King Richard III, Rediscovered: Forensic engineer to hold reburial lecture

The remains of King Richard III, the last English king to die in battle, were discovered under a parking lot and identified in 2013 using DNA, radiocarbon dating and the identification of his distinctive curved spine by a team from the University of Leicester. What science revealed from Richard’s skeleton has triggered a revival of scholarship regarding his reign.

Dr. Sarah Hainsworth, Forensic Engineer on the Richard III Project, will visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science Tuesday, April 21 to discuss the project’s findings and how history, archaeology and genetics were woven together to learn more about Richard III. Her lecture, “Richard III Rediscovered,” begins at 6:30 p.m.Richard III

Following the lecture, a real-life King Richard will join us for a festival featuring food, drink, dance and music inspired by the Renaissance. The event is cosponsored by the Houston Society of the Archaeological Institute of America.

For more fascinating insights into the Richard III Project and reinterment, check out “From the Trenches,” the blog of the AIA, Houston Society. Excerpts below:

Richard III’s “Rebirth” and Reburial

 Richard III – Defiled in death, reviled in history…today, reburied with pomp and circumstance. image001

On March 26, 2015 momentous events took place in Leicester, England as Richard finally received a burial fit for a king, 530 years after his death on the battlefield. A processional lead by armored knights on horseback winded through the streets of Leicester to the cathedral for a service that included the Archbishop of Canterbury, descendant Benedict Cumberbatch, and descendants of both the noble from the Wars of the Roses.

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Face to Face with History

With the discovery of the remains of King Richard III, a unique, exciting opportunity presented: the chance to discover Richard’s appearance. Perhaps at no other time in history, has it been possible to really know about the appearance of a ruler. The historian has textual evidence and artistic representations. These depictions are diluted through the opinions of the writer or the painter, often serving propagandistic purposes. The most famous portraits of Richard III, depicting him as dark-haired and steely eyed were painted 25 to 30 years after his death. However, archaeology has tools at its disposal that help to create a clearer portrait.

Richard III (Physiology & Experimental Archaeology)

One of the fascinating discoveries of the project was the physical evidence from the bones. For over 500 years, detractors (Shakespeare among the most famous) portrayed Richard III as a twisted, deformed tyrant. The remains that were found of the king put to rest the story of his skeletal deformities – it was immediately and dramatically apparent that Richard did indeed suffer from scoliosis.image004

New questions now emerged: could medieval armor be made to fit a person with that degree of scoliosis, how could a person with such deformities fight ferociously in battle, could he sit astride a horse? Anecdotal evidence mentions his fighting ability, his horsemanship, and his graceful dancing. Could these stories be true? Enter the field of experimental archaeology and physiology to work to arrive at answers. Today, we share the story of a young man who has the same type of scoliosis as Richard III. Researchers began working with him and the results are fascinating.

From MI6: Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to see Magna Carta before it leaves Houston

Editor’s Note: This document has been intercepted from MI6. We have taken it upon ourselves to charge you with 007’s mission (he’s on summer vacation).

Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to visit the famed 800-year-old document now on display at HMNS. This special document (Magna Carta) is on borrowed time… and is soon leaving Houston forever (August 17), after which it returns to its original home at Hereford Cathedral.

The Magna Carta serves as the basis for Common Law as we know it. Besides creating limited royal authority for the first time in history, this document has provided inspiration to millions, including the founding fathers of the United States of America. 

Your task is to gain admittance to the exhibit, explore life in the Middle Ages and then finally, gaze reverently on this rare piece of history. Once your mission is complete, feel free to check out the rest of the museum (we’ve got some pretty neat stuff here).

As 007’s replacement, you must maintain a very low profile for this mission. First go to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and pre-order a ticket for the exhibit (they’ll never see that coming). 

After entering the exhibition, you’ll first pass through a medieval village. At the kiosk, there is an interactive station where you’ll be assigned a medieval profession — you’ll need this to blend in. 

Proceed through the village in your new guise to the area filled with medieval weaponry, including a jousting spear, suit of armor and swords. Take note that should you be intercepted by the enemy, they will be using these against you, so observe the mechanics of them well. 

Proceed into the next chamber. A family tree will greet you here. Take time to peruse the historical players who were instrumental in the creation of the Magna Carta — be on the lookout for King John.

Next you’ll find a quilted tapestry (this doesn’t have much to do with your mission, but it’s still awesome.

Get back on track. The final portion of your quest is nigh. At the rear of the illuminated chamber lies the Magna Carta and a copy of the King’s Writ… observe and marvel for as long as you need to. Remember this special moment, because after August 17 this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Magna Carta in Houston will be gone for good.

This message will now self destruct.

 

D-Day, Part II: “We will accept nothing less than full victory”

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part series exploring the history and significance of D-Day as we approach the 70th anniversary of the battle. Click here to read part one. For information on D-Day: Normandy 1944, the 3D film now showing in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, please visit us online.

General Dwight Eisenhower speaking with paratroopers, June 5 1944 (Image Wikimedia).

General Dwight Eisenhower speaking with paratroopers, June 5, 1944 (Image: Wikimedia)

“I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!” – General Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944. 

With these words, General Dwight D. Eisenhower ended his message to the troops as they headed for the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. 

Once the decision had been made at the Trident Conference to open a second front and invade Western Europe, preparations needed to be made to ensure the mission’s success. This involved deciding when and where to land, devising measures to deceive the Germans, and working out all the logistics to make these plans work.

As to the “where,” the German High Command assumed that the Pas de Calais in Northern France was the likeliest place for an Allied invasion. This was not unreasonable. At 21 miles, it marks the shortest distance between German-held territory and Allied-held territory. To put things in perspective, this distance of 21 miles is slightly less than the length of the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans.

The Germans looked at this spot as a jumping off point for their own invasion of England. One photo shows German officers, including Herman Goering, standing on the beach at Pas de Calais, looking at the white cliffs of Dover. That was as close as they would ever get.

German officers standing on the beach at Pas de Calais, looking at the white cliffs of Dover

 

Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. The city of New Orleans is visible to the south of the lake. The causeway is the straight line crossing the lake, covering a distance equal to that between Calais, northern France and Dover, England. (Image: Wikimedia)

Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. The city of New Orleans is visible to the south of the lake. The causeway is the straight line crossing the lake, covering a distance equal to that between Calais, northern France and Dover, England. (Image: Wikimedia)

The Allies selected Normandy for various reasons. It had good beaches, which were protected from western gales by the Cotentin Peninsula, or Cherbourg Peninsula. While it was further away from England than Pas de Calais, Normandy was also not the place where the Germans expected the landings to happen. The beaches in Normandy remained within easy reach of fighter airplanes, guaranteeing that there would be sufficient air cover to protect the troops when they hit the beach. By 1944, the German air force was no longer as powerful as it once had been.

As to when to invade Normandy, the Allies relied on tides, available moonlight, and good weather. Coming in with full knowledge of the tides would allow the boatmen of the landing craft to get close enough to the beach, while still being able to avoid the extensive belt of beach obstacles. In 1944, it was determined that optimum conditions would exist toward the end of May.

Once a “where” and “when” were decided upon, it became necessary to deceive the Germans. An operation this size could not remain hidden. The Allies decided that the best course of action was to make the Germans look the wrong way. The Allied deception plan – known as “Operation Bodyguard” — employed various schemes to mislead the Germans.

Inflatable tank, used during Operation Bodyguard. (Image Wikimedia).

Inflatable tank, used during Operation Bodyguard (Image: Wikimedia)

Fake infrastructure and equipment (including inflatable replicas of tanks and vehicles) was used to simulate non-existing army units. Radio traffic was generated to reinforce that impression, with messages exchanged among these make-believe units. Well known military figures, most famously General Patton, were also part of the deception plan. General Patton took on a high visibility profile in Southeast England, the area where the non-existing First United States Army Group was supposed to have set up camp. Ghost armies would continue to play a role during the remainder of the war.

The Allies also made use of diplomatic channels, double agents and other very creative ruses to leak tidbits of information to deceive the Germans into believing the main invasion would happen anywhere but Normandy, and that any action there would be part of a diversion and nothing more. Eventually, after an agonizing delay because of bad weather, the invasion was launched. D-Day was underway.

Wave after wave of airborne units had gone in ahead of the main body. Their job was to secure bridges, and secure the flanks of the invasion area. The invasion area was 50 miles wide; a mind-boggling distance roughly equal to what separates Houston from Galveston, or Washington, D.C. from Baltimore.

American, British, Canadian and other Allied forces came ashore that day facing a well-entrenched enemy. For more than a year, Marshal Rommel had been in charge of fortifying the mainland against an invasion they knew would come one day. A huge workforce had been employed to build strong points from Norway to the border with Spain — a distance of about 1,500 miles. A giant German version of the French Maginot line, these fortifications were named the Atlantikwall.

Fortified coastline of German-occupied Europe, known as the Atlantikwall, shown in green. (Image Wikimedia)

Fortified coastline of German-occupied Europe, known as the Atlantikwall, shown in green (Image: Wikimedia)

From 1943 to 1944, bunkers, observation points and gun emplacements were constructed at a feverish pace. Among these fortifications was a series of bunkers and gun emplacements at a location called Pointe du Hoc, a rocky promontory overlooking Omaha Beach. Allied intelligence surmised that these strong points sheltered huge 155 mm artillery pieces which, it was feared, could wreak havoc on the landing beaches. These guns had to be neutralized, and the U.S. Army Rangers were selected to do the job.

Pointe du Hoc bunker, remains of charred ceiling beams, evidence of the intense fighting that took place here. (Photo Dirk Van Tuerenhout).

Pointe du Hoc bunker, remains of charred ceiling beams, evidence of the intense fighting that took place here (Photo: Dirk Van Tuerenhout).

Intense fighting ensued. Bunkers were attacked with all available weapons, including flamethrowers as well as naval artillery. Much to their surprise, the Rangers established that the artillery, thought to have been in the emplacements, had been moved inland. They were able to locate and destroy them, as well as a huge ammunition dump nearby. In doing so, they saved a lot of lives.

Pointe du Hoc. US Ranger monument. (Photo Dirk van Tuerenhout)

Pointe du Hoc, U.S. Ranger monument (Photo: Dirk van Tuerenhout)

The commanding officer of the Rangers was Colonel James Earl Rudder. He was wounded during the attack, but survived and eventually became the sixteenth President of Texas A&M University. Among the huge armada of ships firing at the German fortifications was the USS Texas. She sailed up and down the coast, firing at Pointe du Hoc as well as the coastal guns defending the port of Cherbourg. Some of the Rangers wounded during the Pointe du Hoc operation were treated on the USS Texas.

By the end of the day, Allied forces had become sufficiently entrenched on the Normandy coast. It would take another year before the “1000-year Reich” came crashing down. That part of the story will be covered in the third and final blog on this topic.

D-Day Normandy 1944 now showing in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre

D-Day Normandy 1944 now showing in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre

The Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Wortham Giant Screen Theatre is now showing D-Day: Normandy 1944.  The film is running exclusively at HMNS in the Houston-Galveston area through November 11.

Click here to read the next in this series, D-Day, Part III: “We are coming by day and by night”

Local support is provided by Gallery Furniture and IBERIABANK.

Come to England with us! World Trekkers + The Princess Bride = Awesomeness

We’re showing The Princess Bride as part of our World Trekkers: England event on Friday night. We know that this is basically one of the best movies ever (it has a HUGE cult following), but here are some special tidbits that make it that much more awesome:

Princess-Bride-cast

 

The Cliffs of Insanity are real

The “Cliffs of Insanity” are actually the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland (personally, I think Ireland should think about renaming this location to align with the movie). Dramatic movie scenes aside, they really are a natural wonder, standing at a staggering 702 feet at their highest point. Formed over millions of years from sedimentary deposits, the cliffs are rife with fossils, and are constantly (but slowly) changing due to erosion.

 

Whoopie Goldberg wanted to be Buttercup

Don’t get me wrong, I love Whoopie Goldberg, but I’m very glad that Robin Wright got the part. Virtually unknown at the time, this was Wright’s first major role. She went up against Courtney Cox and Meg Ryan, and yes, even Whoopie Goldberg campaigned for the role (now try picturing them in different scenes as you watch the movie – it’ll blow your mind).

 

Iocaine powder doesn’t exist

We’ve all considered building up a resistance to iocaine powder after seeing this film, just in case, but sadly it’s made up.

However (and we don’t recommend this), you can actually build up a resistance to some lethal substances. Mithridatism is the practice of protecting oneself against a poison by self-administering non-lethal amounts over a long period of time. The name comes from Mithridates VI, King of Pontus, who ingested small doses of poisons on a regular basis, to try and develop immunity. However, in modern times, this practice is almost exclusively performed by those who regularly risk exposure to venomous animals.

 

Vizzini’s line about land wars is Asia is a real quote (almost)

One of the most famous lines in the movie is when Vizzini says, “You fell victim to one of the classic blunders — the most famous of which is ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia’ — but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!’” This advice actually comes from Bernard L. Montgomery in a speech in the House of Lords in 1962 where he said, “Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war is: ‘Do not march on Moscow.’ Rule 2 is: ‘Do not go fighting with your land armies in China.'”

 

Robin Wright used Andre the Giant’s hand as a hat

Some nights while shooting the film it apparently got rather chilly. In which case, Andre the Giant would place his hand on Wright’s head to help keep her warm. Now that’s a custom headpiece!

Now that you know all this, come watch The Princess Bride in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre (for an additional $6) during World Trekkers on Friday, March 21!

 

Feast your eyes, ears, and stomach! At World Trekkers, we’ve got something for everyone.

Come hang out with your favorite limeys, like Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the Royal Guard. Feeling artsy? Take in a calligraphy demonstration or a painting class provided by Pinot’s Palette. Feeling dangerous? Watch some sword fighting demonstrations. Feeling classy? Enjoy tea time, provided by House of Té, and live music by Apollo Chamber Music. Feeling hungry? We’ll have food trucks out front, and free cookies (or as the Brits might say, biscuits) for the first 500 attendees. Feeling romantic? Watch The Princess Bride in the Wortham Giant Screen Theater (for an additional $6).

All this PLUS free admission to our Magna Carta exhibit!
Sealed almost 800 years ago, one of the most important legal documents in history is in Houston for an exclusive, limited engagement. And you can see it at World Trekkers at no extra cost.

Join the British sensation!
What are you waiting for? Come see everything England has to offer without leaving your own backyard — at HMNS during World Trekkers on Friday, March 21.