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Entries in prehistory (15)


{field trip} UofM Exhibit Museum of Natural History—Behind the Scenes Day

What was I just saying about having so many great field trip opportunities so close to home?


This one was only fifteen minutes away, which was a good thing when we were leaving the house this afternoon with only about that much to spare. The Exhibit Museum of Natural History at the University of Michigan has already become a favorite stopping point for us, but today they opened their wings and offered a special glimpse of their behind the scenes work as well.

bird specimen collection

There are a few things in this world that fill me with great warmth and joy simply at their mention. I'm sure this is true for most people—our minds tend to link the feeling of comfort with certain experiences, this being the basis behind the pacifier, the trusty blanket, a hug from a loved one, and, of course, comfort food. For me one of these moments was an entire semester, later in my college years, spent studying the object of my desire: evolutionary biology and animal behavior. I spent an obscene number of hours studying that term, and most of them were spent in room 303 in the Natural History Museum: the Museum Teaching Collection and Lab. Mere memory of that lab and its professors is enough to fill me with an inner peace and longing, a pang of nostalgia.

room 303

Calvin and I have been visiting the museum several times annually for a couple of years now. Of course he loves the museum. The countless hours we have spent pouring over books on prehistoric life are made real there, as are a number of rare and/or local species he has never seen alive himself. He loves the rotunda, and the selection of reading materials available in the small library on the main exhibit floor. We both enjoy the dioramas of ancient life, and the murals, which are ancient in their own right. And every time we visit I feel a pull from the authorized personnel only doors off to the side, or turning a corner in the specimen hall will fill me with nostalgia for days of packed lunches eaten on the benches there while pouring over notes on the identification of lagomorphs based on dental orientation, or something of the like.

in the exhibit museum

Today was a chance for me to return to those moments, and to share them with Jon and Calvin. The rooms looked the same and smelled the same and I could not contain the smile that crept onto my face when we entered them. We took four tours, the one in the bird and mammal wing being the most important to me, but we also toured the paleontology, invertebrate, and anthropology wings. Aside from rare views of rooms full of specimens, we were also treated to the exuberance of the true scholars of each field, professors and graduate students, all being thoroughly in love with their fields and more than eager to share their love with the public. Though the event was free, groups were kept to manageable sizes by requiring pre-registration and tickets, which also helped limit attendees to those were actually interested in an hour's worth of lecture on the subjects.

scarlet tanagers

in the mammal teaching specimen room

in the Paleontology wing—mammoth study room

in the basement...the Paleontology collection

in the mollusk wing

viewing a butterfly's wings under a microscope

a pretty private look in the anthropology department

Calvin says his favorite moment was the Paleontology tour, and possibly making a cast of a Clovis point in the anthropology wing. Jon, who had yet to even visit the museum with us, says he enjoyed everything. For me, the greatest moment was just walking into room 303, and getting to see the cabinet of bat specimens, my favorite creature of study from that year so long ago, was just icing on the cake.


If you need us we'll be in Mesopotamia

Neanderthals, Cro-Magnon, human migration to the continents. The stone age, the Fertile Crescent, the first farmers, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile and Egypt. Calvin can't seem to get enough of any of it. Nearly every book he picks up, every picture he draws, and every chance he gets "can we have tea and read some more about history?"

It's a beautiful thing.

So what are we doing? We're loosely following Intellego's World History volume I unit study, and The Story of the World, and have found Archaeology for Kids to be a good go-with. We've watched and re-watched all of the Legacy videos. A favorite new story book around here is Mik's Mammoth, with its rhyming language and beautiful watercolor illustrations (love), and the Middle East and Asia Geo Puzzles have come in rather handy. I knew I'd love those things.


Winter weekend

It started with a light weight snow storm. Not a storm at all, but since it's the first real snow we've seen all year any amount that called for shoveling might have been classified a storm. We battened the hatches and consumed soup and fresh bread in front of a fire on Friday night, and woke to a few inches on the ground and light flakes in the air on Saturday morning.

Saturday we made a book sale day. One of the only things worth getting up for on a Saturday morning is a good used book sale. We hit two on Saturday, and then our favorite lunch spot in downtown Ann Arbor, too—we were celebrating Jon's first published piece, which came out on Friday.

There was some Wii Fit Plus, some piano, a lot of book reading. Sometimes I feel like a broken record. Snap Circuits, Lego play, napping, and cozy fires.

Sunday we found a new video to add to our American history collection—Solutreans: The First Americans— that allowed us to discuss not only survival during the stone age, but also the concept of controversial theories and changing, or evolving, beliefs based on increased archeological evidence.

Our colds are almost gone, our energy is returning. We closed the weekend with a dinner party with friends, Calvin is in bed, Jon and I are in the second half of the second season of Twin Peaks (we have been devouring the episodes one after another after Calvin's bedtime, discovering a love we missed out on in adolescence) and we are ready for what promises to be a very busy week ahead.


Cave paintings on a Wednesday

Today turned out not to be for chores. Who needs clean laundry anyway? We're still doing swim lessons every Wednesday at the Goldfish Swim School on Wednesday mornings, something that Calvin loves, and while we're in town we tend to run errands. But when we came home we got right down to the serious stuff and created some cave paintings.

Cave paintings are mentioned in several of the videos we've watched on prehistoric human life, and we checked out a couple of books from our library, too—Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave, which was the best source we could find for pictures, and The First Painter, which was a fantastic story book with beautiful illustrations. So today we tried our own. Calvin collected items from the yard that would have been available to the original cave painters, busted out the washable red paint (which he called ochre for the duration of the project), and tried his hand (and fingers and pieces of nature) at painting a mammoth, a Megaloceros, and other designs he'd seen in the books.

It was a lot of fun. A little messy, and a lot of fun.


Don't sew with cats

It is snowing rather insistently outside at this moment and that adds to the festive feeling that is beginning to take over the house. Our morning project was to light the tree and, although it's still awaiting all but two ornaments, it does add a cheery glow to the place.

It actually rained all day—a driving, frigid rain that finally talked us out of running the errands we'd had planned. We spent the morning on the tree and on a few tidbits here and there, like piano, Legos, and rediscovering favorite annual books. Then we got as far as getting dressed after lunch only to stand in the front window and watch the rain blow in sheets, listening to the wind batter the house, before we turned right around and changed back into pajamas. It was just that kind of day.

So a little more decorating, a little time spent with human evolution and migration (we found a great new book: Evolution, The Human Story), and some rediscovering of our favorite seasonal books (ahhh, the Polar Express, just for my train lover).

And then there was a lot of crafting.

We did some prep work for Christmas cards, and then we tackled a sewing project. Sewing on the floor with a cat in the room is near impossible (I could not convince her that the thread was not a toy). Still we actually finished two ornaments together and learned along the way; I learned a blanket stitch, and Calvin got his first go at sewing, something he greatly enjoyed.

And that snow outside, if it does what they say (although when does it ever?), will blanket us with up to five inches of wet snow over night. I love that first morning of waking to white, but I hope it doesn't slow us down on the errands that now must be run—our St. Nicholas celebration practically right around the corner.