Some people collect stamps, others collect state quarters, and others collect natural history artifacts. When I was a kid, I had a whole drawer full of rocks that I had picked up out of the backyard and the park. That’s how Joseph Moore started his collection, too, just keeping all of the interesting artifacts and animals he found. For all of the blossoming collectors out there, we’ve put together a few tips about how to start.
First of all, what should you collect? Rocks and fossils are always a good place to start, since they’re easy to pick up and take home. Be careful where you take from, though: most state parks in Indiana don’t permit visitors to take natural specimens with them. Try starting in your own backyard or a neighborhood park instead!
For the more adventurous, insects are another diverse and easy group to begin with (for some insect-specific tips, visit this website from Purdue University). Birds are not a good idea for a private collection, because migratory birds and birds of prey are protected under the CITES agreement, an international treaty to protect endangered and threatened species, created in 1973. Many other mammal and reptile species are also protected-for a full list (with pictures) see the CITES website here. Natural history isn’t the only kind of collecting that is valuable, though. Keeping family artifacts like photos, home videos, art projects, or autobiographical stories, is something your children, grandchildren, and beyond can appreciate.
When you find something you want to add to your collection, make a record of what you find. This usually includes what it is (which may take some research), where you found it, and when. If you’re planning on sharing your collection, or if there is more than one person in your family contributing to the collection, write down who found the object. Keeping good records can help future researchers who are doing studies of past populations. Many of the scientific research done here at the Joseph Moore Museum is about establishing a historical baseline for a certain trait in a species to see how it has changed over time. (Click here or here to read articles from the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections and from a curator about why natural history collections are important)
Preserving all these treasures can be challenging. For some help, see this website from the San Diego Natural History Museum, or this one from the American Museum of Natural History about fossil collections, or this one from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, for caring for personal artifacts. Most important is to keep your collection away from substances that will damage it, like sunlight, dust, dirt, and acidic papers or boxes.
If you don’t feel comfortable preserving an interesting artifact in your home, you can donate them to the museum! We don’t have room for everything, but we are happy to accept the more unique pieces of natural history. Call the museum to talk to us about your item at 765-983-1303. One word of caution, for the most commonly mistaken item people bring to us: if you think you’ve found a dinosaur tooth, check again! Dinosaurs never lived in this area of Indiana, but there were many small horn corals found here during the Ordovician period that are now fossilized. You can see some on display in the museum’s Ordovician fossil exhibit.