“On the Trail” Children’s Heritage Excursion

iStock_000010269280webJust in time for the rodeo, little cowboys and cowgirls can learn how the American cowboy shares ways of life with the Bedouin and the Native American. These nomadic cultures are featured when the Archaeological Institute of America, Houston, presents a “Children’s Heritage Excursion” on Feb. 28 and March 1, 2015 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on the opening weekend of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

“Heritage Excursions” developed by the Archaeological Institute features tours to cultural sites around Houston. We wanted to include children! We devised this particular tour so that families can visit three cultures under one roof at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

pictures-of-Salukis

As you enter the Museum, Saluki dogs will greet you to acquaint you with an ancient breed beloved by the Bedouin. Hands-on activities for children will compare the nomadic life of the Bedouin people to the Native American tribe of the Comanche and the Texas cowboy – two of the nomadic cultures of Texas. All three groups share similar needs of nomadic people such as portability of their belongings, tent shelters as protection from the natural elements, a need to hunt for food, and a reliance on animals for transportation and companionship.iStock_000001796814web

Be sure to arrive early! Early arrivals will have the chance to see a team erect the Bedouin tent at 9:00 a.m., the covered wagon being brought into the Museum at 9:30 and then watch as a Native American group erects the tipi beginning around 10 a.m. Attendees will really have an understanding of how nomadic groups traveled and what was involved in the creation of encampments.

bedouin-tent3

Celebrate the rodeo at the Museum!

  • Tour a Bedouin tent outfitted by the Saudi Consulate, a Native American tipi, and a cowboy covered wagon from the American Cowboy Museum to discover shelters. 
  • Excavate at prepared archaeological digs to discover how archaeologists learn about the past
  • Participate in crafts and science activities
  • Visit ‘cultural corners’ to see demonstrations of horse gear, cowboy roping, and Native American arrow head construction and drumming.
  • Discover animals used by nomadic groups for hunting and protection. See a raptor and pet Saluki dogs, a ancient breed and a living antiquity

Raptor

Dr. Carolyn Willekes director of the event is a renowned expert on the archaeology of the horse, particularly the Arabian horse. Dr. Willekes is in charge of educational outreach at Spruce Meadows in Alberta, Canada, one of the world’s largest horse shows and also participates in educational activities at the Calgary Stampede, one of the world’s largest rodeos.

This event is generously underwritten by Aramco Services Company
with additional assistance from the Royal Consulate of Saudi Arabia and the
American Cowboy Museum.

Do you dig historic Houston? TxDOT and Join the Houston Archeology Society August 17!

While the Texas Department of Transportation — aka TxDOT — is tasked with providing safe and reliable transportation solutions for the traveling public, the agency is also committed to preserving the environment and its history. The Dimond Knoll site (41HR796) was discovered in northwestern Harris County in the fall of 1996 by a team of archaeologists conducting an initial cultural resources survey on behalf of TxDOT for a portion of the Grand Parkway.  From the beginning of May to the end of October 2012, TxDOT sponsored extensive data-recovery investigations at the site, concluding that the site had been visited regularly by mobile foraging groups for nearly 10 millennia, with artifacts spanning the Late Paleoindian period (ca. 8000 BC) through the Late Prehistoric (ca. 1500 AD).

Image courtesy txHAS

Once archaeologists extensively examined the upper sediment deposits of the knoll through meticulous hand excavation, a larger sample of the older, deeply buried cultural deposits in the lower sediments was investigated by first stripping away the remaining sandy mantle.  These upper sediments were removed from discretely defined block areas through closely monitored machine stripping.  TxDOT, working in cooperation with the Houston Archeological Society, then moved the stripped sediments to an off-site location for screening. Through this effort, a larger sample of informative artifacts were retrieved, allowing archaeologists to achieve a more accurate understanding of prehistoric lifeways in the Houston region.

The TxDOT/HAS screening project has evolved into a tremendously successful public outreach effort. Dozens of HAS members have signed up for the project since its start in early February. Participants from the Brazosport and Fort Bend archaeological societies have also joined the project, as well as anthropology/archaeology students and professors from several local colleges, including the University of Houston, St. Thomas University, Houston Community College and Lone Star College. The project has also been host to school groups from Rosehill Christian Academy and the Kinkaid School. The project has generated outstanding word of mouth, encouraging the participation of many people who have wanted to be archaeologists since childhood but have never had the opportunity.  All the artifacts recovered at the screening site will be cataloged, analyzed, curated and reported, along with those recovered in the hand-excavated sample from the site.

Through its commitment to environmental preservation, TxDOT is excited to partner with the HMNS and HAS in offering this unique opportunity to actively participate in the discovery of Houston’s rich prehistoric past, making historic preservation a collective achievement. This event is planned for August 17. Space is limited and advance registration is required. Click here for more information.

Today in the Department of Mysteries: 12-year-old Robby uncovers “culturally modified” bone in Jersey Village

Occasionally we receive artifacts at the Museum uncovered by curious residents who are looking to have their discoveries identified. The latest comes from 12-year-old Jersey Village resident Robby, who took it upon himself to write Associate Curator David Temple the following (quite impressive) letter:

Dear Sir or Madam,

My name is Robby, I am 12 years old, and I was walking along in my backyard, playing by myself, when I felt something painful and sharp stick into my foot, so naturally I stopped to investigate. I felt around for the article that wounded me, and I concluded that it was a bone. I unearthed it and further found that it was a bone that looked like it was a washer joint (the kind that the spinal cord travels through), and I washed it off carefully to see if there were any further marks that could tell me if it was a dinosaur bone, but there was nothing. I was hoping that you could either radiometric date it, or DNA test it to see if it was. I have enclosed the bone in an envelope. Please let me know as soon as you find out.

Sincerely,

Robby
P.S.
2 days later, I found another bone that looked almost identical to the bone I found previously. It is a little bigger, and dirtier. Please respond!

"Culturally Modified Cow Bone" - the latest from The Department of Mystery

Temple looked over the bones and, upon concluding his research and determining their true origins, issued the following response on official Museum letterhead:

Dear Robby,

Thank you for your inquiry regarding the bones. When researching these things, particularly to which ancient animal a fossil bone may have belonged, a great place to begin would be a geologic map of the relevant area.

Geologic maps are peculiar; they are less about telling you how to get some place and more about telling where you are in time. The sediments that Jersey Village sits on are from the Quaternary within the Cenozoic; your backyard is outcropping the Beaumont Formation at the oldest, which gets you somewhere between 10,000 and 2 million years ago (give or take).

Pleistocene-aged animals lived on the sediments in your yard, and their remains could be buried in these sediments. No dinosaurs; however mammoths, mastodons and giant sloths all are animals that lived in the area during that time. I am enclosing a copy of the geologic map of Texas for your perusal. Find Houston and match the color on the key; where ever you find yourself, that’s where you are.

From careful analysis, we know your samples to come from an ungulate from the genus Bos. These pieces are not vertebra, but pieces from the legs of the animal. Though not old enough to be a paleontological sample, these do qualify for archaeological/anthropological analysis.

One thing I determined was that this animal was probably eaten by a sometime predatory species, likely Homo sapiens. I will say this conceding that the teeth and jaws of Homo sapiens are not adapted for chewing hard bones. You yourself noted the absence of marks on your sample bones, and I agree with your estimation and believe it significant.

Also, your samples do not bear any markings that would indicate primary feeding or secondary scavenging by Canis lupus familiaris, or Canis latrans. These animals are or were recently common in Jersey Village. Their teeth and jaws are well-adapted for crunching bone and leaving diagnostic traces of this feeding behavior.

Another bit of evidence pointing to primary consumption by a member of the genus Homo is that species’ nearly unique adaptation for making and using tools. Your sample bones show cultural modification, specifically butchering.

As mentioned above, the flat sides of the bones show them to have been modified with a saw, probably with the muscles attached. The smooth, even sides point to a mechanical, fine-toothed saw rather than a hand saw.  Considering practices in local culture, this bone and attached muscle were likely placed over a fire, for a short period of time, as the bones do not appear to be charred.

In archaeology, the three things to remember are context, context, and context. Were these bones by themselves or were there other objects with them? Bits of metal or glass maybe? If those objects are associated with the bones that would strongly support the “BGM” hypothesis below. Also the age of your home is a potential clue.

Before trash pick-up was available, garbage was frequently burned in the backyard and buried. While more charring over all surfaces on your bone samples would help support this, the absence of charring does not rule out the “Buried Garbage Model.” It is possible that there was a burn ban, or the responsible party for trash disposal just did a really bad job. Sadly there are questions science cannot answer, at least not without more fieldwork. Your sample could still have been buried, which would have kept it from being chewed by dogs or coyotes.

To summarize, you do not have a dinosaur, sadly. You did find the remains of a barbeque, shank steaks were served, they were likely served rare, medium rare, medium well at most. The bones were then thrown outside and the people either had no dog, and/or buried their trash. Your samples are not good candidates for radiometric dating; what is associated with the bones would be your best way of dating your site, but I would guess near the Late Recent.

I encourage you to keep looking down; you never know what you’ll find. If there is old glass or metal where you found the bones, be careful not to cut yourself when examining these fragments.

If you would like to go fossil hunting, get your parents to look up the Houston Gem and Mineral Society. They take regular trips to outcrops to collect fossils. If you want to know where dinosaur fossils in Texas might be found, the enclosed map has the answer. Dinosaur fossils can also be found locally at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

I am returning your samples as I am contemplating becoming a vegetarian, and they make me hungry.

Sincerely,
David Temple
Associate Curator of
Paleontology

Robby’s samples were returned to him this week along with the Museum’s encouragement to keep curious. Tune in to the Beyond Bones for future installments from The Department of Mysteries.

Unravel the coldest case on record: Talk Otzi the Iceman in a Distinguished Lecture on May 14

“Otzi the Iceman,” a 5,300-year-old Copper Age/Neolithic man, was found in 1991 preserved in the Similaun Pass of the Otztal Alps at 10,500 feet between Italy and Austria. Since the discovery, extensive ongoing scientific investigations indicate that he is unique because “Otzi” is practically an archaeological site in himself.

Unlike any other human remains of this age discovered to date, nearly every bit of Otzi is preserved, including his clothing, tools, gear, weapons — even his last meals. Amazing forensic science has recovered many details about his life through the material technology he carried, including a rare and precious copper axe, and vital medical and bioarchaeological data. This includes his DNA and a full genome record, where he lived in the prehistoric Val Senales, and reconstructions and possible scenarios of how he was killed.

Not only did Otzi treat his own parasites, showing prehistoric human medicine, but he used and carried more than 10 different tree and plant products that survived in his glacial context. Even his weapons demonstrate early archery using spiraling arrows, suggesting prehistoric knowledge of aerodynamic stabilizing technology. For those fascinated with forensic and C.S.I. investigation, Otzi may be the “coldest case” on record.

Dr. Patrick Hunt of the Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project has studied Otzi’s tools and paleobotanical specimens in Bolzano, Italy, where Otzi resides frozen, as well as in the Otztal Alps where he lived and was found.

Meet Dr. Hunt at a Distinguished Lecture at HMNS on May 14.  This lecture is co-sponsored by Archaeological Institute of America – Houston Society with support of Applied Diagnostics and Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Bracey.

What: Distinguished Lecture: “Frozen in Time – The Story of Otzi the Iceman”
When: Tuesday, May 14, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Houston Museum of Natural Science main campus
How Much: $12 for members, $18 for general public. Tickets available here.