Why consider interning a the Sam Noble Museum?

Why did I decide to pursue an internship at the Sam Noble Museum? Was it because of my fascination with Indiana Jones movies? Was it because of my research focus of Native American Culture? Or was it because of the Dinosaurs?

To anyone who has visited the Sam Noble, the answer would probably be the dinosaurs! For me, it was a bit of all three. The actual reason is my fascination with Native American Culture, and yes, the chance I might get a tour of the paleontology department’s dinosaur collections, but also the far greater dimension encompassed within the total Sam Noble collections.

My own background was originally studying Native American History and culture. When I changed from pursuing a Master’s degree in History, I went into Museum Studies. The history of human material culture has always fascinated me. From my early years watching PBS documentaries rather than Saturday morning cartoons, and my ever-present obsession with digging, I knew I would work within the fields of history or material culture.

When the opportunity came to select an internship I would pursue, The Sam Noble was the top of my list. The variety and size of the collection, the relatively close geographic location, and the reputation of the museum itself, all made my choice for me. There was no other place that I could work with so many of the artifacts that fascinated me. The Sam Noble was the obvious choice, and having made that choice, I sought permission to internship here with Susie, the collections manager in the archaeology department. I am glad she accepted me, because, as so many students do, I had no backup plan. This was the goal, and I was going to get it. After being accepted, I found that I would be working in the archaeology department, and specifically with NAGPRA artifacts and other Native American artifacts- which thrilled me greatly.

My focus on Native American History made this internship an especially rewarding one. Having the opportunity to work with NAGPRA collections, and learn more of the respectful practices and traditions of the tribes with which we work is something I will always cherish. When you catalog a simple rock- it is a rock… it will never be more interesting than a rock. When you catalog a rock that was utilized for a specific purpose by a Native American, it is special- it tells a story. The history of Native Oklahomans is a story yet to be fully revealed or told, and the work we do every day helps reveal that story.

When I chose this internship, I felt like Harry Potter being brought to Hogwarts for the first time. The marvel, the magnificent displays, the history and the Dinosaurs…! I admit- It was hard not to geek out.

I truly love my time here, and would encourage anyone with a love of natural history to volunteer or intern at the Sam Noble- you will not regret it!


My Love of Museums

I have loved museums for as long as I can remember. As a kid, my mom took me to all kinds of museums: art, history, military, you name it. My favorite museum, though, was the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Even though I didn’t move to Oklahoma until last year, my mom is from Moore. Every Christmas and summer vacation we would make sure to stop by the dinosaur museum in Norman. My family is also Native American, so that combined with my love of museums has fueled my passion for wanting to work on repatriation efforts and study archaeology.

Intern Emily Wagnon Repackaging Faunal Bone

I’m a senior at the University of Oklahoma, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Native American Studies. In the Fall 2017, I am extremely lucky to be an intern in the archaeology collections at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History (SNOMNH). I’m even able to receive school credit as part of my degree. If you’re an OU student, you can learn more about student internships here. Interning at the museum has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn about preservation, archaeology, and working with tribes, as well as getting an insight into the ethical and legal issues that are going on in the museum community right now. A lot of the collections that I have had the opportunity to work with involve NAGPRA.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, was enacted in 1990 as a response to the millions of indigenous remains and associated funerary objects that are held in museum collections across the United States. Many of these artifacts were obtained by illegal means, and NAGPRA creates a legal channel for ancestral remains and burial goods to be rightfully repatriated back to their tribes.

The SNOMNH has protocols in place to ensure we are as careful, meticulous, and respectful as possible. As an intern, I got the chance to help create some of these protocols. We protect the privacy and sanctity of the tribes and tribal artifacts we work with, and ensure that we keep a careful record of the status and location of every artifact so each object has its cultural and/or preservation needs met. Part of this process includes faunal and human remains. It is important for every fragment in the collection to be analyzed to ensure all human remains are identified and separated from the faunal material. To expedite this process, I created a station where staff and volunteers can log faunal (animal) bones that need to be analyzed by the bioarchaeologist on staff.

Faunal Analysis Staging Area


It is important for repatriation (explore what that is here) that we have every single bone and object in a collection analyzed so that nothing is missing when the collection is repatriated. Once the bones have been analyzed, they are placed back with the rest of their collection if they are faunal, or moved back to the archaeology department’s restricted NAGPRA area if they are not. Being involved in the process of creating procedures gave me skills and an insight into why the museum works the way it does.

This internship has truly been an incredible learning experience. I’ve worked before in the front of the house for a museum, but to be able to work behind the scenes and see how we are able to take care of artifacts as they make their way from boxes to exhibits, or more importantly, back to their homes, is a joy. I hope to continue working in the field of archaeology, and this experience is one that I will be able to look back on for years and years to come. If you want to learn more about the museum and its collections, please consider volunteering for the SNOMNH at this link.

Author: Emily Wagnon

Gaining Control Over the Legacy Collections

Legacy Collections in the Archaeology Department

Of the over 10 million artifacts, objects, and specimens held at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History (SNOMNH), over 6 million of those are in the archaeology department, the largest in the museum. When processing collections, difficult projects are sometimes laid aside to facilitate the processing of a greater number of collections. Other times, a project is simply forgotten about after a staff member leaves. These collections and materials left out and unprocessed are called legacy collections. Legacy collections are problematic because important finds can remain undiscovered, collections needing special preservation can deteriorate as they wait to be processed, and materials that should be returned to native tribes are easy to lose track of in the confusion. With large and numerous collections, and new materials being acquired through donations and field collections, it can be extremely difficult for museums to keep from getting behind. Many museums across the country face this same problem. The growing amount of legacy collections is one of the major contributors to the archaeological curation crisis.


In Fall, 2017, I interned in the archaeology department at the SNOMNH and worked on creating an inventory of the materials in the legacy collections, in addition to completing shelving processes for a few of the collections left unfinished by previous interns. I went through the shelves stacked with boxes and bags of artifacts, recording information about what the collections contained, where they were located, and important identifying information for the museum’s database, such as the site numbers (where they were originally found). Many times, I had to search the databases using the site numbers attached to artifacts in order to find the collection to which they belonged. One of my favorite collections had been held in a copy paper box on my desk, and was full of artifacts in plastic sandwich bags. The collection contained some really cool artifacts, including an 11 inch knife whose wooden handle had rotted away, a small metal bell with it’s clapper, several bags of different kinds of bullets and shells, animal jawbones with teeth still attached, and some very pretty stone tool flakes.

Highlights from the Vera McKellipis Collection

The next issue was that the legacy collections at the SNOMNH needed to be organized. Replica cast material was mixed with other educational and research collections, making it difficult to prioritize and overwhelming to manage.  There wasn’t control over what was in the legacy collections, and no one knew the entirety of what they contained. Important research material could be available if only people knew where to find it.

In addition to that, there is great concern of finding material subject to NAGPRA (the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) within the legacy collections, such as human bone and associated funerary objects.  These materials must be prepared for return to native tribes, as part of the museums grants dictate.  This is such a concern that a large part of the archeology department is dedicated to dealing with NAGPRA and the processes of repatriating the materials. The interns of Spring 2017 found and had to correctly manage two different NAGPRA materials from two different collections.

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The inventory and protocols I created will to be used by the museum to keep track of both existing collections and new arrivals. I assigned section numbers to the shelves so the materials in the inventory can be efficiently located. I divided the collections by collection type (Research, Teaching, or Cast (replicas)), and I also gathered the all the NAGPRA materials and placed them together in their own area on the shelves so they can be addressed first.


Overall, it has been a rewarding experience, and I am happy to have made some contribution to clearing up the issue of the legacy collections at the SNOMNH.



Author: Wynne Clark

Collections from the Bureau of Reclamation

The Bureau of Reclamation was created on June 17, 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt for water development projects in the arid climate of the West. In Oklahoma, the Bureau constructed the Norman Dam in 1965 and managed other water resources on public land for municipal and industrial use, supplying water for cities and managing flood control. For instance, Lake Thunderbird State Park and other state parks host over a million visitors each year.
The Bureau is also responsible for collecting any cultural artifacts found on federal lands around lakes and dams. The Sam Noble Museum has had an agreement with the Bureau since 2006, to house and curate collections recovered from these areas. While some collections are recent, others were excavated in the early 1900s. Many of these artifacts have been donated by the Oklahoma Anthropological Society, private collectors, and managers from WPA projects in the 1930s.
This year, the Bureau funded two student Collections Assistants to enter the catalog into the collections database for 46 collections, to make the artifacts easier to identify and find. In two months, they created 3,094 catalog entries containing 38,557 artifacts that belong to the Bureau. In the future, the museum will work with the Bureau to physically inventory the artifacts against these catalogs and stabilize them with archival materials, ensuring that future archaeologists and the public will have access to these cultural resources for many years to come.

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Sarah Luthman and Samantha Hayes, cataloging collections for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Most of the sites on these federal lands are prehistoric, and include artifacts made by Native Americans from various time periods. Because so many items are recovered on the surface by private collectors, it is often difficult to determine an exact date or the associated cultural group. Examples of artifacts within the Bureau’s collections are tools (see below), including a bone awl, a stone drill, a boatstone, and five projectile point of various sizes and made from different types of stone.

Artifacts Green

These artifacts were found in Kiowa County, and are from one of the Elmer Craft Collections (A/2008/002), donated to the museum in the 1950s.

Archaeology Goes Public!

Display at Science in Action Day at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
Display at Science in Action Day at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

In order to celebrate our archaeological heritage, the state of Oklahoma has officially declared October to be Oklahoma Archaeology Month! As part of this month-long celebration, the Archaeology Department at the Sam Noble Museum participated in the museum’s Science in Action Day and organized Archaeology Day.

At Science in Action Day, representatives from the Archaeology Department, along with other departments, had the opportunity to meet with the public at the museum. At our table, we identified artifacts that people had brought to the museum to share with us. We also taught kids about archaeology with activities and real artifacts.

Kids learn about ceramics through a coloring activity at Science in Action Day.
Kids learn about ceramics through a coloring activity at Science in Action Day.
Archaeologist Dr. Marc Levine explains what a scapula is to a young girl at Science in Action Day.
Archaeologist Dr. Marc Levine explains what a scapula is to a young girl at Science in Action Day.

For Archaeology Day on October 17th, the Archaeology Department hosted an event in the museum with a wide range of activities. Whether guests found artifacts in the exhibits through the scavenger hunt, threw atlatl darts, or watched flintknapping demonstrations, everyone had the chance to learn about archaeology first hand! Archaeology Day at the Sam Noble Museum was part of “International Archaeology Day”—including dozens of other museums across the globe.

A participant explains an atlatl at Archaeology Day (Photo courtesy of Susie Fishman-Armstrong).
A participant explains an atlatl at Archaeology Day. (Photo courtesy of Susie Fishman-Armstrong).
A participant at Archaeology Day throwing an atlatl dart. (Photo courtesy of Susie Fishman-Armstrong).
A participant at Archaeology Day throwing an atlatl dart. (Photo courtesy of Susie Fishman-Armstrong).

If you missed us this year, be sure to mark October 2016 in your calendars as Oklahoma Archaeology Month!

For more information:



Mystery Artifact #2 – The Reveal!

pistol color_34Cm-Loc 7, FS 226_INV-0052

Last time, you saw this picture of an artifact from an historic site at Fort Sill in Comanche County, Oklahoma. We asked you to put yourself in the shoes of the archaeologist to analyze this artifact by answering a series of questions. How did you do? Here is how we would answer the questions!

  1. What kind of material is it made of?

Because the artifact looks extremely rusty, we can determine that it is made from iron.

  1. How big is it?

Using the scale in the picture, we can tell that it is roughly 12cm long at the longest point and 7cm wide at the widest. Would it fit comfortably in your hand?

  1. What do you think it was used for?

Based on the shape, the material, and its location at an historic site, we think that this was a pistol.

  1. Who do you think used it?

Because we know the site was an historic site and the fort itself is an army post, we think it was likely used by a solider in the army.

  1. When do you think it was used?

Because guns were not used prior to the historic periods, we know it was likely made in the last 200 years. The amount of rust on it suggests that it has been outside for a long time, but it is hard to tell more than that without knowing about the other artifacts from the site. What sort of other artifacts could you use to date the site?

  1. If you found this at a site, what do you think may have been happening there in the past?

Soldiers living and working at the base were likely the ones to use pistols like this one, perhaps for training at the fort.

If you answered half of these like we did, then you are definitely thinking like an archaeologist! Come back next time to analyze more artifacts in the Mystery Artifact Series!

Mystery Artifact Series – You’re the Archaeologist!: Artifact #1

The Mystery Artifact Series blog allows you to step into the shoes of an archaeologist to identify an artifact! Look at the picture below, and try and guess what the artifact might be and what it can tell us about the site it came from. The artifact below was found at a site from the historic period at Fort Sill near Lawton in Comanche County, Oklahoma. To think like an archaeologist, you try answering the questions below:

  1. What kind of material is it made of?
  2. How big is it?
  3. What do you think it was used for?
  4. Who do you think used it?
  5. When do you think it was used?
  6. If you found this at a site, what do you think may have been happening there in the past?

Be sure to write down your interpretation and check back for our answers!

pistol no color_34Cm-Loc 7, FS 226_INV-0052