Inconspicuous building home to millions of museum artifacts 7-07

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Carnegie Museum of Natural History's display of
dinosaurs and artifacts of ancient cultures is nationally renowned.

But as impressive - if not more so - is the 97 percent of the
museum's collection tucked away in an inconspicuous building in the
city's East End.

The unmarked warehouse sitting in a Pittsburgh commercial district is
guarded by Deb Harding, a collections manager who has spent the past
22 years lovingly caring for the vast collection.

“Touch anything and I'll break your fingers,” she greets the rare
visitor allowed into the building that is off-limits to the public.

The museum can only exhibit about 3 percent of its collection at any
given time. The remainder, nearly 2 million artifacts, is in the
warehouse.

Stored on shelves and in drawers are the museum's mammal collection,
its broad assortment of ethnological and historical specimens,
pottery, sculptures and even a sacred cabinet where American Indian
religious artifacts are stored according to the detailed instructions
of the tribes.

In locked cabinets and drawers are the stories Harding covets: An ear
ornament by the Brazilian tribe Urubu Ka'apor, made in the 1990s from
bird feathers and held together with tree gum; a late 19th century
coiled basket made by the American Indian tribe, Yokuts that resided
in northern California; Japanese parade armor from 1600 to 1800 that
was collected by H.J. Heinz during his travels.

“I'm always surrounded by pieces of human ingenuity,” Harding told
the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Today, museums present their exhibits with high-tech interactive
presentations and computer touchscreens. But behind-the-scenes,
officials say little has changed since Andrew Carnegie opened the
natural history museum in 1895: curators still feel they are
ultimately responsible to science.

“The collection is just like a gigantic library of the history of
the Earth, the history of life, the history of mankind,” Zhe-Xi Luo,
a museum curator said. “Overall, the museum holds a great treasure -
the history of life - in trust.”

Harding is responsible for cataloging and keeping track of the
museum's vast holdings, beginning with number 1/1, an Egyptian mummy
purchased by Carnegie. An anthropologist by training, Harding loves
being surrounded by the ancient findings.

“We're building on what they did,” Harding said. “If you shoved
one of us back into that situation and didn't have those things to
build on - that previous knowledge - we wouldn't do any better.”

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com
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