My lecture on Carmel Church was scheduled for 3:30, which gave me plenty of time in the morning to meet with students and visit the Nebraska State Museum (free admission with your VMNH membership card). This large museum has nice collections of mounted fossil skeletons, concentrating on Eocene to Pliocene land mammals that are found in Nebraska. One of the most spectacular is Dinohyus, a giant entelodont found at Agate Fossil Beds in western Nebraska. The entelodonts were related to pigs and peccaries, but reached much larger maximum sizes, and may have tended more to carnivory. The Agate Fossil Beds are a fantastically rich bonebed from the early Miocene; the museum has a reconstruction of part of the bonebed:
There are a number of Mesozoic fossils on exhibit, including several dinosaurs. One that I found interesting from a personal standpoint was this full size model of an Allosaurus. This model was featured in a story in the World Book Encyclopedia Childcraft Annual, “Prehistoric Animals”, in 1976. When I was in elementary school my grandmother’s copy of this was one of the only paleontology books I had access to, and I poured over it endlessly. As soon as I saw the model in the museum on Friday, I immediately recognized it from my readings 30 years ago.
During the nearly 40 years between the mounting of these two skeletons, our understanding of dinosaurs as living animals has changed dramatically. Allosaurus is no longer seen as a slow, lumbering creature, lazily dragging its tail along the ground as it walked, but as a dynamic, energetic hunter that used its tail as a counterbalance as it ran down its prey.
Thanks to my grandmother, Mary Dettweiler, for looking up the title and publication date of the Childcraft book (she still has it!).