100 Years – 100 Objects: Stone Money

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Dirk, the museum’s curator of anthropology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent human cultures throughout time and around the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

stone-money-4x4So how do you count your riches? If you are an inhabitant of the Pacific island of Yap, the answer would be simple: look out of your window and count the circular stones lining your garden. Different cultures have different ways to represent monetary value.

The inhabitants of the Pacific Island of Yap chose stone as a medium to express this. As stone was not available on all islands and had to be transported by canoe, the larger the stone, the greater the effort and therefore also the value of the “coin.”

Considering the size of the stone we have in our collection, and comparing it against others that are much bigger – what we have might be called “small change.”

Explore thousands of years of Native American history in the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, a permanent exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the photo gallery on hmns.org.

Chemistry in the Kitchen: The Science Behind Butter

stick-of-butter
 Photo credit: booleansplit

People have been enjoying the rich and wonderful taste of butter for more than 6,000 years.  Archaeologists have found pounds of ancient butter buried in the peat bogs of Ireland.  Butter is still made in essentially the same way as it has been for thousands of years.  Roll up your sleeves and make butter like the ancients!

Materials:
Heavy whipping cream – you can buy this at the grocery store
Crackers – any kind you like
Salt
Cheesecloth
Clean baby food jar
Butter knife

Procedure:
1. Fill your baby food jar about ½ full with whipping cream.
2. Add a pinch of salt for taste.
3. Seal the cap on tight.
4. Shake your jar up and down vigorously.
5. You will notice that soon you will have a creamy substance that we know as whipped cream.  You’re not done yet!  Keep shaking!
6. Soon you will have a clump surrounded by a liquid.  The clump is your butter and the liquid is buttermilk.
7. Drink the buttermilk if you like, it’s full of protein.
8. Place your butter in a piece of cheesecloth and squeeze the excess liquid out.
9. Use your butter knife to spread your creation on crackers and enjoy!

Background:
When milk straight from the cow is left to stand it separates into skim milk and cream.  The cream rises to the top.  The cream is full of proteins and fat.  When you shake the cream and agitate the fat globules, they stick together to form butter.  The leftover liquid is called buttermilk and it is full of protein. 

Interested in learning more about cooking and the science behind it? BEYONDbones will be bringing you The Science of Food - a series of videos exploring the science involved in the culinary creations of some of the best chefs in town. Its all part of Big Bite Nite on April 30, an event featuring food from over 30 restaurants all in one location – HMNS.

Never a Dull Moment

chain-mail-armor-resize
A coat of chain mail armor from
the Genghis Khan exhibt now on
display at HMNS. Find out more
here

As the Houston Museum of Natural Science prepares to show the sequel to the hugely popular Night at the Museum, I could not help but think how interesting a “day at the museum” sometimes can be as well. I am not just talking about the different exhibits we currently have at the museum, but also what is going on at the museum behind the scenes.

I have often thought that one of the taglines associated with the museum should be “never a dull moment.” Here is why I think that would be particularly appropriate: consider Tuesday, February 24, 2009. On that day, a crew of museum people as well as representatives from museums in Mongolia and Russia were busy putting the final touches to the Genghis Khan exhibit. That day, we also received the Mongolian ambassador to the US, H.E. Ambassador Khasbazaryn Bekhbat, who was traveling to Houston for the formal opening of the exhibit two days later. Accompanying him was the second secretary of the Mongolian embassy, Dawadash Sambuu. In the weeks leading up to the opening of the exhibit, he had been very busy working in Houston, helping with the set up of the show. Representing the Hermitage Museum, Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, flew in from St. Petersburg, Russia that day as well.

darwinAlso on February 24, the museum hosted a lecture as part of the year-long Darwin celebrations. Joining us that day was Dr. Francisco Ayala.  He came in to talk about his research into evolution. Dr. Ayala, a recipient of the National Medal of Science, recently published a book on this subject, entitled Darwin’s gift to science and religion. In a well-attended lecture in the museum’s IMAX movie theater, Dr. Ayala carefully explained his reasons why science and faith can go hand in hand. Dr. Ayala took time to meet with High School students from the Houston area, who are participating in the museum’s Young Scholars program. In a closed meeting preceding his talk, Dr. Ayala explained how he got interested in his field of study and what one needs to do in order to achieve what he did.

On February 24, the museum hosted Mongolian diplomats, a Russian museum official, and a Spanish-born geneticist. While this kind of line up does not happen every day, it does occur often enough to warrant what I wrote earlier: “never a dull moment at HMNS.”

100 Years – 100 Objects : Elbaite (on Quartz)

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Joel, the Museum’s President and Curator of Gems and Minerals. He’s chosen spectacular objects from the Museum’s mineralogy collection, which includes some of the most rare and fascinating mineral specimens in the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

main-elbaite-on-quartzTourmaline Queen Mine, San Diego County, California.
North America has produced some extraordinarily beautiful specimens of elbaite, a member of the tourmaline group, but the most admired are the bright red-pink crystals with blue caps found in 1972 at the Tourmaline Queen mine. The 24-cm example pictured here is the finest of the 33 major specimens recovered and is therefore the finest North American tourmaline. The lustrous, lusciously colored, undamaged pair of crystals at the top grow from an undamaged quartz crystal and are accompanied by smaller tourmaline crystals. It has been nicknamed “The Rabbit Ears.”

Marvel at the world’s most spectacular collection of natural mineral crystals in the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see larger and more detailed images of this rare specimen – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the photo gallery on hmns.org.