For much of human history, poisoning—whether by accident or malice—was much more common than it is today. To protect against the threat, people turned to a variety of natural and man-made materials that were thought to expose toxic substances early warning systems prized for their life-saving potential.
The artifact above is an example of one of these protective objects. It is a hornbill spoon, which, according to Malaysian legend, would change color, even turn black, in the presence of poison. Now on view in the Museum’s special exhibition The Power of Poison, this spoon was fashioned from the beak of a Rufous Hornbill (Buceros hydrocorax), a large bird indigenous to the Philippines and characterized, like all hornbills, by a prominent casque or horny growth extending along the top of its head.
Three-dimensional scans of two mummified newborn woolly mammoths recovered from the Siberian Arctic are revealing previously inaccessible details about the early development of prehistoric proboscideans. The research, conducted in part by American Museum of Natural History Richard Gilder Graduate School student Zachary T. Calamari, also suggest that both animals died from suffocation after inhaling mud. The findings were published July 8 in a special issue of the Journal of Paleontology.
“These two exquisitely preserved baby mammoths are like two snapshots in time,” said Calamari, who began investigating mammoths as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan working with paleontologist Daniel Fisher. “We can use them to understand how factors like location and age influenced the way mammoths grew into the huge adults that captivate us today.”