Mark Your Calendars for these events happening this week (11/17-11/23) at HMNS

samurai

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!

Get into the holiday spirit with the Jingle Tree events at HMNS Sugar Land, learn more about the museum travel trip the – “Shelling Experience”, and armor up for the opening of our special exhibit Samurai: The Way of the Warrior

Jingle Tree – Open House and Strolling Luncheon
HMNS Sugar Land
November 18
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Come to our Jingle Tree Strolling Luncheon to mix and mingle as you enjoy food from Events by Safari and bid on your favorite trees in this exclusive first look! Click here for tickets. 

Travel Night – Sansibel Shelling, April 2015
Tuesday, November 18
6:00 p.m.
Interested travelers and those already registered are invited to this evening’s presentation of the April 12 – 16, 2015 HMNS trip “Shelling Experience: The Islands of Sanibel, Captiva and Coya Costa” with trip leader Tina Petway and HMNS travel department staff. On this coastal adventure with Tina Petway, HMNS associate curator of malacology, you will comb the beaches of the best shelling grounds in the continental US. You will also experience diverse marine and wildlife of this threatened ecosystem. Trip itinerary and registration information available at Class – Travel Night – Sansibel Shelling, April 2015Interested travelers and those already registered are invited to this evening’s presentation of the April 12 – 16, 2015 HMNS trip “Shelling Experience: The Islands of Sanibel, Captiva and Coya Costa” with trip leader Tina Petway and HMNS travel department staff. On this coastal adventure with Tina Petway, HMNS associate curator of malacology, you will comb the beaches of the best shelling grounds in the continental US. You will also experience diverse marine and wildlife of this threatened ecosystem. Trip itinerary and registration information available at www.hmns.org/travel.

Jingle Tree – Jingle Jangle Happy Hour
HMNS Sugar Land
Thursday, November 20
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Come out for our Jingle Jangle Happy Hour to mix and mingle as you bid on your favorite trees! Click here for tickets. 

Catalyst Event – Samurai: The Way of the Warrior
Thursday, November 20
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Complimentary drinks, light bites, entertainment and admission to Samurai: The Way of the Warrior. Click here for tickets. 

Special Exhibit Opening – Samurai: The Way of the Warrior
Friday, November 21
The Houston Museum of Natural Science is proud to host Samurai: The Way of the Warrior, an exhibit of exquisite objects related to these legendary warriors. Among these are full suits of armor, helmets, swords, sword-hilts, and saddles, as well as exquisite objects intended for more personal use such as lacquered writing boxes, incense trays and foldable chairs. Click here for tickets. 
Organized by Contemporanea Progetti SLR with the Museo Stibbert, Florence, Italy. Local support is provided by Kuraray.

Samurai: The Way Of The Warrior Members’ Event
Friday, November 21
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Children’s crafts, cash bar and light refreshments available at this Members’ event. Click here to register.

Jingle Tree – Cookies with Santa
HMNS Sugar Land

Saturday, November 22
11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Bring the kiddos out for Cookies with Santa while you take advantage of the final day to bid on our Jingle Trees! Final Chance to Bid. Click here for tickets. 

Mark Your Calendars for the events happening this week (11/10-11/16) at HMNS

goonies-movie-poster

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!

Travel back in time and test your battle strategy with the War Game Event in our special exhibit Battleship Texas, venture back in time to learn about the Princess Naia, one of the oldest remains found in the Americas from marine archaeologist Dr. Dominique Rissolo, and revisit your childhood with the Take Two showing of The Goonies ¬– this week at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

War Game Event
Veterans Day
Tuesday, November 11
9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Experience another dimension to the Battleship Texas—war gaming. Interact with two simulated maritime battles, including a battle that never was, between USS Texas and the German battleship Tirpitz. See if Texas could have matched up to Tirpitz, sister to the famed Bismarck. The event presented by the Houston Beer and Pretzel Wargaming club. More info on BeyondBones blog.

Lecture: Ice Age Yucatan By Dominique Rissolo
Wednesday, November 12
6:30 p.m.

The complete, well preserved skeleton of a young girl from over 12,000 years ago was found in an underwater cave on the Yucatan Peninsula. Nicknamed “Princess Naia,” her remains are among the oldest yet found in the Americas. Her discovery is reshaping our understanding of human migration into the Western Hemisphere. This lecture is presented by marine archaeologist Dr. Dominique Rissolo, expedition coordinator for the Waitt Institute. This lecture is cosponsored by AIA – Houston. Click here for tickets.

Take Two: The Goonies
Friday, November 14
7:00 p.m.

A group of kids set out on an adventure in search of pirate treasure that could save their homes from foreclosure. Click here for tickets.

In search of the first settlers of the Americas, scientists keep finding surprises

The genus Homo, to which we belong, was the first to leave Africa and explore the world. Homo erectus, one of our ancestors, explored Asia and Europe as early as 1.8 million years ago. However, one huge landmass was left unexplored by these early humans: the Americas. Humanity did not reach this part of the globe until our own species, Homo sapiens, had evolved. We got there very late. Exactly how late is still a hot debate topic. However, once there, we spread rather fast across the landscape. To put things in perspective, it took these early pioneers a mere few thousand years to inhabit North, Central and South America; Ancient Egyptian history covers about the same amount of time.

What makes this dispersal across the landscape so remarkable is that these first Americans had to adapt to a wide range of landscapes, natural resources and climates. Their success in doing so reflects a great intellect and adaptability. Did they take in their new surroundings with a sense of awe and wonder? We will never know for sure, but I have a feeling they did. These earliest inhabitants of the New World did not have a name; archaeologists generally refer to them as Paleoindians, meaning “Ancient Indians.”  

 

This is a blog on one of the oldest known Paleoindians and her contemporaries.

Imagine a cave, a dark, damp and foreboding cavern forming an underground labyrinth more than a mile long. Some ten thousand years ago, in what is now Mexico, a young girl entered this cave. Most likely Naia was searching for water.

Yucatán does not have surface rivers, and people get water from caves or sinkholes. She never left. Welcome to Hoyo Negro, or Black Hole, the final resting place of one of the oldest known inhabitants of the Americas. Hoyo Negro is one of many cave complexes found on the Yucatán Peninsula in southern Mexico. The presence of stalagmites in Hoyo Negro tells us that the cave was dry at one point. 

Dirk Settlement Americas 1

Map showing location of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Most of this peninsula is composed of limestone, which easily dissolves in water. Over time this leads to the formation of extensive cave systems, a phenomenon known as karst formation. Because of this, the peninsula is riddled with caves. Quite often, the roofs of these caves have collapsed, resulting in a sinkhole, or cenote.

Hoyo Negro is part of a larger system that is now completely flooded. In 2007 members of the Proyecto de Espeleología de Tulum (PET) discovered the cave. Their exploration was part of a three-year concentrated effort to map the underwater caves of the Ejido (township) of Jacinto Pat, some 20 km (about 12 miles) north of the city of Tulum, on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. What they found surpassed their wildest imagination.

Dirk Settlement Americas 2

Quintana Roo (seen in red) is one of three Mexican states that make up the Yucatán Peninsula.

Dirk Settlement Americas 3

Map showing the location of Tulum in the state of Quintana Roo.

At one point in their dive, the divers entered a huge cavern and noticed that their lights did not illuminate the opposite walls of this space. It was as if their lights got swallowed up by this huge “black hole,” and that is where the name of this cavern came from. As they reached the bottom of this huge space, they found the remains of an adolescent girl. As is tradition in anthropology, this prehistoric individual received a nickname, Naia.

Together with Naia’s well preserved remains, the divers found those of now long extinct animals dispersed throughout the cavern. Among these prehistoric animals were giant ground sloths, gomphotheres, saber-toothed cats, bears, pumas, peccaries. About ten thousand years ago, sea levels were about 300 feet lower than today; because of this, these animals could walk through the cave in search of water or refuge. Some never left.

Dirk Settlement Americas 5

Cross section of the cave system of which Hoyo Negro is part.

How long ago did Naia enter this cave? The associated prehistoric megafauna had become mostly extinct by 13,000 years ago. Dating of the calcite that had encrusted her bones yielded a date of 12,000 years ago. Naia lived sometime between 13,000 and 12,000 years ago. At the time of writing, scientists are attempting to sequence Naia’s nuclear DNA in an attempt to better understand her relationship to other Paleoindians.

Naia was not the only person living in the Yucatán. As mentioned earlier, archaeologists refer to the earliest presence of humans in the Americas as the Paleoindian period. These were the true pioneers, arriving from Asia, as genetic studies show, penetrating a new world full of unknown plant and animal life, the latter encompassing mostly impressive megafauna. Paleoindians were Stone Age people, skilled in stone tool making. They eventually populated all of the Americas.

Our understanding of these earliest settlers has slowly expanded since the first stone tools were found embedded in the bones of extinct animals. In November 1932, a road crew working in eastern New Mexico unearthed a jumble of ancient giant animal bones. The following summer, Edgar B. Howard, an archaeology research associate at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, started a field project in that area. He encountered “matted masses of bones of mammoth,” and mixed in with the bones were slender, finger-long spear points—Clovis points, as we know them today. Wisely, Howard left them in place. Over time archaeologists found more sites with Clovis points, around 1,500 by 2011. Only in a small number of cases did the Clovis points appear in association with animal remains. It appears that the Clovis people were mostly gathering and fishing.

We are left with a lot of questions. Clovis points are unevenly distributed across the landscape.  Archaeologists have found more of them east of the Mississippi than west of that river. In the west, there are other stone tools made, generally referred to as Western Stemmed projectile points. Some of these seem to pre-date Clovis points, others are contemporary with them. What are we dealing with here? Who were these people? We cannot say for sure.

What the Western Stemmed projectile points have made clear is that there were humans here before Clovis points were made. Initially highly controversial, this presence is now widely accepted. One of the sites where pre-Clovis materials has been found in large quantities, is the Debra L. Friedkin site in central Texas.

Map showing the location of the Debra L. Friedkin site in central Texas.

Map showing the location of the Debra L. Friedkin site in central Texas.

This site is located in Central Texas, about 250 meters downstream from Gault, another famous Paleoindian site. Archaeological investigations, undertaken by Texas A&M University’s Center for the Study of First Americans, uncovered layers dating to Late Prehistoric, Late Archaic, Early Archaic, Paleoindian, Folsom, Clovis and the pre-Clovis horizons. The latter, known by its local name as the Buttermilk Creek Complex, dates to between 15,500 and 13,200 years ago. It pre-dates Clovis technology, which starts around 13,100 years ago, ending by 12,800 years ago. This makes it the “oldest credible archaeological site in North America,” according to Dr. Michael Collins.

More than 15,000 stone artifacts were retrieved, all of them made from Edwards chert, found in abundance in Central Texas. The majority of these artifacts consisted of the waste generated by stone tool making; only a very small number has been identified as tools. Moreover, these tools are small in size and lightweight, consistent with a highly mobile lifestyle. A small nodule of polished hematite was also retrieved. While thus far only stone tools have been found, some of these have wear that reflects use on both soft and hard materials. This raises the possibility that organic (and thus perishable) materials were also part of this assemblage.

Current thinking among archaeologists is that the Pre-Clovis people visited Buttermilk Creek to exploit the locally available chert, making stone tools and doing some animal butchering and/or wood working before moving on.  The techniques used to manufacture stone tools are seen as precursors to later Clovis technologies.

The last word on Paleoindians has not been said or written. There will always be new discoveries that help us better situate and understand these forbearers of modern American Indians. One wonders what they would make of our attempts to make sense of their lifestyle. What did we get right? Where did we go wrong?

Although Clovis points are no longer in use, they remain a symbol of this human sense of awe and wonder. It is doubtful that the Paleoindians realized they were moving ever deeper into a new continent. It is certain that they represent the final phase in human dispersal across our planet. It does not stop there, however. In December 1990, when the space shuttle Columbia launched, Commander Vance Brand took with him a ten thousand-year-old Paleo-Indian spear point that had been discovered on Colorado’s eastern plains. One wonders what the thundering liftoff of a NASA space shuttle might have looked like through the eyes of the earliest Americans, and what the next ten thousand years holds for human exploration of space in the solar system and beyond.

For those who read this before Nov 12, 2014, and are interested in knowing more, come listen to a lecture on Naia by Dr. Dominique Rissolo at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This lecture is presented by the Archaeological Institute of America, Houston.

Anyone who is interested in reading more about this topic, can peruse a wide offering of academic publications, including those of the Center for the Study of First Americans at Texas A&M University.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Come out to the George for Astronomy Day November 8!

This star map shows the Houston sky at 8 pm CDT on November 1, 7 pm CST on November 15, and dusk on November 30.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. The Summer Triangle is high in the west.  This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila.  The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest, with Mars to its left.   Pegasus, the Flying Horse, is high in the east.  To the south and east, we see a vast dim area of stars known as the ‘Celestial Sea’, where only Fomalhaut stands out.

This star map shows the Houston sky at 8 pm CDT on November 1, 7 pm CST on November 15, and dusk on November 30. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.
The Summer Triangle is high in the west. This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila. The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest, with Mars to its left. Pegasus, the Flying Horse, is high in the east. To the south and east, we see a vast dim area of stars known as the ‘Celestial Sea’, where only Fomalhaut stands out.

This month, Mars remains in the southwest at dusk this month as it pulls away from the teapot of Sagittarius. Mars continues to fade a little each night as Earth continues to leave it farther behind

Jupiter is now higher in the east at dawn; it is the brightest thing there. 

Venus is passing behind the Sun and thus out of sight this month. Superior conjunction (Venus in line with the Sun, on the far side of the Sun) was on October 25.

Saturn is also out of sight behind the Sun this month. Conjunction with the Sun is on November 18.

The Summer Triangle now shifts towards the west as the Great Square of Pegasus appears higher, approaching the zenith. As the autumn ‘intermission’ in between the bright stars of summer and winter continues, Houstonians with a clear southern horizon can try to find a star that few Americans get to see. Due south and very low to the horizon at about 10:00 pm in mid-November is Achernar, 9th brightest star in the sky. It marks the end of the river Eridanus, one of the dim watery patterns that fill the southern autumn sky. If you can find it, Achernar will seem of average brightness because it is shining through so much air. Still, it is a good way to remind yourself that the stars we see depend on our latitude, and that the sky on the Gulf Coast is similar to, but not the same as, what most Americans see. 

Moon Phases in November 2014:
Full: November 6, 4:22 pm
Last Quarter: November 14, 9:17 am
New: November 22, 6:31 am
1st Quarter: November 29, 4:06 am

Our annual Astronomy Day at the George Observatory is this Saturday, November 8!  On Astronomy Day we have activities from 3-10 pm, and all of the telescopes, even the ones that normally cost $5 to look through, are free.  What’s more, the weather looks just great so far!  Surf to www.astronomyday.net for more information.

Click here for the Burke Baker Planetarium Schedule.

On clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.