Ask a Scientist

October 6, 2010 at 3:28 pm Leave a comment

Ever wonder about that interesting rock you found while hiking the Appalachian Trail? Or that large spider that enjoys lurking in the back of your closet? If so, it’s Fernbank Museum to the rescue! Fernbank scientists have been helping people identify curious objects and answering general questions about natural history since the Museum opened its doors in 1992. As the only natural history museum in Atlanta, area residents often look to Fernbank Museum as a resource for information about topics as far reaching as geology, paleontology, zoology, botany, ecology anthropology and archaeology. In fact, Fernbank’s “Ask a Scientist” program provides people with a direct line to the Museum’s knowledgeable staff with expertise in a number of different disciplines.

As coordinator of the “Ask a Scientist” program, I review questions sent to the Museum by e-mail and voicemail and then forward them to the appropriate staff member for additional research and follow-up. Over the years, Fernbank staff members have answered an abundance of questions about the Museum as well as a wide variety of natural history topics, including those related to natural specimens like rocks and animals as well as man-made artifacts from the recent and distant past. Dinosaur eggs, fossilized shell, bugs, glowing wood, snake skeletons and Native American artifacts are just a few of the recent topics that Fernbank specialists have addressed most recently.

Soapstone Ridge bowl blank, DeKalb County, GA

Among the “Ask a Scientist” inquiries, those related to Native American artifacts from Georgia and the greater Southeast are quite common since this region was occupied by native peoples for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. Many people accidentally uncover artifacts on their property when gardening or digging for landscaping, so they contact Fernbank to learn more about what they found. Geology and paleontology questions are also in abundance. Our geologists regularly help patrons identify rock and mineral specimens as well as a wide variety of fossils. Some of the objects Fernbank specialists have identified through the “Ask a Scientist” program have actually been donated to the Museum. These are now in the Museum’s permanent collection, preserved for research purposes and possible display in Museum exhibitions in the future.

In addition to identifications, many people also contact Fernbank Museum seeking information about the value of certain objects. While Fernbank staff cannot legally provide appraisal services, we can provide you with web links and other contact information for a number of national and international appraisal societies, many of which have searchable on-line databases that can help you identify an accredited appraiser in your area. Formal written appraisals can be obtained by appraisers on a fee basis. Additionally, approximate values for different types of objects can often be found in price guides or auction catalogs available on-line and in libraries and bookstores.

Bobbi Hohmann, PhD McClatchey Curator


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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!

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