Mini Museum 4: The Fourth Edition
This Grand Collection contains 29 incredible specimens from across space and time. This page includes everything you need to know about this Edition, including indepth profiles of every specimen. TL;DR this page is huge.
Billions of years of science and history is a lot to take in all at once so be prepared for a journey of several lifetimes! Let's go!
About the Fourth Edition
A New Journey Begins!
Featuring amino acids captured during the birth of the solar system, the Fourth Edition of the Mini Museum is an all-new journey spanning billions of years across time, space, and life!
📸 Extraterrestrial Amino Acids, Lunar Highlands, Copper Crystals, The Great Dying Extinction Event, Panagea, Dinosaur Food, Plesiosaur Paddle, Raptor Bone, Mega Croc Armor, Saber-tooth Tiger Bone, Giant Beaver Tooth, Woolly Mammoth Tooth, Elephant Bird Eggshell, the Amazon River
Together, we'll visit the bright highlands of the Moon, witness cataclysmic events here on Earth, and examine hundreds of millions of years of evolution.
From powerful predators on land and in the sea... to birds and rodents of unusual size.
At last, we'll come to the shores of our very own moment in the long story of life here on Earth.
📸 Stonehenge Bluestone Quarry, Mummy Beads, Roman Bath, 14th Century Knight’s Sword, Aztec Obsidian Tool, Lusitania Deck Chair, Winston Churchill's fur Muff, The Hollywood Sign, Manhattan Project Shield Window, The White House, Muhammad Ali's Punching Bag, Concorde Jet Rotor, Rough Sapphire, First Space Shuttle, Human Heart
From mighty civilizations and cultures spanning millennia, we'll move on to examine modern symbols of democracy and war, creativity and innovation... and reflect on the resilience of humanity.
The collection ends by turning back toward the promise of space and marveling at the wonder of life.
In total, the Fourth Edition of the Mini Museum contains 29 specimens, a truly awesome collection to have and to explore.
And it's all right there in the palm of your hand...
Deep Time Dive!
Specimens of the Fourth Edition
A journey across billions of years of history awaits!
01. Extraterrestrial Amino Acids 4,568,200,000 years old
"The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff." ~ Carl Sagan,Cosmos, 1980
Each year nearly 40,000,000 kilograms (88.1 million pounds) of meteoritic material rains down on the Earth from outer space. Less than 1% of these falls holds traces of organic compounds, and within this tiny subset scientists sometimes come across even rarer material... amino acids, including those which form the building blocks of life as we know it.
METEORITE, AMINO ACIDS: More than 70 including 8 proteinogenic
Illustration Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The oldest of these meteorites, known as carbonaceous chondrites, date to the formation of the solar system. Recent studies suggest that the amino acids found in some carbonaceous chondrites may have come from the pre-solar nebula.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is composed of two special carbonaceous chondrites: Murchison and Jbilet Winselwan. Both of these meteorites are CM2 class carbonaceous chondrites, a class known to contain the highest density of amino acids. Murchison in particular is one of the most studied of all meteorites, displaying over 70 different amino acids, including 8 of the 20 proteinogenic amino acids used to build proteins encoded in our DNA found in all life here on Earth.
02. LUNAR HIGHLANDS METEORITE 3,200,000,000 years old
"You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, 'Look at that, you son of a bitch.'" ~ Edgar D. Mitchell, Apollo 14 Astronaut
The highlands of the Moon are the white areas we can see with the naked eye here on Earth. These regions are dominated by a range of intrusive igneous rocks which form as large plumes of magma cool and crystallize within the crust. The dark areas which are called maria (latin for seas) are basalts created during volcanic floods on the surface.
METEORITE, MOST RECENT SURFACE ERUPTION: c. 18,000,000 years ago
It might be hard to imagine volcanoes on the Moon, but the evidence of an active volcanic past covers our neighbor's cratered surface. The last major volcanic outflows on the Moon peaked about 3.2 billion years ago, but recent studies show that smaller outflows have taken place as recently as 100 million years ago.
As with volcanoes here on earth, the flood basalts also leave behind lava tubes, natural conduits through which the lava once flowed. Tubes near the surface sometimes collapse as a result of meteor impacts or seismic events. This creates windows or skylights, revealing a hidden world within.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a handcrafted "moon" composed of fine-grained dust extracted from the NWA 5000 lunar meteorite. One of the largest lunar meteorites, NWA 5000 is a gabbroic rock with evidence of impact melt, suggesting it was derived from the highlands and ejected into space after a meteor collision on the lunar surface.
03. NATURAL COPPER CRYSTALS 300,000,000 years old
"... I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality." ~ Babylonian Merchant Nanni to Copper Dealer Ea-Nasir, 1750 BCE
The intricate lattice of native copper crystals reveals a story of deep geological processes lasting hundreds of millions of years.
MINERAL, SOURCE: Kazakhstan, ALSO KNOWN AS: Native Copper
Stronger than gold but still soft enough to be shaped easily into tools, weapons, and decorative objects, this form of copper also played an important role in the development of human cultures across the globe as they stepped out of the Stone Age and into the Age of Metals.
The specimen in the Mini Museum comes from native copper deposits located near the city of Zhezqazghan, Kazakhstan. The earliest copper mining in this region dates back many thousands of years, crossing numerous cultures, with extensive trade routes into the ancient world.
04. THE GREAT DYING EXTINCTION EVENT 252,280,000 years old
"La vie a souvent été troublée sur cette terre par des événemens effroyables. // Life has often been disturbed on this earth by frightful events." ~ Georges Cuvier, Discours sur les révolutions de la surface du globe (1822)
"The Great Dying" is the largest extinction event in the history of the planet. While studies point to several factors, the chief catalyst of this extinction event is a series of massive volcanic eruptions known as the Siberian Traps.
VOLCANIC ROCK, ESTIMATED RATE OF EXTINCTION: +95% OF ALL LIFE, ESTIMATED DURATION OF ERUPTION: 1,000,000 years
Over the course of 1,000,000 years, these flood basalt eruptions covered over 7 million square kilometers (2,700,000 square miles) with as much as 4 million cubic kilometers of lava (~1,000,000 cubic miles). Carbon dioxide and methane releases triggered by the Siberian Traps caused runaway global warming, driving ocean temperatures to exceed 40C (104F) and killing nearly 95% of life on Earth.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a basalt slab from the Kuznetsk Basin in southwestern Siberia. The Kuznetsk Basin is also home to one of the largest coal deposits on earth, a remnant of the global destruction caused by the Siberian Traps.
05. THE BREAKUP OF PANGEA 200,000,000 years old
"Our planet is a restless home." ~ Sean C. Solomon, Chair NASA Solid Earth Science Working Group, 2002
Driven by heat from the core, convection currents churn the solid silicates of the mantle, pushing and pulling the thin plates of crust, bringing continents together and tearing them apart in cycles which can last for hundreds of millions of years. This shifting can also bring several continents into close enough proximity to form a single landmass above sea level. These clusters are known as supercontinents; the most famous of which is Pangea.
VOLCANIC ROCK, TEMPORAL RANGE : 335,000,000 to 173,000,000 years ago, EXTINCTION LEVEL EVENT
Pangea formed roughly 335,000,000 years ago and existed as a single landmass for approximately 160,000,000 years. The breakup came after a series of powerful rifting events, in which strong pulses of magma forced continental plates apart at the seams, creating new crust and opening up the basin in which the Atlantic Ocean eventually took shape. Extant remnants of these flood basalts can be found in former rifts located in modern-day Morocco, Southwestern Europe, the Amazon River Basin, and Eastern North America.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a polished diabase fragment from the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province deposits of Eastern North America. The source rock was donated by the Luck Stone quarry adjacent to the Manassas U.S. Civil War battlefield in Northern Virginia. The quarry is a magnificent location where it is possible to clearly see one of the rift valleys which tore through the ancient supercontinent and might once have become the Atlantic Ocean.
06. Dinosaur Food (Cycad)
"Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es. // Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are." ~ Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie Du Gout, ou, Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante, 1826
The palm-like figure of the Cycad is familiar to fans of classic, paleoart paintings. The extensive presence of these gymnosperms in the fossil record led many early researchers to think of Cycads simply as "dinosaur food," but the current thinking presents a more complex picture of this long-lived family of seed-bearing plants and their relationship with the largest creatures to ever walk the Earth.
FOSSIL, ESTIMATED AGE: c. 67,000,000 years old, TEMPORAL RANGE : 280,000,000 years ago to Present
The huge bodies of sauropods and herbivorous ornithischians (ceratopsids, ankylosaurids, etc) required a massive amount of energy. To meet these demands, these animals relied on a process of hindgut-fermentation. This digestive model involves rapid cropping and swallowing of plants, which in turn feeds symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This diverse flora processes low-nutrient foods, turning them into products the animal would otherwise be unable to extract on its own.
Emerging during the early Permian period, Cycads developed into a diverse and widespread family during the Mesozoic Era, and 300 descendant species can be found in the world today. The specimen in the Mini Museum comes from a fossilized Cycad husk recovered on private land in Wyoming. Part of the Lance formation, this find dates to the Late Cretaceous Period, roughly 67,000,000 years ago.
07. Plesiosaur Paddle
"Like a sea serpent run through a turtle." ~ William Buckland,Oxford University Geology Lectures, 1832
Featuring a long, snake-like neck and a stout body equipped with slender paddles, Plesiosaurs are one of the most readily identifiable of all ancient marine reptiles. With global distribution and nearly 140 million years in the fossil record, Plesiosaurs were incredibly successful creatures.
FOSSIL, TEMPORAL RANGE : 203,600,000 to 66,700,000 years ago, MAXIMUM KNOWN LENGTH : 14m (46ft)
Biomechanical reconstructions suggest that Plesiosaurs moved through the water in the same way that turtles or penguins do, more like flying than swimming. Scientists have also discovered that Plesiosaurs used their unique bodies to hunt for bottom-dwelling crustaceans.
To highlight their success, the specimen in the Mini Museum comes from the paddles of two different Plesiosaurs, both recovered on private land but separated by vast distance in both time and location. The first specimen comes from the Lower Oxford Clay in Cambridgeshire, England dating to the Middle Jurassic Period, while the second comes from the Morrison Formation of Utah and dates to the Cretaceous Period.
08. Raptor Bone
"You bred raptors?" ~ Dr. Alan Grant, Jurassic Park
Known popularly as "raptors", dromaeosaurids were a diverse family of feathered theropod dinosaurs. In addition to being feathered, members of Dromaeosauridae had long tails and an elongated "sickle claw" on the second toe.
FOSSIL, TEMPORAL RANGE : 167,000,000 to 66,700,000 years ago
While this distinctive body plan suggests a link to birds, scientists are still unclear on the exact connection between these two successful evolutionary lines, though there is some evidence that smaller species could at least glide.
The specimen used in the Mini Museum was selected from several species recovered in both Morocco and North America. Like birds, dromaeosaurids had a global distribution and varied widely in size from smaller than a modern day chicken to large, powerful predators measuring more than 18ft (6m) in length from tooth-to-tail.
09. Mega Croc Sarcosuchus Scute
"How cheerfully he seems to grin // How neatly spreads his claws // And welcomes little fishes in // With gently smiling jaws!" ~ Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), The Crocodile, 1865
Sarcosuchus was an enormous, crocodile-like aquatic reptile that dominated freshwater rivers and lakes of the Middle Jurassic Period through the Early Cretaceous Period.
FOSSIL, ESTIMATED AGE : ESTIMATED AGE: c. 112,000,00 years old , AVERAGE ADULT LENGTH : 11-12m (35-40ft)
With the largest species reaching nearly 40 feet in length (11-12 meters) and weighing close to 8 metrics tons, it should come as no surprise that Sarcosuchus feasted on a wide range of prey, from fish to land-dwelling dinosaurs.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment from a Sarcosuchus scute (dermal armor) recovered from the El Rhaz Formation in Niger. As with other crocodyliforms, scientists use the growth rings found in bony scutes to determine the rough age of the animal. Recent studies suggest that the largest Sarcosuchus specimens may have taken up to 60 years to reach their full size.
10. Smilodon Bone
"If you think about it, Smilodon fatalis likely left their paw prints on what is today Hollywood Boulevard long before Marilyn Monroe left her handprints at the Chinese Theater." Z. Jack Tseng, Paleontologist of the American Museum of Natural History
With twin serrated canine teeth measuring 8 inches (20 cm) and backed by 600 pounds (275 kg) of muscle, Smilodon is one of the most iconic animals of the Pleistocene Epoch.
FOSSIL, TEMPORAL RANGE: 1,600,000 to 10,000 years ago
While the look of this stocky animal gave rise to its popular name, saber-tooth tigers are only distantly related to modern big cats. Biomechanical models suggest that Smilodon also hunted in a very different manner, relying on powerful neck muscles to sink their long teeth into prey as opposed to using bite force to crush the windpipe as cats do today.
The specimen in the Mini Museum comes from a pair of Smilodon fatalis femurs recovered on private land in Florida. This species of Smilodon ranged across North America and into the western half of South America for roughly 1.5 million years, finally succumbing with other megafauna during the Quaternary Extinction Event 10,000 years ago.
11. Giant Beaver Castoroides Tooth
"The rodents of unusual size? I don't think they exist." ~ Westley, aka The Dread Pirate Roberts, The Princess Bride, 1987
Even though the beaver is among the largest rodents in the world today, it's only a fraction of the size of its extinct cousin, Castoroides.
FOSSIL, TEMPORAL RANGE: 3,000,000 to 11,000 years ago
Castoroides Illustration Credit: Charles R. Knight, 1904
Popularly known as the Giant Beaver, Castoroides was about the size of a modern black bear, weighing roughly 220 pounds (100 kg) and measuring more than 7 feet (2.5 m) without their long, flat tails. Castoroides lived in a variety of habitats in central and eastern North America, but appears to have favored the large wetlands which grew and receded along with periods of intense glaciation during the Pleistocene Epoch.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment of a Giant Beaver incisor recovered on private land. While we might imagine Castoroides using these mighty teeth to fell enormous trees, their blunt ends suggest the Giant Beaver lived as muskrats do today, feasting on softer, leafy plants rather than building dams and lodges.
12. Woolly Mammoth Tooth Doggerland/North Sea
"Doggerland was the real heartland of Europe until sea levels rose to give us the coastline of today." ~ Dr. Richard Bates, Geochemist, St. Andrews University
Great Britain was not always an island. During the Pleistocene, it was the northwest peninsula of the European continent. Bounded to the north by steep walls of ice, the land between was home to a steppe ecosystem full of life. Now lost beneath the waves of the North Sea, this phantom countryside is known as Doggerland.
FOSSIL, DISAPPEARANCE OF DOGGERLAND: c. 6,500 BCE, EXTINCTION OF WOOLLY MAMMOTH: c. 10,000 BCE
Mammoth Illustration Credit: Zdeněk Burian
The name for this land is borrowed from the Dogger Bank, a large sandbank which rises 20 meters (66 ft) from the seafloor and extends over 17,600 square kilometers (6,800 square miles). The region is now a fertile fishing ground which occasionally yields remains from a long vanished world of Neanderthals and megafauna like the woolly mammoth.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment of a woolly mammoth tooth recovered from the lost world of Doggerland. The high-crowned molars of woolly mammoths are pleated with ridges of enamel: somewhat similar to the dentition of the modern Asian elephant, but distinct from the fewer, diamond-shaped, enamel plates of the African elephant. The morphology of mammoth teeth and the distribution of mammoth remains suggests mammoths were predominantly grazers subsisting mainly upon grasses and sedges, a diverse biomass that the modern Arctic tundra doesn’t approach.
13. Elephant Bird Aepyornis Eggshell
"So why did the Elephant Bird disappear? I suspect it was these.... its eggs. People may not have been able to tackle an adult bird but they could take its eggs which were a huge source of nourishment." ~ Sir David Attenborough, Attenborough and The Giant Egg, 2011
The Elephant Bird was the largest member of an extinct family of flightless birds native to the island of Madagascar.
FOSSIL , ESTIMATED EGG WEIGHT (WHOLE): 10 KG (22 POUNDS)
Aepyornis Illustration Credit: Scientific American, 1901 (Colorization by Mini Museum)
As some individuals stood nearly 10 feet tall (3m) and weighed upwards of 1,100 pounds (500 kg), it should come as no surprise that these massive birds also laid the largest eggs of any known bird species, with volumes approaching 1.9 gallons (7L).
Such imposing figures may conjure ideas of an enormous ostrich or even the savage "terror bird" of the late Paleocene, but researchers believe that these giants were more like their distant (and much, much smaller) cousins, the kiwi, slowly moving through the forests of the fourth largest island on the planet for millennia until their extinction approximately 1200 years ago.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment of an Elephant Bird eggshell, generously donated from the personal collection of renowned Australian art dealer and long-time supporter of Mini Museum, Hank Ebes.
14. The Amazon River
"Have I forgotten the Amazon, Earth's greatest river? Never, never, never. It has been burning in me for half a century, and will burn forever." ~ Naturalist John Muir (1838-1914)
With headwaters located high in the Peruvian Andes, just 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Amazon river gathers strength from over 1000 tributaries as it flows for more than 4,300 miles (6,900 km) across the South American continent.
LIQUID WATER, TOTAL LENGTH: 6,900 km (4,300 mi), ESTIMATED FORMATION: c. 55,000,000 years ago
On meeting the Atlantic Ocean, this mighty river discharges 7.7 million cubic feet of water per second, drowning its nearest competitor, the Congo, by a factor of five. The river's massive, 2.7 million square mile basin (7 million square km) is home to the Amazon rainforest, the largest collection of living species on the planet.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a small vial of Amazon river water personally collected by Hans near Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is known as the "Peruvian capital of the Amazon", and has the distinction of being the largest city on Earth which is only accessible by river or air. We are greatly indebted to the assistance of German Perilla of the Amazon Bee Project and Geraldo Torres of Iquitos for their invaluable assistance and expert advice in acquiring this specimen. A generous donation has been made to the Amazon Bee Project on behalf of Mini Museum.
15. Stonehenge Quarry Stone
"The stones are great, and virtue they have." ~ Laȝamonn, Brut, 1190 CE
Of the numerous megalithic stone structures found throughout the British Isles and Continental Europe, Stonehenge is arguably the most famous.
This ring of iconic stones was likely set in place around 2,500 BCE as part of a series of monuments, burial grounds, and ritual sites built in the same area over the course of thousands of years.
ROCK , EARLIEST HUMAN ENCAMPMENT: +8,500 BCE
Two primary types of stone were used to create Stonehenge: large, sarsen stones, composed of local silicified sandstone, and smaller 'bluestones' of Welsh origin. Recent petrographic studies have closely linked chippings from the dolerite bluestones at Stonehenge to the quarry located at Craig Rhos-y-Felin.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment of dolerite bluestone recovered downstream from the quarry at Craig Rhos-y-Felin. Located on the northern flank of the Preseli Mountains near Pembrokeshire, the Craig Rhos-y-Felin quarry was an active site for thousands of years, with the earliest known human encampments dating to 8,500 BCE. Research suggests that stones extracted from this quarry migrated from site to site, "borrowed" for different uses, and radiated outward over time until being used at Stonehenge some 140 miles away.
16. Egyptian Faience Beads
"If people can write to each other across space, why can they not write across time too?" ~ Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love
For thousands of years, artisans in Egypt and Mesopotamia created vibrant ceramics to echo the beauty of rare jewels. Once known by the Egyptian word tjehenet, or "that which shines", the unique finish is the result of a chemical process we know today as efflorescence.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, ESTIMATED FIRING TEMPERATURE: +800 °C (1472 °F)
Beginning with ground quartz, copper, cobalt, magnesium, and other elements are combined to form a malleable, earthy paste. When fired, metallic oxides migrate through the porous material, cooling at the surface, and leaving behind the rich colors and glass-like surface thought to capture the visual essence of immortality.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a selection of mummy beads spanning several eras from the 1st millennium BCE. The acquisition was made possible through a private dealer in Washington, DC who is also a member of the American Research Center in Egypt and the Association of Dealers & Collectors of Ancient & Ethnographic Art.
17. Roman Bath Hypocaust Flue
"Our ancestors did not think that one could have a hot bath except in darkness." ~ Seneca the Younger, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, 65 CE
For much of Roman history, bathing was more than a matter of hygiene; it was a complex social ritual enjoyed by nearly every class. When heat was required for these facilities, the Romans relied on an ingenious system known as a hypocaust.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, ESTIMATED DATE OF INVENTION: 1ST CENTURY BCE
A hypocaust consisted of a raised floor on stacks of tiles called pilae. A furnace at the base level fed hot air into the gap beneath the floor which circulated in the spaces between the pilae. The heated air rose through a system of flues (tubulii) aligned along the walls and out of the house.
These structures served grand public works (thermae), while wealthy citizens also had their own smaller, private baths. Large baths often contained hot (calidarium), cold (frigidarium), and tepid (tepidarium) pools as well as dry, sweating rooms (laconicum).
The specimen in the Mini Museum comes from a section of Roman Hypocaust flue purchased from a private dealer of antiquities.
18. Medieval Knight's Sword
"Conquest I saw, enthroned in majesty // But with sharpened sword above his head // Suspended by a single thread." ~ Geoffrey Chaucer, The Knight’s Tale from Tales of Canterbury, 1387 CE
Though many battles raged throughout the "long thirteenth century" of the High Middle Ages, scholars often refer to this century as a time of relative peace. This did not mean knights could retire on their estates. Eager kings looking to extend their authority, continued military campaigns to the Holy Land, and a growing professionalization of warfare all combined to keep the European knight reliant on the tools of their trade: horse, armor, and sword.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, SWORD TYPE: OAKESHOTT XIIIA, ESTIMATED AGE: Late 13th Century / Early 14th Century CE
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment of a knight’s sword dating to the late 13th / early 14th century CE. For the last 200 years the sword was held in a private family collection in France until recently acquired by a private dealer of antique arms in the United Kingdom.
Our modern knowledge of medieval swords is indebted to the work of Ewart Oakeshott (1916-2002). As is the case today, fashions and technology changed often in the middle ages. Oakeshott spent much of the mid-twentieth century identifying different sword typologies and building a detailed system which is the standard by which swords are assessed, classified, and dated. Under the Oakeshott system, this sword is classified as Type XIIIa. This style of sword is typically of German origin and sometimes described as Grans espeès d'Allemagne or "Big Swords of Germany."
19. Aztec Empire Obsidian
"Y dije asimesmo que tenia noticia do un gran señor que se llamaba Muteczuma... y que contando en la grandeza de Dios, y con esfucrzo pensaba irle á ver do quiera que estuviese. // And I also said that I had news of a great lord named Montezuma ... and that, counting on the greatness of God, I thought I would go see him wherever he was." ~ Hernán Cortés, from the Second Letter to King Charles V, October 30th, 1520CE
The history of human civilization in Mesoamerica spans thousands of years; numerous cultures connected by shared traditions in architecture, science, politics, religion, and warfare. Among the last in a long line, the Aztec Empire rose from an alliance of three city-states during a violent civil war at the beginning of the 15th century CE. Over the course of the next century, the empire grew to encompass 80,000 square miles (207,000 square km) and more than 10,000,000 people.
To maintain and rule this complex empire, the Aztecs relied on a system of taxation and tribute. Subjugated and allied city-states would provide material resources and labor on a strict schedule, and all young men were required to enter military service. The Aztecs used these resources to create massive public works, and the Aztec city of México-Tenochtitlán became a vast capital on par with some of the largest cities in the world.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, FOUNDATION OF THE AZTEC EMPIRE: 1427 CE, END OF THE EMPIRE: 1521 CE
Aztec rule of the region came to an abrupt end in 1521 when the forces of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés took control of Tenochtitlán. To achieve his stunning victory, Cortés supplemented his small Spanish force with large numbers of disgruntled Aztec tributaries. This reversal of fortunes was not unlike that which brought the Aztecs to power. However, the result would have more far-reaching effects as the Spanish not only gained a powerful foothold but also developed the tactics required to conquer the rest of Mesoamerica.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment of an Aztec obsidian tool acquired from a private collection. Obsidian is a natural volcanic glass which can be polished to create a mirror-like finish. It forms when lava rich in feldspar and quartz cools quickly, resulting in a material that is harder than steel yet so brittle that it can be easily fractured to create clean, sharp edges ten times finer than modern scalpels. Obsidian is particularly abundant in the highland plateaus of Central Mexico which lie within the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. For the Aztecs, obsidian played a key role in nearly every aspect of life and death, from cutting tools and weapons to the foot of Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror in Náhuatl), the powerful deity in the Aztec religion who lost his foot in battle during the creation of the world only to have it replaced with an obsidian mirror through which he could keep an eye on his followers.
20. R.M.S. Lusitania Deck Chair
“The best joke I've heard in many days, this talk of torpedoing.” ~ William Turner, Captain of the Lusitania
Briefly the world’s largest ship, the luxurious R.M.S. Lusitania was also one of the fastest ships of its era. On May 1st, 1915, the Lusitania departed from New York on a voyage to Liverpool with 1,959 passengers aboard. The cargo hold of the Lusitania held passengers as well: 4.2 million rifle rounds, 1,250 shrapnel shell cases, and 18 fuse cases, all destined for the battlefields of the Great War. Though the Royal Navy had promised to escort the Lusitania for part of the journey, the escort never appeared.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, DATE OF SINKING: May 7th, 1915, LIVES LOST: 1,198
Lusitania Illustration Credit: Norman Wilkinson, 1907
The Lusitania entered Irish waters on May 7th, slowing so it could navigate the foggy weather. A nearby German U-boat took advantage of this situation, torpedoing the ship twice and causing the hull to explode. 1,198 passengers and crew drowned, including 128 American citizens, a fact which enraged the American public and later served as a catalyst for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s push to enter the war.
The specimen in the Mini Museum comes from an oak deck chair which once graced the decks of the R.M.S. Lusitania. The chair was among the untold tonnes of flotsam and hundreds of bodies which washed ashore in Cobh, Ireland (known as Queenstown at the time) and was held on public display for decades. It was acquired at auction from Christie’s London office in late 2016.
21. Winston Churchill's Fur Muff
"Victory will never be found by taking the line of least resistance." ~ Winston Churchill, January 15th, 1940
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a figure of tremendous importance in the first half of the 20th century. His long life straddled two very different centuries. It was a tumultuous period in which maps were redrawn and the world hovered several times on the brink of total annihilation.
Born in 1874, Churchill came of age at the height of the British Empire. As a young cavalry officer and correspondent, he saw action in Cuba, Afghanistan, the Sudan, and South Africa. He sent home dispatches from the battlefield that made his name and eased his entry into politics.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, BORN: November 30, 1874, DIED: January 24, 1965 (Mr. Churchill, not the muff, naturally...)
Winston Churchill Photo Credit: Yousuf Karsh, 1941 "The Roaring Lion"
Churchill held an ardent belief in the pre-eminence of Great Britain, and this would often guide his decisions and fuel his seemingly bottomless need for action. These two aspects of his person often led Churchill to take positions which are difficult to reconcile favorably. Yet, it was precisely such qualities which made Sir Winston the resolute leader the United Kingdom required during the dark years of the Second World War.
By the end of his life in 1965, Churchill had served nearly 64 years in parliament. He held numerous positions, including two turns as Prime Minister. Today, the “Bulldog of Britain” is considered by many to be one of the greatest Britons in history.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a section of a faux leopard-skin hand muff used for many years by Winston Churchill. Despite a life of near constant action and travel, Churchill was known to suffer from poor circulation in his later years, and often made use of a muff to keep his hands warm. This muff was purchased at auction in 2016 from Christie’s of London, and included a signed letter from Lady Soames, Churchill’s youngest daughter.
22. The Hollywood Sign
"Hollywood is a place you can't geographically define. We don't really know where it is." ~ John Ford, American Film Director, 1964
For nearly a century, the Hollywood sign has stood on the southern slope of Mount Lee overlooking the city of Los Angeles. The sign was originally built as a temporary advertisement for new homes in "Hollywoodland," but later became a bright beacon for those seeking stardom, and a symbol for the entertainment industry.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, YEAR COMPLETED: 1923 , ORIGINAL LETTERS: H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D-L-A-N-D
By the late-1970s, the sign had fallen into such disrepair that a complete replacement was required. The reconstruction was financed primarily by private fundraising efforts led by Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner. Hefner brought together an unlikely group of entertainers, from silver screen legend Gene Autry to theatrical shock rocker Alice Cooper, who each sponsored a letter in the new sign.
"It’s become something iconic and represents not only the town but represents Hollywood dreams, and I think that’s something worth preserving." ~ Hugh Hefner
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a two-piece fragment of the original Hollywood sign, salvaged during the 1978 reconstruction. It was acquired from the private collection of a retired Los Angeles sound engineer.
23. The Manhattan Project | Plutonium Enrichment Shield Window
"Man's understanding of nature is usually a cumulative and gradual process. Certainly this has been the case throughout the growth of atomic physics. No single stroke of genius delivered up the finished product. Rather, its present state of development derives from the labors of many individuals from many countries, operating in many fields of endeavor, over a span of many years." ~ General Leslie Groves, "Now it can be told" (1962)
The Manhattan Project was the codename for the research and development effort which allowed the United States to rapidly develop a series of atomic breakthroughs during World War II, including the first industrial-scale plutonium production reactor and the first atomic bombs. This enormous project involved over one hundred thousand scientists, engineers, technicians, and construction workers at more than 30 sites across the United States, including well-known locations such as Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Trinity, and Hanford.
Located in the high desert region of Washington State, the former town of Hanford is the site of the world’s first full-scale plutonium production complex.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, TOTAL COST OF THE PROJECT: $1.89 billion (approximately $24 billion in 2018)
The creation of the site was authorized on January 16, 1943 under the authority of General Leslie Groves. Residents and Native American tribes in the region were relocated and furious construction began. Less than two years later, on Christmas Day 1944, the first irradiated slugs were removed from the B Reactor and sent to the T Plant (221-T) for chemical separation. On February 2, 1945, Los Alamos received its first Plutonium shipment from Hanford. Plutonium processed at Hanford was used in both the Trinity test on July 16, 1945 and in the "Fat Man" atomic bomb used over Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945.
The specimen in the Mini Museum comes from a leaded glass window installed in the T Plant (221-T) Plutonium Recovery Building, the first and largest of two production bismuth-phosphate chemical separations plants used to extract plutonium from fuel rods irradiated in the Hanford Site’s reactors.
The glass was acquired from the window’s current owner, who owns several windows salvaged from the site. The windows were sold during a government surplus auction in the late 1980s as part of the long (and continuing) decommissioning process. The yellow color of the glass is due to a high concentration of lead-oxide (up to 70%), which blocks blue and near-UV spectral frequencies, and also gives the glass its protective qualities.
24. The White House
"For the President's House I would design a building which should also look forward but execute no more of it at present than might suit the circumstances of this country, when it shall first be wanted. A plan comprehending more may be executed at a future period when the wealth, population, and importance of it shall stand upon much higher ground than they do at present." ~ George Washington, March 8th, 1792
Since John Adams took up residence on November 1st, 1800, every U.S. President has called the White House home. Not surprisingly, each resident has endeavored to leave their mark, but then change is the guiding principle at the heart of the design suggested by George Washington, the one President who never lived in the Executive Mansion yet was so intimately involved in its creation.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, CORNERSTONE LAID: October 13, 1792 (by George Washington)
Most changes have reflected the spirit of Washington's words, but there have also been moments of great necessity beyond circumstance, not to mention indulgence of personal vanity. Still, no matter who the occupant might be at any given time, or the changes they've made, the White House itself endures as a powerful symbol for the United States and the office of the Presidency, proof that the "American Experiment" continues.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment from a brick recovered during the 1948-1952 renovation and expansion of the White House. The project is sometimes referred to as a reconstruction rather than a renovation as the venerable structure was gutted from within and refitted with a steel superstructure. This process generated an enormous amount of salvage material, some of which was used as landfill, but more attractive items became part of a popular public souvenir program designated by the Commission on the Renovation of the Executive Mansion.
25. Muhammad Ali Punching Bag
"I know where I'm going and I know the truth and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want." ~ Cassius Clay, February 26, 1964
In 1964, a loud, handsome boxer from Louisville, Kentucky shocked the sporting world by beating the reigning heavyweight champion of the world. The new champion's name was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. and he was just 22 years old. The day after the fight, Clay announced to the press that he was a Muslim and confirmed rumors that he had joined the Nation of Islam. Ten days later, the champion was introduced to the world by a new name: Muhammad Ali.
During his career, Muhammad Ali compiled a record of 56-5 with 37 wins by knockout. His victories include wins over what some consider the finest opposition in history: Sonny Liston (twice), Joe Frazier (twice), Floyd Patterson, Ken Norton (twice), and a knockout victory against George Foreman, one of the hardest punching boxers of all time. Ali also held the title three different times, each time defeating a reigning champion. This feat has never been equalled, nor is likely to be.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, BORN: January 17, 1942 (Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.), FIRST HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: February 25, 1964, DIED: June 3, 2016
Muhammad Ali Photo Credit: Stanley Weston/Getty Images, 1962
But Muhammad Ali was far more than just a boxing legend. His conversion to Islam and association with the Nation of Islam became a lightning rod for opinion across the United States. Later, his opposition to the war in Vietnam and direct engagement with civil rights issues catapulted him into a world far beyond the ring. He became an ambassador for peace, addressing the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid in 1978, and twenty years later became one of the first United Nations Messengers of Peace. One of his many messages being "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."
Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3rd, 2016 after a thirty year battle with Parkinson's. Throughout his struggle, Ali never complained. He simply referred to the disease as his trial, yet one more challenge in a life of challenges.
The specimen in the Mini Museum comes from a punching bag formerly used by Muhammad Ali. Known as a double-end or "crazy" bag, this particular type of punching bag is used to improve accuracy, speed, and endurance. The double-end bag is attached at two ends with floor-to-ceiling elastic straps. This makes the bag highly reactive to punches, which is useful in developing defensive skills, as the bag is prone to "hit back". This particular bag was used by Muhammad Ali during training sessions in the 1970's. The bag was gifted to long-time Louisville sports radio personality and friend of Muhammad Ali, John Ramsey, and later purchased at auction by Mini Museum.
26. Concorde Jet Rotor
"I've always thought of the Concorde as a magical object, a symbol, a miracle." ~ Andrée Putman (1925-2013), legendary French designer responsible for the 1994 revamp of the Air France Concorde interior
On January 1, 1976, the Concorde became the first supersonic commercial aircraft in history. With a Space Age design that signaled the arrival of the future, the joint project between British and French engineers fulfilled a decades-old dream of faster-than-sound passenger travel.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, FIRST FLIGHT: March 2nd, 1969, TOP SPEED: Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph or 2,180 kmh at cruise altitude), LAST FLIGHT: October 24th, 2003
Concorde Photo Credit: Adrian Pingstone, 2003
For nearly thirty years, these magnificent aircraft cruised at altitudes twice as high as their subsonic counterparts, twice the speed of sound, and with ticket prices twice the price of their most expensive luxury rivals. While the program operated above cost, the profits were not enough to save the Concorde as it reached the end of its technical lifespan. The last Concorde flight occurred on October 24, 2003.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment from a flown, high-pressure compressor vane, an integral part of the four turbojet engines that allowed the Concorde to cruise above Mach 2. Produced by Britain's Rolls Royce and Snecma Moteurs of France, the Olympus 593 Mk 610 were the most powerful transport certified engines in the world at the time of their introduction.
27. Rough Sapphire from Myanmar
“Beauty is meaningless until it is shared.” ~ George Orwell, Burmese Days, 1934
Dazzling and durable, sapphires are among the most popular gemstones in the world.
Sapphires form very slowly inside cooling igneous and metamorphic rocks as metals seep into aluminum oxide crystals. Also known as corundum, the crystals are transparent on their own, but the presence of different metals lends unique colors to the final stone.
GEMSTONE, MELTING POINT: 2045 °C (3713 °F), HARDNESS: 9.0 (Mohs Scale)
Traces of titanium result in a blue hue while the presence of iron results in the color yellow. Any color except red is considered a sapphire, while red, indicating the presence of Chromium, is considered a ruby.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a rough sapphire from Myanmar's Mogok Metamorphic Belt, also known as the "Valley of Gems". Stretching over 930 miles (1500 km), this region has yielded some of the world's greatest rubies, jade, and sapphires. Extraction methods include a combination of alluvial mining, open pit mining, and carving caves and tunnels in solid rock.
28. The First Space Shuttle
"The powered flight took a total of about eight and a half minutes. It seemed to me it had gone by in a lash. We had gone from sitting still on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center to traveling at 17,500 miles an hour in that eight and a half minutes. It is still mind-boggling to me. I recall making some statement on the air-to-ground radio for the benefit of my fellow astronauts, who had also been in the program a long time, that it was well worth the wait." ~ Bob Crippen, STS-1 astronaut, regarding first flight of the Space Shuttle, April, 12 1981
On April 12, 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia roared to life on the pad at the Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A. Solid rocket boosters and Columbia’s own engines delivered more than 6,600,000 pounds of thrust, lifting the crew of two and 4,500,000 pounds (2,000,000 kg) of dreams into orbit at more than 17,500 miles per hour (28,163 kmh).
The successful launch and return of Columbia heralded a new age in space exploration. Envisioned in the 1950’s as a fleet of reusable spacecraft, Columbia was joined by Challenger, Discovery, Endeavor, and Atlantis.
HUMAN ARTIFACT, FIRST FLIGHT: April 12, 1981, LAST FLIGHT: January 16, 2003, TOTAL DISTANCE TRAVELLED: 201,497,772 km (125,204,911 miles)
Shuttle Launch Photo Credit: NASA, Image Number: S-81-30498
Over the course of 135 missions, the fleet delivered hundreds of astronauts and thousands of tons of materials into orbit. They also deployed satellites and served as a platform for the advancement of science while traveling more than half a billion miles during three decades of operation.
Despite a tremendous record of success, two tragedies also struck the program. On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into flight as the result of a failed O-ring seal on the right solid rocket booster. Seventeen years later, the Space Shuttle Columbia was lost when the craft disintegrated due to an undetected puncture in the wing which occurred during liftoff but did not present a problem until re-entering the atmosphere on February 1, 2003. Both tragedies claimed the lives of their respective crews, fourteen brave women and men in total, a powerful reminder of the dangers humanity faces as they move boldly toward the stars.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment of a mission flown High-Temperature Reusable Surface Insulation Tile (HRSI) that was once attached to the space shuttle Columbia (OV-102). HRSI tiles are made of low-density silica, but 90% of the volume is actually air. This design allowed the tiles to protect parts of the orbiter exposed to re-entry temperatures exceeding 2,300 °F (1,260 °C). NASA disposition paperwork accompanying the tile indicates it was removed after Columbia’s 7th mission, STS-61-C, which flew on January 12, 1986.
29. The Human Heart
"The heart is of such density that fire can scarcely damage it." ~ Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1490
Humanity has understood the importance of the heart since as far back as the Greek Dark Ages when physicians like Hippocrates of Kos and Erasistratus theorized about its purpose. Most of the ancient scholars appreciated that the heart was a unique and essential organ — one that is present in many other species of animals, as well.
PLASTICIZED TISSUE, AVERAGE BEATS PER DAY: 100,000, AVERAGE BEATS IN A LIFETIME: 2,500,000,000
Heart Illustration Credit: Leonardo da Vinci (Colorization by Mini Museum)
Today, physicians have a better sense of the heart and its role in the circulatory system. The human heart is the first organ to develop in vitro, already beating at just three weeks into embryogenesis. It is made of muscle tissue that works twice as hard as the muscles that support movement and posture. The heart is also one of the last organs to stop functioning at death.
The specimen in the Mini Museum is a human heart recovered from a 74 year-old woman who passed away due to non-cardiac related natural causes. The heart was prepared by a laboratory which uses plastination techniques to preserve anatomical specimens for various exhibits and medical research purposes worldwide. The heart was considered undesirable for most technical purposes due to a mishap during preparation which caused a long tear along the surface of the left atrium.
Designed to Inspire for Generations
The Mini Museum is a handcrafted, limited edition collectible. The unique specimens are artfully arranged and clearly labeled. The entire collection is encased in Lucite acrylic and designed to inspire for generations.
As pictured above, your Mini Museum will arrive in a handsome Display Box designed just for the Fourth Edition. Inside the foam padded box, your Mini Museum will be protected by a Custom Micro-Fiber Pouch. You will also find a Certificate of Authenticity, and a special hardcover book which we call the Companion Guide.
The Companion Guide is a starting point for learning more about the specimens in the collection, details about our process, and additional references so that you can continue exploring on your own.