Decoding the world’s first computer: Unravel the mysteries of the Antikythera Mechanism at this distinguished lecture

The world’s first computer put the time cycles of the Sun, Moon and planets into mechanical form. And today, cutting-edge technology reveals the extraordinary sophistication of ancient Greece. What mysteries does the Antikythera Mechanism unveil?

Learn all about it at the HMNS distinguished lecture,  “Cosmic Time – The Antikythera Mechanism & Its Mysteries,” this Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m., presented by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project’s Mike Edmunds, Ph.D.

Unravel the mysteries of the Antikythera Mechanism Nov. 20Photo courtesy of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project

More than 100 years ago, an extraordinary mechanism was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the Greek island of Antikythera. It astonished the international community of experts on the ancient world. The machine dates from around the end of the 2nd century B.C. and is the most sophisticated mechanism known from the ancient world; nothing as complex is known for the next thousand years. The “Antikythera Mechanism” is now understood to be dedicated to astronomical phenomena and operates as a complex mechanical “computer” which tracks the cycles of the Solar System.

What exactly is this complex device? For decades, scientific investigation failed to yield much light and relied more on imagination than facts. Now a new initiative is building on this previous work, using the latest techniques available today. The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project is an international collaboration of academic researchers supported by some of the world’s best high-technology companies, which aims to completely reassess the function and significance of the Antikythera Mechanism.

Since 2005, innovative technologies have been used to reveal unknown elements of the mechanism by looking at the internal structure, with its complex and confusing gear trains. A remarkable window on microscopic internal details of inscriptions and gearing has been opened. Inscriptions can now be read that have not been seen for more than 2,000 years, and this is helping to build a comprehensive picture of the functions of the Antikythera Mechanism.

Mike Edmunds, Ph.D., The Antikythera Research Project

Mike Edmunds, Ph.D

Results from researchers are emerging on a stable basis as data continues to be analyzed. Come hear the latest findings from project astronomer Mike Edmunds of University of Cardiff at HMNS on Tuesday, November 20. This lecture is co-sponsored by Archaeological Institute of America – Houston Society and the Hellenic Cultural Center. Click here for tickets.

What the ancient Maya really anticipated: The 2012 Phenomenon and December 21

Speculation about what ancient Maya have to say about 2012 is becoming a global phenomenon in popular culture. These speculations — largely apocalyptic and uninformed — are often based on a superficial acquaintance with Western historical interpretations rather than a familiarity with Maya texts and culture.

On Nov. 5, Dr. John B. Carlson will approach the 2012 phenomenon through an examination of Maya sources considered within the contexts of ancient and contemporary Maya culture, as well as Western scholarship. In an HMNS Distinguished Lecture, he will focus on images of mythological events depicted on two Late Classic Maya vessels, including the enigmatic “Vase of the Seven Gods.” These images are interpreted as representing deities gathered in “cosmogonic conclave,” preparing to re-create the world with their sacrifices at the last completion of a Great Cycle and the beginning of a new 5,125-year, 13-baktun Maya “long count.”

K2796Maya God L at the creation event

The rites of passage are presided over by an enigmatic Venus warrior/sacrificer deity previously known only as “God L.” God L’s principal name and nature had remained a mystery, and his identity obscure, until the image above was deciphered. This study offers an explication of why God L — who is portrayed as the Maya god of tobacco, among other aspects — takes the senior role in presiding over these 13 baktun completion rituals and why it is reasonable to hypothesize that the ancient Maya would have anticipated that the same entities would return again for the fulfillment of the present long count cycle on December 21, 2012 to re-animate the world.

For tickets to see Dr. Carlson speak at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 5, click here. This lecture is included in a course co-sponsored by Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.

blog - Maya, John CarlsonJohn B. Carlson, Ph.D.

About lecturer John B. Carlson:
John B. Carlson, a radio and extragalactic astronomer by training, is the Director of the Center for Archaeoastronomy, a non-profit institute for research and education related to interdisciplinary studies of the astronomical practices, celestial lore, religions and world-views of ancient civilizations and contemporary indigenous cultures of the world.In this capacity, Dr. Carlson is an expert on Native American astronomy specializing in studies of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and is the Editor-in-Chief of the ARCHAEOASTRONOMY Journal published by the University of Texas Press.

The art, iconography, calendar systems and hieroglyphic writing of the Maya and Highland Mexican civilizations are particular interests, and the “archaeology of pilgrimage” is a current special research interest. Researches into ancient and contemporary Maya calendars and the “2012 Phenomenon” have been areas of Carlson’s expertise for more than 30 years. Dr. Carlson is Senior Lecturer in the University Honors College, University of Maryland – College Park, where he teaches courses in Astronomy, Anthropology and the History of Science.

Distinguished Lecture Series: Gain new perspective on a local Civil War hero April 24

Many Houstonians are familiar with the story of the Battle of Sabine Pass. On September 8, 1863—against long odds—the Confederate Davis Guards and Lt. Dick Dowling defeated a U.S. Navy fleet that entered Sabine Pass from the Gulf of Mexico, foiling a Union plan to capture Houston and the state of Texas.

dick dowling guest blog

For a century and a half, the Irish Houstonian Richard W. “Dick” Dowling has been remembered as a Confederate hero who saved Texas from invasion by federal troops with his victory at the Battle of Sabine Pass. His statue still stands in Hermann Park near the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Yet the stories Houstonians have told about Dowling have also changed over time, and some stories have not yet been fully told. Legends about the Battle of Sabine Pass have also overshadowed the fact that Dowling’s victory delayed emancipation in Texas and obscured the heroism of several fugitive slaves who fought in the battle for the Union.

Historical researcher Dr. W. Caleb McDaniel has uncovered a fresh view of Dowling’s famous battle from the perspective of another Houston landmark, Emancipation Park, by placing Dowling and Sabine Pass in the context of slavery and emancipation both before and during the Civil War.

In the final lecture of the Discovering the Civil War Distinguished Lecture Series on Tuesday, April 24, Dr. Caleb McDaniel will present “Dick Dowling and the Battle of Sabine Pass: The View from Houston’s Emancipation Park.”

“My lecture will use recent research about the Battle of Sabine Pass to show how the battle impacted enslaved people in Texas and Louisiana and will also discuss the role of African American sailors in the battle on the Union side,” Dr. Caleb McDaniel explains.

Audience members will also be introduced to a new online archive of historical documents and materials related to Dowling, enabling them to study Dowling on their own and trace the changes in his image over time in Houston and beyond.

dick dowling guest blog

What: HMNS Distinguished Lecture, “Dick Dowling and the Battle of Sabine Pass: The View from Houston’s Emancipation Park”

When: Tuesday, April 24, 6:30 p.m.

Where: The Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Dr., 77030

Click here for advanced tickets.

W. Caleb McDaniel

Dr. W. Caleb McDaniel is assistant professor of history at Rice University. Since receiving his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 2006, he has published articles on the Civil War era in several scholarly journals and currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on the Civil War at Rice. More information about his work is available on his homepage.

Emancipation Park

In 1872, Rev. Jack Yates and his congregation at Houston’s oldest African American Church, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, along with the help of  the members of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church and other community leaders, purchased the land the park stands on to celebrate Juneteenth. This community park was later donated to the City of Houston in 1916.  Located near downtown at the intersection of Dowling and Elgin Streets, Houston’s Emancipation Park  is now designated with a State Historical Marker. The Park is cared for by the City of Houston with support from Friends of Emancipation Park.

Camels of the Wild West [Distinguished Lecture 2/8!]

Our guest blogger, Doug Baum of the Texas Camel Corps, who previously wrote about camels for our blog, writes again to tell us different myths about camels in the USA and how several ended up in Texas. Don’t miss our upcoming lecture on Tuesday, Feb. 8 on the creation of the Texas Camel Corp and the immigration of camels to America.

© Texas Camel Corps

It’s an honor to be visiting with you, the readers of the HMNS blog, again. The last time we were together I was bringing my camels to Houston as part of the opening weekend of “Secrets of the Silk Road.” This time, I’m blogging about camels in, perhaps, a slightly less exotic locale.

The Great US Army Camel Experiment of the 19th century may or may not be familiar to you. As a reenactor specializing in this bit of arcane military history, it is my pleasure to help guide the reader through the minefield of both information and misinformation.

Let’s start with the common myths:

The US Army Camel Corps was a Corps.

It was not. There were no camel-specific groups of soldiers and the camels weren’t ridden by the cavalry. In fact, they were hardly ridden at all. The camels, imported from North Africa and the Middle East as a result of federal legislation in 1856, were simply a warehouse item (like a sack of flour or a bale of hay) attached to the 2nd US Cavalry and 1st Infantry at Camp Verde (in the Texas Hill Country), and could be used for transporting loads by any military group that requested them.

The camels were imported to replace the horse.

If you’re building a house, would you use only a hammer, or would you also use a saw, drill, level and other tools? The camel was a perfect complement to all the other animals used at the time (like the horse, donkey, mule and ox) and was employed mainly to haul water for those other beasts of burden as well as the soldiers and civilian drivers working with them- water the camels themselves would rarely partake of due to their innate ability to abstain from drinking for great periods of time.

HOLD YOUR HORSES! Yes, horses spooked when first they spied (and smelled) the camels, but this was only true for those horses outside the military realm. Those equines regularly in contact with the camels became accustomed to the recent immigrants and, like the horse and donkeys on my own farm today, they coexisted perfectly with the new additions to the Texas landscape.

The camels were abandoned because their feet couldn’t handle the Texas terrain.

Anyone who thinks Texas’s desert expanses are any rougher than that of the Sahara, Sinai, Gobi (or any of the dozens of global arid regions camels call home) is clearly unaware only thirty percent of deserts are sandy. Most, in fact, look a lot like our own Chihuahuan desert: rocky, gravel-strewn plains.

Perhaps the best-known myth: After the Civil War, the Federal government simply let the camels loose.

It’s well documented where the camels were after the War and to whom they were sold. Remember, these were government property (some might say recovered spoils of war, considering that the Confederacy had been in possession of the more than five dozen camels in Texas during the early-mid 1860s) and Washington would no more release the camels, then, than Congress would leave parked Humvees, today, with the keys in ‘em!

Now, with all the mythbusting complete, it’s necessary to provide some context.

camel
Creative Commons License photo credit: me and the sysop

Army Camels: The Facts

The 75 camels originally imported between two shiploads from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey were a mix of Arabian (one-hump) and Bactrian (two humps). The Bactrian lives in a more northerly climate and roughly a dozen were procured while the Army was camel shopping in Turkey, the southwestern-most range of the two-humped camel. The more common Arabian lives across North Africa, the Middle East and into India. Both species adapted well to the Texas climate upon landing in the Lone Star State that fateful month of May, 1856.

The camels were used by the Army, primarily for hauling water and other camp supplies, and were put to major interstate and intercontinental trials in 1857, 1859 and 1860 in addition to regular hauling between Camp Verde and San Antonio, site of Texas’s Quartermaster Depot. The Beale Expedition of 1857 saw some two-dozen camels accompany the journey, the goal of which was to connect the Ft. Smith-Santa Fe trail to the border of Arizona/California. The hoof prints and wagon tracks created on this 19th century sojourn would later be paved over and are now recognizable as historic Route 66.

The 1859/60 trips into what we consider the Big Bend region of Texas were conducted by the US Army’s Topographical Engineers and were intended to survey new routes to the Rio Grande and scout possible locations for new fortifications. During all the trips, the officers in charge extolled the virtues of the camels. Beale wished for more, commenting numerous times in his journals about their general docility. Hartz and Echols, in charge of the two near-deadly Big Bend expeditions (a paucity of rain had rendered the region bone-dry), literally abandoned their three-dozen unshod mules, noting even “the camels’ feet have been abraded to the quick,” yet the expedition returned to Camp Stockton (now Fort Stockton) with all the camels.

While the officers offered platitudes, the soldiers’ less than positive attitudes toward the camels cannot be overemphasized. Most US servicemen were horsemen from back East, not camelmen from the “East.” These fellows had no more interest in working with camels than, say, a rodeo cowboy today would (I have some particular experience in these matters, having traveled the US with my camels!) This lack of willingness to adapt to something new wasn’t the death knell, but it didn’t help.

But the aforementioned trials (as if we were the first culture to consider using camels!) were doomed almost from the start. Not because of any inherent shortcomings of the camel, rather because of the looming US Civil War. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, had been Secretary of War prior to the division of North and South and at his urging Congress had appropriated thirty thousand dollars to purchase the camels. This inextricably linked Davis to the camels. His lack of popularity after the War created for the camels an unfair demise and by 1866 the entire fleet of “ships of the desert” was sold.

camel
Creative Commons License photo credit: me and the sysop

“Beale’s” camels in California (they’d not returned to Texas) were sold to a freighter named McLeneghan (sometimes identified as McLaughlin) who used the camels to haul salt to the newly created mines in Nevada. The sixty-six camels remaining in Texas were bought by a man named Bethel Coopwood who put the camels to work on a freight line between Laredo, Texas and Mexico City. Both men sold their camels and other entrepreneurs used them for similar purposes, but ultimately the railroad would put all animals out of work (how many of you ride a horse to work today?). Many camels ended up in traveling menageries and as late as 1902 a camel with the US brand on its hip was seen in San Antonio.

Houston Camel Connection

Even in your neck of the woods, Houston had a passing flirtation with camels. A private shipment, separate from the US Army’s camels, arrived in Galveston, October of 1852, under suspicious circumstances aboard a boat registered to a British woman named Watson. It was said that the boat was actually carrying slaves and the camels were on board to help cover the tragic stench that emanated from the ship. Regardless, the ship was turned away, but not before Francis R. Lubbock (later the ninth governor of Texas) consented to take charge of the herd. Kept around Buffalo Bayou and herded around the area, Lubbock’s camels caused enough panic among horses in Galveston that laws were enacted to keep camels off the streets during daylight hours. I taunted that very law a few years ago, when I presented a program at the 1894 Grand Opera House, by inviting the audience to walk around the block with my camel, David, and me. I’m happy to say that neither David nor I was arrested.

There are some great books about the historic US Army camels. I highly recommend Eva Jolene Boyd’s “Noble Brutes,” Chris Emmett’s “Texas Camel Tales” and May Humphreys Stacey’s “Uncle Sam’s Camels.” Stacey’s book is a first-hand account of travels with Beale from Texas to California in 1857 and reads like an adventure story, complete with desertion, Indian sightings and stampeding horses (but not camels!). Better yet, come see for yourself at any of the living history events I’ll have camels at this spring. Our next appearance is  March 4/5 in Brackettville, Texas at the Ft. Clark Living History Event. Check out our full schedule at http://www.texascamelcorps.com/

 

Don’t miss our distinguished lecture “Bringing Camels to America,” given by Dr. Stewart B. Nelson at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 8, 2011. You can purchase tickets here.