Where Could You Buy a Passenger Pigeon in 1908?

Source: New York State Museum Bulletin 121.
Source: New York State Museum Bulletin 121.

In 1908 the New York State Museum purchased a passenger pigeon from Ward’s Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, NY (NYSM 1908:134). The late date of this acquisition is interesting. By this time, the species was considered extinct in the wild.  Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, of course, died in captivity in 1914. The latest confirmed killing of a passenger pigeon that Schorger (1955) was aware of occurred in 1900 in Ohio. Greenberg (2014) has since identified two more recent records: a passenger pigeon killed in Illinois in 1901 that survives as a taxidermic mount at Millikin University, and a pigeon killed in Indiana in 1902. That specimen has not survived.

 There were, however, unconfirmed sightings of passenger pigeons in the wild. Most, if not all of these, were likely misidentifications of the smaller mourning dove. Schorger has pointed out how even experienced observers could make such a mistake.

 The latest confirmed kill of a passenger pigeon in New York was in 1899. Yet a passenger pigeon nest was reported from Monroe County, New York, in 1904 and in 1907 Edmund Niles Huyck saw a live pigeon in Albany County and naturalist John Burroughs recorded sightings of flocks of pigeons in the Hudson Valley (Greenberg 2014; Steadman 1996).

 Is it possible that a collector working for Ward’s killed a wild passenger pigeon that was then sold to the Museum? Perhaps, although Ward’s Natural Science was a major supplier of passenger pigeons and all sorts of animals to museums and other institutions. It seems more likely that the State Museum bought a specimen prepared by Ward’s years earlier that had been sitting unsold in a warehouse.  In fact, another source, Frank H. Ward himself, tells us that the company obtained their passenger pigeons the same way many other people did: by buying them in public markets in the 1880s. At the time of the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, in 1914, Ward’s still had eight skeletons in stock (Pitelka and Bryant 1942).

 The New York State Museum has several passenger pigeons in their collections — ten mounted skins according to David Steadman, the former curator of birds there. An earlier report listed five mounted specimens and two study skins at the museum, of which only one, a mounted specimen collected in 1895 from Orleans County, New York, had reliable provenience (Stoner 1940).

 The pigeon from Ward’s, whether a stuffed taxidermic mount or a mounted skeleton, is presumably still at the NYSM. Their products would have had a label with the name of the company, but this would not be considered provenience data, as it would not have the date and location the bird was actually obtained. A search of the museum’s archives and an examination of the bird itself might produce more information.  The University of Rochester curates the archives of the Ward’s company (link), but a fire in 1930 destroyed many of the earlier records, so it may not possible to ever determine if this bird was truly one of the last wild passenger pigeons.

 References:

 Greenberg, Joel

2014    A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction. Bloomsbury USA.

 New York State Museum

1908    Fourth Report of the Director of the Science Division including the 61st Report of the State Museum, the 27th Report of the State Geologist, and the Report of the State Paleontologist for 1907. New York State Museum Bulletin 121. Albany.

 Pitelka, Frank A., and Monroe D. Bryant

1942    Available skeletons of the passenger pigeon. The Condor 44:74-75.

 Schorger, A.W.

1955    The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction.

 Steadman, David W.

1996    …And live on pigeon pie: the passenger pigeon finally expired at the Victorian dining table. New York State Conservationist. April, pp. 21-23.

 Stoner, Dayton

1940    Unreported New York State specimens of passenger pigeon. The Auk 57:415-416.

Arthur, Beulah, and Bertha: The Extended Parker Family

Bertha Cody at Gypsum Cave
Source: M.R. Harrington, “Man and Beast in Gypsum Cave.” The Desert Magazine, April 1940.

 

Discovered another Trowelblazers post with a Lamoka connection, which led me into the interesting and complex family history of Arthur Parker.

Bertha “Birdie” Parker Pallan Thurston Cody  was the daughter of Beulah Tahamont Parker and Arthur Parker, New York State Archaeologist and Rochester Museum director. She had an interesting and complicated  life of her own, working as an archaeologist/anthropologist at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, California for many years. That was only part of her life, however.

Continue reading “Arthur, Beulah, and Bertha: The Extended Parker Family”

Jack’s Reef Points

Jack’s Reef Pentagonal point from unidentified site in New York State. Source: wikimedia/PAR

A Jack’s Reef point was found at the Lamoka Lake site during the Buffalo Museum of Science excavations.  These pentagonal or corner-notched pentagonal points date to the Kipp Island Phase (beginning around A.D. 500)  of the Middle Woodland in New York State.  Farther south, they are associated with the equivalent Webb Phase.

Darrin Lowery recently looked at Jack’s Reef in the Delmarva Peninsula (i.e., parts of Delaware, Maryland, and a little bit of Virginia). Important sites include Island Field in Delaware, which had over 100 human burials, bone tools, shell beads, shark teeth, and more, and the Riverton Site (18WC5) in Maryland,  another burial site (unfortunately not professionally excavated), which had stone platform pipes, a Ramah chert knife,  and stone celts and adzes.

Jack’s Reef sites can be found eroding out of the shore line, such as at the Oxford (18TA3) and Wheatley’s Point (18DO371) sites in Maryland. One major find at the latter site was a cache of fossil shark teeth. Lowery found and excavated the Upper Ridge Site (44NH440) in Virginia, which had an midden with food remains, including a large number of fish bones.  VA. The lithic evidence at Upper Ridge documents the entire sequence of manufacturing Jack’s Reef points, from core to flake to finished product.

Reference:

Lowery, Darrin L.

2013    Jack’s Reef in in the Chesapeake and Delmarva Region: Research into the Coastal Archaeology of the Era Between circa Cal A.D. 480 and Cal A.D. 900. Archaeology of Eastern North America 41:5-30.

Drought, floods, reveal sites, but archaeologists lack the resources to take advantage of them.

Antler Arrow Point from Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Source: National Park Service

Mike Toner, in the Spring 2014 issue of American Archaeology, writes about the threats to American archaeological sites posed by extreme weather. Forest fires in the southwest, Drought from Texas to California, melting glaciers in Alaska, and sea level rise along the coasts are exposing previously unknown artifacts but also destroying them.

 Some of the facts and figures are astounding: over 100 prehistoric wooden dugout canoes were uncovered around one shrinking lake in Florida. Entire historic towns, once covered by reservoirs, are now exposed. Wooden arrows, complete with fletching, have been found melting out of ice patches. With so many archaeological resources, and so little time and money to properly identify and preserve them before they are destroyed by nature or looters, archaeologists are forced to practice triage. One of the sadder quotes comes from a National Park Service official: “There are going to be some situations where we will have to learn to say goodbye to resources we can’t protect.”

Mike Toner,  “The threat of climate change”. American Archaeology, Spring 2014, pp. 12-19.

To read the whole article, you have to get it from your local newsstand, but see one of the dugout canoes at the Archaeological Conservancy.

Hidden Cave Vandalized

Guided Tour of Hidden Cave archaeological site, Nevada. Source: BLM

Spray paint and bullets were used to deface Hidden Cave, a major archaeological site on BLM land in Nevada. A $1,000 reward is being offered, and public tours of the site have been suspended while officials investigate.  According to the official press release, this is the first incidence of vandalism at the site.

Hidden Cave was most extensively excavated by David Hurst Thomas and the American Museum of Natural History and provided valuable information on Late Archaic hunter-gatherers. The Museum has a nice post on the history of the cave, (conditions in the cave during excavation sound horrid) and they also make the full site report freely available.

There’s a Lamoka connection, too: Mark R. Harrington, the first archaeologist to explore Hidden Cave, was married to the sister of Arthur Parker, head of the Rochester Museum while Lamoka Lake was being excavated in the 1920s.

Race Horse to be Excavated, Reburied, by Archaeologists

Thoroughbred racehorse Native Diver, who was buried at the Hollywood Park racetrack in California after his death in 1967, is being excavated by archaeologists from the University of Southern California.  Hollywood Park closed for good at the end of 2013, and the horse’s owners wanted to ensure that all the remains were recovered safely so that Native Diver could be reburied at the Del Mar racetrack.

USC archaeology students excavate remains of thoroughbred ‘Native Diver’ at Hollywood Park

 

“Fountain of Youth” Site Artifacts to be Curated by U. Florida

Shell tools from Spanish St. Augustine, Florida

Artifacts from the early Spanish site in St. Augustine, Florida (associated with Pedro Menendez de Aviles, not Ponce de Leon) are being donated to the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.  U. Florida archaeologists have been excavating the site, and storing the artifacts, for many years, so it appears this will make the curatorial arrangement permanent, and perhaps provide a tax break for the owners of the site.

Article in the Gainesville Sun.