Dialogue Blog: Camp Favorites

by Katy Creagh, School Programs Developer, and Eric Todd, Gallery Programming Manager

041113_katy_ericKATY: Eric, I am so excited! My job has changed and I am now the Indiana State Museum Summer Camp Director. Now, I know you have a special place in your heart for Summer Camps, so I thought it might be fun to discuss our Top 5 favorite things about camp.

ERIC: If there are two things I love, they are camp and lists. So sure, I’ll play along. 

KATY: Great, I’ll go first.  At number five, I have recess. You get to spend time outside playing games and enjoying the summer weather. It has all the perks of recess when you were in elementary school.

ERIC: You may have just stolen one of mine, but that is fine. My fifth favorite thing about summer camp is the free camp t-shirt. Every time I get one, that’s one more day before I have to do laundry.

KATY: Are you sure it’s just one more day? For number four, I went with looking for fossils. That includes microfossils in Diggin’ Indiana and Exploring Nature Camps and then sifting dirt in Paleontology II. It’s something I’ve never experienced before coming to the museum, and it’s fun to think that I’m doing the same work that REAL scientists and paleontologists do.

ERIC: That is cool, I agree. My number four is making things. You might call them crafts, but it’s really more than that. By summer’s end my desk is always filled with awesome new decorations that also serve as reminders of the fun I had.

KATY: Perfect transition, my number three is also crafty—weaving. You get to try weaving in two different camps (Indiana Artists and History Alive!) and make my favorite, “mug rugs.”

ERIC: I would normally give you a hard time about “mug rugs,” but I do have one at my desk that I use daily. My number three choice is a repeat of one of yours, but you’ll notice I placed it a bit higher on my list. Recess, lunch break and snack time. I have so much fun in those moments! I loved recess as a kid, but now I really appreciate it. And, if my boss is reading this, Susan — what are your thoughts on instituting museum recess?

KATY: I’d vote “yes” for that one. Alright, now we’re getting down to the big ones. At number two on my list, I have all things crafting. See how high it is on my list compared to yours? From the end of the week presentations to making a mosaic in Diggin’ Indiana camp … I love all the projects and crafts we get to make.  

ERIC: I am shocked that is not your number one, frankly, especially with the new Indiana Fashion Runway Camp which I imagine will let you craft around the clock. My number two is behind-the-scenes tours. As you know, even as museum employees we don’t have access to everything in the museum, but during camp, we get to go places and see things that most visitors — and staff — never see.

KATY: Nice choice. But now the big one. My number one favorite thing about summer camp at the Indiana State Museum is … the campers! Spending time with old friends and making new ones — I get to play games and learn new things about Indiana and don’t have to sit at my desk all day … I get to hang out with cool people all day which is way better.

ERIC: Great minds think alike — my number one choice is also the people. I always meet the coolest people in summer camp. From wildlife experts (with their animals) to Abraham Lincoln himself, you never know who you’ll see stopping by an Indiana State Museum camp. Oh, and the campers and counselors are pretty cool, too!

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42,000 Years Old!

by Chuck Smith,  Marketing Graphic Artist

When I was young, my dream of being an archaeologist or paleontologist was a close second to an artistic profession. After graduating, I became a full time graphic designer at the Indiana State Museum. I didn’t think it got any better than creating art for Indiana’s #1 place for science and culture, but I was wrong. For the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a few days on the Megenity Cave dig with other museum professionals searching for ancient bones and tools. 

Today is my first full day back in Indianapolis after three days in the cave and I still cannot believe how exciting the trip was. After only five minutes of digging on Day 2, I made my first real discovery! The hope of finding something special sometimes makes your mind turn every little piece of mud into a bone or rock into an arrowhead, but I knew right away that it wasn’t my imagination this time (or ‘bone fever’ as they call it). Something truly awesome had appeared on my shovel. I whipped off some dirt, held it up for a better look and realized that I had found a peccary jaw which I would later learn dates back between 35,000 and 42,000 years!

The digging and time spent with colleges and friends always makes for a great time, but experiencing the magic of unearthing something like this has made for a day that I‘ll never forget.

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When creativity meets summer

By Katy Creagh, Art and Culture Program Developer

As an artist, I was always creating something when I was on summer break from elementary school. From trying to make my own pottery using clay in my backyard to making handmade birthday cards for my friends, expressing myself artistically — even if I didn’t realize it at the time — was my favorite summertime activity.

Because my creativity took over my mother’s dining room on more than one occasion, my parents put me in art classes. I LOVED it! I also LOVED arts and crafts time when I attended camp, vacation Bible school and any other summer activity my parents signed me up to attend.  And once I was old enough to sign myself up, I studied art in college and graduate school just so I could continue expressing myself and keep having as much fun as I did in my dining room back home.

If you know a child who enjoys making art and expressing their creativity as much as I did when I was little (and now that I’m all grown-up), make sure to sign them up for Indiana Artists Camp! As director of the camp, I can guarantee that the campers will have a week full of art making, creative experiences and fun activities. Learning about sculpture, making their own pottery and painting en plein air (painting outside) will be among the activities sure to captivate campers all week long. And to add an Indiana twist, we’ll be gaining our inspiration from some of the best Indiana has to offer in the field of visual arts.

Although I’m partial to art, you should know that the Indiana State Museum has six other fun filled Summer Camps as well. From Archaeology to Crime Scene Indiana State Museum, Paleontology I and II to Exploring Nature and History Alive, there is a topic to interest anyone. So, even though I’m busy preparing for Indiana Artists Camp, I am confident painting with a broad brush and promising your child will enjoy their summer if they come spend it with us at the Indiana State Museum.

The museum behind the museum

by Jeff Tenuth, Science and Technology Collection Manager

I give a lot of tours at the Indiana State Museum. These are mostly “behind-the-scenes” tours, not gallery tours. Visitors can take themselves through the galleries, but behind-the-scenes tours offer much more.

When visitors come into the museum, they see galleries, attend programs, eat at the restaurants or shop at the museum store. They tend to think that’s all there is to a museum. But in reality, what they see is the end product. Most of the work for the galleries (and programs) is done behind the scenes and the public rarely sees any of it. Nor does the public see the actual size of our collection. The artifacts they see in galleries represent only one or two percent of our total collection. The larger the collection, the more of it is in storage. This is true in most museums. Take the Smithsonian for example. Their collection numbers well over 250 million artifacts. Imagine how big their galleries would have to be to show all of their collections. For a large museum like the Indiana State Museum, we show a few thousand artifacts at one time, but we have hundreds of thousands of artifacts in our collection. It’s simply impossible to put everything on exhibit — we would need galleries the size of football fields! That’s why it’s so important to show visitors and other guests what lies behind-the-scenes. I’ve never had a tour participant who didn’t walk away astonished at the size and breadth of our collection. Only then can the public see what a daunting task it is to care for the largest publicly held collection in the state. With a greater understanding of what the casual visitor doesn’t see, a tour guest usually comes away with a greater appreciation for the collection and what it takes to care for it.

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Another reason the public doesn’t see and doesn’t know about the size, diversity or location of the collection is intentional. We do that to maintain the security and environmental integrity of the collection. The collection is actually hidden in eight storage rooms in the Administration building, not the building where the galleries, restaurants and other public facilities are located. The eight storage rooms allow us to store the collection by type of material. Continue reading

Do you like puzzles?

by Elizabeth M. Scott, Natural History and Archaeology Preparator at the Indiana State Museum

When archaeologists and paleontologists excavate bones, sometimes they are found in several pieces or are so fragile that they break into pieces during excavation or processing. So, how are these finds identified, tracked and pieced back together? Why bother to mend bones back together? What do we learn from this process? It’s a giant 3-D puzzle!

Let’s follow a group of bones from the Bothwell mastodont site, a site in northern Indiana that yielded material representing seven individual mastodonts.

Pieces of jaw oriented and laid out prior to mending.

Paleontologists in the field found a group of bones. The characteristics of the bones and the presence of teeth led scientists to identify this clustering to be a jaw. They gave this grouping of bones a field identification number and marked its location on the excavation’s site map. Back at the museum, the material was washed, dried, catalogued and consolidated (saturated with a resin for preservation). After this, the preparator —me! — began the process of mending the material back together.

Many things can make it difficult to piece a bone back together. Material can be damaged or lost at the time of the animal’s death; or as the carcass deteriorates, pieces may be moved during a site’s development over time; damage can happen during excavation or laboratory processing. Also, non-fossilized bone material acts similar to wood in that it can warp and distort as it takes in and gives off moisture. This can dramatically affect the bone’s shape and preservation during a site’s formation, excavation and laboratory processing.

During the mending process, there are several ways to deal with distortion and lost or damaged fragments. The piece may be placed at an angle during mending, and there’s the addition of fill material to replace missing pieces and to strengthen weak areas. This takes a complementary blending of biology knowledge and art skill.

This fully mended jaw contains 80 pieces.

But why bother with mending these bone fragments? Well, mending bone fragments is important for several reasons. First, it can assist in better specimen identification. One group of small fragments originally listed simply as “vertebra?” can now more accurately be identified as “third or fourth cervical vertebra.” Second, it can reveal better biological information. Only after mending was it possible to determine that one of the five jaws recovered from the site was from a fully mature older adult. Third, it means fewer fragments to track in storage. The jaw in our example is now one large item and not 80 individual ones. Finally, it can give us clues about site formation processes and the relationships between different bones and individuals found across the site. The jaw in our example was constructed of fragments from two different areas of the site.

Check out this video from the Bothwell site.

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Day 4 of a 17-day Dig, Year 23

It takes a certain amount of passion to go back to the cave, year after year, digging out bucket after bucket … filling them up, pushing them out, screening them, packing them up for transport back to the museum, then studying them again under the microscope.

But that’s what Ron Richards and his crew have done for 23 years now … all from a limestone cave deep in the forest of southern Indiana. Dr. Carl Sagan once said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” As the museum learns more about the Ice Age animals found inside this cave, it will give us a better glimpse into history of the land we now call Indiana. It is fascinating work!

Here’s my glimpse into what a cave dig looks like a la Indiana State Museum …

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I Wanna Check You for Ticks

That’s Brad Paisley … but applies to Peccary Digs, too … but more about the creatures of the day in a second. Day four of a 17 day dig = my second day. Started all wrong;  a knock-knock had me flying out of bed in my jammies, hair unruly, to find Ron Richards, museum paleontologist at my door … our alarm hadn’t gone off! OMG! Leap into clothing and out the door … cavers don’t need makeup or hair fussing. *whew* Luckily its a 40-minute drive to the cave, which is plenty of time to drink coffee and wake up.

Many creatures today … spiders (again) and butterflies and ticks. But the real find of the day was a copperhead snake! Yes, they are venomous. Neal reached down for something next to his chair and the snake moved; thankfully it didn’t strike, but chose to slither away instead.   

The other interesting find amidst over a hundred buckets full of cave dirt was a shark tooth, probably over three hundred million years old, from a geological period of time when Indiana was covered by water. The buckets are brought out of the cave and carried to the screeners, who carefully wash off excess dirt and rock, picking through for anything unusual, which they set aside in special containers.  The rest is put into plastic bags, brought back to the museum, and carefully studied under microscopes.

It was a long day of hauling heavy buckets, shooting dozens and dozens of photos and video, and sweating. But what an honor to be part of something as cool and important as this. We are literally picking through history! More tomorrow!

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