Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
Christie Godek looms over a broad, L-shaped desk in a black leather chair, staring down a binocular microscope with forceps in hand. Carefully, she picks through a thin layer of soil and rock – watching, waiting. At last, she unearths something of interest, what appears to be the bone or tooth from our shared prehistoric past. Slowly, she drops the fragment into a miniature, cork-sealed vial, scribbles on a small paper chart and returns to the tray before her.
Godek sifts through sandy soil
Such is the work of a “micropicker”, a volunteer in the vertebrae paleontology department who tirelessly sifts through gallons of soil to find shards of prehistoric remains. The work is slow and repetitive, but rewarding. In 30 to 60 minutes, Godek can process one coffee scooper filled with soil, typically unearthing a couple dozen fragments in that time. With no formal training in paleontology, she knows only what fossil preperator Kyle Davies has taught her – and that’s all she needs.
Five-gallon buckets waiting to be picked
Five years ago, Godek moved to Norman, Okla. after retiring from her job as a dental hygienist. She decided to get involved with the museum after receiving a volunteerism flier from her daughter, who works for the University of Oklahoma’s continued education department. Right away, she was hooked.
“It’s like an Easter egg hunt every time I come in,” Godek said.
A lot goes into micropicking. First, professionals sanitize the incoming soil to eliminate pests, which can damage the facilities and collections. Then volunteers must sift through the soil to salvage the specimens, which are often smaller than the tip of a ballpoint pen. Finally, undergraduate students mount the specimens to the head of a pin, which they drive into the cork that seals the vial. At last, the specimen is stored in collections for future use in research.
A mounted specimen rests on top of a pin
As you might guess, many volunteers do not appreciate the tedious sifting required of micropicking, but it is vital to understanding prehistoric ecosystems. Godek believes her previous skills as a hygienist make her an ideal picker, as she is accustomed to working in microenvironments that demand a detail-oriented mindset.
“For me, it’s fun,” said Godek. “Dental hygiene requires a lot of patience and repetitive work, but it’s always different. Every tray is different, too.”
One of many micropicking cabinets
Currently, there are just two micropickers at the museum, with two more in training. The first round of spring docent training will begin this weekend on Feb. 22, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. So, if you are interested in gaining hands-on experience like Godek, check out our volunteerism page for information about upcoming opportunities or drop by on Saturday! Also, be sure and sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates on this year’s volunteer of the year award and banquet.
The lights are strung, the ornaments hung and hearts are all aglow. It could only mean one thing: the most wonderful time of the year is here! Help us welcome winter at our complimentary community celebration, Holiday Happening, on Dec. 5 from 5 to 8 p.m. Now, we don’t like to drop names, but we have some pretty spectacular guests attending this year. Who? We’re glad you asked.
We’ll be rockin’ around the Christmas tree, alright. The University of Oklahoma’s only student-led, co-ed a capella group will be bringing joy to the world, and the Sam Noble Museum, with their renditions of your favorite carols.
The Oklahoma City Ballet
Visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in your head? We know the feeling. Come cure the craving with a dose of dance from the Oklahoma City Ballet. You’ll be dancing in a winter wonderland all night.
The Pioneer Library
‘Twas the night of Holiday Happening, and through the Great Hall, not a child was stirring, a great silence did fall. You’ll want to be sure and pack your listening ears for story time with the Pioneer Library System.
Do you hear what I hear? The talented starlets of the Sooner Theatre will perform songs from the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life and timeless carols, both old and new.
This holiday VIP is taking a little time out of his busy schedule to visit his favorite natural history museum. Children are invited to share their wishes with Santa and even pose for a pic or two!
As you can see, Holiday Happening will be a celebration of Jurassic proportions. Plus, if you bring a toy or non-perishable food item, we’ll enter your name in a drawing for a $50 gift certificate to the Excavations Museum Store, which will be offering discounts during Holiday Happening. So pack your joy, plus a toy, and we’ll see you tomorrow at 5 p.m. for a night of carols and cheer!
Note: Please be sure to frequently check our website and social media in case of a cancellation due to hazardous weather.
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.