Dead Things That Might Be Under Your House!

The line between hallowed ground and home is a thin one in Houston. Our city isn’t exactly known for the preservationist spirit of its citizens, and looking out your window at skyscrapers or suburban expanses, you may not see any visible evidence of the city’s history, but that’s exactly the problem: You don’t see it because it’s under your feet!

Are you dubious of the of this assertion? Well, after we’re done I guarantee you will never rest assured that you are the only resident of your happy home. We will begin long ago, past the stretch of collective human memory. In this time, herds of Mammoths roamed over a cold savannah that stretched across North America. In this unfamiliar landscape, Giant Sloths thundered here and there using their huge, retractable claws to literally scratch an existence out of the land, and Glyptodons fought off saber-tooth cats.

When you think of Paleontology, you don’t think Houston, but the remnants of that epic world are here. In the Paleontology Hall of HMNS Sugarland there is displayed the skeleton of a giant armadillo, HolmesinaIn North America during the Pleistocene, armadillos the size of Volkswagen Beetles roamed Texas; Holmesina is a smaller species of armadillo cousin from that era. When I say “smaller”, I mean that instead of being 7 to 10 feet long and up to 5 feet tall, they were closer to 6 or so feet long and a couple feet tall. Still quite large… Our specimen was discovered in 1955 by Florence Dawdy, along with her son and a friend on Brays Bayou, not far from HMNS!



Holmesina specimen at HMNS Sugarland

A giant sloth was discovered not long ago in the Galveston area. Many don’t know this, but there was a time when the coast was a hundred miles further out from Houston than it is today, but as the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age and ocean levels rose the graves of countless Pleistocene prey and several Human habitation sites were swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico. Occasionally spear points or fossilized camel bones will wash up on certain beaches in the area, like High Island. 


Megatherium, a type of ground sloth. Note the giant claws, which were retractable,like a cat’s claws!

A Columbian Mammoth was discovered in a sand pit in the town of Clute near the Lake Jackson area in 2003. Columbian mammoths are the less hairy cousins of the famous Wooly Mammoths. Both species thrived in the vast grasslands that stretched from Minnesota to Mexico 10,000 years ago. The Wooly’s tended to stay further north, while the Columbians roamed in the warmer Southern regions. 



Columbian Mammoths

The Columbian Mammoth was named after Christopher Columbus, the most famous explorer of the New World, because this species of mammoth is unique to the Western Hemisphere. The one found in Clute was the first mammoth to be discovered in the Texas Gulf Coast area. The mammoth is nicknamed Asiel, and if you’re ever in the area, you can stop by “Asiel’s Restaurant”, which boasts a replica of the skull, and an exhibit including some real fossils of deer, camel, and giant sloth that were also discovered in the area.

So there are indeed a few paleontological discoveries that have unexpectedly popped up in the Houston area. And who knows, maybe the next find is under you right now! Next week we will turn the dial of geological history forward to the era of human occupation to discuss some more intriguing specimens found lurking beneath the surface of our city.

Incidentally, we happen to have an entire Hall of Paleontology devoted to prehistoric North America here at HMNS, so next time you’re visiting, be sure to check that out. We have examples of all three animals discussed in the article.

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Guess This Sound!


You guys have penchant for answering the riddles we pose on social media faster than greased lightning, so we thought we would crank up the difficulty level. And in honor of the month of Halloween, our challenges will all have a creep factor.

In the case of today’s challenge, that factor is the haunting voice speaking to us from ages  long past. But this recording isn’t just creepy, it’s also historically significant! 



Photo courtesy of first sounds


The first person who can comment what this sound is and why it’s important will have their choice of one of three prizes: a 3D printed Allosaurus skull, The Companion book to our Giant Screen film Nation Parks Adventure 3D, or the beautiful companion book to our special exhibit Art and the Animal




And while we’re talking about creepy things, don’t forget that the coolest Halloween party in Houston will be happening here at HMNS on October 29! There are a limited number of tickets available, so make sure to to go to to secure tickets. Group rates are available.

Also, HMNS Sugarland has cooked up an exciting collaboration with Houston Zombie Walk called the Museum of Madness and Mayhem Haunted House, which will be scaring the pants off of anyone 15 years old and up on the last two Fridays of October: the 21st and 28th.

And for the kids, HMNS Sugarland is also hosting the Magical Maze and Goosebumps Haunted House the last two Saturdays in October, the 22nd and 29th.

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Swifter than eagles! Stronger than lions!*



Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971; AOL Time Warner

Nope, not the *Hsawaknow but extraordinary beasts instead, arising from where the fantastical and the wondrous collide.


Some animals are so exotic that their initial discovery is difficult to comprehend. Stories of griffins, dragons and more may seem like tall tales to us today, but most mythical beasts actually have a basis in reality. People who unearthed odd bones and stones often relied on religious and cultural stories to explain what they had uncovered.


More than two thousand years ago, gold miners sought their fortunes in the vast Gobi Desert. These miners were Scythians—nomadic people among the earliest to master mounted warfare. Relying on their accounts, Greek writers reported that in the sweltering heat of the desert, the miners battled the mighty griffin—a fierce half-eagle, half-lion hybrid that ferociously guarded extravagant treasures of gold. Because the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle the king of birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature.



Joannes Jonstonus (1603-1675). Historiae Naturalis; Griffon (Tab. 62); 1657. (590 J73 vol. 2)


Classical folklorist and historian Adrienne Mayor, Ph.D. argues that the many similarities between Protoceratops dinosaur fossils and griffins indicate that the mythic creature likely originated from ancient paleontological observations.

The Greeks and Romans developed sophisticated concepts to explain the fossil evidence, concepts that were expressed in mythological stories.


griffons3Protoceratops. Mick Ellison/American Museum of Natural History



Dragons are among the most popular and enduring of the world’s mythological creatures. These fabulous creatures of classical mythology continue to live in the modern imagination. Dragon tales are known in many cultures, and they populate our books, films, and television shows, shown as playful to fearsome.

A variety of creatures’ remains have been said to belong to dragons. With their enormous size, reptilian shape and threatening teeth and claws, some dragons might easily be taken for cousins of Tyrannosaurus rex. The fossil remains of extinct animals have sometimes been taken for dragon bones—and helped perpetuate old dragon stories.



Falkor, Toothless, Drogon, Smaug


Fossils of lepidodendron (an ancient tree-like plant) have also been exhibited as dragon skins, even as recent as 1851, when pieces found were said to be of the body of a gigantic fossil serpent.

“The idea that impressive fossils played a role in how people of the past imagined monsters and giants has been influential on several surprising fronts. People now realize that in fossiliferous lands, the bizarre bones of extinct creatures could help to explain dragon imagery” writes Dr. Mayor.


griffons6Black Country Museum

… and more!

Join Dr. Adrienne Mayor of Stanford University and HMNS on October 20 for a paleomythology lecture on Mythological Beasts: Dragons, Griffins – and Dinosaurs? and a fun-filled Family Talk October 22 on The Griffin and the Dinosaur. Book signing of The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times and The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science will follow both programs. Sponsored by AIA, Houston Society with support by KPMG.

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HMNS Weekly Happenings

BTS – Mummies of the World: The Exhibition



Mummies of the World: The Exhibition presents a collection of mummies from Europe, South America and ancient Egypt-some 4,500 years old.


Go behind-the-scenes and learn about mummies and mummification through state-of-the-art multimedia, interactive stations and 3D animation, highlighting advances in the scientific methods used to study mummies, including computed tomography (CT), ancient DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating, all of which allows us to know who these mummified individuals were, where they came from and where they lived.


Among the mummies on display are the Vac Mummies, an entire mummified family from Hungary believed to have died from tuberculosis; the Burns Collection, a group of medical mummies used to teach anatomy in the early 19th century; an Egyptian priest named Nes-Hor who suffered from arthritis and a broken left hip; Egyptian animal mummies including a falcon, fish, dog and baby crocodile, many of which were deliberately preserved to accompany royals for eternity; and MUMAB, the first replication of Egyptian mummification done on a body in 2,800 years.

October 18, 2015 at 6:00pm

Members $22, Tickets $39





It’s OktoberPest at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and it’s your chance to get some bug love! We’ve planned an entire day of activities where you and your family can celebrate the fascinating world of bugs. It’s free with your ticket to the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Members receive free admission and can pick up their complimentary tickets in the box office.

  • Dip a worm into biodegradable earth-friendly paint and then watch your worm doodle!
  • Adopt a ladybug and take it home to your own garden.
  • Prepare a Milkweed seedling to plant in your own garden.
  • Decorate a delicious cookie in the shape of a ladybug, bee or caterpillar—and then enjoy!
  • Visit our Bug Petting Zoo—featuring tarantulas, Giant Walking Sticks, a Giant African Millipede and more!
  • Cheer on your favorite Madagascar cockroach as they race to the finish line.
  • Our face-painting experts can transform you into your favorite bug!
  • Learn how to display butterflies and other insects.
  • Check out the Feeding Frenzy—where staff members feed our Praying Mantis, dragonflies and spiders!
  • Learn about beekeeping and visit our honey tasting table.
  • Step into our photo booth for a great OktoberPest souvenir!
  • Bring your own bug! If you’ve found a bug you can’t identify, bring it with you. We’ll help.

Two Fun-to-Learn Presentations + a Monarch Butterfly Release

At 11 a.m., don’t miss “Little Herds: An Introduction to Edible Insects.” A chef will be preparing gourmet creations using edible insects like crickets—and you can taste them!

At 1 p.m., the topic is “Monarchs and Their Amazing Migration.” Following the lecture, we’ll demonstrate how to tag a Monarch butterfly—plus you’ll witness an actual butterfly release!

Wear an Insect Costume—Receive a Free Ticket for a Future Visit!

Dress up like an insect, beekeeper or other bug-related character and you’ll receive a free ticket to the Cockrell Butterfly Center to use on a future visit. “Bee” creative!

Saturday, Oct. 22 | 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. | Grand Hall at HMNS



Lecture – Family Talk – The Griffin and the Dinosaur

Ferocious Flat-foots frighten second grader. A cartoon from Punch 1855 shows three dinosaurs restored at the Crystal Palace as big -shouldered and flatfooted.

Ferocious Flat-foots frighten second grader. A cartoon from Punch 1855 shows
three dinosaurs restored at the Crystal Palace as big -shouldered and flatfooted.

Exciting stories about griffins, dragons, sea monsters and giants have been told for thousands of years. Were they real? What is the truth? Children’s author Dr. Adrienne Mayor of Stanford University reveals some suprising secrets connecting fossils with fabulous creatures of myth.


Suggested for grades 6-12 and adults.


Cosponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America Houston Society.

October 22,2016 at 9:00am

Tickets $5



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