COLUMBIA — Archaeologist R. Eric Hollinger was at Lange Middle School Wednesday to talk with sixth-graders about the sciences. That included tarantulas.
"So you let people hold them?" asked Whitney Reed, eyes wide.
"Yes," he said. "They not only hold them, they feed them."
That drew several "Eews" from the other students.
Hollinger, a graduate of Hickman High School and MU, was invited, along with his wife, Lauren Sieg, to talk with students. Both work at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Hollinger in the Repatriation Office of the National Museum of Natural History and Sieg as a research specialist in the National Museum of the American Indian.
Science teacher Robin Shaon-Moore was caught off guard and pleased by her students' questions. "They're asking a lot of things I had no idea that they even knew," she said.
Take the squid. Hollinger asked each group of students what a squid's mouth looks like. "A bird's beak!" came the shouts.
The invitation to Lange came from sixth-grader Sarah Hollinger, who is archaeologist Hollinger's niece. Hollinger and Sieg were in town for the holidays and stayed through Wednesday, the first day of classes after winter break for Columbia Public Schools.
The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., is the world's largest museum and research complex and includes 19 museums and galleries, nine research facilities and the National Zoological Park, according to its website.
"The Smithsonian's main mission is the increase and diffusion of knowledge," Hollinger said. "This is an opportunity for us to extend and share the mission with these kids."
The couple talked about their work with Indian tribes. Sieg said an ongoing part of their work is returning remains and other items to tribes.
"They are sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony," Sieg said. "No one should have sold them. They belong to the tribe."
After Hollinger returned a killer whale hat to an Alaskan tribe, he was adopted into the tribe, Sieg said. If someone is adopted into a tribe, they must have appropriate clothing, she said. Hollinger received a special vest with killer whales on the back.
Hollinger said a new venture at the museum is making 3-D replicas of the tribal artifacts. The tribes want plans and copies in case of accidents.
"It's like an archive, just a digital version," Hollinger said.
During the presentations, students were shown a picture of a giant squid.
"Who has eaten calamari before?" Hollinger asked.
Many students raised their hands, and he explained that they had eaten squid. More "ews" and "I'm never eating that again" rose up.
In a discussion of bones, Sieg said teeth can tell a lot about a person including their age, gender and number of cavities.
"How can you tell what gender a person is and how old from their teeth?" asked Trinity McCoy.
Sieg and Hollinger said the jaw line is different between men and women because a women's jaw line curves and a man's is straighter. They can tell how old teeth are by how worn down they are and their color.
Shaon-Moore seemed as impressed by the presentations as her students were.
"It's fascinating," Shaon-Moore said. "It makes me want to go to D.C."