One of the most common questions we get in the lab and at the museum is “Where do they [the specimens] come from?”
The answer varies based on what particular specimen the visitor is asking about, but it always falls into one of three categories:
1. We purchased it.
“Wait, what? You just bought it?” is the usual response. Purchases usually apply to casts and models, but there are some purchased specimens (legally purchased, with the appropriate paperwork, all above board) as well. Purchased specimens are often bought specifically for exhibit purposes. It is important to note here that Burpee Museum adheres to the code of ethics set forth by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology when it comes to the trade and sale of vertebrate fossils.
2. It was donated.
We have a lot (A LOT.) of donated taxidermied specimens in our biology collection, we also have a large number of donated items in our anthropology (Native American) collection. These items are evaluated by the collections staff before they are accepted. Some donated specimens require special paperwork (specifically rare and endangered specimens), but all of them are taken in with donation forms to document the transaction and to gather as much information about the specimen(s) as possible. This also means that donations cannot just be dropped off at the museum – a common point of confusion. People interested in donating something to the museum collection should call ahead and make an appointment so that their item(s) can be evaluated properly.
3. The museum collected it.
Currently the museum has active expeditions to Hanksville, Utah and Ekalaka, Montana where field crews, respectively, collect middle Jurassic and late Cretaceous aged dinosaur fossils each summer. In the past crews and individuals from the museum have also collected Permain, Pennsylvanian, Devonian, and Ordovician fossils. In the biology collections, individuals have formerly collected insects, shells, and plants.