Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
Maybe you have your grandmother’s wedding dress, your great-great grandfather’s pocket watch or a scrapbook of old family photographs. We all have family treasures, heirlooms and other objects we want to preserve for our children and grandchildren, but how do we do that?
Well, for the ethnology collection, we take several factors into account. Regardless of where they came from or how old they are, many objects are made from materials that are highly susceptible to deterioration from light, relative humidity, temperature, air pollution, microorganisms (like mold), insects and rodents. Our goal is to provide a stable and protective environment for these objects that will safeguard them from harmful forces.
Quilt made by Julia Alexander in 1850
For example, this beautiful quilt was handmade by a Kentucky woman named Julia Alexander in 1850. Over 150 years, this quilt has not only seen a lot of history, but it has also experienced some damage. It has stains, tears and is fraying along a couple of edges. While we can’t turn back time and prevent this damage from occurring, we can help prevent it from getting any worse.
We have cushioned the quilt with acid-free tissue paper, and instead of folding it and putting it in a box, we have rolled it onto a long acid-free cardboard tube. Rolling large textiles like this quilt prevents creases from occurring and also prevents tears from getting any worse. We then sewed a cover for the quilt out of basic unbleached and un-dyed muslin fabric, which prevents dust and light from getting at the object. After carefully tying on the cover, we have stored the rolled-up quilt on a storage rack on the wall in a cool dry room.
Keeping the quilt off the floor prevents anyone from accidentally stepping on or tripping over the object but also helps keep damaging bugs away from the historic quilt. Keeping the storage room cool and dry prevents mold from growing and prevents any damage from heat (such as dye transfer). This quilt is only one of the thousands of incredible and fascinating objects the ethnology collection is responsible for preserving. For more information on preserving your family treasures, check out this Connecting to Collections Online Resource.
Rolled textiles stored in the ethnology collection
A Few Fast Facts for Preserving Objects:
But wait, there’s more! Learn about other ways to preserve your family treasures at our upcoming adult workshop “Preserving Family Treasures” on November 1 from 10 a.m. to noon. Registration is required, and participants will not be able to register on-site for this program. To enroll, click here or call (405) 325-1008. Don’t let your family heirlooms suffer—sign up today!
Today’s post is courtesy of Dan Swan, Sam Noble Museum ethnology curator:
For centuries, Native American communities have used plants in a variety of ways. Foods, medicines and domestic materials heavily relied on agriculture, and this cultural reliance on agriculture is known as ethnobotany. In August, we hosted Native Plants and Native Peoples, a community workshop on botany, agriculture and education. The museum and collaborating partners hoped that this event might foster new forms of community collaboration and research.
Several speakers, each representating a unique Native American tribe in Oklahoma, spoke about current ethnobotanic issues in their community. For example, Deborah Echo-Hawk from the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma spoke about the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project and its efforts to encourage the planting of species associated with the Pawnee people. Meanwhile, the native garden at the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site allows visitors to learn about the various uses that Cheyenne and Arapaho people made of plant resources. These are just two examples of the wonderful presentations given by our speakers that night.
Our speakers at the Native Plants and Native Peoples Workshop
Joy Hought, the Research & Education Program Manager for Native Seeds/SEARCH capped the day with a keynote speech. Native Seeds/SEARCH is a Tucson based non-profit organization dedicated to seed diversity and conservation. The organization has over thirty years of collaborative research and applied programming with the indigenous communities of the American Southwest and northern Mexico. Hought provided a general overview of the organization’s mission, programs, seed archiving system for heirloom species.
The workshop also included a stimulating question portion, which featured a wide variety of topics. After lunch, guests toured the Bebb Herbarium at the University of Oklahoma and enjoyed a presentation at the Oklahoma Biological Survey.
Guests enjoyed a tour of OU’s Bebb Herbarium
Fifty-seven people attended this workshop, indicating the importance of botany project in Native communities of Oklahoma. So, what does this mean? It means that ethnobotany is evolving to include modern issues of sovereignty, wellness, land rights and economic development. In an effort to promote greater awareness of tribal initiatives, we hope to host another workshop like this in the near future.
Although many of the most popular endangered species roam the arctic poles or scour the savannah, vulnerable species can be found in the most ordinary places—even your own backyard. Meet the black-capped vireo, an endangered songbird that once whistled around Norman, Oklahoma. But don’t worry! Unlike so many conservation stories, the inspirational tale of the black-capped vireo will leave a smile on your face.
A black-capped vireo in the wild
Here’s the situation. In the 1980s, this species suffered a major population decline due to habitat modification. Black-capped vireos rely on dry scrubland habitats, which often are maintained by fires. When these fires are suppressed, scrublands grow into extensive wooded areas and are no longer suitable to the black-capped vireo. Other threats include agricultural development and a parasitic enemy—the brown-headed cowbird.
A brown-headed cowbird
The female brown-headed cowbird notoriously lays her eggs in the nest of other birds, abandoning her young to foster parents. This comes at the expense of the host’s own chicks since the cowbirds hatch much earlier. At their peak, roughly 80 percent of black-capped vireo nests in Oklahoma and central Texas contained these parasitic eggs, radically limiting their reproductive success.
A black-capped vireo nest with vireo eggs (white) and a cowbird egg (brown)
What’s a poor bird to do? In 1991, affiliated research associate Joe Grzybowski developed a black-capped vireo recovery plan for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. With strategies for prescribed burns by land managers, plus new cowbird-trapping techniques, the black-capped vireo population has grown from 50-70 pairs to 4,200 pairs in the Wichita Mountains. Bravo!
Joe Grzybowski doing a bit of field research
Despite this inspirational success, Grzybowski’s work is not done. He is currently serving as a co-principal investigator with colleagues from Texas A&M University on a grant from the Joint Fire Science Program of the Bureau of Land Management. Through this grant, scientists hope to develop models of habitat changes created by fires to maximize the effectiveness of fire management strategies. If these strategies are fruitful, it will mean greater reproductive success for the black-capped vireo and other similarly endangered bird species.
See this Norman native for yourself in RARE: Portrait’s of America’s Endangered Species, running through Jan.19. This exhibit features both famous and lesser-known endangered species of North America, including the black-capped vireo. Supplemented with museum specimens from five collections, this exhibit offers you a glimpse of this world’s rarest residents—both near and far.
Black-capped Vireo, Vireo atricapilla
Photographed at Fort Hood, Texas
c. Joel Sartore, RARE: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species
When you think of endangered animals, what are the first species that come to mind? You likely imagine mighty rhinos, herds of elephants or maybe a bale of sea turtles. Often when we consider conservation, we picture exotic fauna located thousands of miles away. But what about those threatened species living in our own backyards?
A monarch butterfly from the Sam Noble Museum entomology collection
The monarch butterfly is a native species in Oklahoma and surrounding states. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it is also a near threatened species–but private collecting, museums and science field trips are not to blame. The biggest influence on the decline of monarchs is the loss of milkweed– a plant that monarch caterpillars feed upon as they grow. This is due to significant land development. Without milkweed, monarchs cannot complete their life cycle as they morph from a caterpillar into a butterfly.
Every winter, monarch butterflies migrate hundreds of miles. This migration, known as overwintering, is one of nature’s most intriguing phenomena. Monarchs use a magnetic understanding of Earth’s poles to guide them south to escape the cold northern winter. Millions of monarchs migrate from the northern U.S. plains and Canada to a few locations in either Mexico or California, and these butterflies return to the same sites each year. It takes several generations to complete a single migration, and in 1997, it was estimated that 1,200,000 butterflies landed per migration site!
“They have a very strong geographic preference, and it’s not exactly known why,” explained Andy Boring, recent invertebrates collection manager. “During the overwintering period, you may have hundreds on one tree and none on a tree twenty feet away.”
In 1997, those million-plus monarchs settled at multiple locations covering nearly a mile each. Now a mere 200,000 monarchs are overwintering on less than 1/100 of a square mile per site. That’s barely larger than six neighborhood homes. Over the past two decades, the monarch population has experienced a 90 percent drop from roughly one billion individuals to just 33 million.
Scientists like Boring track and monitor the populations of monarchs and other invertebrates, studying characteristics, habitats and breeding habits. In turn, they use this information to develop local and global conservation strategies. Occasionally, they even offer counsel on land management decisions that could impact threatened species.
“I think this sort of action-driven research should become more common,” Boring said. “I think that it’s a local service that most people overlook.”
But there is something you can do, too. By planting milkweed and other nectar-producing plants in your home garden, you can help foster a successful monarch migration. Milkweed typically blooms in Oklahoma during the month of May, as butterflies migrate through the sooner state throughout spring and summer. Milkweed seeds are inexpensive and can be purchased online or seasonally at your local gardening store.
Butterfly gardens like the one at the museum help foster monarch migration
“If enough people planted milkweed in their gardens, it could make a substantial difference,” Boring said. “The key is to help this species complete their life cycle.”
A full-grown monarch. Photo courtesy of Dr. Michael Mares
To help foster a monarch-friendly habitat, you can also refrain from using herbicides that may damage milkweed and other plants. You may also help track populations as a citizen scientist or support existing conservation efforts. To learn more about local conservation, be sure to visit our newest exhibit RARE: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species–opening Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014.
If you’ve ever seen an episode of The Big Bang Theory, then you know that scientists aren’t usually known for their athleticism. Brains? Yes. Brawn? Not so much. But at the Sam Noble Museum, we’re all about busting stereotypes. Take Katrina Menard, for example.
Menard is the invertebrate curator (a.k.a. bug chick) at the museum. She is also a competitive athlete and finalist in this year’s World Triathlon Grand Final in Edmonton, Canada. On Monday, Menard will face off against cyclists, swimmers and racers from across the globe for a two-hour demonstration of human strength.
The ITU bike route
So, what does an Olympic-distance triathlon look like? A 1.5-kilometer swim, a 40-kilometer bike ride and a 10-kilometer run. All in all, that’s about two hours of non-stop adrenaline. To prepare, Menard spent anywhere from 7 to 11 hours in training per week during the winter. How does she find the time?
“For ExplorOlogy, I had to take my bike with me to Black Mesa,” Menard answered. “I always have to take my running shoes to the field! I work for a place that is really constructive about my races, and that’s wonderful.”
Menard has trained in the field in countries like Africa and Australia
Menard joined the triathlon scene three years ago after picking up cycling around Norman. Despite running track in college, Menard didn’t run her first triathlon until 2011. After her first race, the Red Man Spring Triathlon, she was hooked.
Menard means business on the track
But the transition from athlete to scientist hasn’t always been so smooth. In high school, Menard struggled with bridging the gap between jock and science-lover. Thanks to her supporting parents, Menard realized that having two passions was a blessing—not a curse.
“You can be athletic and scientific,” Menard explained. “You can be successful at both, and it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a girl.”
The women’s triathlon sport is gaining ground in Norman as the University of Oklahoma works to establish a team. Menard hopes to get even more involved in racing in the future as more women enter the sport. But for Menard, it’s not about soaking in the spotlight or becoming an inspiration. It’s for the love of the sport.
Menard and her fellow triathletes
“You should race because you’re passionate about it,” Menard said. “I never did it to inspire other people. I did it because I cared, because I enjoyed the sport.”
For updates about Menard’s upcoming race, keep an eye on the ITU website. Good luck, Katrina!
If you’re friends with us on Facebook or Twitter, you’re probably used to seeing unending streams of adorable children digging for fossils in the Discovery Room. But why should they have all the fun? Every year, the museum offers an adult-only fossil field trip for Paleozoic buffs, fossil collectors, paleontology enthusiasts and everyone in between. Cool, right? You can thank our sponsors—Arvest Bank, Republic Bank & Trust and Fowler Honda.
Here’s the 411: Your two-day journey begins at the Sam Noble Museum Friday, Sept. 19. Our invertebrate paleontology curator, Steve Westrop, will lead participants into Oklahoma’s Paleozoic past with a look at some of Oklahoma’s finest fossilized specimens. Then, on Saturday, we hit the field.
On Friday, see some of the museum’s finest specimens like this pentremites
“On this trip we’ll go back to the Devonian Period, about 400 million years ago, when Oklahoma was covered by a shallow sea,” Westrop explained. “We’ll collect the shells of extinct animals that lived on a muddy sea bottom.”
Even though this event is adults-only, finder’s keepers trumps all. Whatever you find on the dig, you get to take home. Talk about a conversation piece! How often do you get the chance to hold millions of years between your fingers?
A specimen collected on a previous Fossil Field Trip
“It’s the closest thing possible to time travel,” Westrop said. “We can’t actually go to the past but if you know where to look, evidence of the past is all around us.”
So, what should you bring for the big trip? Comfortable shoes, casual clothes, a sack lunch, snacks, plenty of water and—of course—your sense of adventure. We will leave the museum at 9 a.m. and return around 4 p.m., so brace yourself for a day of nonstop discovery.
Past participants dig up prehistoric sea life
According to Westrop, participants will leave the trip with several interesting fossils and an appreciation of how life and environments change over time. But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget the wealth of memories and insanely cool story you’ll have to share over your new conversational piece. Are you ready for a little time travel? Enroll today!
As many of you know, the Sam Noble Museum was awarded a National Medal by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in April. As part of that award, the museum will have the opportunity to preserve and archive its history in the Library of Congress with the help of StoryCorps, a non-profit dedicated to collecting oral histories.
From September 19-21, StoryCorps will be at the Sam Noble Museum to record a series of interviews. Each interview takes 40 minutes and consists of a casual conversation between two individuals. StoryCorps will conduct 18 interviews with two people being interviewed at the same time, and in doing so, will record the memories and experiences of 36 individuals who have impacted or been impacted by the Sam Noble Museum. Additionally, these interviews could potentially be aired on National Public Radio. For examples of previous interviews, please click here.
Many of you have been involved with the museum for years, and your experiences here are an integral part of this community. Anyone is eligible to participate, and I want to extend a personal invitation welcoming you to share your history with the museum. If you and a co-worker, volunteer, family member and/or friend have a special story or experience about the museum that you’d like to share as part of the public record, please send an email to email@example.com.
I cannot wait to discover the many ways you have shaped this institution and community. I hope you will join me in archiving the museum’s heritage this fall, so that future generations may always remember Oklahoma’s dedication to its natural history museum.
If you’ve been around our staff for even a minute, then you know we’ve got talent! Olympic-level racers, canine rescue trainers, singers and musicians, romance novelists…we’ve got it all! Impressive? Absolutely. But what’s even more impressive is how these individuals use their gifts to better local, state and even global communities. Take Coral, for example.
McCallister began working as a custodian at the museum in March of 2014. As lifelong artist, her eyes are always open for inspiration. Before long she found Bom Bom, a live-mounted Western lowland gorilla acquired from the Oklahoma City Zoo.
“I saw Bom Bom many times in various enclosures at the zoo, and like most of us, I was in awe of him and the wildness he represented to me,” McCallister recalled.
She began sketching after her shifts while mammalogy collections manager Brandi Coyner gathered donations for one of the Oklahoma City Zoo’s annual philanthropic events. As soon as Brandi saw Coral’s work, she saw a perfect fit.
“Teresa Randall is a friend of mine and asked if the museum could donate a family membership to one of their philanthropic events,” Coyner said. “When I saw Coral’s sketch, I called her back immediately and told her I had something even better.”
McCallister’s portrait of Bom Bom
McCallister’s 19-inch by 24-inch pastel creation took nearly 15 hours to complete. Still, she had no reservations about donating her work to Zoobilation, a ZooFriends annual gala and fundraiser for the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital.
Conceptualized Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital, OKC Zoo
Coral made sure that her portrait really captured the essence of Bom Bom, down to the reddish tuft of hair on his head. Perhaps no one appreciates these fine details more than current owner, OKC Zoo head veterinarian Jennifer D’Agostino. D’Agostino was determined to win the piece at the Zoobilation silent auction.
“There were several other people bidding on it but none that knew Bom Bom,” D’Agostino said. “Once, at the end of a medical procedure, he crashed and almost died. I did CPR on him, and he didn’t wake up for about 13 hours. I stayed with him trying to keep him alive. Because of that, I really had a strong connection with him.”
Bom Bom—OKC Zoo, Photo by Gillian Lang
D’Agostino plans to hang the picture inside her new office at the hospital, as a reminder of Bom Bom’s role as a conservation ambassador for others of this critically endangered species in the wild.
“We’re here to get people to see and care about these animals,” D’Agostino said. “Conservation is a global effort, but everything we do has an impact on conservation. We can all make a difference, even in Oklahoma.”
Of course, Coral is as humble as can be about all of her philanthropic efforts, including those with the Norman Chocolate Festival and Nature Conservancy. For her, art is a connection—both human and animalistic. In this way, McCallister hopes to continue using her art to engage with others.
“I like feeling tied into everyone else,” McCallister said. “Art has gotten me through some of the hardest times of my life, and it makes life worthwhile. Giving back creates a kind of oneness, and it’s really a beautiful thing.”
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.
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.