Saturday, March 17, 2012

Grand Ol' Stamp - CC 400

CC 400
4₵ US Stamp
Era: 1950's
Details: 49-star flag

If you remember awhile back, our 48-star flag was put on display, but add another state to the union and the flag needs to be changed with an added star. Now unfortunately we do not have one of these rarer 49-star flags (after Alaska was admitted to statehood on January 3 of 1959), but we have the next best thing an old US postage stamp commemorating the new state in the North. Oddly Alaska was originally referred to as Seward's Folly after William H. Seward, Secretary of State under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson and Governor of New York, bought the Alaska territory in 1867 from the Russians for two cents per acre. Many people mocked him for such a pointless purchase (Why buy a frozen tundra twice the size of Texas?), but in the end was found to be a smart descison.

Seward is from Auburn, New York (very close to the Sholesonian) and thus it makes sense that this stamp was distributed through the Auburn Post Office starting on July 4, 1959 when the new 49-star flag became official. It was worth four cents, the amount it cost to mail a letter as compared to fourty five cents in 2012. 209,170,000 of these commemorative stamps were issued (120 million initially) and were sold in sheets of fifty. While the stamps lasted for awhile, the physical flag itself had a short lifetime. With the admission of Alaska in January, the forty-nine star flag was short lived until eight months later when Hawaii was asscessioned into statehood on August 21, 1959.

The stamp was designed by Stevan Dohanos and issued under Postmaster Arthur E. Summerfield. It was printed on the Giori press which has an interesting story in itself, check out the link to learn more. You can find more information on 49-star flag stamp and the rest of the 1959 stamps issued here. Below is a photo of Army Quartermaster Andrew McNamara and President Eisenhower unveiling the new 49-star U.S. flag.

Photo: US Army Quartermaster Museum

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sea Scorpion - Fos 126

FOS 126
Eurypterus lacustris
Location: Buffalo Area, NY
Age: Silurian

And the Sholesonian finally has a Eurypterid for the fossil collection! These creatures are otherwise known as 'sea scorpions' and populate New York rock formations from the Silurian (~440 million years ago)! So much so that the species Eurypterus remipes has become the state fossil. These were the largest arthropods to ever exist with Jaekelopterus rhenaniae reaching sizes of 2.5 meters (that's about 8 feet tall!), however most species reach average lengths comparable to this specimen.

These fierce bottom-dwelling predators first appeared in the Ordovician (460 million years ago) and lasted for another 210 million years before they went extinct along with over 90% of marine life at the end of the Permian.  Contrary to their name, many species lived in freshwater areas or brackish water (a mix of salt water and non-salt water, i.e. less salt than marine environments) and are more closely related to horseshoe crabs than they are scorpions. This specimen of Eurypterus lacustris can be distinguished from the most common and closely related species Eurypterus remipes, as these have eyes that are further back and has a narrower metastoma (the tail-like appendage).

This particular specimen comes from the Williamsville (A) Formation of Western New York and is a negative impression. I had been searching for a good quality specimen that showed both swimming paddles, and was able to acquire this piece after receiving a generous graduation gift years ago that was earmarked for a fossil. There is a plethora of information available on these guys so check out the eurypterus page to give you a head start. Also, for those in New York, the Paleontological Research Institute has the largest complete eurypterid specimen on display if you get a chance to check it out.

Photo: Ohio State Geology Department

Friday, March 2, 2012

Eruption!! - Geo 186

GEO 186 
Vesicular Basalt
Class: Rocks
Location: El Salvador

And we're back! After a two and a half month hiatus, the Sholesonian is back with a bang - or rather volcanic eruption! Things have been hectic around here, but fear not the museum has been constantly growing. So here we have the first post of 2012 and expect many more to come!

Our friend Kayla, who has been an integral part to our arachnology and entomology department, kindly donated this volcanic rock - hailing all the way from El Salvador. This chunk of solidified lava comes from Izalco, a volcano on the western coast of El Salvador. You may not have heard of Izalco before, but it was one of the most active volcanoes in North America, with frequent eruptions from its birth in 1770 up until 1966. It erupted so many times in its 200 year reign, that sailors would use the bright light as a beacon, earning it the name "Lighthouse of the Pacific." 

Izalco is known as a stratovolcano which means that it is built up of layers of lava and rock fragments and usually erupt in an explosive manner causing alarm and unfortunately deaths. You can see in the following photograph from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, that the volcano towers in contrast above the lush Salvadorian jungle. And despite being older than the United States, this is El Salvador's youngest volcano - but has lied dormant since the sixties. It is at an elevation of 6,398 feet (1950 m) which is approximately one and quarter miles above sea level.  The rock itself is a vesicular olivine basalt (vesicular means that it's porous like pumice) and was collected in 2003. Enjoy!

Photo: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History