the early 1990s, Don Everhart of the Society of Medalists from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, struck a series of bronze medals depicting dinosaurs on their obverse and corresponding fossils on the reverse. As climate change becomes increasingly visible and requires the cooperation of the international political community, these medals start to gain new meanings. Will humans rise to the challenge of the impending environmental turmoil, or will we perish?

Bronze Medal of Society of Medalists, Sioux Falls, SD. ANS 1995.75.7.
Bronze Medal of Society of Medalists, Sioux Falls, SD. ANS 1995.75.7.

Consider the meticulously designed stegosaurus medal. Its distinctive spine curves down to its tail fitting perfectly within the irregular shape of the medal (ANS 1995.75.7). We see the majestic dinosaur’s profile sipping from a lake while a T-Rex looms in the distance. Like coarse rocks, each medal in this series is fashioned in an irregular shape to emphasize the body of the creature. Unlike the lifelike scene on obverse in relief, on the reverse all of it vanishes into bones pressed into the ground. A thin edge between existence and extinction.

1995.75.5
Bronze Medal of Society of Medalists, Sioux Falls, SD. ANS 1995.75.5.

While the medalist, Everhart, may have never intended for these medals to have any implications for climate change, they make the problem tangible today. Each dinosaur portrait represents the coming and going of an entire species. In spite of their monumental might, they were not able to survive the test of time. Accordingly, they are miniaturized and fossilized into an medal now in the ANS’s vault.

Bronze Medal of Society of Medalists, Sioux Falls, SD. ANS 1995.75.2.
Bronze Medal of Society of Medalists, Sioux Falls, SD. ANS 1995.75.2.

As much as collections such as the American Numismatic Society exist for us to learn about the past, they are as much for us to interpret and reinterpret today. If numismatic objects are historicized only in relation to the immediately preceding and following periods, sometimes their broader importance can be overlooked. The elegant medallic dinosaur fossils remind us that humans too could one day be in danger if we do not take care of the natural world around us.