Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum


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


    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

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.