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From distinguished lecturers to scientific scholars to visiting curators to volunteers to leaders in their respective fields, we often invite guest authors to contribute content to our blog. You'll find a wealth of information written by these fascinating individuals as we seek to expand your level of knowledge with every post.

#GivingTuesday Inspiration: Emeritus Trustee Ann B. Brinkerhoff Gives to HMNS for 40 Plus Years

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Emeritus Trustee Ann B. Brinkerhoff exemplifies commitment to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, giving generously and enthusiastically her time, resources and expertise for over 40 years. As a capstone of her years of service, Ann spearheaded the formation of the HMNS Legacy Society of which she is the Chairman and a Charter Member. “The Museum has been an important part of my life and it was only fitting to provide for the Museum’s future and encourage others to do the same” explained Ann.

Ann’s devotion to the Museum is rooted in her inherent curiosity and love of learning, as well as her dedication to her family. When her children were young, Ann’s spare time was sparse. Yet, she felt bound to serve and found time to volunteer at organizations that benefitted children. She discovered the Houston Museum of Natural Science when her children began taking classes there. She joined the Guild, which she said was very much like the Junior League at that time, and was a docent for several years on Wednesday mornings. “I remembered my first time in front of a group of 4th graders and I was terrified,” she confessed. “Thankfully, I calmed down by focusing on all the lovely and rare objects in the Museum, trying to see them through the children’s eyes.”

Ann’s leadership skills and fundraising acumen flourished in the Guild. She chaired the Guild’s 1973 kitchen tour which raised $25,000—breaking all previous records. “It was a lot of work,” said Ann. “But it was so rewarding because I had a great group of women helping me and I formed many long-lasting friendships.” Ann’s fundraising success, reliability and ability to get things done made her the natural selection as the Guild’s president from 1974-1975.

 

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In 1975, Ann was elected to the HMNS Board of Trustees and continues to serve today as an Emeritus Trustee. During her years of involvement with the Museum, Ann directed her attention and fundraising skills toward three major building campaigns, and saw the Museum’s annual attendance grow from less than 500,000 to more than 3 million. Her special projects have revolved around the Museum’s education and travel programs, and the malacology collection.

In addition to her work at the Museum, Ann has held leadership positions with the Women’s Institute, Hogg Foundation, University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, the Philosophical Society, Institute of Texas Cultures and the University of Texas honors college. A life-long student, Ann is a voracious reader and spent every summer for 10 years taking classes at Cambridge University.

A devoted wife and mother, Ann was married to the late Robert Brinkerhoff, who she met while both were students at the University of Texas. During his lifetime, Robert built a successful oil company, supported Ann’s volunteer endeavors and together they raised four children. Through her work at the Museum and other cultural institutions, Ann brings to life the famous words of her hero, the first female anthropologist, Dr. Margaret Mead, who said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

We hope you will follow Ann’s lead this #GivingTuesday in supporting the important mission of HMNS.

If you are interested in more information on what you can do to help HMNS out, check out our Giving Tuesday page

And if you are interested in giving to HMNS this holiday season, here is a link to our donations page

Five things I learned at Mummies of the World: The Exhibition

by Elizabeth Galante

 

As a former teacher, I know that most parents ask their students when they get home “what did you learn today?” and they more often than not receive a shoulder shrug or a one-word response like “stuff” and “things”. I imagine it’s frustrating trying to connect with your student with a relevant question but not knowing enough details about their day to ask more. I can tell you it’s just as frustrating as the teacher knowing the amount of effort put into lesson planning doesn’t get a more exciting answer. So in honor of the shoulder shrug, I give you five questions to ask your students about the exhibition with answers to guide the conversation.

 

1. What actually is a mummy?
A mummy is a human or animal that has been preserved after death so that it does not decompose or rot. In order to be considered a mummy, the body must keep some of its soft tissue, such has hair, skin, or muscles.

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King Tutankhamen’s mummy with its famous gold mask

 

2. Where are the mummies in the exhibit from?
The Exhibit includes mummies from Europe, South America, and Ancient Egypt, and I learned that mummies have been found all over the world!

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The Orlovits Family, mummies from Hungary

 

3. Are there different kinds of mummies?
There are two kinds of mummification: natural and intentional (on purpose).
• Natural mummies are preserved by the environment in which they died. This may include warm and dry climates, such as a desert or attic; cold and dry climates, such as the top of the Andes Mountains; and/or due to chemicals, such as acids and salts, like in a bog.
• Intentional mummification is typically done for cultural and religious purposes, as was the case in Ancient Egypt where they believed that the body needed to be preserved to keep the soul intact after death.

This spiny-tailed lizard from the Sahara Desert is an example of a modern-day mummy -- probably less than 100 years old. It was mummified by the hot, dry air of the desert. This lizard is part of the Mummies of the World exhibition, the largest traveling exhibition of mummies and artifacts ever assembled, opening at the California Science Center in Los Angeles on July 1, 2010. Credit: American Exhibitions, Inc.

This spiny-tailed lizard from the Sahara Desert is an example of a modern-day mummy — probably less than 100 years old. It was mummified by the hot, dry air of the desert. This lizard is part of the Mummies of the World exhibition, the largest traveling exhibition of mummies and artifacts ever assembled, opening at the California Science Center in Los Angeles on July 1, 2010. Credit: American Exhibitions, Inc.

 

4. Why are CT scans used on mummies?
CT (Computer Tomography) scanning and carbon dating is able to tell a lot about a mummy, such as how old the person was when they died, the sex of the person, any injuries or disease that the person had during their lifetime as well as their diet. Sometimes it is possible to determine the cause of death or the occupation of the person.

 

5. What can we learn from researching mummies?
The above research helps us learn from the past and adapt for the future. By analyzing their diets, we are able to learn about vitamin deficiencies, cavities, heart disease, and cancer. By assessing their cause of death, we are able to learn about disease, such as tuberculosis, which is an increasing problem in certain populations around the globe. By studying their clothes, we are able to learn about the evolution of technology, including the way their clothes were produced and the art forms used in their design.
Now that you’ve learned more about it, come visit HMNS before the exhibit wraps up in May!

They Mite be Giants

The thought of small little animals running around our face cause most people to squirm a bit. As much as I do like the small animals like spiders and beetles, if I think I feel one crawling on my face I’ll very quickly try to brush it off. It’s not them, it’s me.

Now we are going to get into the stuff that makes me squirm. There’s a great skit from Kids in the Hall about the joke of saying – “Hey, there’s a spider on your back!

In the skit, it starts out as an author writing a book called Hey, There’s a Spider on Your Back, which consist of only that line. And every time anyone reads it they think there is a spider on their back. This makes it a best seller and leads to the audio book. But there really are arachnids on your face. Right Now! There are face mites. Like all arachnids they have 8 legs. Different species of mites live in your hair follicles (Demodex folliculorum) and in your sebaceous glands (Demodex brevis), where oil comes out. And at night, after you go to sleep, they come out, mate, and lay their eggs on your face. Are you squirming now? And the next thing you’re trying very hard not to think about is what happens when they poop? Well there you can rest a little easier. They don’t excrete waste the same way we do. They hold it in till they die and then it decays in their body.

You might be wondering why we study these things. Well first off we don’t know a whole lot about them. We think we know what they eat (dead skin and oils), but we’re not sure. More importantly they can help us learn about human migration patterns. D. brevis is Asian population is genetically distinct from its American cousin. But D. folliculorum is the same in both populations.

And that’s just what’s living on the outside of us. Inside we are a fully ecosystem of predators, prey, and parasites. And they’re important to our health. Come join us on November 9 for a lecture on More than Genes: Predators, Parasites and Partners of the Human Body by Dr. Robert Dunn sponsored by the Leakey Foundation. Dr. Dunn is a biologist with the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University.

Swifter than eagles! Stronger than lions!*

 

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Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971; AOL Time Warner

Nope, not the *Hsawaknow but extraordinary beasts instead, arising from where the fantastical and the wondrous collide.

 

Some animals are so exotic that their initial discovery is difficult to comprehend. Stories of griffins, dragons and more may seem like tall tales to us today, but most mythical beasts actually have a basis in reality. People who unearthed odd bones and stones often relied on religious and cultural stories to explain what they had uncovered.

 

Griffins
More than two thousand years ago, gold miners sought their fortunes in the vast Gobi Desert. These miners were Scythians—nomadic people among the earliest to master mounted warfare. Relying on their accounts, Greek writers reported that in the sweltering heat of the desert, the miners battled the mighty griffin—a fierce half-eagle, half-lion hybrid that ferociously guarded extravagant treasures of gold. Because the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle the king of birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature.

 

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Joannes Jonstonus (1603-1675). Historiae Naturalis; Griffon (Tab. 62); 1657. (590 J73 vol. 2)

 

Classical folklorist and historian Adrienne Mayor, Ph.D. argues that the many similarities between Protoceratops dinosaur fossils and griffins indicate that the mythic creature likely originated from ancient paleontological observations.

The Greeks and Romans developed sophisticated concepts to explain the fossil evidence, concepts that were expressed in mythological stories.

 

griffons3Protoceratops. Mick Ellison/American Museum of Natural History

 

Dragons

Dragons are among the most popular and enduring of the world’s mythological creatures. These fabulous creatures of classical mythology continue to live in the modern imagination. Dragon tales are known in many cultures, and they populate our books, films, and television shows, shown as playful to fearsome.

A variety of creatures’ remains have been said to belong to dragons. With their enormous size, reptilian shape and threatening teeth and claws, some dragons might easily be taken for cousins of Tyrannosaurus rex. The fossil remains of extinct animals have sometimes been taken for dragon bones—and helped perpetuate old dragon stories.

 

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Falkor, Toothless, Drogon, Smaug

 

Fossils of lepidodendron (an ancient tree-like plant) have also been exhibited as dragon skins, even as recent as 1851, when pieces found were said to be of the body of a gigantic fossil serpent.

“The idea that impressive fossils played a role in how people of the past imagined monsters and giants has been influential on several surprising fronts. People now realize that in fossiliferous lands, the bizarre bones of extinct creatures could help to explain dragon imagery” writes Dr. Mayor.

 

griffons6Black Country Museum

… and more!

Join Dr. Adrienne Mayor of Stanford University and HMNS on October 20 for a paleomythology lecture on Mythological Beasts: Dragons, Griffins – and Dinosaurs? and a fun-filled Family Talk October 22 on The Griffin and the Dinosaur. Book signing of The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times and The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science will follow both programs. Sponsored by AIA, Houston Society with support by KPMG.