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Written by: Joe Keiper
Monday February 10, 2014


Museums are good at preserving the record of the past, and using the knowledge gained from our specimens and artifacts to plot new roads to the future. Information gleaned from archaeological records hundreds of years ago assists wildlife management experts restore natural communities as they were prior to European contact. Our fossil record paints an accurate picture of what ocean levels were like in Earth’s past and allows us to predict future fluctuations. Analysis of ancient rock layers laid hundreds of millions of years ago dictates where mineral resources can be extracted.

We are talking old stuff here…

But museums aren’t just about what’s old. We’re all about what’s new!

VMNH has 10+ million specimens and artifacts documented in its collections. We don’t just sit contented and happy with that number. Our collections grow every year. Staff grow our collections by adding new specimens and artifacts that are relevant to our mission of interpreting Virginia’s natural heritage in a global context.

Here’s a few examples of what’s new at VMNH. I hope you enjoy, and you can count on us to preserve these objects and learn new information to help us understand Virginia a little bit better every day!

Joe Keiper
Museum Director

Ray Vodden casts giant beaver skeleton

Here, Collections Technician Ray Vodden assembles a new cast (scientifically accurate replica) of a giant beaver skeleton (Castoroides ohioensis). He and paleontology Dr. Alton Dooley made the casts using an actual skeleton. This one is being posed in a simple posture, and mounted on a small metal base allowing it to be easily transported for programs. In the near future, we plan to have 2-3 of these skeletons mounted and placed on permanent exhibit in the museum. This species lived from 130,000 to about 10,000 years ago during the Pleistocene, and are known to have inhabited Virginia during that time.

Fossil Fern

This fossil is of a fern from Virginia. The fossil is old, and the specimen was collected by a Virginia Tech faculty member some years ago. But it is new for VMNH. As universities find fewer space resources to allocate to scientific collections, VMNH often gives the collections a new home, thus further centralizing Virginia’s precious natural history artifacts.

Pottery Sherds

This is a box of pottery sherds, or fragments, extracted from a mass sampling of gravel, sand, rock, animal bone, charcoal, and other remnants of a Native American settlement. “Bulk samples” are those that have many unsorted components to them, and can sit on a museum’s shelf until someone physically sorts through them to remove the items of importance. These are clay fragments, probably from a broken vessel of some type. The rough side is the outside, as someone had adorned the clay with a pattern, whereas the smooth side is the inside of the vessel.


Tags: Executive Director, Mammals, Paleontology, Research and Collections, Virginia Tech