“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.
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.
My mom is a wonderful person. Most people think the same of their own mothers and, at least in my case, it’s true. She is always supportive, she let me win at board games (at least until I was an adult — now she shows no mercy), and she made sure I was able to visit museums and go watch Shakespeare plays.
When we think about mothering, certain preconceptions come to mind. We might think of an SUV full of kids being taken to and from different events. We might think of a working woman coming home from the office, or even a mother at home with a newborn. Would it surprise you to know that the idea of motherhood has changed over time?
There are two stereotypes currently dominating the idea of the ideal mother: soccer moms and supermoms. Soccer (or hockey, basketball, or other hobby-supporting) moms have a large vehicle full of kids and equipment and they go from plays and practices to games and recitals. There is also the supermom, who works 60 hours a week and still has another 40 for her kids.
In the ’70s we were introduced to child-rearing experts. They gave us the latest and greatest that science had to offer. Dr. Spock was a predominate example. This came as a reaction to the mother-knows-best attitude of the early 20th century, which, in itself, was a response to patriarchal child raising, where the mother deferred to the father to make sure her “womanly disposition” didn’t damage the child.
In early centuries, a well-to-do woman would not lower herself to raise a child — such tasks were for the help while a lady went to dinner parties. And throughout the Dark Ages, a child was thought of as a little demon who had to be restrained until they were able to behave.
In ancient Rome, being a mother raised your social capital and marked a closer tie to your husband’s family and distancing of your own. (But if you could afford it, you’d have someone else raise the kid.)
The Greeks had a yearly celebration for mothers. It was a spring festival dedicated to the goddess Rhea. Mothers in Ancient Egypt were also well-regarded — several mothers of pharaoh were the real power behind the throne.
But is mothering confined to human culture? Do other animals do it? Chimpanzees have the longest childhood of the animal kingdom. A baby can stay with its mother for up to seven years. Elephants, which have the longest pregnancy at 22 months and some of the largest babies at 250 lbs, use the herd to help raise a baby, with the other females working together as babysitters.
And motherhood is not confined to mammals.The alligator is noted as a caring mother. The temperature of the nest determines whether the babies will be boys or girls, so the alligator knows in advance what color onesies to get. After hatching, the mother will carry her babies around in her mouth and protect them from other animals.
A mother octopus will spend months hovering around her 50,000 to 2,000,000 eggs to protect them from predators and to make sure enough water goes by to provide enough oxygen. During that time, she’ll not leave the eggs even to get food and resorts to ingesting an arm or two. We should at least give her a hand.
Earwigs, one of my least favorite insects, are also caring mothers. Instead of just laying her eggs and leaving, she will hang around and keep her eggs warm and fungus-free. She will stay for months after they hatch and continue to provide safety and substance.
If mammals, reptiles, and even insects mother, what part of mothering is cultural? Is it a genetic need to make sure that our progeny survive? Which parts are nature and which nurture? Join us on April 2 at 6:30 p.m. and hear Dr. Robert Martin from The Field Museum talk about the evolution of mothering.
WHAT: HMNS Distinguished Lecture, “Evolution of Mothering: The Natural Heritage from our Deep Mammalian Past” WHO: Robert Martin, Ph.D., Field Museum WHEN: Tuesday, April 2, 6:30 p.m. WHERE: HMNS Main, 5555 Hermann Park Dr., Houston, TX 77030 HOW MUCH: $18
Mammals, whose name comes from the Latin “mamma” for teat, are defined by suckling. Mothering began 200 million years ago with the first mammals and developed to become a hallmark of ancestral primates. Taking evidence from anthropology, archaeology and genetics, this presentation reviews the long evolutionary trajectory of human mothering. Reconstructing that history throws light on the natural basis for our own maternal behavior and highlights sources of problems encountered by modern mothers.
Dr. Robert Martin is curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago. He has devoted his career to exploring the evolutionary tree of primates, as summarized in his 1990 textbook Primate Origins. Dr. Martin is particularly interested in reproductive biology and the brain, because these systems have been of special importance in primate evolution. His research is based on broad comparisons across primates, covering reproduction, anatomy, behavior, paleontology and molecular evolution. The Leakey Foundation Lecture Series is sponsored nationally by Wells Fargo Bank and locally by The Brown Foundation, Inc.
Watch Dr. Martin speak about his work and experience as a biological anthropologist below:
Of all the natural disasters that could befall us, only an Earth impact by a large comet or asteroid has the potential to end civilization in a single blow. Yet these near-Earth objects also offer tantalizing clues to our solar system’s origins, and someday could even serve as stepping-stones for space exploration.
Dr. Donald Yeomans is coming to HMNS to explain the science of near-Earth objects — its history, applications, and the ongoing quest to find near-Earth objects before they find us.
In its course around the sun, the Earth passes through a veritable shooting gallery of millions of nearby comets and asteroids. One such asteroid is thought to have plunged into our planet 65 million years ago, triggering a global catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs.
Yeomans provides an up-to-date and accessible guide for understanding the threats posed by near-Earth objects, and also explains how early collisions with them delivered the ingredients that made life on Earth possible. He shows how later impacts spurred evolution, allowing only the most adaptable species to thrive — in fact, we humans may owe our very existence to objects that struck our planet.
Yeomans will take us behind the scenes of today’s efforts to find, track, and study near-Earth objects. He will show how the same comets and asteroids most likely to collide with us could also be mined for precious natural resources like water and oxygen, and used as watering holes and fueling stations for expeditions to Mars and the outermost reaches of our solar system.
What: Distinguished Lecture, “Near Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us” Who: Donald Yeomans, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology When: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 6:30 p.m. Where: HMNS Main, 5555 Hermann Park Dr. 77030 How Much: $18 for the public; $12 for members
The world’s first computer put the time cycles of the Sun, Moon and planets into mechanical form. And today, cutting-edge technology reveals the extraordinary sophistication of ancient Greece. What mysteries does the Antikythera Mechanism unveil?
Learn all about it at the HMNS distinguished lecture, “Cosmic Time – The Antikythera Mechanism & Its Mysteries,” this Tuesday, Nov. 20at 6:30 p.m., presented by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project’s Mike Edmunds, Ph.D.
Photo courtesy of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project
More than 100 years ago, an extraordinary mechanism was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the Greek island of Antikythera. It astonished the international community of experts on the ancient world. The machine dates from around the end of the 2nd century B.C. and is the most sophisticated mechanism known from the ancient world; nothing as complex is known for the next thousand years. The “Antikythera Mechanism” is now understood to be dedicated to astronomical phenomena and operates as a complex mechanical “computer” which tracks the cycles of the Solar System.
What exactly is this complex device? For decades, scientific investigation failed to yield much light and relied more on imagination than facts. Now a new initiative is building on this previous work, using the latest techniques available today. The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project is an international collaboration of academic researchers supported by some of the world’s best high-technology companies, which aims to completely reassess the function and significance of the Antikythera Mechanism.
Since 2005, innovative technologies have been used to reveal unknown elements of the mechanism by looking at the internal structure, with its complex and confusing gear trains. A remarkable window on microscopic internal details of inscriptions and gearing has been opened. Inscriptions can now be read that have not been seen for more than 2,000 years, and this is helping to build a comprehensive picture of the functions of the Antikythera Mechanism.