Friday, August 29, 2014

Bureaucratic bear claws

From this article in National Geographic, I learned of an American artifact that was lost and later rediscovered. The object in question consists of a Native American necklace with 38 bear claws, each approximately 3" long and originally covered with a red pigment which has now worn away. An Indian chief had presented it to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their epic 1804-06 expedition across what is now the western U.S. The rare necklace was first cataloged in 1889 at the Peale Museum in Philadelphia, which was at that time an unofficial national repository. When the Peale Museum closed in 1848, the Lewis and Clark objects were acquired by Moses Kimball's Boston Museum, which suffered severe damage in a fire 50 years later and was closed. The Kimball family donated 1,400 surviving objects to the Peabody Museum at Harvard, but apparently changed their minds about the necklace. The bear claw necklace was donated by a Kimball descendant in 1941, but was misplaced in the Peabody Museum and lay among artifacts from the South Pacific Islands for decades. Two collections assistants rediscovered the object in December 2003, just weeks before a Lewis and Clark Bicentennial exhibition was about to open. David Borlaug, president of the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation in North Dakota, said, "This would certainly be the most astounding discovery in some time - I can't think of anything that would compare. It's wonderful to have proof that the Lewis and Clark bicentennial really is a 'voyage of rediscovery' because there are still things to be discovered 200 years later."

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