HMNS Weekly Happenings

Cultural Feast – Oktoberfest: The History and Science of Beer


In 1810, King Ludwig I of Bavaria proclaimed that the last sixteen days of September, ending with the first full weekend in October, should be set aside for feasting and beer drinking. To commemorate this tradition, join HMNS at St. Arnold Brewing Co. for the history and science of beer making. Tour St. Arnold³ production facility with founder Brock Wagner and special guest Scott Birdwell of DeFalco’s Home Wine and Beer. Drink your fill of brew and enjoy Bavarian pretzels and sausage.


Hosted at St. Arnold Brewing Company. 21 and up only.

Tickets $59, Members $49

Advance ticket purchase is required by September 25. No refunds will be made 72 hours before the event, however tickets can be transferred to another individual. Please notify with your name, transaction number, and name of the guests using your tickets.


Lecture – Archaeological Legacy of Poverty Point by Diana Greenlee

Factory-made modern cutting implements versus hand crafted, all natural paleo-cutlery (Image Credit: Gus Costa, The Flintstone Factory

Factory-made modern cutting implements versus hand crafted, all natural paleo-cutlery (Image Credit: Gus Costa, The Flintstone Factory


A remarkable earthworks complex that was built and occupied by American Indians from about 1700 to 1100 BCE in what is today northeast Louisiana is designated Poverty Point World Heritage Site. Some archaeologists refer to Poverty Point as the “New York City” of its day because it was so huge, sophisticated and out-of-character compared to everything else going on at that time. Trading hub, engineering marvel, monument to ingenuity—the original configuration included five earthen mounds; six nested, c-shaped, earthen ridges that served as the habitation area; and a flat interior plaza.


Although it is not the oldest or the largest mound complex in North America, it stands out as something special—a singularity—because of its scale and design, and because the people here lived by hunting, fishing and gathering wild foods. Also, because there was no naturally occurring rock at the site, tons of stone for tools and other objects were brought in over distances up to 800 miles. At Poverty Point, we can glimpse a reflection of humanity that no longer exists.

This program is co-sponsored by Fort Bend Archeological Society and Houston Archeological Society.

October 4, 2016 at 6:30pm

Tickets $18, Members $12


Coming Soon!

Lecture – Deep Life: The Hunt for Hidden Biology of Earth, Mars, and Beyond by Tullis Onstot

Photo by NASA

Photo by NASA


Taking us to the absolute limits of life–the biotic fringe–where scientists hope to discover the very origins of life itself, Dr. Tullis Onstott of Princeton University will explain how geomicrobiologists are helping the quest to find life in the solar system by going to uncharted regions deep beneath Earth’s crust. The recent discoveries of exotic subsurface life forms are helping understand the possibilities of life in the Universe. Book signing following lecture.

October 12, 2016 at 6:30pm 

Tickets $18, Members $12

The Mysterious Mummies of Chile

In preparation for the opening of “Mummies of the World” at the end of this month (Member preview: Friday, 9/23, public opening at Noon on Saturday, 9/24) we will be posting a series of blogs exploring the science of mummification. Today, the subject will be Chinchorro mummies.


Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons:,_south_coast_of_Peru_or_north_coast_of_Chile,_5000-2000_BC_-_San_Diego_Museum_of_Man_-_DSC06921.JPG

Most people associate mummies with ancient Egypt, but the Egyptians were not the first, nor the most successful artists in that craft. Both of those titles belong to South America. Some of the oldest artificially preserved mummies ever found were made by artisans of the Chinchorro culture in what is now Chile. The Chinchorro culture began mummifying their dead more than 7,000 years ago, 2,000 years before the Egyptians adopted the process.

Although the best preserved mummies produced in South America date to long after the Chinchorro disappeared, more in the range of a thousand years ago, the Chinchorro mummies are still quite complex. There are generally considered to be 3 phases of Chinchorro mummification method:

-mud coated

(Sometimes different phrasing is used, or the periods in which elaborate preservation methods are not used are added)

The earliest method of artificial mummification practiced by the Chinchorro, the black method, is quite interesting. The body of the deceased would be skinned, then the bones cleaned. Once those bones were nice and clean-ish, they would be tied back together with cordage, usually made of plant fiber. The jaw would be lashed to the skull, the joints would be tied together and reinforced with sticks to form kind of a skeletal armature. After that, the skin would go back over the body.


Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons:

Unfortunately, the skin of Chinchorro mummies was preserved in a rather rudimentary way: by drying, sometimes over hot coals or ash. A side effect of this drying process is shrinkage. In fact, this same method was often used to preserve the famous shrunken heads produced by certain Amazonian cultures. In the Amazon, the shrinkage made for a nice, portable trophy/spiritual symbol, but for the Chinchorro it just made things more complicated. In order to fit back over the body, the skin of some Chinchorro mummies was patched up with the skin of animals like seals and pelicans. The resulting bag of bones would then be stuffed with plant material to look more plump and lively.

Next comes the head. The head would often be cut from the body before the skinning process began, possibly in order to clean the brain out. It was desirable that the ancestors have faces in the afterlife, but a face can be a hard thing to preserve, so a new one would often be shaped out of a grey paste made from ash and some kind of binder, like eggs, or animal blood. These faces are kind of the trade mark of the Chinchorro mummies. They are pretty creepy: they have little, round eyes and a gaping mouth. Some say they look very surprised, or perhaps terrified. I think they look rather childish and innocent. They remind me of the crude figures produced by pre-schoolers I used to present to.

And in a way, they do represent a sort of innocence. The Chinchorro people were hunter-gatherers, who had no social stratification. The mummies belonging to this culture that have been discovered show no signs of social differentiation, they all have the same delicate mother of pearl fish hooks, the same basketry buried with them. Some studies have found that men are more commonly found to be buried with hunting tools, like atlatls, while women are more commonly buried with fishing tools, but this is simply a division of labor based on sex, one job does not seem to hold higher esteem than the other.


Bodies in the sand found at Arica, a major Chinchorro site. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia comons:

So in a way you could say that these burials: not beautiful, but executed with a level of difficulty to suggest great love and devotion, do represent a very different, if not innocent, motive for mummification. The Egyptians and the Inca used their most elaborate processes of mummification to preserve their elite, while commoners just did the best they could. Some suggest that this unique, egalitarian practice of mummification in Chile was the result of frequent climate change. In wetter periods, populations of fishing villages would boom, and their toolkits would be refined by the innovation associated with these boom periods. Thanks to the changing climate, villagers would uncover the naturally mummified corpses of their predecessors in the desert, exposed after storms or by the wind, and would assume that this process of preservation is necessary for one to enter the next life. Over time, artificial mummification would become popular, as people sought to ensure that they were preserved for the next world.


Photo courtesy of Desert Exploring

It is likely this boom and bust pattern that allowed complex ritual behavior to evolve in a society that was less politically complex than Ancient Egypt, or the Inca Empire. The Egyptian mummification processes, for example,  evolved as their political system, with its organization and improved infrastructure, also evolved. Essentially, as their population grew over time, their political and social systems were refined and developed.  The Chinchorro were developing their elaborate burial practices without having to also increase their political complexity. Population growth occurred as a result of the environment changing favorably. In their generous environment, there was no pressure to make up complex, hierarchical, political systems in order to survive.

This is the theory that some archaeologist propose, however the Chinchorro people still hold on to some of their mysteries, and researchers are looking forward to discovering more details as the mummies are studied.

If this article has wet your apatite for more mummy knowledge, check out www.mummies of the for information on our upcoming exhibit!


Dig in the Dirt and Back in Time with HMNS at the George Ranch!

by Sabrina Dahlgren

Everyone invariably reaches an age when an adult will admonish them to stop playing on the ground and getting their clothes dirty. Archaeologists are among those people who decide that playing in the dirt is too much fun to ever give up, and that they are going to make a living (though maybe not a very lucrative one) out of it.

Archaeology is a combination of curiosity, science, history, and humanities. Precise methods are utilized to uncover artifacts that provide information about past people, societies, or cultures. That information must then be analyzed and put into context to provide a picture of the past that can inform us about how we have changed over time as individuals and as groups.

The principles and methods of archaeology are simple enough to understand, though the work itself can be very physical and demanding. One opportunity to experience such work is to participate in a dig in your area. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is fortunate to have teamed up with the George Ranch Historical Park and the Fort Bend Archaeological Society to host supervised digs at the George Ranch.


Our one-meter-square plot was carefully delineated and I and a few of the dads removed the upper layer of sod.

Join us at our next exciting dig Saturday, March 5! It’s easy to get signed up. Just register online! Registration is $45 and $30 for members. Children must be accompanied by an adult chaperone.


The George Ranch Historical Park showcases more than 190 years of modern Texas history spanning four generations.

Nancy and Henry Jones claimed their league of land (4,428 acres) in 1824 as part of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” colonization of Mexican territory along the Brazos River. Mary Moore, known as “Polly”, third of the Jones’s 12 children, inherited most of the family’s assets and along with her husband, William M. Ryon, greatly expanded their holdings. By the 1880’s, the family’s combined holdings, including land owned (by Polly, her brother and her son-in-law) and land leased, was 67,668 acres (about 12 percent of the total area of Fort Bend County). Polly’s granddaughter Mary Elizabeth, “Mamie,” the wife of Alfred P. George, inherited the property when Polly died in 1896. The family’s monetary fortunes expanded further when oil was discovered in the 1920’s, though personal tragedy marked by the deaths of the Georges’ infant son and adult niece in the coming years meant no heir would inherit the family’s estate. In order to preserve their legacy, Mamie and Alfred established the George Foundation to benefit Fort Bend County’s people.


The soil was passed through a rock sifting screen.

Why is all of this history important, you ask? Because the historical ranch site has been continually occupied by settlers and their descendants and trustees over nearly two centuries. More than 23,000 acres are still a working ranch, not to mention the native peoples and fauna that have ranged over the site for thousands of years.

And what does this mean? Stuff to find, if you dig deep enough and in the right spot! Keep on reading to learn what it’s like to go out on a dig.

DIG DAY: The Story of Our Last Adventure

It started overcast and early. The drive from Houston to the George Ranch on a Saturday morning is a relatively quick, low-traffic affair. You should know that I’ve lived in Texas for a few decades of my life, so my definition of a quick drive is anything under an hour. This drive clocked in at around 35 minutes.

The main entrance to the ranch led to a large parking lot stretching to the right, various structures seen dotting the surrounding space. Our interest lay in a small patch of soil in the northeast corner. My scouts and their parents met me there, where we were instructed by Robert Crosser and Dottie Allen of the Fort Bend Archaeological Society on where to dig. Our general location was part of the Jones’s original 1830s log cabin site, which encompasses part of the terrain of the 1850s prairie home that burned down in 1888, possibly housed a Civil War cavalry unit that camped in the area overnight, and held the 1930s bachelor cowboys houses. The potential for a big discovery was there, if we happened to be digging in the right spot.


Real archaeology is nothing like Indiana Jones.

The Fort Bend Archaeological Society provided tools: shovels, trowels, buckets, and a box screen, as well as resealable plastic bags, permanent markers, record sheets and pencils. We brought other personal things like gloves, sunscreen, bug spray, wet wipes, water and snacks.

My most succinct and most repeated lesson to the scouts was that real archaeology is nothing like Indiana Jones. You don’t break through layers in search for specific shiny objects; you go through each layer meticulously and find everything you can. You don’t just grab that one thing that catches your eye; artifacts should be photographed as they appear, with a scale, and in their original positions before being removed. It should be noted that in our case we were searching by layer rather than by position, as the square meter in which we were digging was considered to be specific enough. You’re unlikely to be inundated with artifacts at all times; a lot (if not most) of archaeology is dirt. Get used to the idea that this in the material you will work will in the greatest abundance. Dirt is guaranteed, artifacts are not.


In the third and final stratum, we hit the jackpot!

Our one-meter-square plot was carefully delineated and I and a few of the dads removed the upper layer of sod, setting it aside to cover the dig area once we had finished for the day. The clumps of sod actually yielded our first find: a rusted horseshoe tangled among the grass roots.

We dug down into four inches of strata using trowels, which means we processed to a six-inch depth across the entire plot before moving on to a lower level. Using line levels, plumb bobs and measuring tape, we assured that we dug evenly.

The reason for digging down by strata is that you can get a general idea of time. Objects found closer to the surface are generally newer than those located further down. The soil was passed through a rocking sifting screen. The buckets of soil removed from each stratum had to be emptied through the screen before digging on a new stratum could commence.


Fragments of ceramic and broken glass.

The first (zero to four inches) and second (four to eight inches) strata yielded a horseshoe, a nail, a ceramic fragment, and a small, green, decorative plastic star.

In the third and final stratum (eight to 12 inches), we hit the jackpot! Barbed wire segments, pieces of metal mesh, nails, metal stakes, a metal file, unglazed pottery shards, fragments of ceramic, broken glass, wood fragments, small bones, bone fragments and animal teeth, oyster shell pieces, a plastic button, and a shell casing.

Everything was bagged according to which layer it came from and was taken by the Fort Bend Archaeological Society to be processed, identified and added to the data from the George Ranch. The scouts cleaned up the site, picked up any trash they might have brought with the, and washed up in the park’s facilities. Field work at times means that you’ll end your day with nothing but dirt-encrusted hands and the hope that tomorrow might reveal more. We were lucky that our final stratum of the day yielded so many interesting things, so I could send the Scouts off with a feeling of accomplishment.

Archaeology is fun! It forces you to go outside and encourages you to deliberately play in the dirt. It fosters patience and attention to detail. It encourages appreciation of small objects and moments and allows you to put together a picture of events that transpired in the past. It is science and humanities and storytelling all rolled into one. And playing (working) in the dirt at the George Ranch is a great way to spend a Saturday morning. Now this is my kind of science!

Editor’s Note: Sabrina Dahlgren is a Curatorial Assistant at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, providing help in tracking and maintaining existing and incoming collections to be installed as exhibits or stored for future exposition.

Visit ancient India through cave art with Dr. Jean Clottes this Thursday

Dating back 10,000 years, the spectacular prehistoric art in remote caves across the center of India offers a glimpse into the lives of Asia’s ancient peoples. Join the Houston Museum of Natural Science in welcoming French archaeologist Dr. Jean Clottes, world-renowned researcher of cave art, to discover some of their hidden meanings.

13:30Balneario de Puente ViesgoEl consejero de Cultura, Turismo y Deporte, Francisco Javier López Marcano,  presenta, en rueda de prensa, el homenaje de la Consejería de Cultura al científico Jean Clottes por la declaración de Patrimonio de la Humanidad a las Cuevas de Cantabria.ROMAN GARCIA ©10 SEP 08

By ROMAN GARCIA, Gobierno de Cantabria [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The astounding images Clottes will present Thursday, Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m. encompass themes of agriculture, dance and war, but more importantly, suggest that contemporary tribal peoples still use methods that appear in this ancient art. Clottes ventured into the jungle with other researchers to make contact with tribal peoples including the Korkus, Gonds, Kols and Bhils, gathering testimonies on vanishing practices and age-old traditions to interpret the cave paintings.


“Their most obvious purpose is about the beneficial power of the images,” Clottes stated. “They are indeed images for the gods, but also and most of all for the tribal people themselves who ask for their protection through their paintings and the ceremonial practices around them.”

With Clottes, hear the story of adventure deep into the jungle and take a peek into the hidden lives of Indian residents from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and historical eras. Tickets $18, members $12.

Clottes has published more than 300 scientific papers and written or contributed to more than 20 books, including Des Images pour les Dieux. Art rupestre et Art tribal dans le Centre de l’Inde, a 2013 French monograph on Indian cave art. He co-authored the book with Meenakshi Dubey-Pathak.