Research & Collections

The Sam Noble Museum, a museum built “by the People for the People”, is mandated to provide long-term stewardship of the collections that it holds in trust for the people of Oklahoma and to collect and maintain objects for research while conducting and disseminating research to increase knowledge. The museum’s 13 curators, with their staff and students, bring continued success in fulfilling this mandate of collection stewardship, research, exhibition, and education in the present and in the future. Cataloging and digitization projects were in progress in many of the museum’s collections with the support of contracts and grants from federal agencies such as the NSF and the National Park Service and Museum funds. In 2018, 245,733 objects were cataloged and/or digitized, including 11,252 invertebrates, 223,094 archaeological objects, and to date, more than 89,400 mammal tags have been imaged. Curators, staff and graduate and undergraduate students conducted research in both in the United States and around the world, adding new collection objects to those already in the collections for use in scientific research and education. The Museum’s mission to educate and mentor the next generation saw that 42 undergraduate students and 28 graduate students were given opportunities to discover, learn and participate in research and collections management activities with the support from grants, contracts, internships, assistantships, awards and scholarships in 2018. Finally, the Division of Collections and Research is indebted to the 129 adult and student volunteers who gave thousands of hours assisting in museum collection operations.

Department Summaries

Dr. Marc Levine’s archaeological research at Monte Albán was featured in a documentary (First Civilizations) that aired nationally on PBS. The Archaeology Department was awarded three curation contracts with federal agencies, a NAGPRA grant, and published two NAGPRA Notices of Inventory Completion in the Federal Register. A description of a lost-wax casting technique (for gold) from Prehispanic Mexico was published by Dr. Levine in the Journal of Archaeological method and Theory.

This year the Department of Native American Languages conducted a large-scale systematization and cleaning of collection metadata and created mechanisms that allow the collection to be searched in ways useful to external users. As part of this initiative, we started an additional reference collection for the materials in the NAL library, started contacting tribes and depositors for additional permissions, and joined the OU archiving consortium ARC. Lastly, NAL hosted the 17th Annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair and was successful in bringing the traveling exhibit Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness to the museum along with accompanying programming.

The Department of Ethnology produced the Fluent Generations: The Art of Anita, Tom and Yatika Fields exhibition and its associated catalog to celebrate the artistic accomplishments of the Fields family. The department also worked with the Osage Nation Museum to facilitate a venue for the traveling exhibition, Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community; A Giving Heritage. In summer 2018, the Department collaborated with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana University, to host the exhibition Putting Baskets to Work in Southwest China.

The department presented two preparation training classes; in 2018, 34 volunteers contributed 3,570 hours to the preparation of fossil vertebrate specimens. Outreach and education activities included the participation of curators and staff in the ExploOlogy Paleo Expedition and with Native Explorers, two programs that provide educational programs for students to learn about the science of paleontology.

Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, collection activities focused on the continued cataloging, georeferencing, imaging of specimens from the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway. Dr. Stephen Westrop and Collection Manager Roger Burkhalter continue their participation in education and outreach activities through the popular Invertebrate Fossil Field Trips.

Dr. Rick Lupia and graduate students continued work on petrified wood and paleoecology of the Morrison Formation in Oklahoma and Montana in the lab and field. Collection staff began a NSF-funded collaborative grant to digitize fossil pteridophytes in the collection as part of The Pteridological Collections Consortium.

Research by department staff and students focused on the evolution of songbird migration (Ohio), the role of wild birds in mosquito-borne virus ecology (Oklahoma and Texas), and speciation genomics in tropical birds (Panama). The Collection of Birds and Oklahoma Collection of Genomic Resources grew with the addition of specimens and tissues from these research activities.

Museum Director and Curator of Mammals, Dr. Michael A. Mares, retired in June. The department acquired a collection of live mounts, head mounts, hides, and skulls of 46 animals, including 22 American Black Bears, re-curated the OU Biological Station Collection of Mammals, and began a multi-year project funded by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to conduct a survey of the Tri-colored bat and the presence of White-nose syndrome.

Graduate students in the Department of Herpetology had success in international research programs. Joey Brown spent most of 2018 overseas studying the Philippine crocodile supported by National Geographic Society Early Explorer and Fulbright-Hays Scholar grants. Kai Wang spent the Spring and Summer conducting research in the high elevation habitats of southern China, Tibet, and Myanmar. Department staff and students began several projects that will assess the status of Texas horned lizards in the state.

This year, the Ichthyology Department continued a collection-wide inventory that began in 2016. This is the first inventory of the collection to be done since the move into the new museum building in 2000. The project includes data clean-up, correction, and verification, as well as addresses issues with failing gaskets and low alcohol levels.

Dr. Katrina Menard and Melissa Sadir collected insects and invertebrates in the Philippines during the expedition led by Dr. Cameron Siler. Additions to the collection include specimens from the Philippines; ants, Acanthocephala, milipedes as part of broader ecological studies in Oklahoma; as well as taxonomically valuable type (holotype and paratype) specimens.

The collection grew by 1,357 samples and 2,859 aliquots. It currently contains 20,769 samples and 46,886 aliquots from 539 genera and 963 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The collection continues to be housed in liquid nitrogen freezers, providing the best long-term storage for this unique repository.

The Department of Registration serves as the legal office of the museum. In 2018, collections records were updated, including 126 new accessions and 637 record modifications. Repository collection records were physically separated from the rest of the accession records and the re-housing of all accession and repository records in acid-free materials was completed. Projects continued to inventory and catalog the museum’s archives.

The department continues the museum’s long standing commitment to the prevention of pest damage to collections and cultural heritage by monitoring and managing pest and environmental information. In 2018, more than 1,600 objects were inspected and/or treated, 2,310 sticky traps were placed and pests identified, and 3 exhibitions, 137 Discovery Kits, and all events were inspected.

  • 245,733 specimens and objects cataloged or digitized
  • 115 loans of 7,700 specimens and objects
  • 56 publications + 21 in press (papers, book chapters, books)
  • 86 conference presentations
  • 70 undergraduate and graduate students mentored
  • 50 student volunteers
  • 85 adult volunteers
  • 1,000 information requests