"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.
This is a 300-year-old chunk of beeswax, housed at the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum in Tillamook, Oregon. That part alone is pretty nifty, but it's the background that really makes this specimen sing. According to Roger Peet, who sent me this photo, the beeswax comes from the wreck of a Spanish galleon that washed ashore north of Tillamook long before any other European settlers had ever visited the area—probably around 1700 or so. Pollen analysis indicates that the beeswax actually came from the Philippines. How cool is that?
Here's an excerpt from an archaeological report on the wreck that Peet sent along with the photo:
Native oral histories and the earliest accounts of Euro-American settlers on the Northwest Coast refer to a wrecked vessel (or several wrecked vessels) at the beach of Nehalem, as being the source of an abundant supply of beeswax that the local Indians used and traded prior to and after the time of Euro-American settlement. The first written accounts of the wreck come from Astoria fur trader Alexander Henry in 1813, who reported that great quantities of beeswax were dug out of the sand at the spit and that the Indians brought the wax to Astoria to trade. As the 19th century progressed, numerous accounts of the presence of both beeswax and teak lumber at Nehalem and reports of intact pieces of wreckage appeared in various newspapers and books, and such reports continued into the early 20th century.
The wax and its origin were widely discussed throughout the 19th century, both locally in Oregon and in newspapers from California, the Midwest, and even New York. Beeswax was found in such abundance that, for a brief time, some non-residents were convinced it was actually a petroleum product that indicated large oil deposits were in the area (Chicago Daily Tribune 1891; Christian Science Monitor 1909), and a short lived oil boom occurred despite the Indian accounts of the wreck and the presence of candles and wax blocks with carved symbols on them.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.