BROOKVILLE – Jefferson County History Center may be located in downtown Brookville but its Stones N’ Bones 3-Gallery Exhibit is on level with what can be found in larger museums like Carnegie or Heinz.
The exhibit, which opened in November 2018, features fossils, real bones and resin casts like in the larger, urban museums. It is being awarded the PA Museums’ Institutional Special Achievement Award.
According to a news release, the award recognizes outstanding projects that provide an exemplary contribution to the museum, public history, or cultural tourism fields, and raises the bar of excellence. Judging criteria considers new, innovative approaches, planning and implementing the exhibit at the highest level possible given staff size and budget limitations, and public engagement – drawing new and diverse visitors to the exhibit. The exhibit covers “geology, Paleontology and the Ice Age” in Jefferson County and Western Pennsylvania.
JCHC Executive Director Ken Burkett said the center has an endowment with Clarion University that allows it to have paid interns each year. Two interns — Emily Tyson and Abby Beckwith — helped with the award-winning exhibit, which is bringing young and old alike to the museum.
While the glaciers of the ice age were not here in Brookville they weren’t that far away and so the ice age did impact the area, if indirectly, according to Burkett. The exhibit is helping to change children’s view point by delving into “deep history.” While Jefferson County as we see it today looks like it has always contained a large area of forested land, that has not always been true. Instead it looked like one of the murals featuring the wooly mammoths that shows more grassland. In fact, Burkett noted, there really weren’t any trees here. Learning the fact changes one’s point of view when thinking about the old growth area of Cook Forest State Park.
In fact, at one time a lot of the area was covered by ocean. In speaking toward that part of history, this exhibit includes fossils found at Red Hill Field Station, near Renovo, in Clinton County, that is a famous fossil site for the Devonian Period and is known for some of North America’s earliest amphibians.
One amphibian’s tracks can be seen in a poured cast of a trackways fossil. The cast is of an actual fossil found in the Rosebud Harmony Mine in the southwest corner of Clearfield County. A nearby plaque telling about this amphibian called a Seymouria notes that such fossils have “occasionally been found in the fossil coal swamps of Western Pennsylvania.”
Kat Lyons, JCHC administrative coordinator, said, “Our goal was to create an exciting, informative and interactive exhibit for all ages, but especially targeting elementary through middle school by connecting with local teachers. Brookville elementary brought 120 excited students to the exhibit and word began to spread. We had school and Scout groups from Clarion, DuBois and Redbank Valley — that had never visited the History Center before — who now came to visit the Stones N’ Bones exhibit.”
JCHC purchased some actual bones as well as resin casts and other parts of the exhibit are items, like the caribou mounted head, that are on loan. While the caribou may seem out of place in the same room as the wooly mammoth or the saber-tooth tiger, caribou were actually quite common in Pennsylvania and Paleoindians hunted both the mammoth and the caribou for meat.
In fact, the museum offers a chart that compares how many burgers those early humans would have been able to get from a white-tailed deer, a caribou and a wooly mammoth. Of course the wooly mammoth wins hands down but the information on the chart also notes that while the wooly mammoth would have enough meat to feed a family of four for 730 days, or two years and 18 days, the meat would have gone bad after a few weeks.
From the beginning the exhibit was planned to last for a few years but not forever. Burkett said eventually when a different project is decided upon the Stones N’ Bones exhibit will be removed and pieces on loan returned and other pieces sold so that the Center has funding to help pay for a new project.
The exhibit is perfect for elementary through middle school age children as well with a microscope to look at small shark teeth embeded into rocks among other things. This is part of the geology lab that houses small fossils from Red Hill as well as some from the Cambrian Ocean. There are videos telling about the wooly mammoth and the mastodon, forerunners to the African elephant and the Asian elephant, respectively, Ice Age gallery.
Lyons says the exhibit is Burkett’s “brainchild.” It’s his knowledge and connections that went a long way in bringing the exhibit to fruition. She writes in the news release that it “could not have been possible without Ken’s knowledge of geological processes, paleontology and archaeology. Ken is a field associate with Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and long-time president of local North Fork Chapter 29, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology. He is well known for his archaeological work and as a petroglyph expert. His life actually revolves around “stones and bones,” hence the title of the exhibit.
“This exhibit has been a year-long project in the physical sense, but for Ken, years in the making conceptually, a multi-year mission. His perseverance that someday an exhibit of this magnitude might be possible at our small museum – and his expertise in implementing it – made this exhibit possible,” she wrote.
She lists Burkett’s connections with “exhibit financial sponsors Billman Geologic (Pittsburgh), Rosebud Mining (Kittanning), Matson’s Lumber & Insurance (Brookville) and Janney-Lerch Group (Clarion)” as well as his “professional connections with the Red Hill Field Station & Fossil Site (Clinton County), Carnegie Museum, and the Mammoth Site & Museum, South Dakota,” as being “crucial to completion of this exhibit.”
“Many of the fossils, Indian artifacts and accoutrements,” she wrote, “are from his own collections and those of North Fork Chapter 29, and from Red Hill.”
The ehibit is drawing attention from visitors to the area as well. Burkett noted that the area is big for outdoor tourism but the museum is a “rainy day activity” for those camping in and around Cook Forest State Park.
Lyons, who writes the grants JCHC uses to help fund its projects, orignally nominated Burkett for “an Individual Special Achievement Award.” However, since he had already “received both awards for JCHS Scripture Rocks Heritage Park in 2017,” she noted that the PA Museums selected the Center for an “Institutional Award this year for the Stones N’ Bones exhibit.”
“We are fortunate to have in our small town a “big town museum,” as well as the “Man Behind the Mission,” Lyons says in the news release.