Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum


TOP OF THE ROCK--NATIVE AMERICANS



A statue at the entrance of the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum in Branson, Missouri



    At the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum at the Top of the Rock in Branson, MO, many of the artifacts are the result of taking advantage of the creation of the Table Rock Reservoir.  Hundreds of thousands of acres were to be flooded over an area that included hundreds of prehistoric Native American sites. 

    Dr. Carl Chapman, from the University of Missouri,  set himself the task of locating, digging out as many of the artifacts as possible  and recording them. Starting in 1950 he had seven years before the dam was built and the sites were flooded. 

    He found almost 900 prehistoric sites, most of them rock shelters along with thousands of stone artifacts.  While many of them were projectile points, and are on display, I was familiar with them from many of the other Native American museums I have visited.   What made this exhibition different was the emphasis on some other stone items that gave a feel for the introduction of agriculture and a more settled life that was established after 10,000 years of being hunter-gatherers. 

    Michael O'Brien, professor of anthropology, at the University of Missouri, is also credited with finding and organizing the artifacts in this museum.

    Maize (corn) quickly spread from Mexico about 800 A.D. bringing about a major lifestyle shift that required the development of new tools for the new way of life.  If I hadn't been told, I would not have recognized that the large, flat pieces of flint filling numerous display cases was  "the tool that make agriculture possible--the spade."  

    With wooden handles they could dig the ground for planting, cut the weeds, and harvest the new food supply.  The sign on one of the cases says, "mastering the spade production and the cultivation of maize was one of the single most important events over man's 14,000 year prehistory in America."





The invention of the hoe (spade) allowed Native Americans to develop field crops like corn





These early spades allowed the digging and planting of crops



    The spade became one of the most traded items over the central part of the country including what are now Wisconsin, Illinois and Alabama.  Being a trader in those days would have required a very strong person since these spades are not light-weight trading goods.

    Even heavier was another tool that needed to be used to process the corn--large mortars (metates).  A large variety line the walls of several of the exhibition areas along with the pestles to grind the various foods.  Many of the mortars here show wear that indicates decades of usage.  The display case notes suggest that the village usually had one main mortar for everyone in the village to use.







Stone mortars were used for processing food



    Native American clothing has been acquired from other collections and plays a colorful role in the museum. Galley 21 is the War Shirt Galley and a quote from Wooden Leg, a Northern Cheyenne, introduced me to a new concept.  "The idea of full dress in preparation for a battle comes not from a belief that it will add to the fighting ability. The preparation is for death, in case that should be the result of the conflict.  Every Indian wants to look his best when he goes o meet the Great Spirit, so dressing up is done whether in imminent danger in an oncoming battle, or a sickness or injury at times of peace."

    The shirts in the Galley are highly individualized and much thought has been taken in their design.  The warrior would fast and contemplate the design, then consult a female bead worker to help create the design he imagined.  Numerous women's dresses are also on display.

    Galley 27 focuses on the Battle of Little Big Horn and includes the account of the battle by Black Elk, who was twelve when he witnessed the decimated Custer's army.  It also includes Galleys on Buffalo Bill's Wild West, the Civil War and a Hall of Presidents.

    Johnny Morris, owner of the Bass Pro Shop, some years ago placed his collection of Indian artifacts with the museum. He had based his work on the outstanding collection of  the Native American artifacts in the Field Museum in Chicago,. The Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum has one of the finest collection of Indian artifacts I have seen.




A shirt for a Native American warrior to die in







      

Top of The Rock: Giant Animals of America


TOP OF THE ROCK

    A lion four feet high at the shoulder, a short faced bear weighting 2,250 pounds and a Hell Pig as big as a rhino, how in the world did the Native Americans who faced them 13,000 years ago survive? 

    This was the question raised in our minds as we examined the giant skeletons of these prehistoric animals, and others that had existed in the Ozark region at the end of  the last ice age.  Most of these carnivorous giants went extinct 11,000 years ago. 

    Johnny Morris, who made his billions starting with the Bass Pro Shop, decided some years ago that he wanted to share his collection of artifacts with the public.

     After consultation with the Field Museum in Chicago has built one of the most remarkable displays of Pleistocene Mammals at the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum at Top of the Rock, seven miles south of Branson, Missouri.

    In the entrance area we were introduced to the Woolly Mammoth skeleton the size of a modern elephant, that is, about eight feet high at the shoulder.

    Nearby was the skeleton of the American Lion, at four feet at the shoulder and 1000 pounds, was the largest cat of all time. Facing the lion was a short faced bear skeleton who could run 30 miles an hour and when standing was eight feet tall.

    His thin legs meant he couldn't make sharp turns when chasing prey and probably used his large size to take kills away from other large predators.  His bones showed his diet was purely meat based.

    The actual museum was under ground and included 41 exhibition areas that curved around taking us through the Pleistocene age, through the different stages of Native Americans, to the arrival of the whites, and through the Civil War.

    The first section we visited below the surface was about the giant animals of the past.  One of the fossils was of the giant beaver who at seven feet long was the largest rodent of the ice age.  With a very large head that lacked teeth for gnawing on wood--it probably did not make dams.  It is suggested they died out because of the changing nature of the plants they ate.





A Bear Dog, the size of bear, attacks a Hell Pig

    Fun to view were the dioramas that showed animals rebuilt to scale interacting (attacking) each other.  One shows a bear dog attacking a Hell Pig.  The bear dogs were dogs that were the size of modern bears who traveled in packs and had bone crushing teeth. 

    Seeing these animals on the attack, the question again comes up, "How could humans have been competitors?





One of the Giant Short Faced Bears attacks a Native American



    This becomes even more of a question at a later diorama with an enormous short-faced bear attacking a Native American who had just killed a small deer.  The bear stands over him arms raised, claws out, jaws wide open.  The man leans back a small spear in his hand overwhelmed by the attack.  But humans survived most of the violent carnivorous animals are long gone.

    Why did these animals go extinct.  Did the mammoths' go extinct due to over hunting by humans and animals?  Did the carnivorous giants die out because humans were better competitors for the animals they both hunted for food.  Several scientific reports I checked suggested two other factors.

    Mega animals may have had a difficult time adjusting to the heating up of the atmosphere as the ice age ended.  In addition a long period of drought around 10,500 years ago may cut down numbers and made animals easier to hunt by humans as they gathered at water holes.

    We were left with questions, but were pleased to have been introduced to new animals that been previously unknown to us.  We have another story about Top Of The Rock about their marvelous collection of the many ways Native Americans developed to make their way in the world.





Some Terror Birds of the time were 10 feet tall and attacked the small horses who lived in those days







12,000 years ago America's midlands had giant elk and giant cats




Giant Ground Sloths existed in the American midlands 13,000 years ago





Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Evolution is clear at the KU Natural History Museum


KU NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM: EVOLUTION

    In Lawrence, Kan., on the fifth floor of the Kansas University Natural History Museum, we had an interesting time exploring a series of exhibits about different approaches to understanding various evolutions and how they happen. 

     We approached a mirror that had the images of two life-sized chimpanzees on it and were asked to compare our human characterizes to theirs and then to move to the other side. 

     On the other side were the letters of our DNA and that of chimpanzees, and we were asked to find the differences in the thousands of letters.  To help us they had placed a small figure between those letters that differed.   We found  only five figures showing us that chimps are biologically very close relatives to we humans.

    How sexual selection has shaped the evolution of flies in Hawaii shows that the power of who females chose to mate with is a powerful influence on what happens to a species.

     Male attractiveness has gone in three major subdivisions.  In one division the females preferred  males who have attractive colorful wings. A second group of females were  attracted to the males' songs and a third group favored how the males danced. 

    Given that females choose to pair off with the one who is most attractive to them, each group developed their own somewhat different characteristics.  Eventually it turned out that 30 percent of the males produced  100 percent of the offspring.   

    As the females continue to select males for certain characteristics those characteristics will become more definitive of the species. 

    A number of displays show how two very different species evolved from a common ancestor 55 million years ago. The early mammal was an artiodactyls.   In one direction it went through many forms to end up as a rhinoceros and in the other it evolved into  whales.




Evolution produced some very different animals from the same original



    Since Darwin’s stop at the Galapagos Islands the islands have continued to serve as a laboratory to study the effects of environment on evolution.  In this case they show the effect of rainfall on plants on one of the islands and how this results in the nature of the beaks of the finches.

     Wet years the finches with the broad strong beak survive at a higher rate, while in years of drought the smaller thin beaked finch offspring survive.

    A more complex evolution is coevolution where a number of different species relied on each other for survival.  One interactive display shows how farming ants, fungus crop, a crop pest and bacteria have all evolved together, each relying on the other for existence..

    The museum has an impressive collection from all ages of the world’s history, but we took special interest in the remains of animals that existed in Kansas around 14,000 years ago before they disappeared from history. 







Two early camels face a big toothed cat



    Some of the remains on display were from the La Brea tar pits in California:  the dire wolf, the saber tooth, and ground sloth.    At other displays we found: a giant buffalo, short legged rhino, middle horse, small camel, and a mastodon.

    The day we were there we  watched groups of children enjoying some of the interaction displays. We were impressed with the level of education that this museum provides and felt that more students around the country should have the opportunity to learn from exhibits such as these. 

    We expect that in the future museums of this quality will be put into a 3D experience so students can cruise the displays from their class rooms. 

    We suspect with the progress being made in media that this may not be too long in the future.




A short legged rhino roamed the Ozarks thousands of years ago


A Major Natural History Museum in Kansas


University of Kansas Natural History Museum



   When we were in Laurence, Kansas at the KU Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, ranked No. 1 among public programs, we were impressed by the focus on life on the earth.  This museum has the largest university collection in the world of specimens  of  plants, animals, fossils and the archeological.     

    Walking into the Natural History Panorama of North American mammals was a wow experience.   We felt we had been dropped into an alternate reality where all of the mammals of North America were suddenly there in front of us in their natural settings.





The University of Kansas Natural History Museum has a marvelous collection of taxidermied animals.



    Each area had its appropriate vegetation, water, rocks and background so cleverly integrated that you couldn’t see where the picture background began.

    In 1886 William T. Hornaday went on what he called, “The Last Buffalo Hunt,” to get specimens for what could be an animal headed for extinction.

    One of the men he taught his methods to for preparing animals for display was Lewis Lindsay Dyche.  Hornaday later pushed for the government to protect bison and the numbers have gone up so there is no chance of their extinction.

    Hornaday helped prepare the animals for a panorama of North American Wildlife to be shown at the Kansas Pavilion at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

     Many of these animals became part of the present exhibition when Dyche's methods of taxidermy mounting and exhibition caught the public’s eye at a time when neither the media nor the nature programs had shown much interest. The State of Kansas dedicated Dyche hall for a permanent home.

  








Animals from all parts of North America are on display at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum





    Seeing the animals on display it was hard to believe that they had been mounted over 125 years ago.   The panorama is arranged by areas with the first one being the rainforest.  This and the Polar section were added later so visitors could have a complete North American experience.

    The positions and faces of the animals convey much about them.  In the forest scene two wolves face off with a skunk.  The skunk is defiant and the male wolf is threatening while the female wolf is watching patiently as if being more aware of the skunk's power than her companion.  

   At the mountainside covered with several dozen mountain animals we got a lesson in the evolution of the mountain sheep hooves that not only have sharp edges to hold on to the stones but a suction cup feature that gives it added advantages. 

    The plains area has buffalo, deer, badgers, ground hogs, and other animals so complete that you could study North American animals by just studying what is in the gigantic Panorma.

    At one point in the exhibition is a display with five different animal furs for the visitor to touch to see the different ways fur has evolved to meet the living conditions of that particular animal: Warmth in water, warmth in cold air, snag resistant, underground movement, and change with the seasons.

    From a higher floor we viewed the mountain scene as if we were standing on a high crag.

    On another floor there were naturalist displays in boxes of mammals in scenes doing what they do.  A Red Fox carefully stalks a prairie vole in a snowy scene.

    On the main floor in a separate section taxidermy horse Comanche stands alone in the semi dark to protect his hide from light damage.  He was the sole survivor of the Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn.

    Despite being badly shot up he survived and lived another 15 years.  When he died his hide was preserved and later turned into a monument of the battle.

    The museum's section on the results of evolution was so interesting in itself that I will write a separate story about it for next week's Venture Bound.





Two wolves confront a skunk.





Carla faces off with fierce taxidermied bear.

    



Monday, September 18, 2017

ROBOT REVOLUTION: FIELD MUSEUM


ROBOT REVOLUTION

Robo Thespian greeted us at the entrance to Robot Revolution Exhibition


    The Robot Revolution exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is back from a national tour and will be at the museum until February 4, 2018. and then the exhibit will be touring  across North America through 2020. 

    Robo Thespian, a human-size robot,  greeted us at the entrance to the exhibit and answered such pre-prepared questions as, How Smart are  robots? and Can we work together?  He said his goal is to work cooperatively with us to solve many of the world's problems.  Since his answers were preprogrammed, I was impressed with him but not as much as I am with Cortana on my own computer.

    Never-the-less there was much to be impressed with inside this special exhibition as considerable progress has been made in the development of robots such as three types of robots who will be life changing for medical patients.

    First was the exhibition on how invasive surgery is possible for the surgeon on a computer screen.   I took the two rods that controlled items on a screen and was asked to separate them into appropriate boxes.  I quickly learned that the two had to work cooperatively. I had already been exposed to this in more detail at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where it is already a part of their practice of surgery. The explanatory material said, "With a 3-D high definition vision system, special instruments and computer software, surgeons can operate with enhanced vision, precision and control."

    Second was the exoskeleton that can be used for people who work with heavy loads or probably more importantly with physically handicaps in helping them walk and move around.   A video alongside the powered exoskeleton device demonstrated a number of ways it could be used by the handicapped.  

    Social robots can be used for healing.  Some are capable of talking to patients who are lonely and for those with dementia who cannot communicate they can have soft animal robots whose heads, eyes and mouths move and who can be petted.  While it was not discussed here, I am aware of Japanese men buying female robots as lovers and sexual companions.

    Game playing was very attractive to the children present.  When I played a robot in the O-X game, he always let me move first and we always ended in a tie.   When  a robot dealer was working a casino table for blackjack,  he beat me two hands and then asked me to give my seat to a new player.



A game playing robot could be tied but not beaten.


 

After my two losses the Robot asked me to let someone else play.

    A robot with only a head demonstrated eight different emotions, including disgust, anger, and happiness showing the progress being made in making robots more human.
    I sat in the seat of a mockup of a driverless car that gave an excellent demonstration of the many things a car must be tuned into to safely navigate the streets.
     Drones appear to be much further along than cars and a continuous demonstration of a drone was going on with help of children from the audience.  Drones are being used for farming, fire control, police work, military tasks and a variety of other situations.
    Some robots were working to show how they could play sports like soccer, climb stairs and avoid hazards.   I was aware of the usefulness of robots in the military and had a grandson who while in Iraq used them as part of his work on bomb deactivation and discovery.
    The robot exhibition area is so active that visitors need to get a time card allowing entry for a limited number of people at a time.  When paying for my ticket on a computer I had to get a staff member to work the screen for me.  It only took her three tries to get the program to work.   Maybe some of us don't have the necessary skills for working with robots.
    This is a popular exhibition opening our minds to many ways that this technology is going to change our lives.

            




JURASSIC WORLD: THE EXHIBITION, FIELD MUSEUM


JURASSIC WORLD: THE EXHIBITION

     The Jurassic World: The Exhibition, until January 2018, at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, is an unusual traveling exhibit based on the movie Jurassic World.  The exhibit includes a blend of some realistic dinosaurs, some active entertainment, and some science fiction. Although my wife Carla and I basically enjoyed most of the exhibition, we were a few times confused about what was questionably science at this time by most scientists.    

      A special 17,000 square foot plastic-walled perma-tent has been erected on the museum's front lawn for the exhibition, which has been so popular that visitors need timed entree tickets.  Even with these limits we found the exhibition overcrowded making it difficult to hear the guide  giving a tour of the fictional  Isla Nublar on TV screens.

    Not knowing what to expect each new area was a surprise.  When we entered a jungle like environment , we soon encountered a Stegosaurus and a Brontosaurus, who moved their heads, their eyes followed us and they were close to us.

    Next we entered a room that gave us "scientific" background how these were genetically created by taking dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes who had bitten them and then become incased in amber. To reassure us of the reality of this "scientific" approach a full wall of brightly lit amber is on display. This mix of fictional science from the movie and real science presented elsewhere in the exhibition may be bit confusing to some visitiors.

    A case has three baby dinosaurs who have just broken out of their eggs and on the walls are displays explaining to visitors the "science" involved in their re-creation. 

    The exhibition took on more reality as we entered the next space.  A barrier stood before us and we were asked to wait a moment because a carnivorous velociraptor had been seen in the area. 




A carnivorous velociraptor attacked walls of his cage.



    And sure enough a moment later he came roaring around the corner full of noise and what looked like rage.  He bit at the barrier and hit his head against it trying to break it down.  We were all impressed but the kids in the group found him especially enchanting.  

    However, mostly we were also being exposed to real science and could touch screens to learn more about the movie it was based on and others to give us real scientific information as it was known when the film was made.

     That is, these dinosaurs were covered in scales and had a certain coloring.   The recent information we have on the subject suggests that rather than scales they may have been covered in feathers like their descendants the birds.

     Our biggest thrill was yet to come.  We entered a fair-sized room that had a fence and a truck like the one used in the movie.  We heard a roar and then saw the head of a T-Rex soon followed by his body.  He also was in a bad mood and upon seeing the truck tried to tip it over.  His head and mouth were so large he could have picked me up in it.




A modified T-Rex was the scariest thing in the exhibition.

(Picture courtesy of Field Museum)



    Later in the Field Museum in the Stanley Field Hall I found that he was same size as the T-Rex Sue, 40 feet long.  Sue who has 90% of the original dinosaur resides on the first floor and is a major attraction.

    In the upper level in Dinosaur Hall the Field Museum has a permanent, expanded collection  including every major group, and the worlds they lived in. 

    The Jurassic World  exhibition opened last year in Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and has been  at the Melbourne Museum, in Australia.

The exhibition is a drop back into the world's very distant past.

FORT OSAGE, MSSOURI


FORT OSAGE, MISSOURI





Fort Osage, Missouri existed from 1808 to 1828 and has been rebuilt as it existed during that period.



    At Fort Osage, a rebuilt National Historic landmark near Sibley, Missouri, we especially enjoyed listening to  two re-enactors whose knowledge of the history of the site made it seem to come alive,

    Captain William Clark had picked this spot for a fort when the Lewis and Clark expedition had passed it in 1803.  He came back in 1808 to build it as an outpost in the new Louisiana Purchase.

     One of its most important functions was to establish trade with the powerful Osage tribe who readily joined the Americans for two reasons:  they wanted the trade items we made available to them and they needed our help in protecting their areas against other tribes such as the Ioway and the Cherokee.




A re-enactor at the trading post explains the fur trading business to us.


    One  re-enactor at the trading post had a great supply of different animal skins that he allowed us to feel the different tectures.  Carla even got to try the fox skin as a neck piece, a common fashion statement during our 1930s.   He showed us the trade goods most sought by the Osage: metal pots and pans, iron axes, beads, small bells, and for the men rifles and ammunition.  The building was three and half stories,  just outside the fort's gate.  

    The Osage may have been friends, but the army did not want more than one or two in at a time inside the fort because of some experiences elsewhere where an Indian tribe had overpowered the soldiers by coming in under false pretensions or even dressed as women.

    Fur trading companies, unhappy with the U.S. government taking over the business, protested that the result was more “factories” were being closed--so the fort was shut down in 1828.  The Osage also preferred the traders coming to them since it gave their enemies less opportunity to attack them.

    In the fort proper a re-enactor was easy to spot; the guy in old fashioned clothes sitting comfortably on a bench watching the visitors.  He was in front of the captains' quarters and told us how the captains lived in contrast to the soldiers who were there.   Eighty of them slept two to a bed, but when the team was reduced to forty, each got his own bunk.



Two men to a bunk made sleeping conditions tight.



    This site was not a popular assignment for soldiers.  It was isolated, there was little to do other than practice loading a rifle three times a minute, and food was so bad some of them got scurvy.  Other soldiers took to growing their own gardens in order to have a better range of food.

     Constant problems involved who was in charge of the fort: Captain Eli Clemson or George Sibley, the manager of the trade with the Indians.

    The re-enactor pointed out that the post in the middle of the square was a punishment post.  The rule breaker was strapped to it and whipped. That no or few women were available also contributed to the hardship.

    Following our inspection of the buildings and their facilities we went to the relatively new Education Center.  Special funds had been allotted by the state and it is now used by many schools in the area as a study center, but not only of the fort but of the history of the area with emphasis on the history of the Native Americans who had inhabited the area.

   An18-minute film showed re-enactors in large numbers as if the fort was still in operation.  We noted a fair number of civilians and learned that this was a sanctuary for early settlers and explorers.

    The displays in the main area start with a history of the Hopewell, goes on to more information about the Osage including an Osage hut and an Osage couple in natural surroundings.

    Other displays focused on objects from other tribes, plants and animals of western Missouri, information about the Lewis and Clark expedition and the history of the area.

    We were impressed with this as an excellent addition to the learning experiences available to visitors as well as the  students in the area.




The Osage were a tall, powerful people who used the fort as a protection against their enemies.