Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
Although preservation knowledge is in no short supply, unfortunately, it is not always possible to administer optimal care to all of the millions of items that a museum houses. According to Lindsay Palaima, the Registrar at the Sam Noble Museum, museums often cannot show their most valued items as they are too fragile without extensive preservation efforts.
“It’s so hard working in museums because you show only three to five percent of what you have,” Palaima said.
The largest obstacle in artifact preservation is a lack of public awareness, which is why organizations have founded programs like the Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust. The program consists of a 2-year initiative funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Service that strives to generate publicity for the preservation needs of Oklahoma artifacts.
The Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust established the Top Ten Most Endangered Artifacts Campaign to do just that. Museums, libraries, and archives from across the state submitted their artifacts for selection, and between May 1 and June 1, the public will vote for their ten favorite artifacts.
On May 1, the Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust announced the Sam Noble Museum’s Spiro lace as a final contestant at a ceremony held at the Oklahoma State Capitol building. The museum received the Cultural Heritage Stewardship Award for their campaign progress thus far, but the museum will fight diligently for a spot in the top ten.
The twenty-five finalists at the OK State Capitol.
The Spiro lace, from 1400 AD, was discovered by a University of Oklahoma excavation team in the late 1930’s. It was buried beneath Craig Mound at the historic Native American Spiro Mounds location in eastern Oklahoma, which is known as one of the most significant ceremonial sites in North America. The site was actively used from 800 to 1450 AD.
The Spiro Mounds in eastern OK.
Archeologists discovered many artifacts beneath the mounds, and the lace survived in part because of its probable proximity to copper plates, whose metallic properties served as a preservation tool.
A close-up of the Spiro lace.
“It looks like they had many clothing and elaborate costumes we know nothing about,” said Dr. Elsbeth Dowd, the collection manager in the Sam Noble archaeology department. To read a more in-depth article about the lace, you can visit the museum’s archaeology blog.
According to Dr. Dowd, this fragment of lace survives as Oklahoma’s oldest textile and offers previously unknown information about the way Native Americans lived centuries ago. Unfortunately, to prevent further deterioration and tearing, the founders glued the textile to a yellow matboard.
Current preservation efforts are geared at finding out if there is a way to safely remove the lace from the matboard, as the acidic properties of the board will gradually inflict damage. Additionally, with the lace removed, archaeologists like Dr. Dowd would be able to conduct a more informative analysis of the lace using methods such as fiber analysis and 3D scanning.
“Being able to conserve this to give people access to the lace would really be great for research,” confirms Dr. Dowd.
Dr. Dowd and Palaima at the OK State Capitol.
Dr. Dowd, Palaima, and Dr. Marc Levine, the Sam Noble’s Archaeology Curator, are working as Spiro lace advocates to save Oklahoma history. Now, you can too.
By voting online for the Spiro lace, you are propelling the museum one step closer to a place in the top ten. To vote, click here.
There is no limit to how often you can vote, so remember to vote and vote often. Oklahoma has a unique and rich heritage, and it’s our job as Oklahomans to be responsible stewards of the great land we’ve inherited. So cast your vote, and stay tuned for the results June 1!
Last Friday, May 3, recent University of Oklahoma graduate and noted photographer Thomas Shahan visited the Sam Noble Museum for a Gallery Talk, a chance to discuss photography techniques, Oklahoma spiders, and everything in between. Shahan also spoke about his work on display in the museum’s exhibit, Beautiful Beasts: The Unseen Life of Oklahoma Spiders and Insects.
Shahan discussing his work.
All eyes and ears were on Shahan as he walked through his process of shooting his captivating, insect models. Many guests were astonished to hear that all of Shahan’s work features local spiders and insects, many of which he discovered biking through Norman, Oklahoma.
Shahan and his glamorously furry model.
This was no ordinary lecture, however. Shahan’s animated personality lit up the room as he actively engaged his audience. Shahan structured the Gallery Talk as more of a two-way discussion rather than a straightforward lecture, which many of his visitors appreciated. By engaging guests in his discussion, Shahan engaged them in his art.
Shahan interacts with some young fans during the Gallery Talk.
After the Gallery Talk concluded, guests stuck around for a chance to socialize with Shahan during the reception. Over some complimentary hor d’ouevres, visitors chatted with Shahan one-on-one as they caught a rare glimpse of the man behind the camera.
What a spread!
Guests chatting with Shahan after the Gallery Talk.
A red shiner minnow.
Now you see them; now you don’t. After years of being the most common fish in local creeks, the red shiner seemingly disappeared from several streams in southern Oklahoma.
Dr. Edie Marsh-Matthews, an ichthyologist at the Sam Noble Museum, and her colleagues have been studying the fish community of Brier Creek in southern Oklahoma for many years. In 2005, they noticed that red shiner minnows had disappeared from many creeks where they had once been very common, including Brier Creek. All of the creeks from which red shiners disappeared are direct tributaries of Lake Texoma, a manmade impoundment of the Red River and Washita River in southern Oklahoma.
The loss of the red shiner was very puzzling because it is very common and tolerant of extreme conditions, such as high temperature and low oxygen in the water. To explain the loss of this hardy fish, Dr. Marsh-Matthews and her colleagues suggested that the creeks might have been altered over time due to the reservoir in a way that increased habitats for predators on red shiners. Then, in 2007, there was a major flood during which lake waters backed up many miles into the creeks, and red shiners reappeared in some of the creeks. The scientists expected that the red shiners would once more become common in Brier Creek, but surprisingly, they were not.
Dr. Marsh-Matthews and her student at Brier Creek.
To try and understand the reasons that red shiners could not become re-established in Brier Creek, Dr. Marsh-Matthews and her colleagues designed a series of experiments using the artificial streams located at the University of Oklahoma’s Aquatic Research Facility.
Artificial streams are used to replicate natural environments.
A peek inside the observation window.
By producing artificial environments similar to those of Brier Creek, Dr. Marsh-Matthews could control variables while closely monitoring changes in the red shiner population. After conducting several rounds of experiments, she and her colleagues found a possible explanation why red shiners may not be able to re-establish in Brier Creek. In their experiments, sunfish predators lowered survival and reproduction of red shiners. Scientists had discovered that the number of sunfish has increased in Brier Creek over time.
“So, we think that these predators are not only involved in the initial loss of red shiners but also as they became more abundant in these altered streams, but maybe they’re not letting them come back,” Dr. Marsh-Matthews said.
Dr. Marsh-Matthews introducing red shiners to the artificial stream.
These studies on the red shiner disappearance and failure to re-establish in Brier Creek can have importance for many stream ecosystems. Although the red shiner is a native species in Oklahoma, what we learn about its ability to re-invade its native habitat will contribute to invasion biology, the study of factors that affect the establishment of species outside their native range.
It takes many helping hands from generous volunteers to run the Sam Noble Museum, and this week, April 22-26, is national Volunteer Appreciation Week. During this time, the museum honors volunteers for their invaluable contributions. This year, Mary LeBlanc has been selected to receive the 2013 Tom Siegenthaler Volunteer of the Year Award. Mary has been a volunteer at the museum for 18 years and is the longest-serving active volunteer in the Vertebrate Paleontology Department.
In 1994, Mary saw a newspaper article describing a fossil preparation class at the museum. Having a degree in History and minors in Anthropology and Art History, Mary knew this was an opportunity she did not want to pass up. “I signed up since it met at night, and I could do it while still working full-time at the University.”
Mary enjoyed her time at the Sam Noble so much she would work at the University of Oklahoma in the day and volunteer for the museum in the evening. Since she volunteered before the museum moved into its present facility, Mary actually had a hand in preparing some of the displays in the Hall of Ancient Life. “It’s very exciting to be able to walk around the Hall of Ancient Life and see the various specimens we worked on. When I take relatives to the museum, I can show them the different specimens I helped create.”
After retiring from OU last year, Mary started volunteering full-time. She has been an asset with administrative and computer projects in several offices, tirelessly worked almost every special event, and takes advantage of a wide variety of professional development opportunities.
When asked about why Mary was chosen for this prestigious award, Volunteer Coordinator Terry Allen complimented Mary on her work ethic. “She’s eager to help in any way that will further the mission of the museum, and because of that, she’s a perfect example of a top-notch Sam Noble Museum volunteer.”
The Tom Siegenthaler Volunteer of the Year Award will be presented to Mary on Thursday evening, April 25, during the Museum’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner.
Native American languages are often associated with a bygone era of history, but many people fail to realize that Native American culture thrives today just as it did centuries ago through families dedicated to keeping their heritage alive. Now, more than ever, the emphasis on cultural preservation is being placed in the hands of Native American youth.
One way these students promote the continuation of their heritage is through the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, held annually in early April. Since 2003, children and teens from all across the state of Oklahoma and elsewhere have traveled to compete in their knowledge of Native American languages through music, drama and dance. This year, the fair received a record-breaking 921 students.
A group performance at the 2013 ONAYLF.
“I wanted to compete in the language fair because I wanted to push myself to try and learn more language and tradition,” Chyna Chupco said, a Muskogee-speaker and past ONAYLF participant.
Although students come to the fair to gain language experience, they often take away even more. Kiowa-speaker Kristin Allen said that the fair has helped her overcome a personal struggle.
“I decided to come back [to the fair] because it’s fun, and it helps me with my shyness,” she said.
Native American languages are not outdated, as some may believe. They have developed over time like any other language by adding words for new concepts, even Facebook. By constantly adapting to changes in society, Native American languages retain their relevancy for younger generations.
In this way, Native American culture can also go hand in hand with pop culture. To hear a clip of previous ONAYLF winner Niigan Sunray singing Adele’s popular song “Someone Like You” in Kiowa, simply click here.
Niigan, and her siblings, Tdohasan, Kowi and Onde, are all first language Native-American-language speakers. They are currently involved with the KIOWA KIDS language program, which recently assisted Kiowa elder Modina Waters in publishing a children’s book through through Native American Languages at the Sam Noble Museum. The book, titled Saynday Kiowa Indian Children’s Stories, tells traditional Kiowa fables in both Kiowa and English. Through their involvement with the children’s book, the Sunray children have learned at an early age the importance of cherishing and preserving their culture.
KIOWA KIDS language program attendees.
“We can teach our children to keep the language going on,” Niigan said, the eldest child. “Not many people know it anymore.”
Every night the Sunray children sing a traditional Kiowa hymn together, called A-HO Dawkee (Thank You, God). To hear them sing A-HO Dawkee, click here.
Many previous ONAYLF participants consider their role in cultural revitalization an honor as opposed to a burden as they stated a strong interest in passing down their language to future generations of their own. Katy Shackelford, a 16-year-old Chickasaw-speaker, expressed difficultly in imagining a future without Chickasaw.
“We speak Chickasaw words every day, even if it’s not necessarily whole conversations,” she said. “You can’t really get rid of who you are. A lot of things that we do we do with the tribe, with our culture.”
Katy and Dale Shackelford at their first fair (2004) and the 2013 ONAYLF.
Katy and her brother, Dale, also emphasized a commitment to sharing their culture with those who may hold outdated ideas about Native Americans.
“We do inform people about Native American culture, even if it’s not specifically Chickasaw,” Katy said.
“Even in Oklahoma, there are lot of misconceptions about Native Americans,” Dale added.
Through outlets like the ONAYLF, Native American youth like these are given the tools and support necessary to preserving their heritage. Participants in the ONAYLF give reason to believe that the future of Native American culture is bright indeed.
You can read more about this year’s ONAYLF on the KFOR website.
What is citizen science?
When you hear the phrase “scientific research” you may call to mind images of scientists in lab coats, but have you ever pictured yourself as a research tool? Now you can, thanks to the merging of technology and research.
Katrina Menard, head of the insect department at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, has been tracking Velvet Ants in Oklahoma with student Jacob Mitchell as part of a research project with the University of Oklahoma Honors Research Assistantship Program. The program allows students to work alongside professionals for hands-on experience.
How does it work?
First, participants download the free iNaturalist app at the App Store or Android Market on their cell phone. Then, they simply snap a picture of the Velvet Ant and upload it to the app, which will record the user’s location. Menard then collects the results and archives them as part of her research. Contributors even have the chance to get credit for photos published in scientific journals.
Note: the photo above is of a scientific specimen. No Velvet Ants should be harmed in this project.
To watch Menard’s brief tutorial on how to submit a photo to iNaturalist, simply click below.
Menard’s project, called “Mutillidae of Oklahoma,” has only been active on iNaturalist for about two weeks and is still considered to be in a trial stage. If successful, Menard said that citizen science tools like iNaturalist could be used in a greater educational context in the future.
Why citizen science?
“Citizen science allows us to integrate everyone’s natural ability to observe, make hypotheses and contribute information about their experiences of the world around us,” said Menard. “This allows us to gather more information and observations than we can do alone as dedicated professional scientists.”
In addition to her work with iNaturalist, Menard will also be participating this April in Entoblitz, another citizen science project hosted by the Texas A&M Entomology Graduate Student Association. Entoblitz is open to anyone interested in entomology and will give participants the opportunity to hunt for bugs in the name of science.
So whether you’re an amateur entomologist, a stay-at-home mom or a middle school student, you can become part of the scientific process. By simply using your smartphone, you can lend a helping hand to the scientific community. So what are you waiting for? Science wants you!
Orphaned collections are a growing concern for natural history institutions worldwide. An endangered or orphaned collection is any considerable body of material, which is or soon may be no longer regarded as of value in its present ownership. According to the American Association of Museums, every year more institutions, agencies, corporations, and individuals divest themselves of their collections. When this occurs, “orphaned” collections need to be “adopted” by an existing natural history collection.
In November of 2011, Eugene Young, a professor in the Agriculture and Life Sciences department at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Okla. contacted the Sam Noble Museum about the possibility of adopting an orphaned collection from the A.D. Buck Museum.
Originally called the Yellow Bull Museum, the A.D. Buck Museum’s science exhibits included mounted specimens of birds and mammals. Sam Noble Museum curator Gary Schnell and collection managers Marcia Revelez and Tamaki Yuri traveled to the A.D. Buck Museum to view the specimens. Upon further inspection, the team found many specimens that had been on loan from the Sam Noble Museum.
A total of 14 specimens were loaned to A. D. Buck in 1961, including an adult grizzly bear, all still in good condition. Most of the collection’s Oklahoma birds and mammals were found in the early 1900s, such as the marsh hawk, in 1910, and a Pintail, in 1913.
Many of the specimens in the A. D. Buck collection are significant to Oklahoma’s history, such as the Spotted Skunk found in 1934 in Kay County, an area that had no previous record of having that species before the 1990s. After evaluation, a crew returned in December to pack up the collection of birds and mammals and bring them to their new home at the Sam Noble Museum.
The A. D. Buck specimens are not the first collection the museum has adopted. Recently, the museum’s Department of Mammalogy adopted approximately 26,000 mammal species from the University of Memphis Mammal Collection.
“It’s an ongoing goal for the museum to aid orphaned collections,” Revelez said.
Natural history collections play a vital role in understanding cultures, habitats, biodiversity and more. They safeguard specimens, inspire, educate, and tirelessly continue the research and study of various sciences. We welcome back our mammals and birds that have been on loan for so many decades and will always strive to maintain and preserve Oklahoma’s rich natural history.
It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week and the prefect time to talk about those people in the museum that make such an impact on staff, visitors and the community: our volunteers.
Every year, the museum dedicates this week to honoring volunteers for the hours they dedicate to natural history, to servicing the community and providing personal knowledge, assistance and experience to our visitors and staff.
In 2011, 161 volunteers dedicated 16,291 hours to the museum through their work as docents, with children in the Discovery Room or with staff behind the scenes.
I’d like to share a link with you to a new web page created for identifying Oklahoma fossils, www.CommonFossilsOfOklahoma.snomnh.ou.edu.
Working at a natural history museum is quite a rewarding experience. My enthusiasm is partially from being one of the most recent hires at the museum. I began in September and have enjoyed working with Dan Swan, curator of ethnology, and his team planning our upcoming exhibit, Warrior Spirits: Indigenous Arts from New Guinea. Nearly 100 pieces from the collections of the Sam Noble Museum and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art will be displayed beginning Feb. 4.
The collections include a variety of cultural objects, including masks, drums and ceremonial garments, many of which were collected during surveys in the 1970s assessing petroleum and mineral resources. U.S. soldiers also contributed items collected while Allied Forces manned listening stations in New Guinea during World War II.
Here is a sneak peek at the people and culture surrounding our upcoming exhibit:
The people of Papua New Guinea are mostly descendants of Melanesians, closely related to the islanders of Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. The island was one of the first landmasses to become populated by modern humans, about 50,000 years ago.
Hundreds of cultures live on the island of New Guinea in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. These groups reside in small, remote rural villages- more than a third of them in the rugged highlands- and make their living by fishing, farming, hunting, and gathering. As a result of the villages’ isolation, many different languages are spoken on the island. With nearly one thousand distinct dialects spoken there, New Guinea possesses the greatest concentration of languages in the world.
The traditional Melanesian cultures are kept alive in elaborate rituals that accompany deaths, feasts, marriages, compensation ceremonies and initiation rites. Many of the artifacts in our collections reflect the diversity of the region, highlighting such ceremonial traditions as the dramatic fire dances practiced in the Highlands of West Papua and the ritualized veneration of ancestors among the Sepik River groups of New Guinea.
Art in New Guinea is as varied as its people. Carving, twining and weaving, produces many different types of art. Carved wooden sculptures, masks, canoes, and storyboards from New Guinea are valued around the globe in private collections, museums, and art markets.
The objects in Warrior Spirits, which include daggers carved from the bones of cassowary birds – a large flightless bird native to New Guinea and prized for its aggressive territorial nature—along with carved shields, war-clubs, spears and bows and arrows, were created and used by the indigenous peoples of present-day Papua New Guinea and West Papua, Indonesia.
Warrior Spirits: Indigenous Arts from New Guinea will be on display from Feb. 4 through May 13. Augmented with maps, graphics, and audio and video elements, this exhibit allows visitors a glimpse into the fascinating world of New Guinea. For more information, visit our website: www.snomnh.ou.edu.