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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota’s natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Museum Recent Acquisitions

The Museum Division of the State Historical Society is offered everything from political buttons to cook cars. The Museum Collections Committee needs to be very selective about what is accepted, since we simply do not have the storage space for everything offered to us, especially large items like pianos and buggies. Here are a few items we have recently accepted into our collection.

1. 2014.00112.00001
Meiers, Vivian
School bell

A school bell is an excellent example of what we normally would not accept due to the size and weight, and the fact that we have examples already. When one was offered from the inundated town of Sanish, however, we could not resist because so much of the town’s history was lost. Sanish was a small western town until 1953, when the completion of the Garrison Dam flooded the town. Before the flood, the donor's father Glen Nelson worked with two others to disassemble the Sanish School House. They took the bricks and the school bell. They remounted the school bell in an enclosed stone structure on the Nelson property from 1953 until just before its donation to the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

School Bell

Left: Sanish school bell (2014.00112.00001)
Right: State Historical Society of North Dakota (11140-686)

2. 2014.00118
Whittier, Rick
Spear Fishing Decoys

Rick started making spear fishing decoys shortly after moving to North Dakota in October of 2004. He has progressed to the point of making a full time occupation out of creating these beautiful decoys. Rick has had an exclusive exhibit in the ND Governor's Office, has been awarded MN Carver of the Year and is the 2nd and 3rd place World Points Champion of the National Fish Decoy Association. He has also been featured in the Fargo Forum, Green Sheet, the Wahpeton Daily News, and the Minot Daily News. Rick has also been featured on a number of radio programs throughout North Dakota. In January, 2014, Ron Schara Productions came to his shop and filmed for two days, making three different television programs: Due North Outdoors, Backroads with Ron and Raven and Minnesota Bound, all of which aired in the fall of 2014. Rick works with the North Dakota Council on the Arts as a Master Artist. He instructs apprentices and also holds programs for the Assisted living residents here in ND as well as attending trade shows with the Pride of Dakota.

Fish decoy

Fish Decoy in various phases. (2014.00118)

3. 2015.00017.00001
Solheim, Audrey

The Psalmodikon is a single stringed musical instrument developed in Scandinavia for simplifying music in churches and schools and providing an alternative to the fiddle for sacred music. The instrument could be plucked or bowed. Beginning in the early 19th century it was adopted by many rural churches in Scandinavia, and later immigrants brought the instrument to the United States. As churches raised money to purchase organs, psalmodikons decreased in popularity.


Psalmodikon and bow (2015.00017.00001)

Animal Bones

Faunal comparative collection

Faunal comparative collection at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

What is a faunal comparative collection? A faunal comparative collection consists of modern animal skeletons which may help with identification of bone fragments found at archaeology sites. The Archaeology and Historic Preservation of the State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND) houses such a collection.

How do we acquire intact animal skeletons? Museums may purchase them from retailers specializing in processing natural skeletons and creating replicas. Or, skeletal remains may be collected and/or donated. If collected, processing and cleaning are often necessary. These tasks may be done manually but can be tedious and smelly work. A way around this is to use a dermestid beetle colony. One species of dermestid beetle, Dermestes maculatus, has been used for over 150 years by museums, universities, and taxidermists to clean skeletal material. Many museums, including the SHSND, do not maintain a colony for fear that the beetles may escape and destroy certain types of artifacts. So, we outsource the work. When the processing and cleaning are complete, the skeletal elements are added to our comparative collection.

There are more species of insects in the Animal Kingdom than any other group, and within the insects there are more species of beetles than any other group of insects. Within the beetles is a family known as Dermestidae, commonly called skin, hide, or larder beetles, with several hundred species. One species of dermestid beetle, Dermestes maculatus, has been used to clean animal bones in our collection.

The larvae and adults of these carrion beetles will feed on the muscle, fat, tendons, etc. and leave the bones and teeth clean of soft tissues. Cartilage may or may not be consumed by the beetles depending upon how soft the cartilage is and how hungry the beetles are. Dermestid beetles do not feed on live tissue; therefore, live larvae and adults can be handled without concern of being bitten.

Dermestid beetle

A dermestid beetle on a newly cleaned skull.

Female adult dermestid beetles lay several hundred eggs which hatch after about a week into tiny larvae. The larvae are covered externally by a relatively hard exoskeleton, and as they grow the larvae must emerge from this exoskeleton a number of times (5-11) to continue their development. Each one of these larval stages is called an instar. During this larval growth, the larvae increase in size from about 1/16 inch (1.5 mm) to about ½ inch (12 mm). The smallest instars are able to get into tiny spaces, for example, those in a mouse head, and eat the soft tissues within these areas. At the end of the last larval instar, the larvae form a pupa. After a period of time allowing for metamorphosis, an adult beetle emerges from the pupa. Adults are about 3/8 inches (8-10 mm) in length. The female will breed, lay eggs, and thus start a new generation of beetles. Adults live about 4 months.

SHSND archaeologists have partnered with a retired professor of a regional university who has access to a dermestid colony. For four decades the colony has cleaned specimens to be used for education and research. These dermestids have cleaned several specimens for us including a grizzly bear, a mountain lion, an otter, and a marten.

Dermestid beetle colony

A dermestid beetle colony.