Burpee offers private view of collections room

Have you ever wondered what’s behind the closed doors of the “collections room” adjacent to the lab at the Burpee Museum of Natural History? Scott Williams, Burpee’s collections manager, will take you on a guided tour of more than 60,000 items stored in Burpee’s collection. This is the first of several Burpee Collection Tours scheduled for March 12-13. Each tour is 30 minutes and will begin at noon and 3 p.m.

Burpee Museum has a strong and diverse permanent collection, which currently consists of four main components: anthropology, biology, geology and paleontology.

Burpee’s collection is never static and needs constant care. This is because specimens can deteriorate over time. Some are very sensitive to light, or to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Some of Burpee’s most sensitive and “high maintenance” specimens are in the anthropology collection, which currently has nearly 10,000 pieces. The anthropology collection consists of two categories of specimens, archaeology and ethnology. A variety of cultures are represented in both collections.

Archaeology specimens include items made of lithics (stone), and pottery, and ethnology specimens include items made of wood, plant fibers, animal products (horn, bone, fur, feathers, shell and skin), ceramics, lithics and metals. And many ethnographic objects are made from several types of raw materials.

Lithics date from the Paleo-Indian period (approximately 12,000 years ago) to post-European contact. The ethnology materials in the anthropology collection are diverse: Native American culture groups including the Woodland, Plains, Northwest Coast and Southwestern are represented. Burpee also has a small but diverse collection of ethnographic material from cultures in Africa, Asia, South America, Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Great strides have been made in the conservation of Burpee’s permanent collections. The anthropology collection is stored in a secured storage, climate-controlled facility.

Collections are essential for scientific research. Scientists from universities, colleges and museums often use specimens from natural history museums in their research, the results of which can reshape the way we look at the natural world. Many theories you find in textbooks started with a scientist studying specimens in a natural history museum.

The permanent collection is the cornerstone of any natural history museum and benefits a museum in several ways that are not often easy to see, but can be easily answered with this question: “Why do people visit a natural history museum?” The answer is, “To see what is on display.” Be it some new fossil or dinosaur skeleton, some new Native American artifacts, fluorescent minerals, or a live fox snake in the biology exhibit. In any case, it is the “real stuff” from the collections that bring excitement and authenticity to the visitor’s experience. These specimens are also utilized by educators to teach school groups.

Established in 1941, the Burpee Museum is one of the preeminent museums in Illinois and is home of JANE—Rockford’s Celebrity Dinosaur. JANE: Diary of a Dinosaur exhibit is scheduled to open to the public June 29.

Free parking is available at the Burpee Museum at 737 N. Main St., or in the Riverfront Museum Park parking lot directly next door at 711 N. Main St. Burpee hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $5/adult; $4/child (ages 3-17). Members are free.

For further information, call 815-965-3433 or log on at www.burpee.org.

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