Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Intersection of Natural and Human History

Yesterday “Dean Dad” posted an article on museum hopping over at Inside Higher Ed. Our family’s recent museum hopping got me thinking about the intersection of natural and human history.

Exhibit One: The Thunderegg. Legends of the Thunderbird link together numerous native groups in Western North American. One legend is that when mountains in the Cascade Range became angry, they hurled at one another eggs stolen from the nests of Thunderbirds. These egg-shaped spherulites were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.

Exhibit Two: An Obsidian Arrowhead. Many ancient cultures used the glass-like volcanic rock Obsidian—named after the Roman Obsidius, who found a similar stone in Ethiopia—to fashion weapons. (The one pictured here was made in Mexico and sold in Oregon.)

Many of the national parks that our family has visited in recent years integrate natural and cultural topics well. But usually natural and cultural collections are kept and presented separately, and most museums focus on one or the other. The High Desert Museum, about which I posted yesterday, is an impressive model for curating diverse but related collections.

The picture at the top of this post was taken at the National Historic Oregon Trail InterpretiveCenter outside of Baker City, Oregon.