From HMNS to Your Family…

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Holiday Hours:

The Houston Museum of Natural Science will be closed Thanksgiving Day, but will be open for extended hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. over the weekend. Regular hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. will resume Monday, Nov. 30.

If you’ve got room for seconds, come see our wild turkey specimen (Meleagris gallopavo) and other outstanding Texas species at the Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife.

Thank an archaeologist for human history on International Archaeology Day!

On Oct. 17, we celebrate International Archaeology Day. Last year, the Houston Museum of Natural Science participated on a large scale for the first time in a long time. This year, we will have our “Second Annual” version of the same. So what is archaeology and who are these characters that practice the art of archaeology anyway?

Ask anyone and they will answer “Indiana Jones!” when asked to name a famous archaeologist. Hollywood and the media in general tend to gravitate to this entertaining, but totally off the mark, representation of what it is to be an archaeologist.

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Archaeologists are people who study the past. They do so with one goal in mind: reconstructing what our ancestors were up to. In the end, while we might find broken pottery, stone tools, or more sophisticated or larger artifacts, what really counts is the answer to questions like these: Who made this? Why? How? How long ago was this?

It takes a special person to be an archaeologist. Patience truly is a virtue. Doggedness comes to mind as well. It won’t hurt to be lucky, but having knowledge will guide you to that breakthrough you’ve been looking for. You’ll need willingness to continue learning, going hand-in-hand with the admission that you really don’t know all that much. All of these are good traits to have.

Luck is part of all this, but the insights archaeologists come up with and share with all of us can be a whole lot more interesting and head-scratching than any Indiana Jones movie. In that regard, archaeologists are like time travelers, our contemporaries who bring ancient cultures back to life, sometimes so much so that you can almost feel it and smell it.

Recently, I’ve been reading up on the presence of early humans in what is now called the Amazon rainforest. My perception of the prehistory of this huge area is changing quickly. Yes, there were early settlers in this part of the world. Paleoindians did reach Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and the Guyanas. Our knowledge of these early immigrants in this part of the world is so small compared to what we know of North American Paleoindians. But… all that is changing, thanks to the determined efforts of a handful of archaeologists, the very same people whose work and insights we celebrate on Oct. 17.

Take Dr. Anna Roosevelt, for example. A professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago and a curator at the Field Museum in the same city, Dr. Roosevelt has been investigating early human presence in the Amazon for decades now. The information she and her team have uncovered now point to an Amazon region that was very different thousands of years ago — well before the arrival of the Europeans. It was so different that these Amazonian Paleoindians would have a hard time recognizing the current landscape, just as much as we have a hard time coming to grips with the existence of large, densely populated settlements in many portions of the Amazon.

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Map of Brazil, with the location of Marajó Island.

To get to this point, Dr. Roosevelt and her colleagues worked for years in the Amazon, in places like Marajó Island as well as rivers further inland. Marajó, an island the size of Switzerland located at the mouth of the Amazon River, yielded evidence of densely-populated settlements, occupied for centuries. This research took years to complete in circumstances where creature comfort was sometimes a distant notion. It took perseverance as well, as the new data and new interpretations ran counter to older, more established explanations of the prehistory of the region. Research in the interior relied on the willingness of non-archaeologists to share news of interesting finds on private properties. Sadly such willingness is not always forthcoming, resulting in the loss of an unknown quantity of materials all over the world.

Building trust among the locals and upholding that reputation is not easy. One has to be determined, focused and dogged in the pursuit of knowledge. Dr. Roosevelt’s team checked off all these boxes, and came up with cool finds, some on land, some underwater.

Diving in the Xingu River, 2001

Archaeologist Dr. Anna Roosevelt diving in the Xingu River, 2001.

On International Archaeology Day, we pay homage to the work done by people like Dr. Roosevelt. Local archaeologists, professional and avocational, physical anthropologists, and artists who work on facial reconstructions will all be at HMNS. Museum docents will share their insights and enthusiasm about archaeology with hands-on experiences, pointing to the various halls in the museum where archaeology is covered. These include the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, the Hall of Ancient Egypt and the section of human evolution in the Morian Hall of Paleontology. The event starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. Dig it!

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 the impact of meteors with Dr. Kring on Asteroid Day

On Feb. 15, 2013, with no warning, an asteroid 20 meters in diameter and weighing more than the Eiffel Tower plunged into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk at speeds in excess of 19 kilometers per second. At such a high speed, the 14,000-ton object exploded at altitude, creating a flash 30 times brighter than the sun and panicking Siberian residents.

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The Chelyabinsk meteor injured 1,500 people and damaged 7,200 buildings in 2013.

The air burst damaged 7,200 buildings and injured 1,500 people, mostly due to cuts from broken glass, but many reported ultraviolet burns similar to sun damage and blindness from the flash. It was not the impact that caused the most damage, but the explosion as it suddenly fell apart in the atmosphere, about 25 times more energy than the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima.

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The impact crater caused by the Chelyabinsk meteor.

The largest meteor impact since the Tunguska event on June 30, 1908 that flattened 80 million trees, Chelyabinsk served as a grim reminder that asteroids still pose a credible threat to the planet the same way they did for the dinosaurs. A massive asteroid collided with the Earth 65 million years ago, bringing about the demise of megafauna like Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, along with more than half of the plants and animals living in the late Cretaceous. Scientists agree the asteroid responsible for this mass extinction hit the Yucatan, causing the Chicxulub crater. And the threat remains, this time for us.

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Dr. David Kring, the man who discovered and named the Chicxulub crater.

Dr. David Kring of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the scientists who discovered and named the Chicxulub for a Mayan village near the center of the crater, will pay a visit to the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Asteroid Day, June 30, at 6:30 p.m. His lecture will examine methods to mitigate the threat of meteor impacts to humanity, and guests will have a chance to engage in a Q&A session during the lecture. The Burke Baker Planetarium will offer special screenings of Impact at 6 and 8 p.m., complimentary with a ticket to Kring’s lecture.

Join us to learn more about asteroid impacts and other phenomena on Asteroid Day. Survival favors the informed. Tickets $18, Members $12.