Philly Post: Cultured: Our Favorite Intriguing Artifacts From Three New Exhibits

Da Vinci’s chopper, a 2000 B.C. broad, and the scariest shark ever.

The Helicoprion

Sometimes extinction is a good thing, as in the case of this Jaws-as-conceived-by-Robert Rodriguez creature that, lucky for us, predated humans by a good 250 million years. Also known as a whorl-tooth shark, this prehistoric beast boasted upward of 180 teeth—all serrated—in a circular saw-like formation. The model conceived here was sculpted by paleoartist (yes, that’s a real thing) Gary Staab, whose full collection of “Bizarre Beasts Past and Present” is on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences through April.


The Aerial Screw

Put aside the Mile High Club jokes for a minute and consider this contraption: Four and a half centuries before the Wright brothers managed to get off the ground, Leonardo da Vinci sketched in his codex what is today considered humankind’s first step toward flight. A group of engineers and artisans in Milan recently transformed da Vinci’s helicopter drawing—as well as designs for his Self-Propelled Cart, Harpsichord-Viola, and Robot Soldier—into three-dimensional, to-scale models, which can be seen in the Franklin Institute’s “Leonardo da Vinci’s Workshop,” opening February 5.


The Beauty of Xiaohe

Forget the well-preserved ladies of the Dorchester. Check out the long eyelashes and hair on the 3,800-year-old dame dubbed the “Beauty of Xiaohe” by archaeologists. She and the other astonishingly intact mummified folks showcased in the Penn Museum’s brand-new “Secrets of the Silk Road” were among hundreds excavated in 2003 from a desert in far western China. Their Caucasian features and the gorgeous textiles, jewelry and even preserved food in their burial trappings have called into question long-held beliefs about migratory patterns and populations in this part of the world. That said, we could do without the swaddled “infant mummy” the curators chose to creep us out with.