Curious Late Nights at HMNS – The Mystery of Imperato’s Lost Tablet

Disclaimer: This fictional story was written by Julia Russell in Youth Education Programs.

Hello everyone,

My name is Julia, and it’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since I started my research as a graduate student at HMNS. It really seems like it was just yesterday…

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I’ve loved museums since I was a child. I was always fascinated by the huge and impressive collections museums were able to acquire. It’s a curiosity of mine that has never fully disappeared. Being a mini-museum connoisseur growing up, I had many of my own collections. I had the traditional stamp collection. I had the cumbersome rock collection. (Gathering new specimens for my collection probably wasn’t the highlight of our family vacations for my parents.) I eventually moved on to collecting books about my two favorite topics: sharks and dinosaurs. This also led to a lot of “excavations” in my backyard. I was fairly unsympathetic about destroying the landscape of our backyard when I was on a search to uncover the greatest dinosaur fossil ever found. I never actually found it, but I did triumphantly reassure my dad that the numerous holes in the backyard were in the name of science and discovery!

Eventually, I decided to study history and biology at the University of Fibonacci. Throughout my time as an undergraduate student, I tried to find career paths that would let me combine my dual interests in the humanities and the hard sciences. The one place I could bring these two passions together? A museum! In keeping with my childhood, I continued to marvel at the world’s museums and their Impressionist paintings, ancient Greek pottery, dazzling gems and minerals, mummies, fossils, and so much more. The one question that began to echo through my mind as I visited these institutions: why do we collect? What drives people to create collections? Is it human nature to collect? Since four years of undergraduate work wasn’t nearly enough time to satisfy these questions, I decided to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Noneya to explore the art of collecting a little further.

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To better understand why, I had to start with when. At what point in our history did we start collecting? If I could find a starting point, I had a better chance of understanding the why. As it turns out, the practice of collecting is as old as humans themselves. The concept of collecting in an effort to better understand the natural world around us seems to be an inherent part of our human nature. In all of my studies, there was one particular collection that struck me: the collection of Ferrante Imperato.

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Like most people, I’m intrigued by the unknown. I think that’s what draws me to Imperato and his collection. We don’t know much about this…apothecary? Or was he an alchemist? I decided to make Imperato and his cabinet of curiosities, a kind of precursor to the natural history museums of today, the focus of my graduate thesis. Enter HMNS.

I came to HMNS after hearing that they were bringing Ferrante Imperato’s collection over from Naples, Italy. They were going to have his actual collection. It was a researcher’s dream. I reached out to HMNS and began studying the numerous objects and texts left behind by Ferrante and his son, Francesco.  

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I combed through original texts and flexed my semi-fluent Italian language muscles. I was particularly entranced by Imperato’s Dell’Historia Naturale from 1599. This engraved text outlines Imperato’s natural history collection, making it one of the first texts to do so. While I was interested in the extensive catalog of his collection and his reasons for collecting, I couldn’t help but notice some strange references throughout his texts. The word tesoro appears several times in Imperato’s writings. Tesoro is the Italian word for “treasure.” Of course, since Ferrante Imperato was an enthusiastic collector, I assumed he was referring to his collection as a treasure. As an 8-year-old, I frequently boasted about my collections of “treasures” though my treasures mostly consisted of dirt clods from my backyard excavations that I had yet to “prep out” as I explained to my parents. However, as I continued to read Imperato’s texts, I came to realize he wasn’t referring to his entire collection as a “treasure.” He was referring to a single object, a tablet.

I’m a firm believer that Ferrante Imperato was an alchemist as well as an apothecary. In my quest to understand what drives people to collect, it seems that Imperato was determined to use his collection to find natural remedies for a variety of ailments. He also frequently discussed the transformation of matter, a concept near and dear to alchemists’ hearts. Could this tablet be part of Imperato’s work as an alchemist? And more importantly, could this object be in the very Cabinet of Curiosities I’m studying right now?

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While I love talking about my research and the topic of my thesis, as any graduate student does (seriously, I’ll talk about it for hours), I really wanted to write this guest blog to ask for help. I need to solve the mystery of this tablet. I don’t have much longer to work with the collection before my thesis is due and my time at HMNS is up! So here I am, reaching out to the HMNS community for help. Can you unlock the secrets and solve the riddles of Ferrante Imperato’s Cabinet of Curiosities before it’s too late?

If your group is interested in helping Julia solve the mystery of Imperato’s lost tablet, email education@hmns.org for more information on this special Curious Late Night program.

 

Because Work is Ruff: Take Your Dog to Work Day at the Museum

by Victoria Smith, HMNS Executive Assistant

 

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Here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, we love all animals, not just extinct ones. When we heard it was Take Your Dog to Work Day, we thought that sounded like fun. . . maybe a little too fun considering how many pre-historic bones are here. Since letting Fido roam free in the paleontology hall could be a bad idea (and by bad, we mean “potentially devastating to years of scientific research”), we decided the next best thing was to take pictures and show the world, that, yes, our pets love science as much as we do! Employees were encouraged to dress their pets in geeky, museum or science-related costumes, and the winner would receive prizes from the geek-chic line of pet products in our Museum shop. It was hard to pick just one winner, but we decided one little dog proudly embraced his role as a Museum Employee Pet.

 

Some people might think entomologists are nerds, but we think Celeste Poorte’s job as our Butterfly Rearing Coordinator is to help creatures find their inner beauty.  It is something she also does with George, her hairless and semi-toothless Chinese Crested dog, who may, in fact, be a bit of a nerd.

Some people might think entomologists are nerds, but we think Celeste Poorte’s job as our Butterfly Rearing Coordinator is to help creatures find their inner beauty. It is something she also does with George, her hairless and semi-toothless Chinese Crested dog, who may, in fact, be a bit of a nerd.

And here's what she won!

And here’s what she won!

 

There are so many great employee pets, we decided to share a few more.

Esteemed Anthropologist Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout has studied quite a few bones and skeletons, a love he shares with his dog Sparky (who isn’t afraid to wear his heart—or femur--on his sleeve)

Esteemed Anthropologist Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout has studied quite a few bones and skeletons, a love he shares with his dog Sparky, who isn’t afraid to wear his heart—or femur–on his sleeve.

Kenneth Collins has been with the Museum for almost 20 years.  He’s the Sugar Land Facilities Manger now, but he got his start taking tickets for the Butterfly Center.  His dogs stay true to his roots.

Kenneth Collins has been with the Museum for almost 20 years. He’s the Sugar Land Facilities Manager now, but he got his start taking tickets for the Cockrell Butterfly Center. His dogs stay true to his roots.

To become an HMNS Concierge, you need to be knowledgeable about various Museum topics.  Lourdes Martinez has earned her place on the team, with a little help from her chiweenie Chico, whose interests include Egyptology and paleontology.  At the end of the day, they like to unwind catching up on Doctor Who.

To become an HMNS Concierge, you need to be knowledgeable about various Museum topics. Lourdes Martinez has earned her place on the team, with a little help from her chiweenie Chico, whose interests include Egyptology and paleontology. At the end of the day, they like to unwind catching up on Doctor Who.

What does it take to learn the finances of a world renowned institution?  A lot of studying, hard work and maybe graduating at the top of your class, like this vale-dog-torian who is ready to join Jill Lee in the Museum’s accounting department.

What does it take to learn the finances of a world-renowned institution? A lot of studying, hard work and maybe graduating at the top of your class, like this vale-dog-torian who is ready to join Jill Lee in the Museum’s accounting department.

Victoria Smith is an Executive Assistant at the Museum, but at home she gets assistance from Captain Tripod McStumpy who is always willing to lend a paw (but only one).

Victoria Smith is an Executive Assistant at the Museum, but at home she gets assistance from Captain Tripod McStumpy who is always willing to lend a paw (but only one).

Karen Whitley plans birthday parties at the Museum, but it's not all fun and games.  Or is it?  Her cats get in on the fun with the ultimate game of cat and mouse.  Checkmate!

Karen Whitley plans birthday parties at the Museum, but it’s not all fun and games. Or is it? Her cats get in on the fun with the ultimate game of cat and mouse. Checkmate!

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Kelly Russo is our Director of Online Media which means she has to follow proper rules and protocol . . . unlike her dog Wynnie who is quite the rebel.

Kelly Russo is our Director of Online Media which means she has to follow proper rules and protocol . . . unlike her dog Wynnie who is quite the Jedi rebel.

Have no fear, Coco and Loki are here, with their trusty sidekick Sheila George, Manager of Online Media at the Museum.  If your online media needs to be managed, just send the bat signal and Sheila George will be there, with her trusty sidekicks Coco and Loki.

Have no fear, Coco and Loki are here, with their trusty sidekick Sheila George, Manager of Online Media at the Museum. If your online media needs to be managed, just send the bat signal and Sheila George will be there, with her fearless superdogs.

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Martine Kaye will go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure your corporate group has a great visit to the Museum.  She hasn’t welcomed anyone with a parade and fireworks yet, but her dog Cleo thinks it’s a great idea.

Martine Kaye will go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure your corporate group has a great visit to the Museum. She hasn’t welcomed anyone with a parade and fireworks yet, but her dog Cleo thinks it’s a great idea.

Discover new secrets of ancient Egypt with guest lecturers

This week, more than 400 folks interested in all things ancient Egyptian are making their way to Houston for the 66th Annual Meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt. Running from April 24 to 26, this is the first year the conference is being held in Houston, and perhaps it has something to do with the beautiful new Hall of Ancient Egypt at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

HMNS is excited to host a public three-part lecture featuring leading Egyptologists Dr. Salima Ikram, Dr. Josef Wegner, and Dr. Kara Cooney, who are in town for the ARCE conference. At the museum, each expert will give an update on his or her latest research project.-o6cwMJsxKVXL0Xx6UZa2Dl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9

You don’t have to be an academic to attend the lecture, or to register for the meeting. ARCE welcomes all fans of ancient Egypt, novice to authority. The lecture will be held Wednesday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 to the public and $12 for HMNS members.

Online registration for the ARCE meeting is now closed, but on-site registration at the DoubleTree Hilton Downtown Hotel will remain open from April 24 through the end of the conference.

Read on for more details about HMNS’s guest Egyptologists.

 

Divine Creatures, Animal Mummies Providing Clues to Culture, Economy and Science f3638a_3053bb27e037f77cbc56ea0f4b110a8c.jpeg_srz_305_260_85_22_0.50_1.20_0
by Salima Ikram, Ph.D., American University in Cairo

Animal mummies were amongst the least studied of Egypt’s treasures. Now scholars are using them to learn about ancient Egyptian religion, economy, veterinary science and environmental change. The world’s leading expert on animal mummies and founder of the Animal Mummy project at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Dr. Salima Ikram, will present the different kinds of animal mummies and explain what we can learn from them.

 

 

 

Secrets of the Mountain-of-Anubis, A Royal Necropolis Joe_Egypt
by Josef Wegner, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

The ongoing Penn Museum excavations has recently identified a royal necropolis at Abydos. A series of royal tombs located beneath a sacred desert peak, the Mountain-of-Anubis, belong to over a dozen pharaohs include Senwosret III and the recently identified king Senebkay. Dr. Josef Wegner will review the latest findings from the necropolis that spans Egypt’s late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1850-1550 BCE).

 

 

 

21st Dynasty Coffins Project, Recycled Coffins Offer the Socioeconomic InsightKara_Cooney_examines_Egyptian_coffin_
by Kathlyn (Kara) Cooney, Ph.D., UCLA

Dr. Kara Cooney will give an overview of the 21st Dynasty Coffins Project which studies the amount of “borrowing,” or reuse, a given coffin displays during this period of turmoil and material scarcity and seeks to contribute to the understanding of socioeconomics in ancient Egypt. Equipped with high definition cameras and working in cooperation with museums and institutions in Europe and the United States, Cooney takes her research team to investigate, document and study coffin reuse in the Third Intermediate Period. The data acquired will be compiled into a comprehensive database available to Egyptologists everywhere.

A Long Time Ago on the Other Side of the World… Samurai culture inspires George Lucas’s Jedi and Sith

vaderStar Wars revealed the amazing creativity of George Lucas. Star Wars characters seemed foreign—even alien—to American audiences. Of course, like all creative geniuses, Lucas had his inspiration. His characters resemble actual humans from a long time ago, but from a galaxy not so far away.

Just on the other side of good old planet Earth, a few hundred years ago, samurai warriors were respected and revered.

To Star Wars fans, it is no secret that George Lucas was inspired by Japanese culture when creating his Star Wars epics. Japanese influences can be seen in costumes, hairstyles, make-up, as well as the weapons and swordsmanship.

Although the amazing visuals of the characters clearly have Japanese origins when you learn what to look for, the most telling influence of samurai warriors on the Galactic Empire may be Bushido, the way of the samurai. The spirit of Bushido is reflected in the Jedi Code.

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Lucas is known to have studied the works of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. When you see this film, you will see the origins of the Jedi and Sith. Haven’t seen a Kurosawa film? You are in luck! You can view the iconic film Seven Samurai at HMNS on April 14 and see the force of the samurai that inspired Lucas’ Star Wars empire.

How did the code of the Samurai warrior translate to the Jedi Knights? Need light shed on the transformation of samurai sabers into an energy blade? How did the armory and arms of the Samurai influence that of the Galactic Empire?

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This summer you can learn about the influences the samurai made to the Star Wars movie franchise in special evening tour of the Samurai: The Way of the Warrior exhibit offered on June 18, July 16 and August 20. Space is limited, so book your galactic samurai adventure now!

Film Screening: Seven Samurai
Tuesday, April 14, 6:30 p.m.
One of the most thrilling movie epics of all time, the newly restored, high-definition edition of Seven Samurai tells the story of a 16th century village whose desperate inhabitants hire the eponymous warriors to protect them from invading bandits. Filmmaker Akira Kurosawa weaves philosophy and entertainment, delicate human emotions and relentless action, into this tale of courage and hope. Mark Kerstein of Hokushikan Chiba Dojo will introduce the film. For advance tickets, call 713.639.4629 or click here.

JEDI – SAMURAI TOUR
June 18, July 16, August 20
6 – 9:30 p.m. (last entry at 8 p.m.)
Armored warriors of the past inspired the creative genius of a filmmaker—in a galaxy not so far away. In this multimedia tour of the Samurai: The Way of the Warrior exhibit—led by HMNS staff and a few guest Jedi, Sith and Samurai guides—the origins of many of George Lucas’ Star Wars heroes and villains will be unveiled. You will also enjoy demonstrations of light saber and kendo katana. The compelling links between Samurai and Jedi will build your appreciation for both. For advance tickets, call 713.639.4629 or click here.