One of the reasons we wanted to start this blog was to showcase all of the great collections we work with, that for one reason or another are not on display. In our blog posts over the next few months, one of the things we will be talking about are the collections that come through this lab. As we begin that excursion through a portion of the anthropological collections of the National Museum of Natural History, I want to say a little about why we have these collections.
A panoramic view of Pod 4 at the Museum Support Center, with the Collections Support Staff and objects from the Anthropology Department of the National Museum of Natural History. In the foreground at right is one of the Smithsonian's two Easter Island stone figures. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
Everyone knows that museums have many more artifacts than they can display at any one time. What you may not know, is that objects have other important uses, even while in storage. The mission for most museums tends to run: collect, preserve, exhibit and educate; and at NMNH we do all that and more. Most of the collections we work with have a research purpose, but that does not rule out the possibility of using a particular piece of pottery or stone tool in a future exhibit or for an educational program. Museums are educational institutions and most have collections that tell a story, or provide the research materials on which a topic is based. For instance, a natural history museum collects, studies, and preserves a portion of the biodiversity of the planet and many also collect, study, and preserve the material evidence of human cultures--artifacts. These artifacts are part of the collective memories of past and present societies.
We try to make a difference in the world we share through serious research efforts on a myriad of topics, from airplane bird-strikes, endangered species, climate change, forensics, volcanology, food and sustainability, developing DNA barcoding to help us avoid poisonous foods, to studying the way language shapes how we understand the world and helping to sustain incredible indigenous knowledge through our Recovering Voices Program. Due to our amazing collections, partnerships with other institutions, and other resources, the Smithsonian’s scientists are uniquely able to use what we know about the past to predict what might happen in the future.
Stay tuned for more on how Dr. Dan Rogers is working on just such a project together with his colleagues at George Mason University!
-Meghan Mulkerin with Dr. J. Daniel Rogers.