Monday, August 25, 2008

Week Eight

Our final week as a group at the museum was downright hectic. So much so, that I am actually writing this from home on Saturday morning! It all began with business as usual: lining drawers, creating lists for specimens needing attention, conducting inventory and georeferencing. I think georeferencing has quickly become one of the interns’ favorite projects. The task began with an excel file filled with hundreds of locality names from sites where perissodactyl fossils have been found. Each intern was assigned a general area, or collector: Mongolia, Lusk, Ainsworth and Skinner. What ensued was a hunt for any and all information about the localities comprising these areas. Searches began with locality registrars and logs as well as Internet databases and mapping programs. When these sources failed to provide enough information it was necessary to find more in the archives! For some localities, it was necessary to find a specimen in the collection in order to figure out where in the archives information about its corresponding locality might be. Confusing? Well, it was to us at first too. Once in the archives, we sorted through shipping records, maps, correspondences, sketches and pictures. How the times have changed! I came across many a letter beginning “My Dearest Frick” and some amusing antiquated language. We spent the beginning of the week really georeferencing up a storm and writing up reports so as to keep the next researcher informed of our progress.

The Archives

Down on floor three, we continued to line shelves of cabinets. We have come across some really interesting contents over the course of our internship. A few weeks ago it was endocasts (horse brains), last week greasy fossils, and this week purple fossils! Let me explain the greasy fossils because this was truly one of the most amazing things my nerdy eyes have witnessed. Last week while transferring fossils, my hand landed in a glob of goo. An intern and I wondered what it could be, some sort of old-timey museum preservational measure? We called our quirky bizarre-trivia expert Carl and he came down to observe. He told us that the Pleistocene specimen, originally found in Alaska in the 1930s must have been preserved in permafrost and had likely been releasing fat in the form of grease for the past seven decades. Pleistocene animal fat, unreal! Despite all the hullabaloo of these exciting rediscoveries, we finished as many cabinets as were available. We also conducted inventory for each drawer in the beginning of the collection.

Tours this week included a Sweet tour of Ornithology and a museum tour led by one of Paleontology’s own volunteers. In Ornithology, we observed beautiful specimens in the skin collection, skeletal specimens, egg and nest collections. Such work is not for the faint of heart. While we were down there one of the head preparators was telling the others how to massage a muscle in the bird that would relax its ruffled feathers. Thursday’s museum tour was a great note to end our tour series on. We went around to some different exhibits and not only learned a lot about the subject matter, but also about visitors’ perceptions ad reactions to the exhibits.

It has been a quick eight weeks and we have seen and learned an invaluable lot about the way a museum is set up, how the different departments interact and how best to problem solve as a team. On behalf of the interns, I’d like to thank the American Museum of Natural History and the National Science Foundation for this opportunity.

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