November 11, 2014

A collection of Washington state symbols, natural history style

On Nov. 11, 2014, Washington state turns 125. In the spirit of celebrating, we highlighted 12 objects in the Burke collections that are quintessentially Washington—at least according to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), a compilation of all laws enacted by the state's Legislature.

Washington has 22 official state symbols to date under the RCW, and 12 of them can be found at the Burke Museum—the Washington state museum of natural history and culture since 1899. We care for these objects, and millions more, as a record of nature and culture to help us to understand how the choices we make today will affect the future.

Here are the 12 Washington state symbols in the Burke collections:


State Tree: Western Hemlock


The western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) is found in Washington's temperate rain forests. This evergreen conifer can grow up to heights of 230 feet, with the longest living specimen being more than 1,200 years old; it became the State Tree in 1947. Fun fact: new-growth needles can be steeped to make vitamin-rich tea. Date collected: May 6, 1967.

November 04, 2014

Digging for fossils in the Petrified Forest

By Tom Kaye

The sky was crystal clear as my wife Carol and I geared up for our first day “on expedition” at Petrified Forest National Park in northern Arizona. This trip was particularly exciting for us because Petrified Forest had recently acquired a huge new tract of land and we, along with several colleagues from the Burke Museum, were the first team going in to look for fossils!

Specifically, we were looking for fossils of huge predators from 210 million years ago during the Triassic Period. We knew that most of the fossils we found would belong to extinct groups known as aetosaurs and phytosaurs. The former sported armor plates and foot-long spikes to ward off attacks. The latter were the Triassic equivalent of crocodiles: aquatic predators that you didn’t want to mess with.

Hunting for fossils isn’t as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be. It was never less than 100 degrees on the desert floor thanks to the sun’s reflection. We wore SPF 50 sunblock made for children so it didn’t sting when the sweat runs in your eyes. We were almost never in sight of anyone else. And the best fossils are ALWAYS the farthest from the truck.

So, I hope you enjoy the pictures and know that you’re getting the best parts of the trip right here!

October 25, 2014

What do you collect? 10 unique visitor collections

Over the past four months, we've asked Burke Museum visitors to answer a simple question in our Imagine That exhibit: what do you collect?

"What do you collect?" tags hang in the Burke's Imagine That exhibit.
As the Washington state museum of natural history and culture, we collect to form a record of the life before us and to bring together people, objects and the stories that make them meaningful. We share a curiosity and passion for collecting with our visitors.

So far, more than 2,000 visitors have told us what they collect and why their collection is special. While we see several types of collections come up regularly—rocks, shells, money—some collections stood out as particularly unique.

Here is a sampling of 10 one-of-a-kind visitor collections shared with us so far:

1. Woodchips with holes

First name: Diane
What I collect: Woodchips with holes
My collection is special because... It began with a child giving me one, and then another, and another... and now I have hundreds!!

October 13, 2014

Seattle's ghost shorelines

By Peter Lape, Amir Sheikh, and Don Fels

Someday soon, Seattle’s downtown waterfront will look very different than it does today. The City of Seattle is replacing our crumbling seawall, and perhaps Bertha will resume digging the tunnel to replace the rickety, looming and loud Alaska Way Viaduct, scheduled to be torn down in 2016.

These changes create the potential to reconnect to the Elliot Bay shoreline, a main reason the city was established here in the first place. Planning continues for a re-imagined waterfront, and architects, designers, planners and politicians are starting to share their ideas with Seattlites.

An architectural rendering shows what a Pioneer Square beach at the foot of Washington Street could look like.
Photo: Courtesy of James Corner Field Operations and City of Seattle, Adapted from The Seattle Times’ September 12, 2014 article titled “Seattle’s new waterfront: What it might look like and why.”

October 10, 2014

A mammoth state symbol from Washington's prehistory


State symbols are designated to reflect the history and culture of a place. For instance, in Washington, we have a state tree that's common to our region (the Western Hemlock) and also a state bird (the Willow Goldfinch)—there's even a state dance (care to square dance, anyone?).

In the early 1990s, a group of elementary school students in Washington noticed an important piece of Washington's history that was not represented in the state symbols list: a remnant from prehistory Washington.

Prehistory is fascinating. Memorialized in the fossil record is evidence of massive floods, thousands of feet of solid ice and animals that we can now only imagine. Studying paleontology and learning what the planet looked like millions of years ago is akin to present-day detectives solving crimes with only a few clues and a wealth of scientific knowledge.

Mrs. Aebly's 2nd grade class in 1994.
Photo courtesy of Chris Pineo.

This topic captivated Chris Pineo and his classmates in Mrs. Sara Jane Aebly’s second grade class at Windsor Elementary School in Cheney, Washington. While learning about dinosaurs and paleontology, the students read about a class in Colorado that designated a state fossil and it inspired Chris and his classmates to seek out a fossil that represented Washington state.

September 26, 2014

Beautiful things: Still life photographs using Burke specimens & objects


When Dennis Wise and Malina Lopez wanted to use Burke Museum collections in their work, they weren’t interested in objects or specimens for the “usual” reasons.

Often, the people who use Burke collections are scientists and scholars. But for Wise and Lopez, a photographer and food stylist respectively, using Burke collections was all about getting creative and helping people see objects and specimens in new ways.

Natural history specimens make unexpected appearances in this beautiful series of still life
photographs. Keep reading for more images and the lists of specimens within them.

Photograph: Dennis Wise; styling: Malina Lopez

August 29, 2014

From billions to none: Remembering the passenger pigeon


Passenger pigeons. 
Photo credit: The Birds of America,
J.B. Chevaller, 1840-1844, n39_21150,
CC-BY-NC-2.0, via Flickr.
They flew in vast flocks, numbering in the billions—the sound from their flapping wings was deafening. John James Audubon once described a flock as one mile wide and 240 miles long that darkened the dome of the sky for three days as it passed overhead.

The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America. At the time European settlers arrived, passenger pigeons accounted for nearly forty percent of the land birds of North America, primarily east of the Rocky Mountains. In 1857, the Ohio State Legislature dismissed the idea of protection for the passenger pigeon, proclaiming, “it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them.”

But on September 1, 1914, the last passenger pigeon on Earth perished. In less than a century, the great species had gone extinct.


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