Peabody hosts would-be treasure hunters

Seven-year-old Zachary Jones came to the Peabody Museum of Natural History on Thursday afternoon with a dead turtle in a hot and sour soup container, hoping he had discovered a new species.

“Who knows,” said his mother, Christine Jones.

But Zachary would have to wait until another day to find out because “the turtle guy [wasn’t] here today,” he said, referring to a museum staff member.

On Thursday, the Peabody Museum hosted an annual event in which armchair archaeologists, attic hunters and curious children could bring miscellaneous items for the museum’s experts to identify — like the TV show “Antiques Roadshow” but for animals, plants, fossils and rocks. About 75 people came to mill around among dinosaur skeletons, eyeing their potential treasures as they waited in line to talk to experts about everything from anthropology to paleobotany, the study of ancient plants.

Despite people’s high hopes, most items ended up being less than revolutionary, museum experts said.

Barbara Nehandra, an expert on meteorites, said most people brought her slag, a waste product from copper extraction.

“There could be a meteorite lying right next to [someone], but people pick up the slag since it’s shiny,” she said.

Susan Shelby, who brought a rock from her late mother’s house in Connecticut, said she thought the rock was from the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona because her mother had once traveled there. But experts told her the stone was an agate, a common rock. Shelby said she was not impressed by the experts’ deductions.

“They don’t really know much,” she said.

But some people brought items that did have historical value. Pat, a resident of Wallingford, Conn., who declined to give his last name, brought his land surveyor’s compass to the historical instruments expert, Shae Trewin. Pat said his friend had bought the compass 20 years ago for $20 from a vendor who said the instrument came from his Florida basement. Trewin said the compass was probably from the early 20th or late 19th century.

“It’s the first serious thing I’ve gotten really ever [at the event,]” Trewin said.

Pat, however, was not as lucky with his arrowhead, which he had guessed was from an old Canadian seal hunting boat; it was a replica.

While some experts had their hands full throughout the three-hour event, others spent most of their time waiting for people to come up to them.

Shusheng Hu, the paleobotany expert, said he does not get many identification requests given the rarity of plant fossils.

“I just teach [people] some things,” Hu said.

Despite this year’s meager findings, David Heiser, the Peabody Museum’s head of education and outreach, said the event has the potential to be scientifically rigorous.

“It’s very different from most of our events,” Heiser said, adding that this one has real “scientific authenticity.”

In the past, the event has turned up some serious findings, three experts said. A couple of years ago, someone brought in a 4,000-year old fossil that, after investigation by the museum’s experts, was written about in a scientific publication, Heiser said.

Susan Butts, an expert on invertebrate paleontology, said she once had a couple bring in a single-celled organism from Egypt.

The event is also a fun afternoon activity for local children, parents said. Christine Jones, Zachary’s mother, said her son enjoyed the event.

“The kids love it, and it’s free,” she said.

Museum staff said they enjoyed the event as well. Security guard Edwin Irizarry said this event is one of the most popular of the year, along with the museum’s “Dinosnore” and “Night at the Peabody” events.

“This is off the hook,” he said. “People love it.”

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