The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

April 11, 2011

Forensic science, archeology mix in Sam Houston Museum exhibit

HUNTSVILLE — Mix a little Texas history with crime scene investigation and throw in some archeology for good measure and you'll have a glimpse into what's going on at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum.

A new permanent exhibit opens Thursday night featuring never-before-seen artifacts from the San Jacinto Battlefield, the Bernardo Plantation, the San Jacinto surrender site and skulls excavated from the battlefield.  “The Road to San Jacinto: History, Events, Archeology,” opens at 5:30 p.m. at the museum, 1836 Sam Houston Ave.

Sandy Rogers with the museum said the exhibit focuses on the link between history and archeology.

“When you dig sometimes, history can change,” Rogers said. “Archeology can prove or disprove things that you think happened. They're going to see lots of different stuff. There's something for everybody.”

The exhibit opens as part of the 175th anniversary of Texas Independence. Amanda Danning, forensic artist and consultant with the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of Natural History, will be on hand to demonstrate facial reconstruction on one of five skulls of Mexican soliders collected in 1837 by John James Audubon.

Audubon visited the San Jacinto battlefield where he collected the skulls and later donated them to Dr. George Morton's Cranial Collection in Pennsylvania. Medical models were made of the skulls. Danning has been working with the models.

“We're putting a face on one of the plebeians (commoners),” she said. “We know about Sam Houston. We know about Santa Anna. This is the first time we've ever had a look at what it was like for the Mexican soldiers.”

Danning said each of the five skulls belonged to a battle-hardened veteran. Each showed previous battle wounds and deformities.

“They all have scars in the bone from previous battles they had healed from before they met their end at San Jacinto,” Danning said. “Not only do you get to look at the face of someone who fought at San Jacinto, probably fought at the Alamo and certainly fought at some (other) type of battle — you're also going to get to see how much tougher people were back then.”

Danning said learning about the battle of San Jacinto is exciting not only because of its place in Texas history, but also because of its importance to America as a whole.

“That battle was one of the most decisive military battles ever,” she said. “It was 600 Texians against more than 1,200 Mexicans. There were over 600 Mexicans dead. It was one of the most incredible battles ever — in 18 minutes. That's pretty impressive.”

Danning said anyone with an interest in the military, Texas history or CSI should find something to love about the new exhibit.

“We have some of the most interesting Texas history available and it's on the cutting edge,” she said. “It's just now coming out of the ground. They're still doing the archeological dig. There's still a lot of digging to be done at the San Jacinto battlefield. If you're interested in Texas history, anthropology, archeology — we've got it all here.”

Rogers said she was excited about the archeology going on at the Bernardo Plantation.

“We are the only museum anywhere that is displaying artifacts recently excavated from the Bernardo Plantation where Sam Houston camped on the way to San Jacinto,” Rogers said. “We also have artifacts from the surrender site south of the battlefield. (The story of surrender) was always thought to be true, but archeology has proved it to be true.”

The Bernardo Plantation was considered the largest and wealthiest cotton plantation in Mexican-owned Texas. Some of the artifacts on display include coins, door hardware and pieces of China dinnerware.

Rogers also wanted to stress how important it is for people to get involved in what's happening with the Texas Legislature. Some House Bills under consideration would do away with the Texas Historical Commission, which would stop all funding for these archeological digs.

“175 years after Texas Independence, and we're still fighting,” she said.

For more information, call Rogers at (936) 661-9882.

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