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October 8, 2014

road report: Harold in San Antonio

I had the pleasure of announcing our new Affiliation with The Witte Museum in San Antonio on October 7, 2014.  By coincidence The Witte was also celebrating its 88th birthday, so it was a double pleasure.  Marise McDermott, President and CEO presided over the announcement ceremony which included San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council member Keith Toney.  Kind words were spread all around; as always I was humbled and honored to represent the Smithsonian.

San Antonio River runs by the Witte Museum, creating a 13 mile trail from Breckenridge Park to downtown.

San Antonio River runs by the Witte Museum, creating a 13 mile trail from Breckenridge Park to downtown.

I met many wonderful people at the Witte and discovered interesting connections between the Witte and the Smithsonian, especially in the field of paleontology and archaeology.  Dinosaurs once ruled south Texas, and Witte Museum Curator of Paleontology and Geology, Thomas Adams, Ph.D., is literally hot on their trail – uncovering dino tracks and other significant fossil remains.  Harry Shafer, Ph.D, Witte Museum Curator of Archeology, Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University,  has been studying rock art along the lower Pecos River, among the most sophisticated finds in North America.

San Antonio's Chili Queens are alive and well (and widely appreciated) at the Witte Museum.

San Antonio’s Chili Queens are alive and well (and widely appreciated) at the Witte Museum.

The Smithsonian has many long-term interests in San Antonio.  The Smithsonian American Art Museum includes works by artists, Jesse Trevino and Mel Casas; Smithsonian Folkways documents the musical heritage of San Antonio, from legendary corrido singer Lydia Mendoza to Grammy Award winning Los Texmaniacs; and the Smithsonian Magazine recently paid tribute to San Antonio’s fabulous Chili Queens, 19th century food entrepreneurs who helped make the taco the world’s favorite meal.

The new South Texas Heritage Center at the Witte Museum -- a taste of more to come.

The new South Texas Heritage Center at the Witte Museum — a taste of more to come.

There’s a lot going on at the Witte on which to build our partnership and more to come when the museum completes Phase II of its grand expansion project in 2017.

Angelica Docog and Aaron Parks of the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, our other Affiliate in San Antonio, joined the festivities and then brought me back to see an amazing exhibit on Texas Quilts on display in their facility in Hemisphere Park.  We talked about several new exhibits they are planning to install including one on Sikh history and culture from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Angelica filled me in on the success of their Smithsonian Youth Access Grant, Young Historians/Living Histories and how it helped the Institute build bridges to San Antonio’s Korean community.

What would a Texas be without a long-horned steer?  This might be one of the longest long-horns.

What would a Texas be without a long-horned steer? This might be one of the longest long-horns.

One cannot visit San Antonio without feeling a sense of vibrancy – a growing city with a strong economy, a major convention and tourist destination, a proud history and a bright future.  How wonderful to see our Affiliate colleagues leading the charge.

Tomorrow, I get to announce another new Affiliate – Space Center Houston.  It’s a good week for lifting off!

January 23, 2014

Unearthing Paleontologists in Miami

A special thanks for this guest post to Michelle Beumer, Restoration and Social Action Coordinator at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, Florida.

Ever wanted to be a Paleontologist? Last Thursday, over 100 fifth grade students from Goulds Elementary School in Homestead got to experience a day in the life of a paleontologist. Through a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science staff joined Goulds Elementary students for a fossil whalebone scavenger hunt, a live science webcast with Dr. Nick Pyenson, and a question and answer session hosted by the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.

Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science staff member, Ta-Shana Taylor is our very own whalebone expert, and guides the students through their scavenger hunt activity. Photo courtesy Frost Museum of Science.

Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science staff member, Ta-Shana Taylor is our very own whalebone expert, and guides the students through their scavenger hunt activity. Photo courtesy Frost Museum of Science.

To jump-start the immersion experience, students were sent on a mission to hunt for special whale fossils.  Through various stations, students took a trip around the world exploring different fossil-rich locations. Students dug through buckets of sand (not unlike real paleontologists) to find their bone.  Working as a team, students then had to figure out the story of their whalebone in a broader picture by comparing results in each of the five world locations. Then Smithsonian scientist Dr. Nick Pyenson discussed his research on the webcast and showed some of the specimens that be found through his work in Peru, Chile, the eastern United States, Panama, and Vancouver, while answering questions that students from around the country asked via a live chat window. The students from Goulds Elementary learned basic whale anatomy and how that corresponds to our own human anatomy, what whale species are rare and common now versus millions of years ago, and how paleontologists discover and dig up history.

Photo courtesy Frost Museum of Science.

Photo courtesy Frost Museum of Science.

The new Q?RIUS (pronounced “curious”) collection at the National Museum of Natural History will be presented through a series of live webcasts. From January until June 2014, nine live webcasts will air that examine a wide range of scientific topics that are perfect for you and your classrooms to watch, participate in, and enjoy. Each webcast is based on the Next Generation Science Standards and entices students to explore core science concepts through real-world connections.

Explore the topics in the schedule to access a package of classroom activities, lessons, readings and other related resources that support each webcast program.

Join us in our scientific adventures and tune in to watch real Smithsonian scientists talk about their research and answer your questions, live!

Join the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science and the National Museum of Natural History on February 12th to become Bird Detectives with featuring Carla Dove.

Students watching the Q?RIUS webcast from the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy Frost Museum of Science.

Students watching the Q?RIUS webcast from the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy Frost Museum of Science.

January 13, 2012

Mastodon Menagerie

Special thanks for this guest post to James “Zach” Zacharias, Senior Curator of Education and Curator of History at The Museum of Arts and Sciences, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Daytona Beach, Florida.

James "Zach" Zacharias, Senior Curator of Education at the Museum of Arts and Sciences, with one of the tusks from an adult mastodon. Photo courtesy of The Museum of Arts and Sciences.

The Monday morning before Thanksgiving 2011 seemed like any other day at the Museum of Arts & Sciences (MOAS) until the City of Daytona Beach emailed me a picture of what appeared to be a large lower jawbone. The City had been excavating a drainage pond two miles north of the Museum and workers found massive and mysterious bones. Upon closer inspection of the image, it became clear to me that I was looking at the lower mandible and teeth of an American Mastodon

The City promptly postponed construction so MOAS could dispatch personnel to the site. Although I was in a shirt and tie, I jumped into the mud- and muck-filled pit for a closer look! Within five minutes, I located a partially exposed tusk protruding from the pond’s north wall. As I investigated the layers of earth, I knew right there and then this was the tusk of an Ice Age mammoth or mastodon. It dawned on me this was turning into an incredible prehistoric discovery for our area. With hopes of unearthing the full skeleton, we set to work. 

An army of Museum staff and associates quickly converged on the site to help in the excavation effort. With painstaking care and effort, two delicate partial tusks were removed. These precious pieces of the Pleistocene were each placed in a “plaster jacket” (a protective covering used by paleontologists to move fossil specimens from the field) and moved to their secure home at the Museum. 

Assorted museum staff and volunteers at the construction site at the bottom of the drainage pond being excavated. Photo courtesy of The Museum of Arts and Sciences.

The rest of the excavation soon turned into a salvage operation. Unbeknownst to the workers, a portion of the skeleton (other than tusks) which was interspersed amongst the rocks and stones had been routinely put through a giant rock screener. This broke up some parts of the skeletal remains. As MOAS representatives sifted through the debris piles, a plethora of broken vertebra, ribs, limbs and skull bones were found. Currently, MOAS is cleaning, sorting and accessioning the fossils. A portion of the femur is currently being prepared for carbon dating by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  

A construction worker found this lower mandible of the American Mastodon. Photo courtesy of The Museum of Arts and Sciences.

This is the second significant paleontological find for the Museum of Arts & Sciences – the first being the 1975 discovery of the remains of 13 giant ground sloths in a barrow pit near Nova and Reed Canal roads. MOAS proudly displays the most complete and best preserved giant ground sloth skeleton in the world.  

Florida’s peninsula has submerged and re-emerged numerous times as the earth has passed through ice ages and warming trends. The paleontology of Florida demonstrates there were no dinosaurs here (the state was underwater during the Mesozoic Era) and this is reflected in the abundant marine fossils found in Central Florida. The animal fossils found here belong to “mega-fauna” mammals such as the giant ground sloth, mastodons and mammoths, saber cats, dire wolfs, paleo llamas, and the glyptodon. They roamed our landscape from 130,000 to 10,000 years ago.  

James "Zach" Zacharias with the assorted bone fragments from the mastodon. Photo courtesy of The Museum of Arts and Sciences.

The discovery of the Daytona Beach American Mastodon is thrilling and exciting for the Museum, the City and our community. MOAS is looking forward to adding the fossils to an exhibit for all to see –encouraging inspiration, curiosity, and the love of knowledge.

July 23, 2010

affiliates in the news: week of July 19

Congratulations to these Affiliates making headlines this week!

During a previous trip to Pinilla del Valle, Spain, Dr. Robert Feranec, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the New York State Museum, picks through small animal bones from sediment recovered from fossil caves. Photo courtesy of NYS Museum.

New York State Museum(Albany, NY)
A New York State Museum paleontologist has become the only scientist in the U.S. selected to participate in an all-expense paid research program in Spain that will enable him to investigate the effects of climate change on mammals over the last 2 million yearsREAD MORE

The New York State Museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology has been chosen to participate in a three-month research program at the University of Madrid, Spain. He’s the only American scientist chosen this year: most participants come from the European Union…READ MORE

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (Raleigh, NC)
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences introduced Margaret D. “Meg” Lowman as director of their new wing, the Nature Research Center…READ MORE

The Center for Jewish History (New York, NY)
The Center for Jewish History, the largest repository of the modern Jewish experience outside of Israel, has received a $225,000 grant from the Vivian G. Prins Foundation to support Post-Doctoral fellowships for Emigrating Scholars, who seek permanent teaching and research positions in North America…READ MORE

National Museum of American Jewish History (Philadelphia, PA)
Last month, New York media artist Ben Rubin got the go-ahead to produce an LED light sculpture to be placed atop the new National Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Mall, set to open in November…
READ MORE

WASP (photo courtesy of Texas Woman's University)

The Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future (Dallas, TX)
The Women’s Museum’s Dreams of Flight Exhibit Opening Coincides with Legendary Pilot’s Birthday, Amelia Earhart…READ MORE

July 9, 2010

affiliates in the news: week of July 5

Congratulations to these Smithsonian Affiliates making headlines this week!

Louisiana State Exhibit Museum (Shreveport, LA)
The Louisiana State Exhibit Museum could have become a dusty cultural backwater in the shade of the occasional State Fair Ferris wheel, a place toured only by the occasional class of schoolchildren. But Forrest Dunn had a grander mission in mind… Read More 

Georgia Aquarium has four whale sharks, two males and two females.

Georgia Aquarium(Atlanta, GA)
Scientists at the Georgia Aquarium and Emory University are teaming up to produce the first genome of the whale shark, bidding to catalogue the DNA of a fish that long has puzzled researchersRead More

 

Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Museum of Flight (Seattle, WA)
As one of a dozen major museums across the country vying for the opportunity to house one of three space shuttles that NASA is putting out to pasture, the Museum of Flight is sprucing up the place to bolster their claimRead More

Buffalo Bill Historical Center (Cody, W)
The Buffalo Bill Historical Center has been awarded $200,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities for its “Papers of William F. Cody” projectRead More

Lateral views of fragmentary specimens of Earth's oldest bryozoan. Photo courtesy of NYS Museum

New York State Museum (Albany, NY)
New York State Paleontologist Dr. Ed Landing is the lead author of an article published in the June issue of “Geology” that provides the first definitive proof that all major animal groups with internal and external skeletons appeared in the Cambrian geological period…Read More

Museum of the Rockies (Bozeman, MT)
Tooth marks found on the humerus of a plant-eating dinosaur found in Mongolia shows that a large tyrannosaur deftly removed the meat from the 0.9-metre-long bone, yet the rest of the skeleton showed no sign it had been attacked by a predatorRead More

 

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