Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Museum of Natural History

Since returning from Nevis, I have been traveling to the National Museum of Natural History one day a week.  I have had the good fortune of obtaining a part-time volunteer/internship this summer.  My current task has been to assist staff in counting and cataloging a variety of glass beads.  These beads have been in the collection for quite some time and will soon return to their original homes.  I’ve read about these beads in previous courses and you can’t learn a thing about the Colonial Contact Period without hearing something about beads!
Glass beads were a popular European trade item during the Colonial Contact Period. Many of these beads came from Venice and they come in a variety of styles and colors. Columbus was the first person to begin trading these bead with Indigenous populations.  So far, I have learned about three varieties of bead:
1. Wound beads: melted glass is wound around a piece of wire, creating a spherical shape. The striations of the glass run horizontal across the holes of the bead.
2. Drawn beads: the melted glass is “drawn” into a longer strand of glass. Some accounts suggest these glass strands could get as long as thirty feet! The glass is then broken into smaller pieces.
3. Pressed beads: the glass is pressed on each side, to create a facet decoration. These beads are usually drawn first.

To carry out the process of cataloging these beads, I have to first separate them according to color. I then separate them according to manufacturing technique, which can be verified by using a microscope. I then measure the beads, a length and width are taken. I have encountered very few true spheres, so this part has not been as difficult. For those that are spherical, I measure the diameter.  I have encountered red, black, blue, colorless and opaque white beads. My favorite bead has been the opaque white variety, they look like little soap bubbles, or sea foam. Very pretty!

The second aspect of my internship has involved working with pre-existing artifact descriptions and ensuring that they thoroughly describe the artifacts.  The documents that I have been working with are from several years ago and the person who assembled them work elsewhere.  This has been my favorite aspect to the project because I have been able to work with artifacts that, until now, I've only read about. I have described bone and antler awls, projectile points, horse furniture, ceramics, glass bottles and a variety of metal objects. This has been both a rewarding and humbling experience.

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