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Houston science museum welcomes Bolivian boat

January 11, 2019

As the Houston Museum of Natural Science proudly displayed its new handcrafted Bolivian boat, the mayor’s office proclaimed Thursday, Jan. 10, as Bolivian Culture Day.

The 10-foot boat is built entirely with reeds from Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, employing methods that are thousands of years old.

The Bolivian Consulate originally donated the boat to Archaeology Now, which in turn gifted it to the museum so that others in Houston could enjoy it and learn about Bolivia.

“This boat is a totora boat that represents the Andean culture, and it’s floating now not only in a river or sea but in the hearts of the Houston people,” said Bolivian Ambassador Rafael Pablo Antonio Canedo Daroca.

He said a boat that size takes about three to six months to construct.

Before landing on display at the museum, the boat made a whirlwind eight-day trip to nine schools from Sheldon to Rosenberg.

Archaeology Now Executive Director Becky Lao said the tour helped 3,600 students from a wide range of backgrounds experience a part of Bolivia face to face instead of just reading about it in a textbook.

“We saw children in deep poverty, and we saw some of Houston’s most elite students. And I think that what we brought to them was special,” Lao said. “It was the opportunity to see something up close and actually realize that this is thousands of years — you are touching 50,000 years of history.”

The proclamation at the museum also set the scene for a presentation later that evening by Dr. Jo Burkholder, who is an associate professor of women’s studies and director of the Pachamama Project at the University of Wisconsin.

“Pachamama: The Andean Mother Goddess of Earth and Time” educated attendees about the cult of a universal mother named Pachamama, which still exists today in the Andean Basin.

Burkholder got her archaeological start in Bolivia some 25 years ago. She said the day’s events and the beautiful boat in front of her made her feel like things had come full circle.

“For me, this is the past coming to life. I’ve seen pictures of boats like this on pottery that go back millennia, so what people were using thousands of years ago to move back and forth across Lake Titicaca,” she said.

She added that the largest boats would transport huge blocks of basalt, which were used to make monuments in the area.

Archaeology Now, the Archaeological Institute of America: Houston Society, was founded 51 years ago by Dominique de Menil, Philip Oliver-Smith and Walter Widrig. They wanted to teach Houstonians about cultures from all over the world.

Lao said archaeology is important because it helps us better understand what happened many, many years ago.

“Historians are working with documents. Documents are ephemeral things. What’s found in the ground oftentimes will end up telling the truth in ways that a document can’t,” she said. “The winners write history, you know, but what you find in the ground is what’s there. And it tells the lives of everybody, not only just the elites but the ordinary person.”

The boat is display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at 5555 Hermann Park Drive. Visit http://www.hmns.org/ to learn more. For more information about Archaeology Now, visit http://www.archaeologynow.org.

tracy.maness@hcnonline.com

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