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Secret Specimens

Posted on Jun 26, 2018 by in The OFI Blog |

A CRC tour guide shows the group of SI interns a buffalo hide from one of the many shelving units

Ever wanted to recreate the iconic last scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark? Turns out, you may not have to travel to Hollywood to do so. The endless floor to ceiling shelves and containers with hidden treasures can be found right here at the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Institution houses over 154 million artifacts, artworks, and specimens, but only about 2-3 percent of those are ever on display for the public to view. The rest are stored a short metro ride away at the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) and Museum Support Center (MSC) in Suitland, Maryland.

This past Friday 6/22/18, a group of interns had the opportunity to tour the CRC, MSC, and the Museum Conservation Institute (MCI), located within the MSC. The first stop on the tour was the CRC. The CRC primarily houses collections from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Tucked away from the main roadway and surrounded by a lush green landscape, the CRC looked and felt very different from a “storage warehouse.” The interns learned that, like NMAI’s main mall location, the CRC was designed in collaboration with native communities, recognizing that many of the artifacts they house are still part of a living culture.

Totem poles at the CRC.

After many pictures, and a short break for lunch, the next stop on the tour was the MSC. While pictures of the actual building were not allowed, the group of interns took the opportunity to take some selfies with a set of 35 million-year-old dinosaur teeth! I hope that dino flossed! The MSC and MCI offered a unique scientific perspective on museum conservation, and especially all of the ways that storage capabilities have evolved. While the building may evoke Raiders of the Lost Ark, you won’t find many wooden storage containers, as the interns learned that wood does not preserve the specimens very well.

One of the dinosaur specimens from the MSC

Want to take the tour yourself and get a behind-the-scenes look at the millions of specimens, artifacts, and artworks that fuel the Smithsonian Institution? As a Smithsonian intern/ fellow you can contact the CRC and MSC and ask about making an appointment. It is a must-do for any Smithsonian intern/fellow before they end their academic appointment. You may even get to wear your Indiana Jones hat!