On March 10, more than 1,000 rarely seen objects were placed on view at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History to celebrate their outstanding collections and to indulge our human fascination of the world around us. Objects of Wonder: From the Collections of the National Museum of Natural History draws from the museum's 145 million artifacts and specimens to tell the tale of how scientists and scholars have widened our understanding of life on this planet.
1. Male Mountain gorilla skull
BuzzFeed News spoke with Mary Jo Arnoldi, co-curator of Objects of Wonder and an anthropologist in the museum’s ethnology division, on how this enormous exhibition was developed and her personal experience on the front lines of research and learning:
"Objects of Wonder is an exhibition about who we are and what we do as a museum. It is about both the wonder and awe of seeing some of the unusual, quirky, and visually spectacular objects which are at the heart of our museum and it is about the wonder and curiosity that these objects excite in us as we ask new and probing questions about the natural world and our place in it.
This was a special exhibition and a special process that involved every department in the museum. To start, a call went out to the entire staff of Natural History to participate in the selection of objects that tell the many exciting stories of our collections and our work with these objects. The response was overwhelming and the job of our exhibit team (curators, exhibit developers, science writers, and educators) was to work with these many ideas and suggestions from throughout the museum to create the focused vignettes about our collections that visitors will see in Objects of Wonder."
2. Lapis lazuli
3. Tuxtla statuette
"I've worked with the Smithsonian since 1984, although in my head it seems just like yesterday. As a curator for Africa at the museum I do studies on the arts and performances primarily in West Africa; I manage and conduct research on the museum’s African collections from throughout the continent and work with our collections and conservation staff on managing these existing collections; and finally, I bring the findings of my research in Africa and my study of the museum’s African collections to the public through exhibitions, through public lectures and programs, and through podcasts, blog posts, and other social media.
Of all the objects, two of my personal favorites is the Northwest Coast Tsimshian house front and the whale earwax — obviously for different reasons. The paintings on the 38-foot house front are spectacular and ... are so wonderfully brought to life with the audio storytelling of David Boxley, a Tsimshian artist and performer, who helps the visitor navigate the imagery and the story on the house front.
The whale earwax (one of hundreds collected over the last 50 years in our collection) might first have you saying "eeewwwwwww," but what is fascinating is how the earwax is currently being analyzed and [reveals] a richer story about the life history of individual whales and the bigger story of changes in the marine environment over the past 50 years that have affected these magnificent animals.
I have always had a passion for objects and for exploring and understanding the many ways that we know what we know about them — this is the story at the heart of this exhibit. Perhaps so eloquently expressed by our staff has been their passion for the collections and their dedication to research on and preservation of these collections. I hope that visitors will share in our wonder and curiosity about the collections and walk away with insight into the exciting science behind them."
4. The skeleton of naturalist Robert Kennicott
5. Mayan Book of Sermons
6. Whale earwax
7. Pinniped fossil: Enaliarctos mealsi
8. Iridescent glass bottle
9. Passenger pigeon: Ectopistes migratorius
10. Tsimshian house panels
11. Coralline algae
12. Yellow-spotted golden bass and its larva
14. Zuni pottery
15. Whale bone and harpoon tip
Objects of Wonder is on view at the the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History until 2019.
Gabriel H. Sanchez is the photo essay editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York City.