From the Field to the Museum - UAMN Research Assistant Sam Coffman and his colleagues discussed last summer’s ASRA archaeology module at the Alaska Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in Fairbanks this week. “We’ll be reporting on the students’ archaeological discoveries, along with their involvement at the site.”

This popular Alaska Summer Research Academy module lets high school-aged kids get their hands dirty digging for artifacts while learning the techniques and principles of archaeology. They also get a taste of local history.

Last year, students explored the prehistoric Simpson site, located along the Tanana River near the Rosie Creek subdivision outside Fairbanks. The site was discovered in the 1990s when the previous land owner turned up some chipped stone flakes while digging post holes for a woodshed.

The family called the university to report the discovery and reached a professor in the UAF anthropology department who did some tests and confirmed that it was an archaeological find. It was recorded by the state, which keeps a database of sites across Alaska.

The ASRA crew returned to the site in July 2013 to open up more ground, said UAMN Archaeology Collection Manager Scott Shirar. "We want to get a bigger artifact assemblage to give us a better idea of what’s going on out here. We’re also hoping to find some organic material and get some radio carbon dates for this site."

The students found maybe a hundred artifacts, including a bi-facially flaked knife (second photo from top, at left), which got everybody fired up to do some more digging.

The presentation was part of a session called “Community-based Archaeological Heritage Management: Exploring Pathways for Effective Collaboration.”  The session examined the challenges and opportunities of delivering community cultural resource management and archaeology projects.

The many phases of the moon over the museum. From top: The moon sets over the museum on a winter’s mid-morning. Photo by Elizabeth Hilker. The Denali Legacy ice sculpture is echoed by the Alaska Range under a waning moon at the end of February 2014. The full moon is caught between the panels of a museum banner in November 2013.

Tags: uamn moon alaska

It’s Alaska Marmot Day!

Did you know that Alaska is tied with Washington in boasting the most species of marmots in any U.S. state with three each. Alaska is home to the woodchuck (Marmota monax), the hoary marmot (M. caligata),and the Alaska marmot (M. broweri), which is only found in Alaska.
The staff and students in the museum’s mammal collection have been studying marmots for the past decade, and not just the Alaskan species. Curator Link Olson is investigating the evolutionary history of all 15 species of marmots, which are distributed throughout much of North America and Eurasia, using DNA sequence data to determine if the endemic Alaska marmot originated in N. America or Asia.
Collection Manager Aren Gunderson continues his research on the districbution and genetics of the Alaska marmot, and UAF Ph.D. candidate Nick Kerthoulas is using genetics to investigate evolutionary relationships and current gene flow among the hoary marmot, the Olympic marmot (found only on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington), and the endangered Vancouver Island marmot.
The museum’s marmoteers celebrated Marmot Day by dreaming of the upcoming field season, when our marmots will finally emerge from hibernation.
Feast your eyes on these adorable mammals and get ready to celebrate.
Don’t forget:  GROUNDHOGS ARE MARMOTS, TOO.

Feast your eyes on these adorable mammals and get ready to celebrate.

Don’t forget:  GROUNDHOGS ARE MARMOTS, TOO.

The Story of Otto Bear: An Impressive Specimenby Theresa Bakker, UAMN Media Coordinator
I have long been fascinated with how people respond to the nearly 9’ tall, 1200-pound brown bear that greets visitors to the museum’s Gallery of Alaska. Grown men giggle and point. Children approach wide-eyed. Their parents pretend to be a growling bear.
And they take photographs. Lots of them. It seems like someone is always posing in front of the bear. Thousands of photos are taken there each year.
Known by the museum staff as Otto, this mounted grizzly has stood for decades at the entrance to the Gallery of Alaska. Named for Otto Geist, who carried out the first major collection efforts for the museum, it is one of the most photographed objects in the museum and was donated in 1951 by Mr. and Mrs. James W. Webb.
The museum’s Curator of Mammals Link Olson calls Otto an “impressive specimen.” He says bears from the Alaska Peninsula tend to be larger than their mainland counterparts, although not as big as the legendary brown bears from Kodiak Island.
"We don’t know who prepared the mount," Olson said. "It’s an exquisite mount, clearly done by a professional and has certainly held up well over the years."
I recently got an email from John Holden Sr., who was visiting the UA Museum of the North in August 2013 when he noticed a sign asking for photos of Otto Bear.
John said he remembered seeing the bear before.
"I thought I had seen Otto in some of my late parents’ photographs from the time we lived in Fairbanks from the spring of 1950 through the summer of 1954. I’m attaching a scanned copy of a 35 mm slide I found in my parents’ collection. The slide frame is labeled ‘World’s Record Brownie.’
"Do you know where Otto would have been displayed in the 1950 to 1954 time frame?"
Our senior collections manager Angela Linn was excited to see the photo and confirmed that it would have been taken in an exhibit space located in UAF’s Eielson Building, one of the many locations that featured the museum’s collections before a permanent building was constructed at our present site in 1980.
Angie recognized the windows that look out the front of the building to the south and the steam radiator from other photos she compared it to. She noted that this one will be added to the historical record of our collections.
John also wondered about Otto’s fur. “It’s considerably darker in color in this photo than it appeared to me in your museum. Was his fur originally as dark or was that an aberration of the lighting and photo equipment?”
To answer that question, I turned to Exhibition & Design Coordinator Steve Bouta, who oversees all of the objects on display in the museum.
"That’s Otto for sure," he said. "Photos and monitors all render colors differently, but I’m sure his hair was darker back then. I’ve always thought he was holding up well, but also wondered how much the light had affected his coat.
"That’s what 60 years of light exposure will do to you, and why we keep light levels so low in the gallery."
A photograph can tell us so much. We started asking visitors to send us photos in the fall of 2010 to help promote a special exhibit about hibernation and the ways animals survive the extreme cold of an Interior Alaska winter. Since then, we’ve received over 500 different photos of Otto, each unique in its own way.
Steve has worked at the museum for more than 25 years. He said this is probably the oldest photo he’s seen of Otto. Something else about it caught his eye - the ghostly white moose on the left of the photo.
"By the way," he said. "That albino moose was de-accessioned in the early 80s."
 

The Story of Otto Bear: An Impressive Specimen
by Theresa Bakker, UAMN Media Coordinator

I have long been fascinated with how people respond to the nearly 9’ tall, 1200-pound brown bear that greets visitors to the museum’s Gallery of Alaska. Grown men giggle and point. Children approach wide-eyed. Their parents pretend to be a growling bear.

And they take photographs. Lots of them. It seems like someone is always posing in front of the bear. Thousands of photos are taken there each year.

Known by the museum staff as Otto, this mounted grizzly has stood for decades at the entrance to the Gallery of Alaska. Named for Otto Geist, who carried out the first major collection efforts for the museum, it is one of the most photographed objects in the museum and was donated in 1951 by Mr. and Mrs. James W. Webb.

The museum’s Curator of Mammals Link Olson calls Otto an “impressive specimen.” He says bears from the Alaska Peninsula tend to be larger than their mainland counterparts, although not as big as the legendary brown bears from Kodiak Island.

"We don’t know who prepared the mount," Olson said. "It’s an exquisite mount, clearly done by a professional and has certainly held up well over the years."

I recently got an email from John Holden Sr., who was visiting the UA Museum of the North in August 2013 when he noticed a sign asking for photos of Otto Bear.

John said he remembered seeing the bear before.

"I thought I had seen Otto in some of my late parents’ photographs from the time we lived in Fairbanks from the spring of 1950 through the summer of 1954. I’m attaching a scanned copy of a 35 mm slide I found in my parents’ collection. The slide frame is labeled ‘World’s Record Brownie.’

"Do you know where Otto would have been displayed in the 1950 to 1954 time frame?"

Our senior collections manager Angela Linn was excited to see the photo and confirmed that it would have been taken in an exhibit space located in UAF’s Eielson Building, one of the many locations that featured the museum’s collections before a permanent building was constructed at our present site in 1980.

Angie recognized the windows that look out the front of the building to the south and the steam radiator from other photos she compared it to. She noted that this one will be added to the historical record of our collections.

John also wondered about Otto’s fur. “It’s considerably darker in color in this photo than it appeared to me in your museum. Was his fur originally as dark or was that an aberration of the lighting and photo equipment?”

To answer that question, I turned to Exhibition & Design Coordinator Steve Bouta, who oversees all of the objects on display in the museum.

"That’s Otto for sure," he said. "Photos and monitors all render colors differently, but I’m sure his hair was darker back then. I’ve always thought he was holding up well, but also wondered how much the light had affected his coat.

"That’s what 60 years of light exposure will do to you, and why we keep light levels so low in the gallery."

A photograph can tell us so much. We started asking visitors to send us photos in the fall of 2010 to help promote a special exhibit about hibernation and the ways animals survive the extreme cold of an Interior Alaska winter. Since then, we’ve received over 500 different photos of Otto, each unique in its own way.

Steve has worked at the museum for more than 25 years. He said this is probably the oldest photo he’s seen of Otto. Something else about it caught his eye - the ghostly white moose on the left of the photo.

"By the way," he said. "That albino moose was de-accessioned in the early 80s."
 

Frame by Frame - The Alaska Center for Documentary Film is implementing a new long-term collection preservation strategy. In these photos, original negatives of the documentary film Drums of Winter are inspected frame by frame.

Thanks to a collections assessment grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Film Center invited a group of preservation specialists to evaluate the film, audio, and video in the collections and propose a strategy for their long-term preservation.

This is particularly critical as the Film Center develops plans for greater digital access to the collections. Curator Len Kamerling says the new strategy should be fully implemented by 2016.

Happy New Year from the University of Alaska Museum of the North!
IMAGE:  Fireworks light up the sky above UAF’s West Ridge during the annual New Year’s Eve Sparktacular. UAF photo by Todd Paris

Happy New Year from the University of Alaska Museum of the North!

IMAGE:  Fireworks light up the sky above UAF’s West Ridge during the annual New Year’s Eve Sparktacular. UAF photo by Todd Paris

We’ll be showing off unique specimens from our fish collection at the next Night Out at UAMN on Friday, December 13.

hannahedwardsillustration:

Anglerfish for my children’s book about bizarre creatures in the ocean

We’ll be showing off unique specimens from our fish collection at the next Night Out at UAMN on Friday, December 13.

hannahedwardsillustration:

Anglerfish for my children’s book about bizarre creatures in the ocean

[Above: Meg O’Connor, and Julie Rousseau prepare a theropod track for transport at a site along the Yukon River. Photo by Kevin May]

Meg O’Connor is a senior at Williams College, a small liberal arts school in Williamstown, Massachusetts where she is studying geosciences and philosophy. She spent the summer volunteering in the museum’s earth sciences department. She was on the Yukon River expedition that netted a new discovery in Alaska of thousands of dinosaur tracks.

How did you get involved with this field work? I love traveling and new experiences, so when I was looking for something to do the summer after my junior year, I decided it would be great to work at a museum in a new place for a few months. When I saw that Earth Science Curator Pat Druckenmiller works with arctic dinosaurs, I was hooked!  I told Pat that I was interested in volunteering in the lab but also gaining some field experience, and he gave me the opportunity to do both.


What were you expecting from this trip? How surprised were you by the success? Since I had never had the opportunity to work in the field before and I am not from Alaska, I’m not sure I had any fleshed-out sense of what to expect in terms of discoveries on the trip. Personally, I was expecting an adventure and a learning experience, and I knew that the main goal of the trip was to scope out a new area, but I didn’t have my heart set on seeing much. So it was incredibly exciting to find beaches teeming with tracks.


Can you describe finding fossils along the Yukon River? Was it difficult to spot a good specimen? As we walked along each beach, we would flip over rocks that looked like they could contain tracks. There were certain things that clued us in, such as the rock-type, texture, and layering in the rock. Some of the prints were very clearly tracks; you could see the toes and shape of the foot. Others really just looked like “blobs,” and it was harder to tell if the rock even contained a print. I was excited to learn how to differentiate prints from non-prints, but I was proud of the specimens that I found that were “museum quality” and could be brought back and possibly displayed in the future.


What is it like working with a museum crew, where the science and data are just a part of the project? I had an amazing experience working with the team this summer. I was thrilled to have an experience to learn from experts in this field, but also to become close with others in the lab and on the trip. The field work was a lot of fun and in addition to the work we did, we laughed a lot and really got to know each other. It’s a really incredible feeling to know that you are contributing to something both timeless and important to our understanding of earth’s history.


Are you interested in a career in earth sciences? Earth sciences is one of my major areas of interest as I start my career search. I had a great experience working at the museum this summer. I would enjoy doing similar work in the future.

[Above: Meg O’Connor, and Julie Rousseau prepare a theropod track for transport at a site along the Yukon River. Photo by Kevin May]

Meg O’Connor is a senior at Williams College, a small liberal arts school in Williamstown, Massachusetts where she is studying geosciences and philosophy. She spent the summer volunteering in the museum’s earth sciences department. She was on the Yukon River expedition that netted a new discovery in Alaska of thousands of dinosaur tracks.
How did you get involved with this field work? I love traveling and new experiences, so when I was looking for something to do the summer after my junior year, I decided it would be great to work at a museum in a new place for a few months. When I saw that Earth Science Curator Pat Druckenmiller works with arctic dinosaurs, I was hooked!  I told Pat that I was interested in volunteering in the lab but also gaining some field experience, and he gave me the opportunity to do both.
What were you expecting from this trip? How surprised were you by the success? Since I had never had the opportunity to work in the field before and I am not from Alaska, I’m not sure I had any fleshed-out sense of what to expect in terms of discoveries on the trip. Personally, I was expecting an adventure and a learning experience, and I knew that the main goal of the trip was to scope out a new area, but I didn’t have my heart set on seeing much. So it was incredibly exciting to find beaches teeming with tracks.
Can you describe finding fossils along the Yukon River? Was it difficult to spot a good specimen? As we walked along each beach, we would flip over rocks that looked like they could contain tracks. There were certain things that clued us in, such as the rock-type, texture, and layering in the rock. Some of the prints were very clearly tracks; you could see the toes and shape of the foot. Others really just looked like “blobs,” and it was harder to tell if the rock even contained a print. I was excited to learn how to differentiate prints from non-prints, but I was proud of the specimens that I found that were “museum quality” and could be brought back and possibly displayed in the future.
What is it like working with a museum crew, where the science and data are just a part of the project? I had an amazing experience working with the team this summer. I was thrilled to have an experience to learn from experts in this field, but also to become close with others in the lab and on the trip. The field work was a lot of fun and in addition to the work we did, we laughed a lot and really got to know each other. It’s a really incredible feeling to know that you are contributing to something both timeless and important to our understanding of earth’s history.
Are you interested in a career in earth sciences? Earth sciences is one of my major areas of interest as I start my career search. I had a great experience working at the museum this summer. I would enjoy doing similar work in the future.
[Above: Meghan Shay holds an ornithopod (herbivorous dinosaur) track along the Yukon River. Photo by Kevin May]
Meghan Shay is a student in the UAF Department of Geology and Geophysics’ paleontology option, a new geosciences degree program. Once she jumps through all the hurdles of graduate school and maybe gets a PhD, she hopes to work in the earth sciences field. She was on the Yukon River expedition that netted the new discovery in Alaska of thousands of dinosaur tracks.
1) How did you get involved with this field work? I am a technician in the museum’s Earth Sciences Department and work for Earth Sciences Curator Pat Druckenmiller. Working at the museum is a really good opportunity to get involved with field work and research. I talked to Professor Druckenmiller about opportunities and he told me about the expedition on the Yukon.
2) What were you expecting from this trip? How surprised were you by the success? I expected the trip to be rainy and really buggy, but for the majority of the time there was no rain and the wind was so strong that any mosquitoes were blown away. The first stops of the trip were really a let-down because we weren’t finding much, just the odd track here and there. I was really surprised when we got to Koyukuk and the tracks were so abundant, we had to leave many behind and just take pictures of the tracks that weren’t as nice.
3) Can you describe finding fossils along the Yukon River?  Was there a particular find you were proud of? Spotting a good specimen was pretty hard at first, but after a while you start to get a feel for what they look like. There is one track I was proud of, which I found at one of the first stops. Everyone was spreading out to start flipping over the giant slabs littering the beach, and the first rock I flipped had a really nice theropod track on the other side. It was my first find of the trip.
4) What’s it like knowing the pieces you collected will be stored for, hopefully, hundreds of years? It’s a really great feeling knowing I contributed to the collections. For the last year I’ve been dealing with things that other people have collected over the years, but now there are some things that I actively took part in finding.

[Above: Meghan Shay holds an ornithopod (herbivorous dinosaur) track along the Yukon River. Photo by Kevin May]

Meghan Shay is a student in the UAF Department of Geology and Geophysics’ paleontology option, a new geosciences degree program. Once she jumps through all the hurdles of graduate school and maybe gets a PhD, she hopes to work in the earth sciences field. She was on the Yukon River expedition that netted the new discovery in Alaska of thousands of dinosaur tracks.

1) How did you get involved with this field work? I am a technician in the museum’s Earth Sciences Department and work for Earth Sciences Curator Pat Druckenmiller. Working at the museum is a really good opportunity to get involved with field work and research. I talked to Professor Druckenmiller about opportunities and he told me about the expedition on the Yukon.

2) What were you expecting from this trip? How surprised were you by the success? I expected the trip to be rainy and really buggy, but for the majority of the time there was no rain and the wind was so strong that any mosquitoes were blown away. The first stops of the trip were really a let-down because we weren’t finding much, just the odd track here and there. I was really surprised when we got to Koyukuk and the tracks were so abundant, we had to leave many behind and just take pictures of the tracks that weren’t as nice.

3) Can you describe finding fossils along the Yukon River?  Was there a particular find you were proud of? Spotting a good specimen was pretty hard at first, but after a while you start to get a feel for what they look like. There is one track I was proud of, which I found at one of the first stops. Everyone was spreading out to start flipping over the giant slabs littering the beach, and the first rock I flipped had a really nice theropod track on the other side. It was my first find of the trip.

4) What’s it like knowing the pieces you collected will be stored for, hopefully, hundreds of years? It’s a really great feeling knowing I contributed to the collections. For the last year I’ve been dealing with things that other people have collected over the years, but now there are some things that I actively took part in finding.