Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.


In the Words of Taylor Hanson

As you know from Digging Deep for Leadership, each year 12 high school students from across Oklahoma participate in Paleo Expedition - a hands-on two-week paleontological experience in Black Mesa. This year Taylor Hanson and Zane Woods, two of our Board of Visitors members, decided to visit the site to do a little digging of their own! And of course, we were thrilled to have them.

Wait! It gets better. Hanson has chronicled the experience in a four-page story that will appear in the summer edition of Tracks, the museum newsletter. And today, we’re offering you a sneak peek! So relax, pull up a chair and lose yourself in the words of Taylor Hanson.


In the Footsteps of Dinosaurs

After our introduction to the site we were anxious to get to work and be of some service. At the front edge of the quarry was a cluster of earth, which had recently been coated with thick layers of plaster carefully molded around it to protect the fossil during transportation before being examined at the museum.

Now that the team had a couple of extra willing strong backs, Zane and I set out to perform the task of carefully flipping the nearly 300-pound cluster of earth that was half in plaster, in order to finish the preparatory process of chiseling away the remaining sediment for transport.

We set out to perform this simple task with smiles on our face and a not-so-small streak of nervousness - knowing that in a matter of minutes we could be responsible for destroying millions of years of time-protected fossil and a fair bit of labor by our hosts. Thankfully with close instruction and a healthy heave, two science tourists were able to perform the task successfully (and greatly relieved to have done so). 

Over the period of the afternoon we took on whatever tasks we could.  We joined the team in the detailed and dusty job of excavating one inch at a time the excess soil and clay, each clinging to the bottom of the fossils earthen cluster, and I enjoyed every scuffed knuckle and dust-coated wipe of my brow.

All around me I saw a team of passionate people putting their years of dedicated study and practice into action, carefully unearthing a new part of history. To be among them brush and pick in hand as a total novice getting the chance to share in that discovery was absolutely incredible.


Amazing, right? Now, we know what you’re thinking. Where are the other three pages?! To read the rest of Hanson’s story, pick up a copy of Tracks - available at the end of July in the museum lobby. Or better yet, become a museum member! We’ll even mail it to you. Either way, you won’t want to miss this article. Because whether you’re a lover of paleontology, Oklahoma or Hanson, there’s something for everyone in this rich recollection.

Here’s to the Red, White and Blue Star Museums

Nothing touches the heart (and wets the eyes) like watching a veteran reunited with his or her family. But what happens after the camera stops rolling? When the bear hugs are over and the tears wiped away? Whether Marines or National Guard, Iraq or Fort Hood, all military personnel deserve one very special thing – quality time with loved ones. 

That’s where Blue Star Museums comes into play. Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and more than 2,000 museums nationwide. In short, it’s a simple way for museums to express gratitude by offering military personnel and their families an opportunity to visit at no cost.

“As we kick off our fifth year of Blue Star Museums, more museums than ever are part of this military appreciation program,” said NEA Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa. “Together with Blue Star Families and more than 2,000 museums, we are proud to help connect military families with the cultural resources in their communities.” 

Every year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, participating museums offer complimentary admission to the active duty military personnel and their families – including National Guard and Reserve. The Sam Noble Museum is proud to once again participate in this prestigious alliance in 2014.

“We are pleased to recognize the sacrifice that our military make in service to their country,” said museum director Michael Mares. “We hope they will enjoy special family time at the museum.” 

The Sam Noble Museum is one of many places in Oklahoma that hires veterans, and the Blue Star Museums program holds a special place in the heart of several museum employees. 

“As a veteran, it’s a humbling experience to know that individuals and institutions have such appreciation for the sacrifices service men and women make,” said Jen Tregarthen, PR and marketing officer for the museum. “I’m honored to work for one of those institutions.”

The Sam Noble Museum is just one of 30 Blue Star Museums in Oklahoma. Others include the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and the Oklahoma History Center. For a complete list of participating museums in Oklahoma, click here

At the end of day, it’s not about seeing the world’s largest Apatosaurus or exploring Black Mesa in the Hall of Natural Wonders. It’s about family experiences. We hope that you will share this post with a service member in your life, and to all of the military personnel out there – thank you for your service to our country.

Tools of the Trade

Thanks to viral videos like “Pizza to Supermodel,” we’re all familiar with the power of Photoshop. But did you know that scientists use Photoshop too? Take a look.

 Impressive, right? As you saw in the video, invertebrate paleontologists use the same software as top advertisers – but you won’t find them airbrushing supermodels.

As the name suggests, invertebrate paleontology specializes in the study of fossilized invertebrates. To study these small organisms, paleontologists must use a sophisticated method of photography to properly capture all aspects of a given fossil. While scientists do not use programs like Photoshop to transform an image, they do adjust lighting details to reveal parts of the fossils unseen to the naked eye.



Because cameras must choose a point of focus in close-range shots, the entire fossils cannot be in focus at once. That is why scientists snap a series of photographs – up to 100 per specimen – in which the focus continuously shifts by minimal increments. Often this process can take up to 20 minutes per specimen.

“Based on what taxa we are imaging, we usually take three or four standard views of an object – dorsal, anterior, lateral and so on,” said Roger Burkhalter, invertebrate paleontology collection manager. “Each view takes a couple of minutes to position and focus, then we take multiple images.” 

After all of these images are obtained, they are uploaded to a computer. Then, Helicon Focus software compresses all of the images at once. In doing so, the program merges the focused portions of each photograph. Then Photoshop is used to adjust brightness and contrast levels. In the end, the paleontologist is left with one crisp, high-resolution image.



According to Burkhalter, the Sam Noble Museum has been using this method of stacking for 5-6 years. Due to critical advances in software and camera hardware, the department has only grown more successful in image stacking with time. 

So, what becomes of a fossil’s cover shoot? Many will be published in articles in specialized scientific journals that document the fossils, but most are stored so that they can be accessed for later research or identification. But now, for the first time, we’re bringing our most exquisite work to you through Formed in Stone: The Natural Beauty of Fossils.


These portraits and their respective “models” will be on display to wow museum visitors with an array of dazzling geometric patterns. From July 4 to Jan. 4,  2015, guests can enjoy a wide variety of spectacular of fossils ranging from 80 to 455 million years old.

“The fossils have a natural beauty that can be appreciated by the public, regardless of their level of interest in the biology and evolution of extinct animals,” said Steve Westrop, invertebrate paleontology curator. “We hope that the images will spark curiosity, and that visitors will be inspired to learn more from this exhibit, the permanent exhibits at the museum and our website. “

 Added bonus! We’re offering complimentary admission on opening day to celebrate. So whether you’re in it for the art, photography or science, join us from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 4 in admiring the beautiful handiwork from these tools of the trade.

Accreditation - What’s the Big Deal?

In the United States alone, museums employ more than 400,000 people and directly contribute $21 billion to the economy. Impressive, right? Despite these striking statistics, museums are still struggling. In fact, more than two-thirds of museums reported economic distress in 2012. 


This sad dino by Roamin’ Doodles understands the pain.

Fortunately, there is something museum’s can do. The American Alliance of Museums offers accreditation to institutions dedicated to excellence and high professional standards. But financial motives aren’t the only reason a museum would apply for accreditation. 

According to the AAM website, some of the benefits of accreditation include: 

→ Increased credibility with donors and funding agencies

→ A clear sense of purpose and understanding

→ A valuable tool in lobbying local and state governments

→ Increased level of professionalism

→ Improved relationships with other museums

Sounds great, right? Of all the natural history museums in the United States, only 8 percent are accredited – the Sam Noble Museum included. That’s right! In 2014, the Sam Noble Museum was awarded accreditation for the fourth consecutive time. Of course, not all institutions who apply are accepted, which is why this is such a significant achievement. 

“This means the museum continues to meet the National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums,” explained museum director Michael Mares.

The museum endured a rigorous application process that consisted of a year of self-study and site visits by peer reviewers. It is not uncommon for the process of accreditation to take up to three years.

So, what does this mean for you?


It means we are dedicated to preserving Oklahoma’s cultural and natural history, and we’ve been commended for our efforts to do so. Stronger relationships with other museums could also mean more loans for research and more traveling exhibits. As you can see, accreditation is a big deal. Don’t belive us? Check out this congratulatory video from AAM president Ford Bell.

The certificate of accreditation, framed and matted just beside Redbud Café, is on display for all Oklahomans to see, so they can continue to have confidence in the nationally recognized quality of their museum.

Forensic Files Series Leads OU Student to Museum

“It all started with a Forensic Files episode. They used diatoms to link the assailants and the crime scene, and I just thought they were so beautiful. I love how something so small can have such large applications.”

 Shelly Wu’s fascination with diatoms began her sophomore year at Loyola University New Orleans. As a biology major, Wu knew she wanted to pursue a life of science, though lacked a specific focus. One evening at home, Wu stumbled upon the NBC series that would lead her to specialize in diatoms.

Video, Diatoms in Action

Diatoms are a major group of algae that appear in nearly every major body of water. Though small in size, these microorganisms have big applications – like forensics, water quality, even filtering beer. Diatoms often attach to turtle shells and establish themselves as part of a microhabitat, which is of particular interest to scientists.

 Currently, only two papers have been published on turtle shell diatoms – both on Amazonian species. But Wu hopes to change that. Thanks to a prestigious summer internship funded by the National Science Foundation, Wu was awarded $4,000 to research diatoms on Oklahoma turtle shells beneath Sam Noble Museum herpetology curator Cameron Siler. 


Wu in the field

 “During such a difficult time to educate younger generations of researchers about the importance and incredibly broad utility of these collections, it is always exciting to see students develop novel approaches to working in natural history museums,” said Siler.

 Through her research, which began in March, Wu hopes to answer three major questions. Do different turtle species support different species of diatoms? Are diatom species on a turtle host selective for particular microhabitats on the turtle’s shell? How do diatom communities on the common snapping turtle and red-eared slider vary across different regions of the US? To answer these questions, Wu is sampling, analyzing and comparing the microhabitats of five Oklahoma turtle species. 


Wu studies Oklahoma’s common snapping turtle

 “I sample six specific areas of the shell using a brush and circular plastic tube,” Wu explained. “I place the tube over the area, circle the brush 10 times and move to the next spot. Then I use a light microscope to examine the sample.”

In order to access the needed research material, Wu works closely with Liz Bergey from the Oklahoma Biological Survey and museum herpetology collection manager Jessa Watters. As a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma, Wu’s work will also help to develop her master’s thesis on the possible relationship between diatoms, algae dispersion and turtle migration.

“Down the road it would be nice to know which diatoms are on live turtles,” said Wu. “It could help us better understand the relationship between algae dispersion and turtle migration.”

Education 101

You’ve got a lot of choices when it comes to your child’s education – especially in the summer. It’s important for parents to do their homework before enrolling in educational programming, so grab your pencil! Class is now in session.

 Lesson 1 – Not all Education is Equal


Unlike many educational programs outside of school, our curriculum is developed by trained educators to complement the statewide plan. Additionally, our educators strive to go above and beyond the Oklahoma Science Standards, providing additional science education to students who may lack opportunities and resources.

 “We provide out of school opportunities for students to engage in science and explore the world that they can’t access in their schools,” said Jes Cole, head of education. “We are really fortunate to be a complement and to help supplement Oklahoma schools for science education.”

 By teaching Oklahoma children the joy of experiential learning, the museum has molded statewide science education. In the past year, 1,245 participants enrolled in our public education programming, and the museum has impacted 219,380 students through field trips in the past decade.

Lesson 2 – You Don’t Need a Classroom


Nothing is more terrifying to a teacher than watching his or her students discard precious information over summer vacation. But there is something you as a parent can do, and it starts with Summer Explorers.

Summer Explorers is the Sam Noble Museum’s summer educational programming for students ages 4-14. We offer a wide variety of courses throughout the summer - covering everything from baby to animals to pond scum, world cultures to paleontology. It’s a chance to see the world behind the safety of gallery walls.

“There aren’t many summer camps that have the same security that watches over priceless artifacts in the same area as my priceless kiddo,” said Amy Davenport, parent of a former Summer Explorer. “Whenever we drop Zoey off to class, we know she is in great hands.”

Lesson 3 – Learning is for Life


If you’ve ever heard the term lifelong learner, then you know that curiosity is not outgrown. Adults love digging in the sand for buried fossils just as much as their children, especially when playing for keeps.  That’s why the museum offers family and adult-only public programs.

 “Everyone is a lifelong learner, and everyone’s always wanting to learn more,” said Cole. “We try to offer what other educational institutions cannot, and that’s how we design our adult programming.”

In addition to inspiring new interests, adult education also strives to answer everyday dilemmas with specialized scientific knowledge. From preserving family heirlooms to mastering macrophotography, these programs foster learning for life.

 Exam Review

 Summer brings ample opportunity to enroll your child in educational programming - but will you make the correct choice? Every right answer begins in a book, so study up using our education website! Come see what science education is all about, and discover our school of thought.

A Mammalogist’s Homecoming


 What comes to mind when you think of summer? Melting popsicles? The smell of freshly cut grass? Lazy days by the pool? For mammalogists across the country, summer means one very important thing – the annual ASM conference.

 What’s ASM, you ask? The American Society of Mammalogists was founded in 1919 to promote interest in the study of mammals. To do so, the organization issues regular publications about upcoming news while maintaining extensive online photographic database that covers a wide variety of animals.


First ASM Conference in 1919

“The ASM fosters the next generation of mammalogists by providing small research grants, fellowships, internships and honoraria to promising students,” said Edward Heske, ASM president. “We offer a welcoming and supportive environment where young scientists can grow and move out into their new professional universe, and what could be greater ‘return on investment’ than that?” 

Every year, the members of this prestigious organization meet face-to-fact to catch up with old friends, exchange research and discuss current events in the field. If nothing else, the conference is an amazing opportunity for scientists to learn from and encourage one another as they pursue their passion.


The 2012 Conference in Reno

“Many of us see each other only once a year at the meetings and, on a personal level, it’s like a big annual homecoming,” said Eileen Lacey, ASM president elect. “Aside from the social component, it’s a very stimulating chance to talk about the science and the organisms that are of greatest interest to me, so a very rewarding professional experience as well.”

Why are we so excited? Because this year’s conference will be held in Oklahoma City from June 6-10!  Meetings are typically held in major cities like Portland, Philadelphia and Reno, so the 2014 selection comes as an honor. Many of our Sam Noble Museum mammalogists are already gearing up for the conference. Get ready! We’re attending this year’s conference and (of course) bringing you all the details! Stay tuned, friends.

Two Is Better Than One

As we mentioned last year in a related post, museums typically showcase only three to five percent of their collections due to vulnerability. This leaves the vast majority of specimens and artifacts in need of preservation, which is often extensive and expensive. A foundation of awareness is necessary before funds can be raised or research conducted.

In 2013, the Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust established the Top Ten Most Endangered Artifacts Campaign, funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. This campaign strives to generate publicity for preservation. For museums, the competition sheds light on the pressing and often unseen issue of conservation. 

"Each year thousands of visitors have the opportunity to experience and enjoy irreplaceable treasures in institutions across the state," said Susan Feller, co-project director of the Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust. "This program allows us to assist with ongoing efforts to provide for the proper care of these items and ensure their preservation to allow future generations to continue to enjoy these cherished treasures."

Museums, libraries and archives from across the state may submit artifacts for selection. This year a panel of judges selected ten finalists. We are pleased to announce that the Sam Noble Museum has placed among the top 10 for the second year in a row!

Elsbeth Dowd, museum registrar, and Susie Fishman-Armstrong, archaeology collection manager, represent the museum at the state capital.

As you may recall, last year we submitted a swatch of lace from the Spiro Mounds – one of the oldest textiles known from Oklahoma. This year, we nominated another artifact related to Spiro Mounds, an illustration of an engraved pottery vessel from that site. This picture – from 1940 – depicts the art, religion and cosmology of the ancestral Caddo and Wichita people who inhabited the site between 800 and 1450 A.D.

Spiro Pottery Illustration

The illustration was drawn on matboard, which is now beginning to turn yellow. Additionally, the piece has two pinholes in the top corners, glue remnants on the back and smudges across the front surface. 

In addition to being accepted into the program, the winning institutions were each presented with a Cultural Heritage Stewardship Award signed by Governor Mary Fallin, Senator John Sparks and Representative Emily Virgin, who will be visiting the museum on May 28 for a tour of our 12 collections.

The ten finalists pose at the awards ceremony

This year’s winners also included the Ataloa Lodge Museum, Bartlesville Area History Museum, Cherokee National Historical Society, Drumright Historical Society Museum, Hughes County Historical Society and Museum, Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive, Melvin B. Tolson Black Heritage Center, Oklahoma Railway Museum and the Woodring Wall of Honor

The Cultural Heritage Stewardship Award is just one of many ways the Sam Noble Museum strives to provide top-notch care for the artifacts within its walls. They say you cannot know where you going until you’ve know where you’ve been – and that’s exactly why we must strive to protect Oklahoma’s living history.

From Science Education to Science Fiction

Whether racing for Team USA or scripting an award-winning screenplay, our faculty and staff has a history of making news outside of their work at the museum. Seriously, they do it all - and museum director Michael Mares wants to highlight those achievements! So when staff writer Laura (L. A.) Wilcox debuted her first novel, we knew it would be a hit. Like a hashtag creating, call your mom, blog-worthy kind of hit.


Naturally, we were right. On April 1, Renegade hit virtual stands around the world. What’s it about? We thought you’d never ask. Renegade is about a time traveler named Andrew Simmons who seems to do all the right things at exactly the wrong time. In Andrew’s world, there are just three rules to being a traveler.

1. Do not, under any circumstance, interfere with your environment during travel.

2. Do not carry other persons or large articles during travel.

3. Always keep your talisman on your person at all times.

But when Andrew loses his talisman in pre-revolutionary Boston, he must race against the clock to retrieve his only way home. Everything is on the line – family, love, freedom, honor and quite possibly the future. But as time reveals a long line of dark secrets, Andrew realizes he must save more than just his skin. He must also save his kind.

Catchy, right? Even the president thinks so.

We’re proud of our staff’s accomplishments, but we’re not the only ones! So far, local press and a handful of booky bloggers have reviewed Wilcox’s novel. Read the reviews and author page at Goodreads to see what others are saying.

Now, you’re probably wondering where you can get your copy.

Renegade is available on Amazon Kindle for $3.99 and in paperback for $9.99, so you’re really just a click away. Lucky you! Question: are you a social media socialite? You are?! Join the conversation on Renegade’s social sites for Facebook and Twitter.

 From science education to science fiction, we’ve got you covered.

SNOMNH Block Party - It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Last month, we announced that the Institute for Museums and Library Services named the Sam Noble Museum one of thirty National Medal finalists. For a quick refresher, check out our IMLS National Media Q&A. If we’re Facebook friends, then you’ve likely heard the big news – we have been officially chosen as one of ten winners! That means we are one of the five greatest museums in the country, out of 17,500. No big deal, but…


Ron Burgundy agrees, so it must be true.

Wait. It gets better. This morning at 10 a.m., museum director Michael Mares and former ExplorOlogy student Ernesto Vargas visited the White House – yes, the White House - to receive the National Medal from First Lady Michelle Obama on behalf of the museum. We broadcast the live stream of the ceremony on our website this morning, and there may have been a few teary eyes. Check out the photo below!

Starring: Ernesto Vargas, Michael Mares and First Lady Michelle Obama

As you can see, the National Media is a pretty big deal. Like, a huge deal – so huge, we’ve decided to throw the largest prehistoric party in the modern era! And, of course, you’re invited. Busy on June 1 from 1 to 5 p.m.? No? Good. Join us as we celebrate the amazing Oklahomans like you who made us the award-winning museum we are today.


We’re gonna’ party like it’s 3 million B.C.E.

On top of free admission, we’ve got cake, refreshments and great eats from your favorite food trucks. What more could you ask for? Wait, what’s that? Live music you say? Let’s not forget our amazing lineup of local melodies. Travis Linville, Tequila Songbirds, Sherree Chamberlain and Mike Hosty. These are the big leagues, folks. Could you possibly pack more talent onto a single stage? Hint: The answer is no.


 Such talent!

So bring your kids, neighbors, and friends – even your dog! Bring anyone and everyone. We’re the only institution in Oklahoma to receive this prestigious award, and we believe that’s something worth celebrating. There are just 24 days until June 1, and this party’s going to be cooler than the Ice Age. image

P.S. This is you outside the museum at our block party.

Will you join the celebration?