Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 3/7-3/13

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation is by Alexis Fiero (age: 9):

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Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

After Hours Behind-the-Scenes Tours
Monday, Mar. 7
6:00 p.m.
Amber Secrets: Feathers from the Age of Dinosaurs
Amber Secrets, Feathers from the Age of Dinosaurs features over 100 specimens dating as far back as 99 million years ago. Plants, fungus, vertebrates and invertebrates such as insects, spiders, scorpions, snails, millipedes and centipedes are represented. Highlights include feathers and lizards encapsulated in amber. Each polished translucent gem provides a window to the time of the dinosaurs. 
La Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas
Going back to the 8th century in a struggle between Muslim and Spanish naval forces and on to the appearance in the Aztec capital in the 15th century, Virgin of Guadalupe was adopted as a symbol in Europe and the New World during times of friction. Through the artwork and artifacts on display, your guide will trace the increasing role the Virgin of Guadalupe played in society.

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 2/29-3/6

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation is by Ada (age: 13):

block party 13

Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

Please note – Family Space Day on Saturday, Feb. 27 and the Amber Workshop on Tuesday, Mar. 1, are sold out. Additional dates for these events are available in April. 

Now Open! Amber Secrets: Feathers from the Age of Dinosaurs 
Amber Secrets, Feathers from the Age of Dinosaurs features over 100 of some of the most exquisite specimens dating as far back as 99 million years ago. Plants, fungus, vertebrates and invertebrates such as insects, spiders, scorpions, snails, millipedes and centipedes are represented.  Each polished translucent gem provides a window to the time of the dinosaurs.

Now Open! Amazing Butterflies
Amazing Butterflies invites you to shrink down into the undergrowth to become one of the most extraordinary creatures on earth.  Enter the interactive maze through the huge monarch caterpillar tunnel. Become a caterpillar and find your way through a secret, wild world as grass and leaves tower above your head. But beware, the maze includes dead ends, down which lurk poisonous plants and predators waiting to pounce.  Adventure through the leaves, learn how to move like a caterpillar, discover an ant that reaps the reward of an unusual friendship, then transform into a butterfly and take flight! Together, families will explore this interactive experience and learn the surprising challenges butterflies face every day.

Dig in the Dirt and Back in Time with HMNS at the George Ranch!

by Sabrina Dahlgren

Everyone invariably reaches an age when an adult will admonish them to stop playing on the ground and getting their clothes dirty. Archaeologists are among those people who decide that playing in the dirt is too much fun to ever give up, and that they are going to make a living (though maybe not a very lucrative one) out of it.

Archaeology is a combination of curiosity, science, history, and humanities. Precise methods are utilized to uncover artifacts that provide information about past people, societies, or cultures. That information must then be analyzed and put into context to provide a picture of the past that can inform us about how we have changed over time as individuals and as groups.

The principles and methods of archaeology are simple enough to understand, though the work itself can be very physical and demanding. One opportunity to experience such work is to participate in a dig in your area. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is fortunate to have teamed up with the George Ranch Historical Park and the Fort Bend Archaeological Society to host supervised digs at the George Ranch.

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Our one-meter-square plot was carefully delineated and I and a few of the dads removed the upper layer of sod.

Join us at our next exciting dig Saturday, March 5! It’s easy to get signed up. Just register online! Registration is $45 and $30 for members. Children must be accompanied by an adult chaperone.

THE HISTORY

The George Ranch Historical Park showcases more than 190 years of modern Texas history spanning four generations.

Nancy and Henry Jones claimed their league of land (4,428 acres) in 1824 as part of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” colonization of Mexican territory along the Brazos River. Mary Moore, known as “Polly”, third of the Jones’s 12 children, inherited most of the family’s assets and along with her husband, William M. Ryon, greatly expanded their holdings. By the 1880’s, the family’s combined holdings, including land owned (by Polly, her brother and her son-in-law) and land leased, was 67,668 acres (about 12 percent of the total area of Fort Bend County). Polly’s granddaughter Mary Elizabeth, “Mamie,” the wife of Alfred P. George, inherited the property when Polly died in 1896. The family’s monetary fortunes expanded further when oil was discovered in the 1920’s, though personal tragedy marked by the deaths of the Georges’ infant son and adult niece in the coming years meant no heir would inherit the family’s estate. In order to preserve their legacy, Mamie and Alfred established the George Foundation to benefit Fort Bend County’s people.

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The soil was passed through a rock sifting screen.

Why is all of this history important, you ask? Because the historical ranch site has been continually occupied by settlers and their descendants and trustees over nearly two centuries. More than 23,000 acres are still a working ranch, not to mention the native peoples and fauna that have ranged over the site for thousands of years.

And what does this mean? Stuff to find, if you dig deep enough and in the right spot! Keep on reading to learn what it’s like to go out on a dig.

DIG DAY: The Story of Our Last Adventure

It started overcast and early. The drive from Houston to the George Ranch on a Saturday morning is a relatively quick, low-traffic affair. You should know that I’ve lived in Texas for a few decades of my life, so my definition of a quick drive is anything under an hour. This drive clocked in at around 35 minutes.

The main entrance to the ranch led to a large parking lot stretching to the right, various structures seen dotting the surrounding space. Our interest lay in a small patch of soil in the northeast corner. My scouts and their parents met me there, where we were instructed by Robert Crosser and Dottie Allen of the Fort Bend Archaeological Society on where to dig. Our general location was part of the Jones’s original 1830s log cabin site, which encompasses part of the terrain of the 1850s prairie home that burned down in 1888, possibly housed a Civil War cavalry unit that camped in the area overnight, and held the 1930s bachelor cowboys houses. The potential for a big discovery was there, if we happened to be digging in the right spot.

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Real archaeology is nothing like Indiana Jones.

The Fort Bend Archaeological Society provided tools: shovels, trowels, buckets, and a box screen, as well as resealable plastic bags, permanent markers, record sheets and pencils. We brought other personal things like gloves, sunscreen, bug spray, wet wipes, water and snacks.

My most succinct and most repeated lesson to the scouts was that real archaeology is nothing like Indiana Jones. You don’t break through layers in search for specific shiny objects; you go through each layer meticulously and find everything you can. You don’t just grab that one thing that catches your eye; artifacts should be photographed as they appear, with a scale, and in their original positions before being removed. It should be noted that in our case we were searching by layer rather than by position, as the square meter in which we were digging was considered to be specific enough. You’re unlikely to be inundated with artifacts at all times; a lot (if not most) of archaeology is dirt. Get used to the idea that this in the material you will work will in the greatest abundance. Dirt is guaranteed, artifacts are not.

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In the third and final stratum, we hit the jackpot!

Our one-meter-square plot was carefully delineated and I and a few of the dads removed the upper layer of sod, setting it aside to cover the dig area once we had finished for the day. The clumps of sod actually yielded our first find: a rusted horseshoe tangled among the grass roots.

We dug down into four inches of strata using trowels, which means we processed to a six-inch depth across the entire plot before moving on to a lower level. Using line levels, plumb bobs and measuring tape, we assured that we dug evenly.

The reason for digging down by strata is that you can get a general idea of time. Objects found closer to the surface are generally newer than those located further down. The soil was passed through a rocking sifting screen. The buckets of soil removed from each stratum had to be emptied through the screen before digging on a new stratum could commence.

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Fragments of ceramic and broken glass.

The first (zero to four inches) and second (four to eight inches) strata yielded a horseshoe, a nail, a ceramic fragment, and a small, green, decorative plastic star.

In the third and final stratum (eight to 12 inches), we hit the jackpot! Barbed wire segments, pieces of metal mesh, nails, metal stakes, a metal file, unglazed pottery shards, fragments of ceramic, broken glass, wood fragments, small bones, bone fragments and animal teeth, oyster shell pieces, a plastic button, and a shell casing.

Everything was bagged according to which layer it came from and was taken by the Fort Bend Archaeological Society to be processed, identified and added to the data from the George Ranch. The scouts cleaned up the site, picked up any trash they might have brought with the, and washed up in the park’s facilities. Field work at times means that you’ll end your day with nothing but dirt-encrusted hands and the hope that tomorrow might reveal more. We were lucky that our final stratum of the day yielded so many interesting things, so I could send the Scouts off with a feeling of accomplishment.

Archaeology is fun! It forces you to go outside and encourages you to deliberately play in the dirt. It fosters patience and attention to detail. It encourages appreciation of small objects and moments and allows you to put together a picture of events that transpired in the past. It is science and humanities and storytelling all rolled into one. And playing (working) in the dirt at the George Ranch is a great way to spend a Saturday morning. Now this is my kind of science!

Editor’s Note: Sabrina Dahlgren is a Curatorial Assistant at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, providing help in tracking and maintaining existing and incoming collections to be installed as exhibits or stored for future exposition.

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 2/22-2/28

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation is by Ahab:

block party 12

Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

Film Screening – The Blood & The Rose (Spanish)
Monday, Feb. 22
6:00 p.m.
Filmada en locaciones en México y España, La sangre y la rosa ofrece fascinantes entrevistas con grandes expertos en los campos de la ciencia, historia y teología, explorando el misterio de la tilma de San Juan Diego y la milagrosa imagen que lleva. Más que una historia sobre un evento distante, este documental también muestra cuántos emulan hoy a San Juan Diego, ampliando el mensaje de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Emperatriz de las Américas y Patrona de vida, en la cultura moderna.

Film Screening – The Blood & The Rose (English)
Tuesday, Feb. 23
6:00 p.m.
Shot on location in Mexico and Spain, The Blood & The Rose offers riveting interviews with top experts in the fields of science, history and theology, exploring the mystery of St. Juan Diego’s tilma and the miraculous image that it bears. More than just a story about a distant event, this documentary also shows how many today emulate St. Juan Diego today, broadening the message of the Virgin of Guadalupe-Empress of the Americas and Patroness of Life-into modern culture.

Class – An Overview of the Energy Industry
Thursday, Feb. 25
8:00 a.m.
This course is led by experts in the fields of upstream, downstream and energy economics in the 21st century, including energy alternatives. Breakfast, lunch and a tour of the Wiess Energy Hall are included.

World Trekkers: Peru
Friday, Feb. 26
6:30 p.m.
Bring your family to HMNS and you can travel the globe with World Trekkers! The perfect family outing, these events highlight a diverse set of cultures from around the world through food, entertainment, arts and crafts and more. This February we’re heading off to Peru. But no need to pack your bags – HMNS brings the world to you with World Trekkers!

Class – Minerals and Rocks of the Ancient World
Saturday, Feb. 27
9:00 a.m.
Go behind-the-scenes in the Museum’s staff training lab where hundreds of specimens are uniquely presented in a hands-on road maps.
Fossils, minerals and rocks have been around since before human civilization, yet the sciences to study them have only been established for about two hundred years! Learn how the balance between natural resource abundancy and human ingenuity gave rise to the greatest monuments in the ancient world.

Class – Introduction to Paleontology: Decoding the Fossil Record
Saturday, Feb. 27
1:00 p.m.
Go behind-the-scenes in the Museum’s staff training lab where hundreds of specimens are uniquely presented in a hands-on road maps.
Covering specimens from the earliest life-forms to advanced invertebrates and vertebrates alike, this workshop focuses on the origin of the fossil record as well as the various methods of fossilization. To complete your understanding of the topics covered, you will be encouraged to touch and examine a variety of specimens composed of actual fossils, models and images.

Family Space Day at the George Observatory
Saturday, Feb. 27
Multiple mission times available
Blast into outer space on a simulated space flight to the Moon! The Expedition Learning Center at the George Observatory will be open for individual children and adults to sign up for missions. No danger is involved! Astronauts are assigned jobs aboard the Space Station Observer and work together as they solve problems and have fun. Volunteers who work at NASA will run the missions and visit with the participants. Don’t miss this special opportunity to participate in real astronaut training!