Archive for June, 2010

Guess what I did at summer camp today?!!

I know I start off the majority of my blog posts with something along the lines of, “Guess how cool my job is?!” Well, it’s nearly impossible to avoid that statement when you work at Fernbank Museum. So here we go again…

I thought I said goodbye to sweet summer fun when I applied to be an intern during my last summer as a student. I was unbelievably wrong. Last week, I joined 15 rising second and third graders for the first day of summer camp. We had a blast. I went on Herpetology Day, which means I learned about reptiles and amphibians.

Summer camp starts an hour before the Museum opens, so we had the whole place to ourselves. If you’ve never been in the Museum without any other guests, you are missing out. We started the morning with a private tour of the gecko exhibition, and because we were there early, it was breakfast time. Colin, the gecko guy, was feeding the geckos live crickets. We got to peek our heads inside the habitats as the geckos ate. It was totally cool.

After breakfast with the geckos, we went outside to play. We played a game similar to sharks and minnows, but rather than being minnows, we were baby sea turtles—and we weren’t in a swimming pool. Did you know that there are seven different types of sea turtles in the world and five of them live off Georgia’s coast? Pretty cool, huh?

In our game, we were newly hatched sea turtles, and we had to cautiously swim past our predators: the crab, pelicans, and sharks. We all had a chance to play the role of predator and prey, and in the end, we understood why sea turtles lay so many eggs. (They typically lay between 80 and 120 eggs at one time.) With lurking predators, it is impossible for every baby sea turtle to stay alive, and when there are more sea turtles to swim past the predators, they have a better chance of surviving.

At summer camp, we didn’t just pretend to be animals—we got to interact with live animals too! Mrs. Becky brought a salamander, a leopard gecko, and a snake for us to see. She went around the room and let us touch the gecko and snake as she answered our questions.

One camper assured us that the snake was safe to touch as he proudly stated, “Red on black is a friend of Jack, and red on yellow is a venomous fellow.” (The snake’s black rings were touching its red body, which was a good indicator that it was a non venomous snake.)

 After our exciting animal encounters, it was craft time. This was probably my favorite time of the day because I got to be creative and take a picture home. Mrs. Becky gave everyone a piece of snake skin, a crayon, and a sheet of paper. We covered the snake skin with our paper, and rubbed our crayons over it resulting in a colorful copy of the snake skin.

We had quite an adventurous day, and to wrap it up, we had journaling time. We sat in a big circle and talked about everything we had done and learned, so we could write it down in our journals. Everyone was eager to share their favorite part of the exciting day.

Yes, my job has many wonderful perks.

-Andrea Lowery, Marketing & Communications Intern

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June 29, 2010 at 2:50 pm Leave a comment

Archaeology at work

Kate Jackson, Fernbank’s Archaeology Programs Specialist, has been an archaeologist her whole life—well basically. She cannot remember a time when she did not want to be an archaeologist, and now she is actually living her dream.

It all started when Kate was 13-years-old. She was exploring one of the pyramids in Egypt and she got to touch history. “The pyramid was hot and kind of gross, but the history, how you could just touch it, was so cool,” said Kate with a big smile on her face as she remembered every detail.

Kate then started teaching me about archaeology. She told me about the different digs she has been on, the pieces of history she has discovered, and the joy she gets from teaching people about the past. She told me one of the most important things about archaeology is the desire to share the information that is discovered. After all, what would be the point of spending countless hours searching, discovering and learning about the past if you were going to keep it all to yourself? No, archaeologists want people to discover history with them.

I learned that paleontology is the study of fossils, including dinosaurs; anthropology is the study of people; and archaeology is the study of people in the past through the clues they’ve left behind. I always thought fossils and artifacts were archaeology, but that’s not true. While they are related in that archaeologist and paleontologists both look at the past through what’s leftover, they look at different things. They are kind of like cousin sciences.

I also learned archaeologists are meticulous, patient people. Kate described to me the importance of details in archaeology. For example the distance between two objects can tell so much about the way people used them in the past, and depending on how far down an object is located in the ground could determine its age.

Did you know that archaeology isn’t just about the dig though? I sure didn’t.

“Excavation isn’t the biggest part of archaeology.” Kate said that archaeologists agree that “for roughly every hour on dig, you have three hours in the lab” studying the artifacts you found.

To start off with, archaeologists have to find a site. Sometimes they search historical records or look for visual elements or get a tip from people. A good example of that is when farmers find artifacts when they are plowing and planting their crops. Kate recommends that if you find something, don’t dig it up yourself—contact an archaeologist at a local museum, university or the state archaeology office.

After a site has been found, research is really important. An archaeologist’s first move is never to push the shovel in the ground. The pre-excavation research can include walking surveys, searching the history of the area and checking with other archaeologists and with people who live in the area. When they finally find a good starting spot, they set up a grid and start with shovel test pits (small holes a few feet apart from one another). Then they slowly dig bigger and bigger areas.

(To give you a time frame, it can take years to get to this point…like I said, archaeologists are patient people!)

All of them have a tremendous interest in history, which keeps them motivated during the slow discovery process. They want to know everything about people in the past and tell everyone what they know.

Is that something you are interested in? Because if you love learning about people in the past, Fernbank has a lot of great ways you can start your archaeology adventure.

For younger scientists, the junior archaeology labs are a really neat way to get involved. There are tables with different activities: excavation boxes, puzzle recreations (known as mending in the lab) and coloring. Kate also brings in artifacts that kids can touch and learn about. For older students and Boy Scouts, a 3-4 hour mock dig program on a Fernbank-created simulated excavation site is offered. . It is as real as you can get without being on an actual archaeology site—including the paper work and carefully washing the artifacts. “You get the complete experience about what a real archaeology site is like,” said Kate.) Fernbank also offers occasional Archaeology Open Houses, an annual Archaeology Day and of course, the museum is filled with interesting artifacts, including a rare dugout canoe found in South Georgia. Don’t miss the permanent exhibition Conveyed in Clay: Stories from St. Catherines and the brand-new special exhibition De Soto’s Footsteps: New Archaeological Evidence from Georgia, which is changing history!

Come to Fernbank and explore archaeology today.

-Andrea Lowery, Marketing & Communications Intern

June 18, 2010 at 3:02 pm Leave a comment

Observations from a Fernbank Volunteer

One of the best things about working at the front desk of the A Walk Through Time in Georgia is the interesting people you meet, and the conversations with them. Curiosity may be bad for cats, but it is the key to an enjoyable visit to Fernbank Museum and can be brought to life by the collection of rocks and fossils at the front desk.

Did the wooly mammoth really live in Georgia?   Well, there’s a tooth of one and it is real.

Is kaolin really the most valuable mineral mined in Georgia?   It has hundreds of uses, including tooth paste, paint, medicine and magazine paper. One visitor from China took one look at the white clay and exclaimed “That’s what we use to make our porcelain.”

What’s the oldest fossil in the collection?  The head of a trilobite embedded in a piece of chert, about 500 million years old.

Which often leads to “What’s chert?”    A flint-like rock beloved by the original inhabitants of America because of its ability to fracture with a sharp edge, useful for tools and weapons.

Why are bits and pieces of marine animals contained in limestone from the Cumberland Plateau?  Because that area of Georgia, including Lookout Mountain, was once at the bottom of an ocean.

Some of the visitors are geology students or professionals in mining industries and know far more than I about the minerals of Georgia, but many have never paid much attention to such mundane things as rocks.

Once three teenage women listened with increasing interest to my discussion of the items on display, their ancient origins and modern uses. One of the young women suddenly exclaimed: “I didn’t know rocks could be so cool!”

Yes rocks can be cool and it is up to the volunteers to make them so, adding to the enjoyment of the Museum visitor and satisfaction of working at the front desk of A Walk Through Time in Georgia.

 

 -Furney Hemingway, Fernbank Museum Volunteer

Editors note: If you are interesting in donating your time as a Fernbank volunteer, visit us online or contact us at volunteer@fernbankmuseum.org.

June 14, 2010 at 6:57 pm Leave a comment

Pictures to buzz about

As a staff member, I have the luxury of seeing all of Fernbank’s amazing exhibitions: permanent and special.  Right now, I am fixated on Winged Beauty: Butterflies and Other Insects.

Winged Beauty is a photography exhibition of 33 brilliant photos taken by Bill Harbin, a nature and wildlife photographer.  He has been recognized as Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 by Natural History Museum, London and BBC Wildlife, and the photos hanging around the entry level walls of Fernbank explain why.

Delicate butterflies rest on sturdy flowers; buzzing dragonflies glide motionlessly through the air; beetles feed on flowers covered in dew drops.

I feel like these insects buzz around me all the time outside, especially when I walk down a nature trail or through a garden. They have a swift movement, and I often overlook their simple beauty.  Harbin’s magnificent photos have generously stopped time for us, though.  We are able to look at these butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, and other insects up close.

The crisp photos capture every microscopic detail. They invite us into the bugs’ world. When I met eye-to-eye, with a delicate, tender butterfly, he suddenly became a dominant, aggressive creature, and the tiny dew drops that I often brush off of my pants legs unexpectedly became heavy weights on the flower petals.

Harbin’s photos have outstanding composition, not to mention the colors that vividly jumped off the image.  I saw marvelous blues that I have never seen before, and a yellow so magnificent that I had to close my eyes and look again to make sure it was real. 

Winged Beauty is an incredible photography exhibition. You should come see it today, it just might change the way you see insects!

-Andrea Lowery, Marketing & Communications Intern

June 11, 2010 at 1:57 pm Leave a comment

Get to know the Gecko Guy

As you probably know, Fernbank Museum is currently hosting the incredible and lively exhibition: Geckos: Tails to Toepads. This traveling exhibition will be on view through Labor Day, so make sure you come and see it!

The exhibition is extraordinary, thanks in part to gecko keeper, Colin Walker.

Recently, I had the privilege of going behind the scenes with Colin, our gecko guy. He showed me what it was like to be a gecko keeper. We fed a giant gecko, held geckos, watered plants, and discovered gecko eggs. As we walked around from habitat to habitat, Colin shared his gecko knowledge with me. (I didn’t know it was possible to know this much!) Geckos are not his only expertise though.

I quickly found out that Colin has a wealth of knowledge about snakes—both venomous and harmless snakes—crocodiles, alligators, geckos, and so much more. If you see him while you’re in the exhibit, ask him your own questions! I can almost guarantee he’ll have an answer for you.

Did you notice the habitats the geckos live in? They each have a custom-built natural habitat, which means that the cases in the Museum are set up exactly like the geckos’ native land. Whether they are from Madagascar or Asia, the temperature matches their home as well as all of the plants surrounding them. One cool thing about Colin’s job is that he gets to maintain the habitats. I guess it’s kind of like going to Madagascar every morning!

Even when Colin’s not traveling with the geckos, he likes to take care of animals. He’s a big cat man—literally; he loves BIG cats such as tigers and lions. He also spends a lot of time with snakes, but when it comes down to it, he finds geckos the most interesting.

“Geckos are a wonderful display of biodiversity. If you look at a snake, you know it’s a snake; if you look at a crocodile, you know it’s a crocodile,” Colin said. “But with geckos, there are green ones and orange ones. There are ones with no legs and ones with blue spots.”

Colin gets to work with these colorful creatures every day of the week for a couple of hours each day. He likes to come in and feed the geckos, water the plants, and clean the glass before the exhibit opens so that the geckos can be ready for you. Most people wouldn’t be thrilled about working a seven-day week, but Colin doesn’t seem to mind.

“It’s not so much that I go to work in the morning, but I connect with each animal in some way,” Colin said. “And I guess it helps that I’m doing the job of my dreams.”

-Andrea Lowery, Marketing & Communications Intern

June 3, 2010 at 2:39 pm Leave a comment


About

At Fernbank Museum, there’s much more than dinosaurs and giant-screen films. Even with our website, e-newsletters, Facebook pages and Twitter updates, there’s still a lot we’d like to share with you. This blog is an opportunity for the people that keep Fernbank running and constantly expanding, to share stories from their point of view. We hope you’ll enjoy these first-hand, behind-the-scenes glimpses of what goes into keeping a world-class natural history museum running. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on these stories, to hear your personal experiences and hear any suggestions for topics. Happy reading!