Museum of Ancient Life
The Museum of Ancient Life exhibits fossil specimens representing every geological period from the Precambrian to modern times. Featuring more than 120 skeletons, 63 interactive exhibits, and hundreds of smaller fossil remains, it ranks as one of the world's largest permanent exhibitions of ancient life.
Visitors begin their self-guided tour in the Bone Cabin Quarry display, which uses both the history of Bone Cabin Quarry itself and modern discoveries by Western Paleontological Laboratories at nearby sites to illustrate how scientists uncover and preserve fossil evidence. From there, the exhibits follow a chronological progression beginning with a star tunnel that represents the formation of the earth.
Four halls house the remainder of the exhibit. Fossils in the first hall range from the Precambrian to the late Triassic, a period spanning more than 500 million years, and include specimens like Ediacaran soft-bodied life forms, armor-plated fish, plant fossils found as close as ten miles from the museum, and ancient reptiles found as far as ten thousand miles away.
The second hall covers the Jurassic period and spotlights two gigantic dinosaur skeletons: Supersaurus, which was one of the longest dinosaurs, and Brachiosaurus-one of the tallest land-living animals in geologic history. Other skeletons in the Jurassic hall include Compsognathus-the smallest known dinosaur, Utahraptor-the giant velociraptor that vindicated some of the artistic license taken in Jurassic Park, and two new species unique to the Museum of Ancient Life: Tanycolagreus and Gargoyleosaurus.
In the Erosion Table exhibit located at the heart of the museum, visitors can experiment with the some of the forces that bury and expose potential fossils. The Erosion Table is like a large sand box fitted with water spigots that model rivers. By digging different channels participants can change rates of deposition to bury model dinosaurs and trees or to erode them out of miniature mountainsides.
Some of the most famous reptiles of all time dominate the third hall. Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, and the iconic pterosaur Pteranodon overlook the duck-billed Edmontosaurus and the ostrich-like Struthiomimus. A skeleton of Protoceratops, the first dinosaur known to have laid eggs, bookends a collection of dinosaur eggs from a variety of species.
The last hall begins with an exhibit where Cretaceous sea creatures, such as the predatory Tylosaurus, Elasmosaurus, and the king of sea turtles, Archelon, literally surround museum guests. A meteorite exhibit appropriately marks the boundary between the giant reptile exhibits and the ancient mammal displays, where the saber-tooth Smilodon menaces a cat-sized horse and a pig-sized elephant. In the next room, a massive restoration of a Megalodon shark waits to ambush the unwary guest, flanked by other Cenozoic sea creatures. Prehistoric humans hunt a mammoth in the Pleistocene exhibit, where visitors can see the only complete baby mammoth skeleton currently on display.
Finally, a digging quarry completes the main exhibit halls. Here children can try uncovering three dinosaur skeletons by brushing sand away from replica bones.
Two other attractions enhance the museum experience. The Mammoth Screen Theater features 3D documentaries projected on a screen nearly six stories tall. The Junior Paleo Lab-open Saturdays, holidays, and during summer months-gives guests a chance to try two different types of fossil preservation. Using rubber molds and Plaster of Paris, guests can copy one of three fossils featured in the main exhibit halls, or they can try uncovering fossil fish using an air scribe and techniques common to the art of fossil preparation.