Tell us what you think!

Jane VectorOk, folks today’s post is a bit different from the rest. Today we’d like to hear from you! Museums are continually trying to learn how to better serve people, and Burpee Museum is no exception. To learn more about people’s preferences and how they utilize museums, we’ll periodically post some questions here on the blog. Please take a minute to complete the four questions below. If you have additional comments, feel free to leave them as a comment to this post!

Project Passenger Pigeon

Burpee Museum is proud to be part of Project Passenger Pigeon, a movement to commemorate and learn from the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon 100 years ago. Project Passenger Pigeon encompasses all aspects of the birds’ demise and seeks to educate people about current conservation issues. As a part of the Project Passenger Pigeon, the museum will be installing an exhibit that combines exhibit work provided by Project Passenger Pigeon and specimens from the museum’s permanent collection.

Joel Greenberg's "A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction" will be on sale at the lecture and opening!

Joel Greenberg’s “A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction” will be on sale at the lecture and opening!

The exhibit will open officially on September 9, 2014 with a Mahlburg Scholars Lecture by Joel Greenberg. Joel is the author of “A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction” as well as a lifelong birder and naturalist. He will be speaking about the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon 100 years ago and why it is important to us now. Please join us for his lecture on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 7pm, doors will open at 6pm. Admission to the lecture is $8 for adults (13 and up), $7 for kids (4-12) and free to Burpee Members; admission includes general admission to the museum.

Virtual Field Trips

Not the mostly-static, 360-degree photos of museum galleries that took forever to load on dial-up internet of the early 2000’s but live, interactive virtual field trips that engage participants directly and put them in direct contact with experts and educators.

Scott Williams,Director of Science and Exhibits, talks about "Jane" the juvenile T.rex's teeth during a live virtual field trip.

Scott Williams,Director of Science and Exhibits, talks about “Jane” the juvenile T.rex’s teeth during a live virtual field trip.

 

There is a great movement at all levels of education and instruction to help students develop their critical thinking skills, to experiment and learn from their mistakes, and to understand how they learn and to be able to teach themselves. This movement is driven by many factors including, but not limited to, increasing technological turnover and the need for a workforce that will be able to continually learn new technologies to stay current and employable, a need for capable and inquisitive minds in STEM fields, and the staggering amount of digital content available to anyone on an almost unlimited basis.

Here at Burpee Museum, we realized that we needed to try something new. Although our on-site tours are met with excellent reviews, they are traditional, in-person field trips. And, because they are in-person field trips, the participants are limited by their proximity to the museum. The solution was live, virtual field trips that highlight the museum’s collections, and that can be tailored to each specific groups needs.

Virtual field trips allow students, near and far, to directly connect with the museum and iconic specimens like “Jane” and “Homer”  and ask questions of our museum educators and experts, while utilizing technology that is familiar to them. Keep an eye out for more content (and maybe even a mini-tour!) on the Burpee Museum Facebook Page.

If you would like to know more about Virtual Field Trips at Burpee Museum please visit the Virtual Field Trips page or contact Sheila Rawlings, Director of Education and Programs, using the contact form below. Please feel free to share this post with anyone you know who might be interested in connecting their group or class with Burpee Museum through Virtual Field Trips!

Lightening Strikes and Expedition Updates

Steve the Sloth says "Watch for Falling Debris!" Fortunately only the chimney was damaged, and things are now back up and running!

Steve the Sloth says “Watch for Falling Debris!” Fortunately only the chimney was damaged, and things are now back up and running!

Things have been busy in the field at at the museum! A chimney on museum’s administrative building, the Barnes Mansion, was struck by lightening. The chimney was damaged and the email server was fried. So, if you’ve tried to email anyone at the museum in the past few days and your email bounced back, please try again!

The Week 1 Field Crew, thanks for all your hard work!

The Week 1 Field Crew, thanks for all your hard work!

The news from the field is much more fun, the field crews have made some exciting finds at both new and old sites! The braincase and a pterygoid were found at the “Garny” Triceratops site by Steve Simpson and the Highland Community College crew.

Another Baenid Turtle found at the Ninja Turtle site!

Another Baenid Turtle found at the Ninja Turtle site!

Another Baenid Turtle was found at the Ninja Turtle site.

Possibly a new juvenile T. rex site!

Possibly a new juvenile T. rex site!

A juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex femur was found while prospecting – crews are going back this week to investigate and see if there is more there!

Highway to Hell Creek 2014 is underway!

Burpee Museum Field Crews have been working near Ekalaka, Montana preparing for the 2014 Highway to Hell Creek field season for the past two weeks. Already they have opened the “Pearl” site and have unearthed more of the rare Oviraptor, as well as opened the Double L Triceratops site and the Ninja Turtle site. Hopes are high for lots of great finds this field season!

L to R: Simon Masters, Gene Sullivan, Steve Landi, Hillary Parks, and Maureen Mall pose after finishing opening the Double L Triceratops site.

L to R: Simon Masters, Gene Sullivan, Steve Landi, Hillary Parks, and Maureen Mall pose after finishing opening the Double L Triceratops site.

They have also attended and presented at the second annual Dino Shindig at the Carter County Museum among many other very notable paleontologists. The first round of expedition participants arrived at Camp Needmore on Sunday and will be digging with the Burpee Crew all week.

Camp Needmore, the field crew's home for the next few weeks.

Camp Needmore, the field crew’s home for the next few weeks.

Stay tuned to the Burpee Facebook Page for updates about our finds from the field!

Just What the Doctor Ordered: Two Medicine delivers high biodiversity in a low profile region

Brad Brown began working at the Burpee Museum shortly after graduating from Northern Illinois University in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Geology. He has assisted with multiple Burpee field seasons in Utah, Wyoming, and Montana including the excavation of Homer, Burpee’s “teenaged” Triceratops.

In Montana’s eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains stand ancient weathered hills above gently rolling plains. Within these hills numerous fossils await their discovery by some intrepid, wide-brim hat wearing paleontologist. Animals preserved in the mud that entombed them around 75 million years ago had no way of knowing the significance a band of bipedal, relatively hairless mammals would find in them. This location, a section of the Two Medicine Formation, has been a hotspot of diverse fossil discoveries for over 30 years despite its sleepy surroundings.

Morning view from my tent. The teepee was used by friends passing through for a night or anyone whose tent was damaged by the occasionally raucous wind.

Morning view from my tent. The teepee was used by friends passing through for a night or anyone whose tent was damaged by the occasionally raucous wind.

The Two Medicine Formation became a consistent site of paleontological study beginning in the late 1970s when the first known North American dinosaur egg fossils were reported. Montana paleontologist, Jack Horner, with collaborator, Bob Makela, and a group of Princeton students prospected the Two Medicine, and their years of work identified more than mere egg fragments. They found numerous egg nests, some containing embryos. Laid by the hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur) Maiasaura, the Montana nesting sites have provided much insight into dinosaur anatomy, ontogeny (changes through maturation), and parenting behavior. The Maiasaura bone bed can be traced across numerous hill exposures including Camp Makela where the crew spends their evenings dining and refining their research. Horner and his students have estimated that over 10,000 Maiasaura skeletons were deposited at the location (though many have long eroded away) leading them to believe that the animals died during a catastrophic flooding event.

Another Two Medicine fossil site of interest, dubbed Egg Mountain, has provided a unique window into the deep past. Named for the original attractant to the site, Egg Mountain has produced many fossils of eggshell from dinosaurs, birds, and crocodiles. Dr. David Varricchio of Montana State University has been working at Egg Mountain for the past five summers and has unearthed an assortment of small Late Cretaceous creatures, some of which are thought to correlate with the site’s eggshell. Dinosaurs present at the site include a possible burrowing animal called Orodromeus, as well as the bird-like theropod, Troodon. Teeth of hadrosaurs and the theropods Saurornitholestes and Daspletosaurus have also been found. Non dinosaurians from lizards to mammals, both placental (such as rabbits, mice, etc) and non-placental (marsupials, monotremes, and an extinct group, multituberculates) have been some of the most complete specimens from the site. Trace fossils are also prevalent at Egg Mountain. Backfilled insect burrows and pupa chambers as well as pupa cases still showing silk weave patterns are among the most abundant signs of prehistoric life, representing numerous beetle and wasp species. Such fossils provide important details about the paleoenvironment and are an interesting topic of research for ichnologist and author, Dr. Tony Martin, of Emory University.

Egg Mountain is a somewhat atypical fossil locale because it represents a terrestrial setting as opposed to the more watery fluvial and lacustrine settings which tend to provide reliable opportunities for sediment accumulation, therefore, fossilization. The site is currently believed to preserve a natural levee along the bank of an ancient river. The prevailing sediment would have been mud and soil which, over great swaths of time, hardened into a gray mudstone with blocky carbonate nodules. Carbonate rock can indicate to a geologist that the area was perhaps a shallow marine environment, but this is no marine limestone. The micrite found at Egg Mountain is derived from carbonate rock which eroded from a marine Paleozoic deposit to the west that was uplifted during the early rise of the Rocky Mountains. Rivers carried the carbonate in solution, flooded periodically, and the carbonate material percolated into the Cretaceous soil. During dry seasons, water in the soil evaporated leaving behind nodules of solid carbonate.

Originally so many bones of Orodromeus juveniles and adults were found at the site that it was thought to be an Orodromeus nesting site. The identification of embryos as Orodromeus seemed to confirm that, however, after more Troodon specimens were found and studied Dr. Varricchio realized that the embryos were originally misidentified and are actually Troodon. It is believed that Orodromeus remains may represent prey items of brooding Troodon parents. Dr. Varricchio’s team has uncovered a significant clutch of two dozen elongate ovoid eggs within a bowl shaped trace of a nest constructed by and fitting the body size of Troodon which is on display at Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT. The eggshell of Troodon is very smooth and closely resembles the texture of bird eggs. A bumpier type of dinosaur eggshell is thought to represent a dromaeosaur (the group including Velociraptor), though no skeletal material associated with a clutch of bumpy eggs has yet been found. Pieces of crocodile teeth and egg shell are found at the site, but again, no associated skeletons or nests have surfaced. A handful of very complete mammal and lizard specimens have been collected from Egg Mountain and continue to draw interest from experts and collaborators such as Dr. Gregory Wilson of the University of Washington. The Two Medicine Formation is possibly the host locale of the best preserved Late Cretaceous mammals in North America.

As a prospective graduate student hoping to study paleontology, I contacted Dr. Varricchio about his research at Montana State University. After keeping in touch over the winter months we met in person this past March at Burpee Museum’s annual PaleoFest event. We talked about field work, as many paleo folk start getting antsy in spring, and Dave invited me to volunteer with his crew. I was only able to stay for one week, but that was enough to get an idea of how the site operates and what should be expected of it.

Orodromeus femur in micrite. Working the micrite requires breaking large rocks into small rocks, so bones are often split among a slab and counter slab.

Orodromeus femur in micrite. Working the micrite requires breaking large rocks into small rocks, so bones are often split among a slab and counter slab.

Egg Mountain is a rather flat rectangular site atop a hill, setup in such a way to simplify mapping. The crew is spread across a grid and works their section down from the surface until they reach an established lower horizon. The mudstone requires occasional jack hammering so that the crew can work through the rubble with brushes and awls keeping their eyes sharply tuned to spot very small bone and egg fragments. In the afternoon of my first day at Egg Mountain I ‘worked the line’ until I found something that did not look quite like mudstone. Being new to the operation, I asked, “Dave, do my eyes deceive me? Is this bone?” Indeed, it was part of a tibia to an Orodromeus. Further excavation uncovered a femur, a vertebra, a possible fibula. Then, in carbonate micrite, there was another femur, more vertebrae, and a few toe bones. On my last day I circled around to the original material found in mudstone and ran into yet another femur along with a radius and an ulna. Three total femora were present indicating that there were two animals! Normally, the site’s student and volunteer workers hunch over scads of crumbly mudstone for 3-5 weeks finding mostly trace fossils, isolated bones, and eggshell fragments barely visible to the naked eye, mere stains on the rock compared with the large Maiasaura bones that lay just a mile away. Over the course of the week I realized that I was not having the typical Egg Mountain experience. To find multiple dinosaur bones every day for a week was a rare treat that I will not soon forget!

Dave maps the orientation of Orodromeus bones. The bucket in front of him contains the day’s finds wrapped in paper towel and aluminum foil. In the foreground volunteer, Ulf Schyldt, of Stockholm, Sweden sweeps his section clean of rubble while seeking tiny ancient treasures.

Dave maps the orientation of Orodromeus bones. The bucket in front of him contains the day’s finds wrapped in paper towel and aluminum foil. In the foreground volunteer, Ulf Schyldt, of Stockholm, Sweden sweeps his section clean of rubble while seeking tiny ancient treasures.

Science is a beautiful and humbling cohesion of the observations, experiences, and testable ideas that humanity has encountered and manipulated over many centuries. I owe much of my experience in the scientific world to Burpee Museum’s long running expedition program. I had never found a dinosaur bone until I went to Montana with a class run by Highland Community College professor, Steve Simpson, in collaboration with Burpee. I found myself returning to spend as many summer breaks as I could in the Hell Creek Formation of the eastern Montana badlands. I was privileged to find myself in Montana the summer that Homer was discovered. The following year I was one of many intrigued individuals who helped uncover the expansive juvenile Triceratops bone bed where Homer and two of his compatriots were laid down. After years of guided experience with Scott Williams and Burpee staff, I am glad to have taken my lessons learned and applied them to a new dig site. Working with diverse groups of people and seeing fossils unseen for ages provides new perspectives and has helped me continue to build upon each experience, finding that science is not just a subject of study or an accumulation of facts and numbers, but a way of life that is shared worldwide.

Stay tuned to No Stone Unturned for more news and stories inspired by the Burpee Museum of Natural History.

For more information about Tony Martin’s research and why insect fossils provide a better understanding of dinosaurs, follow his blog Life Traces of the Georgia Coast and pick up his book Dinosaurs Without Bones, in stores now!

IDNR Schoolyard Habitat Grant Results

Students in Burpee Museum's Home School Science Class plant flowers along the museum's back terrace.

Students in Burpee Museum’s Home School Science Class plant flowers along the museum’s back terrace.

Earlier this spring Burpee Museum was selected as a recipient of an Illinois Department of Natural Resources Schoolyard Habitat Grant. This grant allowed Burpee Museum to plant native plants along the Riverfront Terrace. These plants will provide additional resources for native animals that inhabit the area, they will also attract native and migratory insects like monarch butterflies and honey bees.

Burpee Museum’s Home School Students and the New England Banner 4-H club volunteered their time to help plant the new native gardens along the terrace. The next time you visit the museum, make sure to take a moment to visit the Riverview Terrace and admire their work!