Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Old Fashioned Holiday

The Western Science Center, in conjunction with the Diamond Valley Lake Visitor's Center, opened its doors to the community to usher in an "Old Fashioned Holiday". Visitors young and old explored the museum, took pictures with Santa and had a hand at our holiday crafts.

It was a great event and we hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Atom smasher catches 1st high-energy collisions (from Yahoo! News)


Its a big day in the world of subatomic physics. CERN's Large Hadron Collider, located in Geneva, Switzerland, had its first successful collision. This marks the first major functioning milestone for the reactor, the successful end of a long and interesting journey rife with enough political intrigue and technical miracles to fill a season of The West Wing and Star Trek.

The mere existence of the LHC is remarkable in itself. At a cost of about $9 billion (the same amount as the largest check ever written), its the most expensive scientific experiment in history. It's also, naturally, the largest particle accelerator ever built - a huge metal doughnut 17 miles around, kept at a vacuum so powerful that there is actually more air in interplanetary space than there is within the LHC.

All 9300 of its superconducting magnets are kept at a temperature colder than outer space, while the energies of the collisions produce temperatures 100,000 times that of the core of the Sun.

The initial test collision accelerated protons to an energy of 1.18 TeV (1.18 trillion electron volts), edging out the previous record of 0.98 TeV. 1 TeV is about the energy of a mosquito flying - but all packed down into the size of a proton. When fully charged, the LHC can achieve a remarkable collision energy of 14 TeV - allowing scientists for the first time to recreate the conditions jsut moments after the Big Bang.

One thing scientists are hoping to discover is the Higgs Boson, an elusive little subatomic particle first predicted in the 1960s - the particle that gives things mass. The physicists at the LHC hope, to oversimply it, to smash together protons so hard that they knock the very mass out of them.

There still remains several obstacles for the scientists of CERN to overcome before they can achieve that goal. The technical precision needed to handle the unfathomable energies of the LHC means that they have zero room for error or variance, and the technology has already failed several times, even at "low" energies. Some people even worried that the massive energies of the collisions would create tiny black holes (dont worry, even the LHC doesnt nearly approach the energies you'd need to crunch a proton down THAT much). But for now, we can celebrate a success in one of the latest great undertakings of Big Science.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Honoring America's Heroes

With the help of the VFW and the Hemet Fire Department, the Western Science Center proudly raised our new flag over the campus on November 10, 2009. The flag, flown over the United States Capitol on October 15, 2009, was provided by the Honorable Mary Bono Mack of the US House of Representatives.

Set at half mast in rememberance of our nation's recent tragedy at Fort Hood, the Western Science Center flag will be raised on Veteran's Day to honor those who have served our country.

This Veteran's Day, it is our honor to offer free admission to all veterans and active military.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Goodbye to the "Father of Modern Anthroplogy"

October 31, 2009 anthropology lost one of its greatest contributors, Claude Levi-Strauss. At the age of 100, the "father of modern anthropology" quietly passed away in his Paris home. Levi-Strauss was a leading post-war intellectual who inspired academics in multiple fields with his studies in structuralism, and is the leading contributor to the structural anthropology school of thought.

Defined as an approach to studying the structures and oppostions that make up human phenomenon, Levi-Strauss used strucutralism to analize myth, language, religion and food preparation of serval cultures. He proposed that all humans see things in binary opposites and that culture interpretes those opposites in a way that is unique and logical to its members. He went on to study commonalities between tribal and industrial communities, and a better understanding of universal human patterns of thought. With his research, Claude Levi-Strauss published some of the most influential academic works of the post-war era, including The Savage Mind, Tristes Tropiques and The Elemental Structures of Kinship.

A noted and respected author, teacher, and academic, Claude Levi-Strauss will be remebered for his great contributions to the study of anthropology and the humanities as a whole.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Megaquake in Seattle?

Megaquake Looms Over Seattle from Discovery News

Southern California isnt the only part of the US that lives in fear of a major earthquake. This new study suggests that a major earthquake in the Pacific Northwest might occur much closer to major population centers in the Seattle area than previously thought. As Southern Californians, we all know what kind of dangers earthquakes can pose near major metropolises.

The Cascadia fault in Washington is a different type than the faults we have in Southern California. It's a thrust fault - where two continental plates are converging, and one slides underneath the other. As they grind along each other, they can produce earthquakes. In Southern California, our major faults are transform faults - where two plates are sliding past each other. Thrust faults typically generate deeper and more powerful earthquakes than transform faults - while the study estimates a 9.0 magnitude quake on the Cascadia fault, the largest that the San Andreas fault can support in this area is about 8.6, about 2.5x less energetic.

The Northridge earthquake of 1994 was also triggered along a much smaller thrust fault that ran underneath the Los Angeles area. Although that quake was only of moderate intensity (6.7 magnitude), it exemplifies the type of damage that an earthquake along a thrust fault can wreak near a major city.

This might actually be good news, though, for those not in the immediate earthquake area - the new "hot zone" for the fault has moved from offshore to under the Olympic peninsula. A suboceanic earthquake would pose a higher risk of generating devastating tsunamis that would propagate up and down the Pacific seaboard; the last major earthquake on the fault, around the year 1700, caused destructive tsunami waves that traveled as far away as Japan.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mammoth Discovery

Baby mammoth yields secrets after 40,000 years in Siberian Tundra
from the Times UK

A woolly mammoth was discovered in 2007 in the Arctic tundra, and is making news this week. What's truly fascinating about this is the age of the mammoth - only a month old when she died. She was amazingly well preserved, as well; the best-preserved woolly mammoth mummy yet found. Her eyes, her organs, even the food in her stomach were all preserved by the clay that trapped and suffocated her.

Scientists hope that this exceptional preservation will let them explore details that might shed new light on mammoth physiology and the changing environment of her times - about 40,000 years ago.

Lyuba is a woolly mammoth - different than the Colombian mammoths that inhabited the Diamond Valley area in the Pleistocene. They lived in colder, more northern, tundra-like environments, and grew the shaggy wool coat that gives them their name. Colombian mammoths inhabited more temperate lower-latitude grasslands, and while they had some hair, it was not the full, thick coat you see in Woolly mammoths.

One similarity between Lyuba and mammoths in this region, though, is how she was first found. She was discovered by a Siberian reindeer farmer, having eroded partway out of a riverbank. Similar finds pop up in Southern California every year - mammoth tusks or horse bones that may have lain under the surface for millenia, peeking out after a rainstorm or catching the toe of some lucky hiker passing by. Fortunately for paleontologists, the Siberian farmer got in contact with scientists before she was tampered with any more, and they were able to excavate Lyuba carefully to ensure this unique discovery will tell us all it can about the world of the woolly mammoth.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Backyard Monsters!

The new exhibit is up! Backyard Monsters opened last Saturday, and even though it was a whirlwind installation, everything found a place and was up and operational in time. Getting the dragonfly hung in place was a particular challenge, but it was worth the effort and looks great, hovering over the entrance to the exhibit with its 10 foot wingspan.

The exhibit really fills in the gallery with a lot of information and entertainment. The giant robot insects are impressive, of course - when we first turned them on, I was impressed by how nuanced and complex their movement was. They definitely are more than just bugs on a stick!

I was equally impressed by the diversity of the specimen collection. There are dozens of very impressive specimens of insects from all over the world. Beautiful, iridescent Morpho butterflies, spiny walking sticks almost as long as your arm, giant bees, and even bigger tropical beetles...the exhibit has just about every cool bug you can think of. It'll make you glad you live in Southern California, and dont ever have to worry about finding one on your pillow in the morning!

The interactive exhibits have a lot of good information and really make it easy to understand how these bugs are put together and what makes them work. The robobugs are lots of fun to play with, too!

I think this exhibit is going to be a tremendous success here at the Western Center. The schoolkids that have been through the exhibit love it right away, and they're learning a lot as they go through. If you're close enough to make the drive to Hemet, we really hope you'll come out and visit, you cant really appreciate how impressive it is until you see it for yourself!


Monday, September 14, 2009

Anth 205

The Western Center is pleased to open its simulated dig site to the class of ANTH 205. The course, offered by Mt. San Jacinto College, focuses students on archaeological excavations. Anthropology professor Pam Ford, who is teaching the class, believes that "the simulated site is a unique opportunity for college students to learn excavation without damage to the archaeological record as well as to have fun in hands-on learning. The partnership between the college and the Western Center is a benefit to the entire community". The flagship class of 10 has met the required prerequisites and seems to be enthusiastically tackling the job at hand.

For more information please visit the Mt. San Jacito College website: www.msjc.edu or contact the Western Center for Archaeology & Paleontology at (951) 791-0033.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Excavation Summer Camps

We once again put our Simulated Dig Site to use, this time for our Excavation Summer Camps. We offered week long archaeology and paleontology camps that gave middle school-aged students the opportunity to learn how to properly excavate, record and catalog artifacts as well as a chance at some hands-on dirty work. With Doug teaching the paleontology camp and Darla teaching the archaeology camp, we certainly had our hands full. We went through lots of water, sunscreen and snacks, and although the heat was not always on our side, we had a great turn out and the kids seemed to have a good time and they did a great job. We look forward to the continuation and growth of our excavation programs and hope to be offering adult excavation courses soon!

For more information please contact us at (951) 791-0033 or visit the website.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ask the Experts: How do you know the animals are extinct?

This is a very interesting question - how can we be sure that an animal is really extinct? How do we know there aren't still some lost mammoths - or even dinosaurs - hidden in a Lost World in some remote corner of the globe? Well, the most honest answer is we really can't ever be totally sure - but we can say that the chances of a species surviving are so amazingly slim that it would be virtually impossible to find one remaining.

That's not to say it still can't happen, though - and in fact it has, several times! Famously, in 1938, fishermen off the east coast of Africa caught a kind of fish, called a coelacanth, that scientists had thought went extinct with the dinosaurs. Other animals, like a certain type of ant and a certain type of shellfish, as well as several types of plants, have also been rediscovered by science after they were presumed long extinct. When a species or group reappears after disappearing from the fossil record for a long period, scientists call it a Lazarus taxon.

Still, its one thing to rediscover a type of ant, and another to rediscover a 12,000 pound mammoth. It might be possible to hide from scientists and explorers in the far recesses of inaccessible rainforest, or down in the deepest depths of the ocean, but mastodons and giant sloths roamed the same hills and plains and woodlands that humans visit and inhabit.

If they still exist somewhere, where is the evidence of them? Why do we suddenly stop finding bones and other evidence of Ice Age mammals at the end of the Pleistocene? Where could they have been hiding for the last 12,000 years? Even the very last mammoth bones we see anywhere on Earth, from remote and sheltered Wrangel Island in Siberia, are still at least 4000 years old - and those mammoths only managed to survive that long by changing dramatically.

In short, it always may be possible to discover a member of some Lost World in the remote Arctic or at the bottom of the sea. But the larger the animal, the less remote its natural habitat, and the longer its been since we stop finding evidence of it, the more certain we can be that it really has gone extinct.


Friday, July 10, 2009

2nd Place in 2009 "Battle of the Boards"

The Western Center took 2nd place in the 2nd Annual Romona Bowl Amphitheater "Battle of the Boards" Lip Sync competition held at Soboba Casino on June 26th. Thanks to a rousing and hilarious Cher performance by our own Peter, Sue and Darla, $1,500 was won for the Western Center Community Foundation. All the boards represented put on a wonderful show and all proceeds went to the Ramona Bowl Amphitheater. It was a great event!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ask the Experts: How did paleontology start?

The study of animals' remains, both living and extinct, goes back to the beginning of human civilization itself. Several ancient cultures such as the Greeks, Chinese and Persians studied the natural world, including preserved animal remains, and made many discoveries, such as that climates and environments could change over time. However, the modern science of paleontology did not emerge until the 1800s.

Fossils themselves have been found throughout history around the world - what modern paleontology provides is the understanding of what they are and what they can tell us. What we call dinosaurs and mastodons today, ancient cultures called dragons and cyclopes, because they lacked all the basic information needed to understand their true nature.

Throughout the 19th Century, the understanding of the natural sciences in Europe became increasingly more advanced as scientists made discoveries that let them explore more and more complex questions. Scientists began putting forth ideas that would become the foundations of the modern sciences: James Hutton in Scotland put forth theories about rock formation that would lead to the understanding of geologic time; George Cuvier of France would provide conclusive evidence that animals could go extinct; and Charles Darwin would propose the idea of natural selection and adaptation. Even President Thomas Jefferson had a keen interest in paleontology and was perhaps the first vertebrate paleontologist in America, with a species of giant ground sloth named for him (Megalonyx jeffersoni, which can be seen at the Western Center).

As more and more of the pieces fell into place, the picture we understand today of the biologic and geologic history of Earth became more clear. This gave scientists the background they needed to figure out what all those dragon and cyclops bones really were. Comparisons to other animals let scientists classify fossil animals and determine their relationships with other organisms. Geology provided a timeframe for the fossil record and suggested how bones might be preserved as fossils. The ideas of extinction and evolution suggested that animals could change over time, and that not all animals that ever existed are still alive today.

The modern fossil craze that continues through today can trace its origins back to 1822, when an English doctor and paleontologist named Gideon Mantell first described a dinosaur, Iguanodon. This started a public fascination with dinosaurs that continued through the Great Exhibition of 1851, when concrete statues of dinosaurs were displayed - the first major paleontology exhibit - and the Bone Wars in America in the 1870s-1890s, when rival paleontologists O. C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope fought bitterly to see who could describe more new species of dinosaurs, discovering almost 140 between them.

From there, understanding of Earth's paleontological history became ever more thorough as more new discoveries and studies were made, leading to the level of knowledge we have today and share at the Western Center.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ask the Experts: Could there be another Ice Age someday?

There have been many ice ages throughout the history of Earth, and not only the ones when mammoths and saber tooth cats lived. Ice covered much of the planet before dinosaurs evolved over 250 million years ago. There was also another ice age almost 700 million years ago, during a period called the Precambrian, when all that was around was soft-bodied animals like jellyfish and worms in the oceans.

Scientists can tell there was ice because we find rocks from those times that have marks from being scraped or moved by glaciers - huge frozen rivers of ice flowing slowly down mountainsides. Some of these rocks were found in areas that, at the time, were in mid latitudes or even the tropics - imagine ice and blizzards in the Caribbean!

There are many things that can push Earth towards an ice age, and when several of them occur together, it can shift the environment far enough to cause glaciation (the process of covering Earth with ice) to begin. The sun has become hotter over time, greenhouse gases increase and decrease, the orbit and tilt of Earth fluctuates, and the movements from plate tectonics and geological activity continue to change the planet we live in. All these environmental factors play a role in creating an ice age like the one our Mastodon, 'Max', lived in.

All these factors react with each other and themselves in a complex dance that determines the climate of Earth. For example, ice is white and reflects sunlight very efficiently. When ice begins to spread, more sunlight gets reflected away, which makes the Earth cooler, which causes the ice to spread even more. Once you get a feedback loop such as that going, it takes a lot to get it to completely stop, and that is how ice ages can begin.

About 12,000 years ago, the last glacial period ended and we entered a warmer interglacial period. Technically, we're still in an "ice age" - if there's ice covering large portions of the Earth, like it does in Antarctica or the North Pole, it's still considered an ice age - though right now we're in a relatively warm period where most of the ice has gone. That could change, though, if we enter a new glacial cycle. The geological record shows that's probably going to happen between 28,000 to 88,000 years from now....so probably no need to go buy a heavy jacket and a snowmobile just yet.

DJ and DA

Friday, June 26, 2009


Our new exhibit, ART meets SCIENCE, has been open for a few weeks now and the response has been great! Its fantastic to see the creativity our visitors demonstrate - every week there's examples of new and innovative ideas on the exhibit floor. Its amazing that they can make such impressive structures from the simple KEVA blocks.

Our opening day competition was a great success, too. All the contestants' entries were impressive, but a few stood out as exemplary. You can see images of the winning designs here on our website.

Its also very fun to watch people of all ages enjoying the exhibit - from young schoolchildren on field trips, to parents and even grandparents. Some of the adults get even more into it than the children!

We have another competition coming up this weekend, as well as competitions in July and August - you can sign up on our webpage if you want to participate. It will be very interesting to see what kind of designs come out each month!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Excavations Underway

Last week we had our very first group of eager middle schoolers take shovel and trowel to our newly constructed simulated dig site. Excavate!, one of the spring break camps offered here at the Western Center, aimed to teach the proper techniques, procedures and ethics involved in archaeology. From field surveys to 1x1's and lab research our first group did wonderfully and seemed to have a great time too! Our first camp went off without a hitch and we look forward to many more to come.

Please contact the Western Center for Archaeology & Paleontology at (951) 791-0033 if you would like to get involved in excavations at our simulated dig site!


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Time and trowel wait for no man...

Well, only 3 short, shovel-happy months after we began work on our simulated paleontology-archaeology dig site, it's finally ready for all the kids to come dig everything back out again! Take a look...



As you can see, things look a lot different than they did when we started. The hills are green, the piles of dirt have come and gone, and the pits are full...and those pits hold a LOT more dirt than you might think they would.

Now, though, comes the fun part....getting to teach kids about field techniques! Our first test program in archaeology begins only a scant week away, for students in grades 5-8 (lots of space still available! See our main website for more details if you'd like to participate). This summer, all the pits open full-time for middle-school summer camps and drop-in Dig Days for the general public.

Everyone here is looking forward to getting to show you all some of the most exciting parts of archaeology and paleontology, the way you only can if you come get down in the dirt with us!


Monday, March 9, 2009

Ask the Experts: How do you know where to look for fossils?

The truth is that you sometimes have to get lucky. There are lots of fossils in the ground all over Southern California. A lot of times you'll find them when you start digging up the ground to build something, like Diamond Valley Lake, a pipeline, or maybe your house! Whenever construction crews find fossils when they're digging, they hire a paleontologist to come out and collect them before they dig any more.

Other times you'll go out looking for fossils. You can start to guess where you might find them by looking at the layers of dirt and rock in an area - geologists call that stratigraphy. If you know a certain layer of dirt is a certain age, and you know it had fossils in it in one location, you can guess that it might have more fossils somewhere else, too.

You can also guess at where fossils might be if you know what the environment was like in an area long ago. If you know that a certain location used to be a river or lakebed, for instance, you might guess that its more likely to find fossils there, since more animals would have come there for water, died, and been buried. There are certain environments that preserve fossils better and others that dont preserve fossils at all; you can learn more about these from the interactive displays in the museum gallery.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ask the Experts: Why did the Ice Age end?

Climate change is brought on by a combination of changes in Earth’s rotation and orbit, atmospheric composition and geological conditions.

There are several factors that contribute to the Earth’s change in climate over time. Atmospheric gas, the Earth’s rotation, plate tectonics and natural disasters are all considered to be possible contributing factors in the climate change. The amount of greenhouse gases found in the atmosphere can drastically affect the temperature here on Earth, the more greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor and ozone, the higher the temperature. During the beginning of an ice age, the amount of greenhouse gases begins to decrease, which cools the Earth’s temperature. At the end of the ice age the greenhouse gases begin to rise, which in turn raises the temperature. The exact cause for these fluctuations are unknown, but most likely they are a result of multiple factors. One possible explanation for the change in greenhouse gases is geological activity.

Volcanoes, earthquakes and plate tectonics all affect the geological make up of the Earth, which in turn can affect the atmospheric conditions. Changes in the orbit of the Earth around the sun, known as Milankovitch cycles, alter the amount of exposure the Earth receives from the sun. These orbital cycles result in climate change patterns expected to be seen every 100,000 years. The total effect of the Milankovitch cycles are unknown, but scientific study indicates that the change in orbit can affect temperature and climate.

The combination of geological activity, atmospheric composition and changes in Earth’s rotation and orbit, all contribute to the climate changes seen at the end of the last Ice Age.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Disney is here!

After months of planning and hard work by the Western Center staff, the Experience Museum Project staff and our board of directors, The Disney Music behind the Magic exhibit is finally here! We have stenciled, painted, fundraised and organized all to bring this wonderful exhibit to Southern California. This exhibit showcases the role music has played in the development of the Disney movies, TV shows and Broadway productions that we have come to know and love. There are over 50 rare and unique artifacts found in the exhbit ranging from costumes to sheet music and sound effects tools. The Western Center for Archaeology & Paleontology is the only museum in the state of California to receive this traveling exhibit, and will be its home from February 6th to May 10th 2009. We have had numerous geneorus sponsors, as well as excited guests, and had a wonderful opening weekend complete with a visit from Radio Disney. We hope you join us here at the Western Center to experience the Music behind the Magic.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Disney: The Making of the Magic

DA: For an exhibition on a history as creative and artistic as Disney’s, it is no wonder we had to be a little bit creative ourselves. At the beginning of our planning phase we walked into our empty temporary exhibit gallery, looked around and could only imagine the enormous transformation that had to take place…. not to mention the enormous amount of work it was going to take to do it! This was to be the biggest change our gallery had ever seen.

First the walls had to be moved, patched and painted. Two days, four coats and a handful of dirty clothes later we had gone from beige walls to bright red and yellow. The fresh coat of paint hinted at the fun and exciting atmosphere this exhibit was going to create at the Western Center.

After the paint dried, Margaret, Amanda and I got to work on the Disney character stencils. We had made transparencies of 5 recognizable Disney images that were going to be painted on the walls, and began tracing the projector's outline in yellow and red paint. The stencils reached to heights of 10 feet, and required a bit of flexibility to refrain from painting your own shadow onto the wall! Margaret began with Pinocchio, while Amanda and I tackled the Disney theme park castle. The stenciling process was slow and meticulous, not to mention difficult depending on the light coming in from our large windows. Over the course of 2 days, and with help from Holly, we managed to finish Pinocchio, Genie, the Castle, the New Mickey Mouse Club, and Mickey Mouse himself. We became such fans of the outlines that we began to brainstorm about ways to incorporate stenciling into all of our exhibits…..anyone up for stenciling a mastodon?! ☺

With a little bit of creativity and a cast of our own Western Center “characters” we were able to create the atmosphere and appearance you see in the exhibit

DH: Disney descended upon us in a whirlwind of trunks, crates, and boxes. When opened they began to release the magic contained within. Each item they held was packed with care, from the music scores, to the records, to the clothing and memorabilia. All had to be removed from their protective layering of box, acid free paper, and foam layers. Like all museum objects they had to be examined, held with white cotton gloves, and their condition noted in a report. And each has an unique story to tell, from the jacket worn by Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, the Davey Crockett doll, to the dress worn in the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast.

DJ: There was a lot of technical work that went into the installation of the Disney exhibit. It's by far the most technically advanced and interactive exhibit we've had at the Western Center, and getting it up and running by opening day meant overcoming a lot of technical challenges. TVs, speakers, and headphones were the easy part - the real challenge was with the more complicated displays, like the Disney Challenge game and the sound effects recording booth. There were a lot of wires that all needed to be run just right - and kept away from anywhere any curious young fingers might wander, as well! There wasnt a single electronic exhibit in the gallery that didnt give us some kind of trouble, but, of course, we managed to solve all the problems by opening night.

Beyond the cords and wires, there were challenges just to put some of our pieces on display, like hanging the sun backdrop on our Lion King stage, which weighs over 40 lbs and hangs 10 feet off the ground, suspended by cables only 1/16" thick.

Once all the exhibits were installed, the lighting had to be adjusted, too - and that meant climbing into a portable lift and going up over 30 feet, to the top of the ceilings in the parapets - the highest point inside the museum - and adjusting all the lights by hand. You might notice some of our windows have been blocked out, too - this is to protect our Disney artifacts from direct sunlight, which can be very destructive to paper and ink. All those windows had to be blocked out by hand, way up on the lift, as well. It felt pretty good to get back down on solid ground after waving back and forth up there all day

Monday, February 2, 2009

Ask the Experts: Why did the animals die?

A shift in climate approximately 11,000 years ago ended the Ice Age and resulted in the extinction of the animals seen in our exhibits.

In the Diamond Valley Lake area the fossil record supports the notion that large Ice Age animals died not from a sudden catastrophic event, but as a result of a gradual climate change. This change began to melt the ice sheets and decrease the amount of open landscapes. These changes drastically affected rainfall and growing cycles, changing once-green grasslands and forests into drier chapparal and deserts, and ultimately affecting the entire ecosystem. The change in the weather decreased the amount of plants in the area, and so created greater competition for both plant-eating animals (like mammoths) and, in turn, the predators (like saber tooth cats) that hunted them.

The climate shift also created new environments for bacteria and disease. The microorganisms thrived due to warmer temperatures, as well as new available animal hosts. The slow metabolism of many of the large animals, such as ground sloths, could not fight off these new diseases that flourished in the warmer temperatures.

In other Ice Age sites, fossils have been found indicating large mammals died, at least in part, from being over hunted by humans. At the Diamond Valley Lake sites, though, a gap of 2,000 years exists between the last large mammal fossils and the earliest human archaeological remains, indicating that this was not the case for the mammals in our area.

The combination of restricted food and water supplies, warmer weather, and increased competition and disease all contributed to the death of Ice Age animals. The Ice Age mammal’s inability to adapt to the changes in their environment eventually lead to their extinction.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ask the Experts: Where are the dinosaurs?

This is one of our most popular questions!

The main reason we do not have any dinosaur fossils at the Western Center is because there were none found in this area. The Western Center focuses on the paleontology of the surrounding Riverside County region, which has had very little in the way of dinosaur finds.

The landscape during the time of the dinosaurs was much different than it is today. The area that is now Riverside County was completely underwater during the time of the dinosaurs, which paleontologists call the Mesozoic Era (made up of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods). This alone makes dinosaur fossils a very rare occurrence in Southern California. It wasn’t until much later, during the Ice Age, that our region was above the water and able to be inhabited by many of the animals we see in the museum today.

(Image: California during the Jurassic Period. Aerial image courtesy of Department of Geology, Arizona State University)


Friday, January 16, 2009

Ask the Experts: Why are some animals extinct and others arent?

While it may not seem like it on the scale of a human lifetime, the Earth is constantly changing over thousands or millions of years. And, likewise, all the lifeforms that inhabit Earth must constantly change to adapt to it. The animals we see alive today are the ones that are best adapted to the environment and ecology of the planet, the way it is right now.

There are several ways that species can become extinct. The most obvious one is when all the members of a species die out. This can happen for a lot of reasons: there can be a catastrophe, like when a meteor hit the Earth 65 million years ago and killed off the dinosaurs. There have been 5 times in the course of Earth's history when something major happened that killed off many, many species all around the planet. The biggest, called the end-Permian extinction, caused 95% of all species in the oceans to become extinct.

Species can also die out when other species compete with them for the same resources, and they lose, or when the environment changes and they don't adapt fast enough.

Its very,very rare, though, for a species to become extinct this way. The vast majority of extinct species we see in the fossil record became extinct when all of their members evolved into something new. All the species we have on Earth today evolved from similar-looking but different species that aren't around anymore. Different types of animals can evolve at different rates...for mammals, the average time a species can exist before it evolves into something else is about 1 million years. That means, in a million years, modern squirrels or rabbits may be extinct, but we may have another or even several new species of squirrel- or rabbit-like animals that descended from them.

In the museum, you can see many extinct species that are related to modern species. Mammoths and mastodons are similar to modern elephants, and all of them evolved from a common elephant-like ancestor. The giant Shasta ground sloth you can see is related to the smaller modern tree sloths, as well as two other types of giant ground sloths that were all adapted for living in different types of environments - forests, grasslands, and arid plains. Unfortunately for all of them, when the Ice Age ended and the environment changed, they couldnt adapt fast enough, and so went extinct.


Ask the Experts: What are the differences between mammoths and mastodons?

Mammoths and mastodons both fall within the taxonomic order Proboscidea, but they are classified in different families. Mastodons belong to the family Mammutidae, an extinct lineage, while mammoths belong to the same family as present day elephants, Elephantidae.

The key diagnostic difference between the two is the shape of their teeth, which helped them to eat different types of foliage. Mastodon means “breast tooth”, which refers to the pointed cusps on their molars that allowed them to crush leaves and other soft plant material. A forest ecosystem offered plenty of forage for the mastodons, such as Ponderosa pines, leafy trees such as oaks, Manzanita and other scrub plants. While mastodons had a leafy diet, mammoths primarily ate grass. The flat enamel plates of the mammoth’s molar were perfect for grinding up hard-to-digest grasses. Both dined well in the Domenigoni and Diamond valleys, with a rich buffet of grasslands, forests, and wetlands.

Another difference was that compared to mastodons, mammoths were taller and had longer, more slender limb bones, and higher, more rounded foreheads.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Visitor Questions

Every week, we have hundreds of visitors coming through our museum here in Hemet, CA, to see our fascinating displays of Native American and 19th c. artifacts, and our amazing collection of Ice Age fossils, and a lot of these visitors ask us some really great questions about the archaeology and paleontology of Southern California. Periodically, our experts will answer some of our most popular questions for you here.

If you'd like to ask the experts a question, you can submit it via email to westerncenterblog@gmail.com, or better yet, come visit the museum and fill out a question card in our gallery.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Welcome to the Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology Blog! The Western Center focuses on the rich archaeological and paleontological history of Riverside County with a wonderful collection of both Native American and historic artifacts, as well as the fossils from one of the largest ice age sites ever found. Here is the one place to stay up to date on exciting developments within the museum, from up-and-coming exhibits, education programs and field related news to the behind the scene activites of the Western Center Staff. Thank you for reading and please check back soon!