They Go Way Back

Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will have a rare opportunity to step back in time to one of the world's oldest civilizations when a new exhibit, "Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur," opens Sunday, Oct. 17. Artifacts and human remains from the ancient Sumerian city-state of Ur, on the western bank of the Euphrates River in what now is southern Iraq, offer a look into the traditions of royal life and death in Mesopotamia nearly 5,000 years ago.

Among the 150 objects on view in the exhibit, scheduled through Jan. 17, are jewelry of gold and semiprecious stones, ancient musical instruments, tools and weapons made from precious metals and containers depicting royal celebrations and rituals. All were found in 16 undisturbed royal tombs during an archaeological expedition from 1922 to 1934.

The museum, at 1050 Independence Ave. SW, is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Christmas Day. Admission is free. 202-357-2700.

THE HUNTING APES

Craig Stanford, associate professor of biological anthropology at the University of Southern California, has studied chimpanzees in Tanzania and Uganda since 1989. In researching their hunting behavior, Stanford has documented numerous instances of chimps trading meat for sex and power. On Thursday, Oct. 14, 8 p.m., he is to discuss how hunting and sharing meat may have influenced the origins of human intelligence. The lecture is in the Educational Building of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park. Reservations are required. Stanford is to sign copies of his book, The Hunting Apes, at 7 p.m. 202-673-4801.

BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER

Chuck Yeager, first pilot to break the sound barrier, is to discuss his career in a lecture at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, Thursday, Oct. 14, 7:30 p.m. The lecture is free, but tickets are sold only through ProTix, and a service charge applies. 1-800-529-2440.

On Saturday, Oct. 30, 6 p.m., Steven J. Dick of the Naval Observatory is to discuss the many ups and downs of the debate about extraterrestrial life in the 20th century, from canals on Mars to discovery of new planetary systems. The talk is free.

The museum also continues its "Curator's Choice" programs Wednesdays at noon. Upcoming topics include "Breitling Orbiter 3 Around-the-World Ballon Gondola" today; "The Northrop Polar Stat," first aircraft to complete a transatlantic flight, Oct. 20; and "The Saturn V Rocket Model," Oct. 27. Visitors should meet curators at the Gold Seal in the Milestones of Flight Gallery. 202-357-2700.

BECAUSE IT IS THERE

George Leigh Mallory set out to conquer Mount Everest several decades before Sir Edmund Hillary and the Nepalese mountaineer, Tenzing Norgay, accomplished the feat. "Because it is there" was Mallory's response when asked why he wanted to climb the world's highest mountain. Mallory was killed in the attempt, and whether he reached the summit is disputed. Through Nov. 11, the National Geographic Society's museum, Explorers Hall, is featuring a special exhibit on Mallory, whose body was discovered on Everest this year. The museum, at 17th and M Streets NW, is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. 202-857-7700.

NATURAL HISTORY

Among free lectures and films scheduled every Friday at noon at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History are "The Earliest Evolution of Planet Earth," an illustrated talk by Samuel Bowring, professor of geological sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and discoverer of the oldest known remnant of Earth's early crust. It's scheduled Oct. 15. A talk by Smithsonian biologist Carole Baldwin on the Galapagos Islands is set Oct. 22. On Oct. 29, visitors can meet a live wolf while learning about one of North America's most fascinating predators. The program is to be repeated Saturday, Oct. 30, 1 p.m. 202-357-2700.

GHOSTBUSTERS

When things go bump in the night, what's a scientist to do? Just in time for Halloween, National Capital Area Skeptics is to present a day-long program that examines investigations of the spirit realm, from the 19th century to the present. It's slated for Saturday, Oct. 16, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The sessions will offer diverse viewpoints on attempts to apply science and technology in the assessment of age-old traditions and beliefs. The seminar is to be held at the Best Western Leesburg-Dulles, 726 E. Market St., Leesburg, Va. Cost is $30, and registration is required. 301-587-3827.

GEOLOGY FIELD TRIPS

Take a free environmental geology field trip to Roosevelt Island Saturday, Oct. 16, 9:30 a.m., or a trek to the Billy Goat Trail off the C&O Canal National Park the same day at 8:30 a.m. Both events are free and part of Earth Science Week. Those interested in the island hike should meet at the Roosevelt Island parking lot (access from the George Washington Parkway North) after calling Ray Rye for reservations at 202-357-2229. For the trail hike, meet at Lock 20 of the canal at Great Falls Tavern, Md., after calling Robert Ridky for reservations at 301-405-4090.

CITIZEN SOLDIER

Mount Vernon is celebrating George Washington's life as a soldier with special programs on Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 16-17, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Highlights include 850 Revolutionary War reenactors encamped at the estate with a contingent of French-Indian War reenactors, performances by service bands and ceremonial changing of the guard at Washington's tomb throughout both days. 703-780-2000.

UNLOCKING THE BRAIN

Great advances have been made in learning biological mechanisms behind mental processes, especially in the areas of emotion, memory and language. Even the mysterious mechanisms that underlie consciousness are revealing themselves. Antonio R. Damasio, head of the neurology department at the University of Iowa's College of Medicine, is to present "Exploring the Minded Brain," Tuesday, Oct. 19, 6:30 p.m. The free lecture is at the Carnegie Institution, 1530 P St. NW (corner of 16th and P streets), near Dupont Circle Metro station. 202-328-6988.

AT THE ARCHIVES

The National Archives has planned free lectures and films on topics that include World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt, baseball and civil rights, espionage and The Great Depression. 202-501-5000.

AMERICAN TREASURES

The Huexotzinco Codex is a legal document produced by the Nahua indian people who lived southeast of present-day Mexico City in the 16th century. Combining Christian imagery and indigenous graphic symbols, it documents abuses the Indians faced from Spanish administrators after the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521. The codex is among new items displayed at the Library of Congress's rotating permanent exhibit, "American Treasures," featuring more than 270 items of historical interest from the library's vast collections. Continuing highlights of the exhibit, located in the library's Thomas Jefferson Building, include the contents of Abraham Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination and a photograph snapped at the moment the Wright brothers' first flight began. 202-707-3834.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY HISTORY

The Montgomery County Historical Society has events planned for upcoming weeks, including a bus tour of Civil War ferry sites, Saturday, Oct. 23, 9:30 a.m.; an oral history program exploring the county's portion of the Capital Beltway, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2:30 p.m.; famous ghosts of the county, Friday, Oct. 29, 7 p.m.; and a demonstration of two traditional 19th century crafts -- bronze pattern stenciling and silhouette making -- Sunday, Nov. 7, 12:30 p.m. Costs for programs vary, and reservations are required for most. The society is at 103 West Montgomery Ave., Rockville. 301-762-1492.

FILM FESTIVAL

The Margaret Mead Traveling Film and Video Festival is scheduled Sunday, Oct. 24, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. 202-357-2700.

LIFE IN THE BALANCE

Many species of plants and animals around the world, including some in our backyards, are facing extinction. Consequences for the rest of the ecosystem could be grave. Peter Raven, professor of botany at Washington University in St. Louis, is to present a free lecture on the subject, titled "Biodiversity: What Does It Mean for Us," Wednesday, Oct. 27, 5 p.m., at the National Academy of Sciences Auditorium, 2100 C St. NW. 202-334-1575.

ICE CORES AND RADIATION

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has planned two free lectures on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. The first, Oct. 29, concerns ice core samples from around the world and what they reveal about Earth's past and likely future. The second, Nov. 5, celebrates 100 years of radiation therapy with a history of the early days, from the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895 to discovery of radium by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898. Both are scheduled in NIST's Green Auditorium, Quince Orchard and Clopper roads, Gaithersburg. 301-975-4203.

OVER AT WILSON'S PLACE

The Woodrow Wilson House, Washington's only presidential museum, is beginning another series of informal Monday morning lectures and conversations over coffee. On Nov. 1, 10:30 a.m., Gail Scott, author of Diplomatic Dance: The New Embassy Life in America, is to discuss the Washington diplomatic community. Admission is $10. The museum is at 2340 S St. NW. 202-387-4062, x18.

GHOSTS, CRITTERS AND MORE

Discover the animals of Rock Creek Park, a Civil War fort and ghosts at Georgetown's Old Stone House. These are just a few of the free programs for children offered by the Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium. 202-426-6828.

TO BE LISTED NEXT TIME

Submissions for the Nov. 10 calendar must be received by Monday, Oct. 25. Send information to Michael Farquhar, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.