Happy Magna-tine’s Day: Magna Carta exhibit now open

It’s finally here, folks – our Magna Carta exhibit is open to the public! For the first time ever, this document has traveled from its home in Hereford Cathedral to come to Houston.

HMNS hosted a press event yesterday, with presentations by Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Reverend Canon Chris Pullin of Hereford Cathedral, and British Consul General Andrew Millar. Here are some highlights:

Mayor Parker opened the event remarking that “Magna Carta is one of the most important documents in the world.” Saying that she was glad to come to the event not just as mayor of Houston, but as a Museum member, she continued, “It’s an exciting time for the City of Houston and a wonderful, wonderful day for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.”

Next the Reverend Canon Chris Pullin, Chancellor for Hereford Cathedral, spoke. With cheerful excitement, he mentioned how it was quite likely that more people would see Magna Carta at HMNS in the next six months than would at Hereford in the next “20 or 25 years.” He went on to describe Houston as a fitting destination for Magna Carta, in part because of the role Houston had in building America’s space program. While these events may not seem related, he drew comparisons between “an American project that did something for the whole world” and a British document, which has come to “represent a step forward for the whole of humanity,” laying out ideas for “what it is to live properly with respect to one another in this world.”

British Consul General Andrew Millar called it “a momentous day,” speaking on the role Magna Carta continues to play in the modern quest for justice, calling it “the foundation of human rights.” Underscoring how important it is for today’s youth to have an understanding of rights and justice, he continued, “I will definitely be bringing my children. I hope everybody else brings theirs as well.”

And it seems that many children, in fact, will get to see the document. According to Joel A. Bartsch, President and CEO of HMNS, over 4,000 students already have tickets to come see Magna Carta on field trips.

IMG_20140213_133601We were also fortunate to have several descendants of the barons (the 25 barons who forced King John to accept Magna Carta) at the press conference. These descendents are a few of over 100 living in the Houston area. Margaret Gene Harris, descended from 14 barons, said, “To bring [Magna Carta] to the Houston area … that is magnificent.” On learning about her heritage and connection with the document, she remarked that when she was younger, “I didn’t care a whit and feather about genealogy,” but now has deep-held respect for her ancestors. “You find out they are human beings,” which gives Gene Harris a new perspective on the document.

Another descendent, Nedaye G. Potts, said that seeing Magna Carta in person was, “in a word, awesome.” Bill Griffith, descended from 16 barons, shared this sentiment, stating, “It’s very exciting to see it in person. There’s a big difference in seeing the actual document.”

IMG_20140213_133944“It’s a privilege to be able to see it,” remarked Susan Tillman. “It takes the abstract and makes it concrete. There are very few documents that have been produced through the lifetime of man that have held relevance right up to today, and this is one of them.”

So there you have it! Magna Carta at HMNS is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the most influential documents in history. So don’t wait, join the British sensation today!

Ecoteen Myria Perez earns Girl Scouts’ highest honor — and a congrats from the Mayor — for collaboration with HMNS

Editor’s note: Museum volunteer and Ecoteen Myria Perez was recognized by Mayor Annise Parker on Friday after earning the Girl Scouts’ highest honor for her work with HMNS. Perez collaborated with the HMNS paleontology department to construct a Permian-period touch cart using specimens that she helped uncover at our dig site in Seymour, Texas. We caught up with Myria to talk a bit about her project and what it means to get the mayoral stamp of approval.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Myria with the Mayor

HMNS: You were an Ecoteen and have logged some 1,000 volunteer hours at the Museum. When did you start volunteering at HMNS and what’s been your favorite project or memory?

Myria Perez: I started volunteering at HMNS in the fall of 2008 when I was 12 years old. During that time, the Leonardo Dinosaur Mummy CSI exhibit was up on display. During my visit to the Museum for Leonardo’s exhibit, I found out about Dino Days and Breakfast with Dr. Bakker and immediately saved the date. When November came around I was able to meet paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker. There I was, wearing my over-sized Leonardo Dinosaur Mummy shirt with a pen and drawing in my hand for him to sign.

Volunteering was brought up during our conversation. “The minimum age is 14; how old are you?” And of course, I responded, “12.” Dr. Bakker looked at me and repeated the question. “12,” I chirped once more, until I realized I had repeated my mistake. The third time, “The minimum age is 14; how old are you?” I was 14 now! The first thing I learned from paleontologist Dr. Bakker was to lie about my age; I was good to go!

My favorite memory was helping my mentor [associate curator of paleontology] David Temple with the new hall of paleontology during the summer of 2011 by preparing, painting, and packing up specimens such as the Megalodon jaw, Triceratops skull, and Edmontosaurus bones. An unforgettable memory was a trip to Seymour, Texas for a paleo excavation in the Permian red beds. The drive is around eight hours, so my mom and I arrived in the town of Seymour around midnight. My mom decided to stop and stay at the Sagamar Inn, the one and only inn in Seymour. The rest of the crew was staying at their normal place.

My mom and I checked in and got ready for bed. About an hour passed since I had drifted to sleep when I woke up to foul words from my mother’s mouth. She was half-awake, jumping up and down, throwing her hands around with a disgusted look on her face. Her bed sheets were stripped away and little black and red bugs scurried, fearful of the lamp light.

This was the horrific bed bug encounter. From nymphs to adults, each part of life cycle stages were present. They were in my sheets, as well. At 1 a.m. we notified the people in charge; they denied the bed bugs and offered us another room — the room next door. Of course, we called poor David Temple and relocated under the darkness of the premature morning to the old tractor factory to join the rest of the crew.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Myria in the field

HMNS: What got you interested in paleontology? Is it something you’d pursue as a career path?

Myria Perez: I caught fossil fever back when I was 2 years old, and still to this day have yet to find a cure for it. I never played with Barbie dolls. Instead, I spent my time analyzing dinosaur bones (garden rocks in my backyard) and conducting prehistoric battles with plastic dinosaurs. Every year, my mom would take me to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see ancient life. I could say I just grew up with a passion for paleontology.

My ultimate goal is to achieve my doctorate of vertebrate paleontology. I want to study the paleobiology of ancient life.

HMNS: How many hours did you spend on the touch cart? Can you tell us a bit about the process?

Myria Perez: I spent a total of 129.5 hours on the Permian touch cart. This included the planning, presentation of the cart to the museum guild, the Seymour trip to collect fossils with the paleo crew, specimen molding and casting (as well as painting), creation of the manual, docent/volunteer training on the cart, and touch cart presentations to museum visitors.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Myria poses with her touch cart in the new Morian Hall of Paleontology

The Permian touch cart was a great opportunity to combine Girl Scouts, paleontology, and earth science education. The timing could not have been better with the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s new hall of paleontology that opened the summer of 2012. The Permian time period (around 287 million years ago) and the critters that inhabited the earth at that time were and are still being excavated and studied by the paleontology crew at HMNS. This was the perfect opportunity to show museum visitors the entire process of fossil display. In the touch cart, I was able to include items such as excavation site pictures, tools used in the field, and a “fossil hunt” for visitors to spot the fossils as if they were looking for them in the field, ultimately achieving the goal of “bringing the field to you.”

HMNS: What does it mean to you to be receiving the Girl Scout Gold Award, and to receive personal commendation from Mayor Parker?

Myria Perez: The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest award to be earned in Girl Scouts (it is the equivalent of the Boy Scout’s Eagle Award). The project must be sustainable and address a community issue. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this project because I was always learning about not only myself, but also about how to work with all kinds of people, how to write a manual, and important paleo skills such as molding and casting specimens. This project has been a wonderful experience and opportunity for me to meet and work with new people and promote earth science education.

To be able to share the HMNS paleo crew’s discoveries in Seymour with Mayor Parker was an honor! It made it very exciting to share a few fossils with her, as she also exhibited great interest in ancient relics. She enjoyed a coprolite (fossilized poop) from a Permian shark called a Xenacanth as well a skull from the boomerang headed amphibian, Diplocaulus.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Mayor Parker examines a coprolite