100 Years – 100 Objects: Ceramic Plate

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

ceramic-plate-4x6This description is from Dirk, the museum’s curator of anthropology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent human cultures throughout time and around the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org - throughout the year.

This plate represents a lesser known area of the Americas, that of the Isthmus of Panama. While archaeologists have invested great efforts in researching Mesoamerican cultures, this area has received only limited attention.

In fact, there is no consensus as to what this region should be called, other than the “Intermediate Area.” As this plate shows, however, the Pre-Columbian inhabitants of this region were up to the task, manufacturing beautifully designed ceramic wares. 
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Explore thousands of years of Native American history in the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, a permanent exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the 100 Objects section at 100.hmns.org

100 Years – 100 Objects: Palikur Tribe Headdress

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now.

For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Dirk, the museum’s curator of anthropology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent human cultures throughout time and around the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

Amazonian tribes have made some of the world’s most amazing feather work ornaments. This headdress, belonging to the Palikur tribe, is symbolic of our growing world class collection of South American rainforest cultural artifacts.

Explore thousands of years of Native American history in the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, a permanent exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Looking Back…

In case you were wondering about notable science events that occured the week following July 25…

On July 25, 1909, Louis Bleriot made the first airplane flight across a body of water, crossing the English Channel in 37 minutes. The Wright brothers had invented the plane only six years before. Bleriot is also credited with inventing the first working monoplane (the Wright brothers’ plane was a biplane.) The following is footage and photos of Bleriot testing his plane in 1907.
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On July 26, 1866, the first successful Transatlantic telegraph cable was completed. Although there had been five previous attempts to send telegraphs, (including a letter of congratulation in 1958 from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan) the cable was destroyed when the operator used too much voltage in an effort to increase the speed at which messages were sent. The cable was finally repaired and put into use in July of 1866. While it would normally take ten days for a letter to travel across the ocean by ship, the telegraph cable cut this time down to mere minutes.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: ragesoss

On July 28, 1998, in Kennewick, Washington, a controversial fossil skeleton was discovered. Named after the location where it was found, the Kennewich Man was determined to have lived roughly 9,300 years ago. The fossil is about 68 inches tall, and the man it originally belonged to is thought to have died while in his fifties. Interestingly, the skeleton had part of a stone projectile lodged in its pelvic bone. This skeleton, and others like it, fuel the debate of whether people crossed into the Americas via the Bering Straight Land Bridge or the watercraft migration theory.

Ony July 31, 1790, the U.S issued its first patent. Signed by George Washington, it was issued to Samuel Hopkins for developing a new potash production method. There were only two other patents that were approved that first year – one for a new candle-making process and one for a flour-milling machine.

A major step forward – 40,000 years ago

Ask any scientists what gets people all riled up within their field of expertise and you will get plenty of answers. Outsiders may think that these individuals, who are scientists and are supposed to be logical and even minded about things, have gone bonkers. Yet that is the way things are in many areas of scientific endeavor.

Take for example the hot button topic within the field of archaeology concerned with dating the arrival of the first human beings in the Americas. Some have argued that this interest, going back many generations, is, in fact part of a “Seventy year itch” within the field of archaeology.

So let’s see what this is all about.

Creative Commons License photo credit: mitchgibis

There are many fascinating aspects related to the peopling of the New World, some of which I intend to write about in future contributions, but one of these is undoubtedly the most contentious of all: when did people arrive? In an earlier blog (Beyond Clovis) I wrote about the “Clovis First” school of thought and those who accepted Pre-Clovis human presence in the Americas.

As outlined in this earlier blog, most of the evidence pointing to human presence pre-dating the so-called Clovis people pushes the boundaries back by perhaps one thousand years. While that is certainly nothing to sneeze at, what would you say to those who are proposing to push the arrival of humans in the Americas back to 40,000 years ago, almost 30,000 years earlier than Clovis? Now there is something to chew on.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: BradWright79

Reports coming out of Central Mexico over the last few years have referred to fossilized footprints preserved in volcanic ash in that region. The research team that made the initial discovery in 2003 was led by Silvia Gonzalez who works at the John Moores University (JMU), in Liverpool. That year she was visiting a site at Cerro Toluquilla in the Valsequillo Basin, located near Puebla, about 100km southeast of Mexico City.

What caught people’s attention was the date associated with these footprints: they were said to be 40,000 years old.

Such a notion of great antiquity has ensured great attendance at scientific meetings. If this early date is accepted, it will blow the “Clovis First” hypothesis clean out of the water. However, when these findings were first published, the dates were dismissed as improbable and wrong, going back instead to no less than 1.3 million years ago. Some even suggested that the footprints were not, in fact, footprints, but pure geological phenomena that just happened to look like a footprint. This is where things remained for a few years, at least to outsiders. I am sure that the researchers involved in the project remained intensely interested in the dates and whether or not we were looking at real human footprints or else just tricks Mother Nature had up her sleeve for us. 

Researchers have now reaffirmed the originally suggested date of 40,000 years. This is the equivalent of throwing another big rock in the pond of Paleoindian archaeology. I am sure there will be pushback again and we will see where this ends up.

I have a feeling however, that these footprints could be a turning point in the field of Paleoindian studies. If the dates hold up, then scientists have a whole lot more questions to address. Such a development would also prove the way in which science moves: for every answer we find, ten new questions pop up.

Exciting stuff.