Fossilized teeth that form a shape like a buzzsaw were found in the 1800’s but the type of creature they belonged to was not determined until 2013. A research team consisting of people with backgrounds in art, science, and digital technology solved the mystery. The whorl of teeth belonged to Helicoprion, the buzzsaw shark or whorl toothed shark. This exhibit brings the findings of that research to life through the artwork of Ray Troll and the sculptures of Gary Straub.
A massive sculpture of the huge head of a buzzsaw shark bursts through the wall outside of the exhibit at the High Desert Museum and there are additional sculptures and detailed images inside the gallery. A large sculpture of a buzzsaw shark hangs over your head as you enter the gallery. The walls are covered with murals of waves and members of the shark family. Large colorful paintings show the shark family tree and how buzzsaw sharks swimming in the deep may have looked. Glass cases enclose fossils of the odd-shaped whorl of teeth. Projections of that whorl spin across the floor. Framed drawings of buzzsaw sharks hang on the walls. An interactive model of a buzzsaw shark skull shows the action of those formidable-looking teeth. You can sit on a comfy couch (emblazoned with a whorl pattern) and watch a video about the now-extinct shark.
When I was at the exhibit, I heard a five-year old boy entering the gallery with his family remark, “Wow! Mommy look at that!” Yes, this is a dramatic exhibit that contains a lot of visual interest and fascinating information. The whorl pattern is repeated throughout the exhibit. The artist also had a little fun with the exhibit by hiding several representations of cheeseburgers in the displays. Can you find any of them in the gallery?
At first scientists could not figure out what the creature was that possessed the whorl of teeth or where exactly on the animal they were located. The 2013 research team, Team Helico, used CT scans and 3D digital modeling to figure out that it fit into the lower jaw of an ancient shark. Alaskan artist Ray Troll, has been obsessed with the buzzsaw shark for over 20 years and lent his expertise to the team at Idaho Museum of Natural History. Ray is a well-known natural history artist who has lectured at places such as Harvard and Yale. His work has appeared at the Smithsonian and is featured in the current High Desert Museum exhibit.
As part of their research, Team Helico tried to determine exactly how the buzzsaw shark’s jaw worked. It didn’t slice through the head of the shark because it was blocked by small “stops” on the jaw. The team thought it likely that it ate soft-bodied prey because there wasn’t much tooth wear. It probably grabbed and sliced its prey between its tooth whorl and upper jaw and then swallowed it down its gullet.
As more and more of the distinctive whorl-shaped fossils were found in the early 20th century, scientists delineated many as separate species. Leif Tepanila and Jesse Pruitt, of the Idaho Museum of Natural History, did further analysis on the fossils and figured out there were only three distinct buzzsaw sharks species.
The teeth themselves are unique among sharks. Unlike other sharks, they formed a whorl as they grew and were never shed. A mature shark could have 150 or more teeth. New teeth form in a “tooth pit” in the back of the mouth and push the whorl forward when they erupt. They switch from being baby teeth to adult teeth at around tooth number 85. No one knows why their jaw has this unusual form.
We are always thankful for the work of our staff on setting up exhibits but this particular exhibit was a little different. The artist wanted lots of participation from staff and volunteers on the background work. Images were projected onto the walls and then painstakingly painted by numerous people at the Museum. If you were one of the people who worked on the display, be sure to go into the exhibit to see the final product. The people who participated in this project had a variety of skill levels and some were nervous about doing it “right.” Everyone should be proud of their work because it all came together into a wonderful looking exhibit!
I am reprinting this article I wrote for the October 2016 issue of High Desert Voices, a newsletter for volunteers and staff at the High Desert Museum. The exhibit will be at the Museum until April 23, 2017. NOTE: This exhibit is no longer at the Museum.
To see a fast-speed video of the installment of this exhibit, go here.
The Warm Springs Museum, located in Warm Springs, Oregon, is impressive inside and out. As you approach the building, note the interesting architecture that echoes some of the structures local tribes lived in. Be sure to view the building from the back as well. The building honors the Wasco, Warm Springs, and Northern Paiute tribes that reside in the Warm Springs Reservation area. There is a ¼ mile long interpretive trail behind the Museum.
Historically, the Paiute lived in a large area of Southeastern Oregon and traveled far in search of food. The Wascoes, or “river people”, lived east of The Dalles along the Columbia River and were primarily fishermen. The Warm Springs people lived in a large area in the vicinity of the current reservation. They moved between summer and winter villages and were more dependent on game, roots, and berries. There was a lot of trading that went on between the tribes for food and other resources.
Tribes looked to their elders for guidance and passed on traditions to their children. The family was the center of learning. Children learned subsistence skills such as basket making and hunting but also learned the value of traits such as patience and commitment.
Each tribe chose their own chief. They respected the values and traditions of other tribes. For example the seven drum religion of the Wasco was shared with other local tribes.
When white men entered the scene in the 1700’s, the importance of trade increased. Coffee, sugar, cloth, and especially beads, were valued trade items. Unfortunately the settlers also brought diseases that native people had very little immunity to. By the time Lewis and Clark arrived in 1804, the numbers of Native Americans had plummeted due to many succumbing to various diseases.
Exploration of the area by early settlers continued into the 1800’s. The Indian Removal Act was approved in 1830. In the 1840’s immigrants began moving to the area on the Oregon Trail. From 1840 to 1860, 250,000 settlers traversed the Oregon Trail. John C. Fremont explored the area that would become the Warm Springs Reservation in 1843.
In 1855 Native Americans were forced onto reservations. Most of their ancestral lands were ceded to the U.S. The Wasco and Warm Springs tribes ceded ten million acres.
The Northern Paiutes fought against scouts, soldiers, settlers, and other tribes in an attempt to keep their lands. They were finally defeated by General George Crook between 1866 to 1868 and forced on to the reservation.
The tribes were forced to give up their culture. Certain traditions were outlawed. Children were forced to attend boarding schools. If they were caught speaking their native language they were given demerits.
The Warm Springs Museum preserves part of the past and passes on valuable information to future generations. A short film on the history of local Native Americans plays as you enter the exhibit hall. You learn that water was important to all tribes and was referred to as the “blood of life”.
As you make your way through the Museum you will see an impressive collection of artifacts and recreations that give you a glimpse into the various tribes’ way of life. Many of the items are decorated with tiny seed beads that show an amazing amount of detail and artistry. Belts, bags, buckskin clothing, and war bonnets all feature intricate beadwork.
Re-creations of a wickiup and tule mat lodge invite visitors to look inside the structures local Native Americans lived in. A small, rustic cabin stands nearby. Tools of daily life are visible inside the structures.
There are a few parts of the exhibit that are interactive. A camera films you as you attempt to use a hoop and copy the moves playing in a video of the hoop dance. Another display features recordings of the languages of the three tribes living on the reservation.
The small gift store is a great place to browse for local products. There are several books on regional topics. Jewelry, bags, and colorful prints are also available. Huckleberry jam and syrup are tempting to buy for yourself or as a gift for someone else. Boldly patterned Pendleton blankets are neatly tucked into shelves patiently waiting for someone to wrap themselves in their warmth.
If you are interested in the history of the Central Oregon area, consider a stop at this Museum. It is nicely laid out and has some remarkable artifacts in its collection. The information provided with the displays is interesting and may pique your curiosity into learning more. That is always a sign of a great museum.
If you are looking for something to do that isn’t too far away from Bend, consider a trip to the Bowman Museum located in downtown Prineville. The main part of the Museum is in what used to be the Crook County Bank building, built in 1910. You walk past bank teller cages and through the vault doors as you explore the Museum. Downstairs there are displays on the railroad, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Prineville Hotshots, local sports, and an interesting firearms exhibit.
There is a great collection of books for sale near the Museum’s entrance. Many relate to regional and local history. There are also nature related books and several novels.
Upstairs, themed rooms show some of the ways people lived and the services they used. A dining table sits ready to feed a large family. A medical office shows what a typical exam room looked like. Be sure to pull open the drawers to get a closer look at some of the medical tools of the time. A tack room contains intricately designed saddles and bridles as well as more utilitarian chaps and lassos. A general store shows some of the items early settlers purchased.
In 2012, the Crook County History Center opened in an adjoining building. Displays along one wall focus on the local cattle business, the roles women played in the family and business, local businesses and events, and Native Americans. In one corner of this building there is a research library maintained by The Genealogical Society. Another room is devoted to the history of Les Schwab and his now thriving business. The company started in Prineville with the purchase of a run-down tire business.
The Timber Exhibit Hall has lifelike models of ponderosa pines shading parts of the exhibit. You will learn about the history of logging in the area and the process a log goes through in becoming usable in a variety of ways. Open the cabinet doors and look inside for a few examples of wood products.
Here are a few facts learned on a recent visit with Bend Park and Recreation District. Be sure to visit the Bowman Museum to see what new things you can discover.