The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

The more things change, the more they stay the same… Recently I read an interesting book, entitled “Are We Rome?” The author remarks how in some regards the Roman Empire and the current United States resemble each other very much. Take, for example, the issue of border crossings.

Claudius Glyptotek Copenhagen
Creative Commons License photo credit: Joe Geranio

For those who remember reading about Julius Caesar and his conquest of Gaul, the Roman Empire went through long periods of expansion, followed by consolidation, and eventual collapse as a political entity. As the Empire was expanding, there was a famous foray across the Rhine into what is now Germany. It did not work out well for the Romans, as they lost several legions, allegedly causing the first Emperor, Augustus, to cry out loud that he “wanted his legions back,” while also decreeing that the river Rhine would become the frontier. In 1987, the exact location of that battle was established. For about a century this notion held: the Rhine and the Danube formed the frontier between the so-called civilized world and the barbarians. Then Dacia (current day Romania) was conquered and the Romans found themselves on the other side of the river again. In 272 AD, they abandoned this province in return for a brief period of peace and tranquility.

For a long time, it was thought that the incursion in 9 AD represented the first and last military operation into Germany. Not so any more, apparently. Recent reports out of Germany indicate that some time between A.D. 180-260, there was a major battle fought between Roman troops and Germanic tribes. The newly uncovered battlefield near Kalefeld-Oldenrode, is located south of Hanover. Coins, weapons and other military gear were retrieved from an area one mile long and a third of a mile wide. Interestingly, among the artifacts encountered was a Roman horse sandal, or hipposandal in technical lingo. You read this right: a horse sandal, not a horse shoe.

Boundary - Boulder
Creative Commons License photo credit: joiseyshowaa

In all of this I see parallels to our current situation related to the border between the US and Mexico. What now constitutes the border area, was first inhabited by American Indian peoples, later incorporated into Mexico and ultimately made part of the US, either by force of arms, or by purchase. Along large stretches of this border, a fence is going up. One of the goals is to control who crosses the border and to safeguard life and property on this side of the fence.

All of this echoes sentiments expressed almost two millennia ago.With regards to the Roman situation we have the benefit of hindsight; we know how that story ended. With regards to the current situation, who knows? Future historians will have the privilege of assessing that scenario. Of one thing I am certain: future archaeologists will not be finding any horse sandals along the Rio Grande.

On the Eleventh Day of HMNS…Odyssey Through Indian Country

War bonnets on display in
The Quest for High Bear.

Imagine this: it’s the 1920s and you’re a five year old Texan. Though young, you’ve already heard endless tales of your family’s pioneer history – the legend and the reality mingle freely in your heart. Your biggest dream is to one day meet one of the tales’ most fascinating characters – a living American Indian. On a family trip to a state park, you not only meet one, you meet one of the nation’s most famous – Two Guns White Calf, a chief considered so representative of American Indians that he was one of three chosen to model for the Indian Head Nickel

Your fascination with his culture marks a stark contrast to most of America at the time – and because of this, he likes you, asking you to return the following day for a gift. You do – of course – and he presents you with a small leather rattle, as well as a picture he has signed with a pictogram: two guns and a white calf.

I imagine you’d be inspired to find out more. Gordon W. Smith – whose story you’ve just been reading – did just that, and the collection he amassed over the next several decades is now on display in the Hall of the Americas at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Upon entrance, the very first thing you’ll see is the leather rattle that started it all – and the signed photo. From there, you can explore a series of fascinating American Indian cultures Smith met and befriended, through the objects they used every day – beautiful beaded dresses (one of which has over 320,000 individual beads) and moccasins, fleshers and scrapers used to prepare animal skins (including one made out of the barrel of a gun – a common fate for weapons when ammunition ran out), pipes, bison story skins, stunning necklaces, ceramic vessels and much more.

Everything is gorgeous, but some of the items that stand out most are a gun owned by legendary American Indian Chief Crazy Horse and a feathered War Bonnet Smith made himself. What stood out even more was Smith himself, a born storyteller who was kind enough to share his extraordinary story with us in the video below.

The Quest for High Bear exhibition is just one of the fun and fascinating options for families at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. In a take-off of everyone’s favorite holiday classic, The 12 Days of Christmas, we’ve got 12 ideas for fabulous family fun this holiday and we’ll be sharing the possibilities here every day until Christmas Eve. Best of all, most are activities that last past the holiday season – some, year round. You can also check them all out now at the spiffy new 12 Days of HMNS web site.

Check out the first ten days of HMNS:
On the first day of HMNS, explore The Birth of Christianity.
On the second day of HMNS, shop for Sci-tastic gifts.
On the third day of HMNS, meet Prancer the reindeer.
On the fourth day of HMNS, discover the making of The Star of Bethlehem.
On the fifth day, move it, move it with Madagascar 2 in the Wortham IMAX Theatre.
On the sixth day, hunt dinosaurs with Dr. Bob Bakker.
On the seventh day, look inside the human body in BODY WORLDS 2.
On the eighth day, meet the HMNS Entomologists.
On the ninth day, peer into the Gem Vault.
On the tenth day, explore the cosmos at the George Observatory.