Volume 43 | Number 2 | Fall 2013

Anthropology Students Land Internships with Smithsonian Museums

Fall 2013 Issue | By Andrew Taylor

Idaho State University's Michelle Carpenter headed to the Washington, D.C., area this summer where she met Jane, who unfortunately was a victim of cannibalism.

Speaking of 14-year-old Jane, Carpenter said, "Cut marks are evident on the frontal bone (forehead) of the skull and the occipital bone (back of the head), which suggest unsuccessful attempts to open the skull."

The Jane that Carpenter met was a resident of the Jamestown Colony in Virginia in the 1600s. She met her while working as an intern for the Smithsonian. Carpenter, a Marsh Valley resident and senior anthropology major with an emphasis in forensic anthropology, was one of two ISU Idaho Museum of Natural History Career Path Interns who landed internships with the Smithsonian museums this summer. The other IMNH CPI student was Jennifer Hernandez, from Idaho Falls, who is a senior anthropology major with an emphasis in archeology.

Carpenter spent her time analyzing the lead content in bones from a number of human remains from Jamestown (including Jane's), from other places in Virginia, and from Texas, including those thought to be from Texas Ranger James Coryell.

Jane's remains were especially interesting because her remains offered some of the first tangible evidence in the archaeological record of cannibalism occurring in Jamestown.

Her internship was funded by the National Science Foundation and she was working at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute.

During her internship, her goal was to measure the levels of lead found in bone with the inductively coupled plasma-mass-spectrometer, an instrument that can detect metals in a sample as small as one part per trillion.

"I was trying to identify if Jane was a maidservant, or if she was an upper class woman," Carpenter said. "The spectrometer we used has the capability to analyze the heavy metals in human remains such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. Numerous tests and accounts have lead researchers to believe that when a large amount of lead accumulates in the human body, it can potentially be an example of an upper-class individual. Those of upper-class status could typically afford to have the luxury of lead glazed pottery. Those of lower status would typically eat from wooden bowls and utensils, minimizing exposure to lead."

Carpenter emphasized that the type of analysis she was doing can measure the amount or quantity of heavy metal, but there are different ways the data can be interpreted.

Hernandez worked at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

"My work with the NMAI registration department involved the inventory of what is commonly referred to as the 'problem collection,'" Hernandez said.

The problem collection refers to uncatalogued material held in collections under temporary numbers: The problem inventory aims to identify, catalog, and document all uncatalogued material held in collections. This requires verification of current object information and locations, as well as complete cataloging using newly implemented standards for data entry.

Both students expressed their appreciation for the experience and support they have received from the IMNH.

"I would have lived in a cardboard box if I could work at the Smithsonian," Hernandez, said. "I still can't believe that I received an internship with a stipend to go work there this summer."

"It was nice for me to transfer all that I've learned working at the Idaho Museum of Natural History as a CPI intern to a bigger scale and use it while at the Smithsonian," Carpenter said. "I think I brought some value to them and I hope that I represented the Idaho Museum of Natural History well."

The ISU interns also said it probably helped that they had worked with Smithsonian databases and collections during their time at the Idaho Museum of Natural History.

"I am very proud of these students," said Herb Maschner, director of the IMNH. "They are an example of the best of ISU and have contributed greatly to the IMNH. This is also a shining success of the Career Path Internship program, which is intended to be a bridge to greater opportunities in a student's career — a summer at the Smithsonian is one of the greatest opportunities available."

The Idaho Museum of Natural History at Idaho State University began a new affiliation and new cooperative research ventures with the Smithsonian Affiliations program during the summer of 2012. The IMNH is the only museum in Idaho with a Smithsonian Affiliation, and one of the few in the Intermountain West.

"The (IMNH) museum has really helped me spur my career," Carpenter said. "Everyone here has been extremely supportive and I probably wouldn't have even applied for the internship if I had not be encouraged by a (IMNH) collections manager."

Smithsonian Affiliations offers museums, educational and cultural organizations across the country the opportunity to have greater access to Smithsonian collections and resources. Through the Smithsonian Affiliations program, the Smithsonian shares its artifacts, programs, and expertise across America. The Idaho Museum of Natural History will now be able to host Smithsonian Institution exhibits.

ISU's CPI program offers students paid internships. The purpose of this program is to provide opportunities for the University to employ students on campus in positions related to their academic and professional interests.

"I would have lived in a cardboard box if I could go work at the Smithsonian."

— Jennifer Hernandez