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!

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Learning Something New Every Day

When I started at OU as a freshman in the fall of 2017, I was certain I wanted to be a field archaeologist after I graduated. After spending a semester as the legacy collections intern at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History (SNOMNH), I’m not so sure. As my boss, collections manager Susie Fishman-Armstrong, told me, the real discovery is often not out it the field, but rather here in museums. Being able to work here at the museum has been amazing, and has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of museum work as a career.

Personally, what drew me in to this opportunity was the “behind the scenes” aspect to it. As someone who loves museums, it has been fascinating to have a hand in the process of working with artifacts, and to see the many other elements of museum collections at work, such as research and conservation. Getting a larger perspective has given me a greater appreciation for the work that museum professionals do, and for the important roles of curators, collection managers, volunteers, janitors, conservators, pest management, security officers, and many other people whose roles are in the “back of the house”. Another particularly interesting part of this internship has been the mystery of the work, specifically with the inventory.

My main project for the year was completing a full inventory of the artifacts and records in the 5th floor and the 2nd floor lab, which are part of our “Legacy” collections. When a museum is bringing in a new collection of artifacts, or when collections that are already at the museum are being worked with or researched on, it’s easy for a museum to get behind on projects, and leave some particularly difficult work off to the side, to get back to later. The artifacts and collections I was inventorying could have been last looked at a year ago, in the 1930s, or anywhere in between. It was a daunting project, but thankfully the previous intern, Wynne Clark (read her blog post here) had already put together a system and went through the 4th floor legacy collections with it, so I had a strong model to follow, and existing protocols. Using her system, I implemented it on the 5th floor collections, modifying as needed to accommodate the unique issues that arose.

The process was simple, on the surface. I went through box by box (through 141 archival boxes, 3 stacks of maps, 6 mason jars, 26 trays, 2 enormous plastic storage bins, and 1 large blue cooler) opening them up and taking notes in a spreadsheet about what was inside, including any information that came with the artifacts. The goal of the whole endeavor was to know as much as we could about what was in the collections. The things I found ranged from pottery vessels related to the Spiro Mounds site, to South American obsidian points, to historic glass and pottery, not to mention the hundreds of rock samples in the Lithic Type Collection, used for matching stone artifacts to their sources. Now that these artifacts are in the inventory, they can be found for research, exhibits, and NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) related projects, as soon as we need them.

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While my inventory is finished, legacy collections are still a large problem facing the SNOMNH, and the larger museum community. If the inventory isn’t kept up, and updated whenever things get moved or worked with, then the problem will return. Just as well, now that these collections have been rediscovered, there is still a lot of work to be done to process them, including further research, cataloging, cleaning, and labeling.

This is where you come in. The SNOMNH, and many other museums like it, runs on volunteers in every department, both out with the exhibits and in the back with the collections, and not just archaeology. There are positions for adult and teen volunteers, as well as current OU students. Dates and hours are flexible, and opportunities open up all the time. Whether you are interested in people, plants, animals, or rocks, an organized person or more innovative, more creative or more practical, wanting to jump right in or to just get your feet wet, there is an opportunity for you. Ultimately, museums exist for the people, and there is no better way to get involved and get invested than to volunteer.

Author: Ella Crenshaw

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.

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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.

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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

Legacy Collections in Archaeology

For the spring semester of 2017 I had the pleasure and the privilege of interning in the Sam Noble Museum’s Archaeology Department.  During my time at the museum, I was tasked with working with legacy collections and bringing them up to museum standards, which meant assessing, cataloging, accessioning, labeling, revitalizing, and shelving these collections.  I was also tasked with writing an Internship Agreement and Intern Evaluation for future internships at the museum.

I worked with several collections but there were two big ones that I completed from start to finish: the A/2016/4 ODOT collection, and the A/2008/013 Dean Gamel Research Collection.  The ODOT collection was from a historic site in Greer County Oklahoma, and contained many glass bottles, historic ceramics, and metal tools/parts.  I took the entire collection from the acquisition stage to the shelving stage of the collection process with no major issues at all.  The Dean Gamel Collection, however, was trouble from the start.  It started off as 5 pottery sherds that were used for micro-analysis, and then the collection exploded, and it turned out that there were over 150 pottery sherds, roughly 200 faunal remains (106 of which were modified), 12 pieces of shell, 11 obsidian flakes, a bison skull, and a human phalange.  I had to take this collection through the entire collection process, as well as clean and label the artifacts and make a tray out of archival cardboard for the bison skull.  It was a learning experience.
Overall the internship was a blast and I would love to do it again, and maybe even try for a career in some aspect of museum work.

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Author: Trevor Dumolt

 

 

 

 

Connecting Interests

Discovering what you want to be when you grow up and taking steps to achieve that goal can take a lot of hard work, but it can also take a lot of creative and flexible thinking. For me, the hardest work has not come from the essays and exams encountered in the classroom, but in connecting my interests to future career opportunities.

Right after high school, I attended Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma where I participated in every activity that caught my interest including art club, beauty pageants, and even performing on a Carnival Cruise line with the college show-choir. I changed majors several times—art, music, business, Spanish, art again—and eventually realized that narrowing down my interests was going to be difficult. I didn’t know how I was going to gear any of them toward a career path. I finally graduated with an Associate’s degree in Art and decided to take a break from school to test my interests in the workforce.

Through an ad seeking “artistic individuals” I was hired full-time to articulate skeletons for Skulls Unlimited International and the Museum of Osteology. The knowledge and skills I had developed in art classes turned into museum exhibits filled with skeletal creatures that I constructed. On evenings and weekends, I worked a part-time job teaching painting classes at Wine and Palette events in Oklahoma City. I drew heavily on my past experiences in performance as well as on my painting skills to provide entertaining and informative events to people of all ages.

The most valuable thing during that time was realizing that I was able to incorporate my broad set of skills into professional situations. I also realized that I loved working in museums, and that I wanted to turn that into a career. I made the difficult decision to leave my skeleton-building and painting behind so I could find a job that would better allow me to go back to school. My experience with skeletons was enough to get a job supervising an anatomy lab, and I enrolled at Arizona State University online to finish my Bachelor’s degree.

In order to develop an education more suited to museum work and to incorporate some osteology, I decided to major in Art History with a minor in Anthropology. Since my new job was not at a museum, I kept myself plugged into the industry by volunteering at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History where there was an opportunity in the Archaeology department. Three months into it, that volunteer opportunity became an internship to work with human remains projects related to the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Gaining an internship at SNOMNH was a really important step for me. It was the first time that I had seen my diverse array of interests come together as something that had the potential to be developed into a career. I was able to meet and interact with a variety of people in different areas of the museum and learn about these different careers. Working in the museum has offered me insight into future opportunities and showed me that narrowing interests isn’t nearly as important as connecting them.

Author: Keri Smith

Greetings, and Happy Spring from Norman!

The Archaeology Department at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History has had an exciting spring! Work is moving along at a satisfying pace on some projects which have been a long time coming…and what better way to reward a job (currently being) well done than to bring in all new, upgraded work stations to the fifth floor? Staff and volunteers, alike, are celebrating the installation of an expansive desk that considerably increases the available work space and provides much-needed storage in an area that previously only featured a few folding tables. In addition, those folding tables were moved to the common area where volunteers and interns do a lot of their work, replacing some smaller tables and giving everyone a little elbow room. More space means more collections assessed, analyzed, and revitalized, so we couldn’t be happier!

Here are some photos of “moving day,” in preparation for the arrival of the work stations. As you can see, everyone pitched in to clear the way for progress. Who needs brawn when you have anthropologists?

Author: Mary Brinkley

Archiving and Assessing the Bureau of Reclamation Collections

As populations grew in the western US in the early 1900s, there was a greater need for water and effective tools to manage the water supply. The Bureau of Reclamation was created in 1902 to construct Lake Thunderbird, the Tom Steed Reservoir, Lake Altus, Lake of the Arbuckles, and Foss Lake in Oklahoma. These lakes and other state parks now host over a million visitors each year, but were once occupied by Native American people and include archaeological remains attesting to these earlier occupations. For more information on the Bureau’s history, visit http://www.usbr.gov/history/borhist.html.

The Bureau has worked for decades with many kinds of professional and amateur archaeologists, including people from the Oklahoma Anthropological Society (check out their new website at http://www.okathropologicalsociety.org), responsible collectors, field school directors, and archaeologists from the WPA. The Bureau attempts to reassemble collections of artifacts that were long ago found on lands that have since been rezoned as federal property. The Sam Noble Museum (http://samnoblemuseum.ou.edu) has had an agreement with the Bureau since 2006 to house and curate many of the collections recovered from these areas.

This year, the Bureau is funding a Graduate Research Assistant to archive documents associated with these collections. Because some of these artifacts were collected nearly a century ago, a few of the field notes are now old enough to be considered artifacts themselves! They require careful handling and storage, and proper archival methods will ensure that they last for many centuries to come.

The kinds of documents encountered in the collections include photographs, letters of correspondence, oversized maps, excavation records, field diaries, and contracts for archaeological work. When preparing these for storage, we need to make sure that they are housed in a safe, cool, dry place, and are on conservation-grade acid-free paper that will not deteriorate and turn yellow over time. All staples get removed, and then most of the documents are scanned into a searchable database. This new database will allow researchers to immediately access all of the notes associated with each site. Having consistent systems of organization and preservation allow us to quickly find what we’re looking for, while also ensuring that the information is available for future researchers.

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Using archived notes to assess a collection from Lake Altus

For the rest of this year, the museum will work with the Bureau to physically inventory the artifacts and store them in new bags with proper artifact identification tags. Being able to look back at field notes from decades past has been very helpful in matching the artifacts to their catalog descriptions and ensuring that each piece gets stored with other artifacts from the same site.

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Bone awls and stone projectile points collected from the Lake Altus region in the 1950s