Saltville Megalonyx remains at the USNM

2013-09-13aAfter picking up the collection of Devonian fossils for transfer to VMNH, on Thursday morning Ray and I drove from Winchester to Washington to visit the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), part of the Smithsonian Institution.

VMNH is less than 30 years old, but there was a lot of paleontology taking place in the state before that time. Most of the fossils went to museums in other parts of the country, so it’s sometimes necessary to travel to see these Virginia specimens.

As I’ve mentioned in several posts, we are in the process of making molds of a skeleton of the giant ground sloth Megalonyx from Ohio, for eventual display at VMNH. We chose Megalonyx because it’s the only ground sloth that has been reported from Virginia. However, ground sloth remains are quite rare here. They’ve only been reported from two localities, including Saltville, and even though we have numerous Saltville remains in the VMNH collection none of them are from Megalonyx. Almost all of those specimens are housed at NMNH.

Because of our tight schedule, Ray and I could only spend four hours at NMNH. Fortunately, Megalonyx is rare enough that a few hours was plenty of time to examine all the Saltville specimens. The most impressive is an femur, at top. There is also a partial humerus:



… a single thoracic vertebra:



… a fragment of the lower jaw:



… and a tooth:



There are a few other very questionable Megalonyx remains from Salville, and we also took time to examine some other Salville taxa as well as some remains of older Virginia fossils; I’ll talk more about those in a future post.

I’d like to thank Dave Bohaska from NMNH for accommodating our visit on such short notice.

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3 Responses to Saltville Megalonyx remains at the USNM

  1. accpaleoDoug says:

    Where is the Carter Bog specimen going to go? I take it the Hall of Ancient Life. From the few photos i have seen (it seems no one who visits the museum ever put their pictures on flickr) of the Uncovering Virgina hall don’t show much room to show a half ton beast!

    “Most of the fossils went to museums in other parts of the country, so it’s sometimes necessary to travel to see these Virginia specimens.”

    This frustrates me more than most anything else (especially as it pertains to the Central Coast). Wouldn’t it be great for the Virginia Museum to have Virginia Megalonyx, but instead you have to cast specimens from elsewhere. I think more fossils ought to be in their homeland. But i seem to be in the lone majority on that one why why even bother…

  2. altondooley says:

    At the moment we’re hoping to put the Carter Bog Megalonyx cast in the Hall of Ancient Life, but that’s not finalized. There are other places it could go. We used to have our life-size Megalonyx model in Uncovering Virginia (it’s in the lobby now).

    It’s a little frustrating to have to go out of state to see Virginia fossils. But keep in mind that VMNH did not exist when these specimens were collected, and that even if we had all the Virginia Megalonyx material we’d still have to mold a skeleton from elsewhere to make an exhibit cast; there just isn’t enough material from Virginia.

  3. accpaleoDoug says:

    “But keep in mind that VMNH did not exist when these specimens were collected…”

    I get that much, but what now that that it does exist?* For me it’s especially grating when the home institution can’t rectify it by finding their own. You have been so busy with Carmel Church, casting, and administrative duties, when was the last time you were able to get to Saltville? (According to facebook the University of Eastern Tennessee has been digging up the joint, so obviously there must still be something there). What if there is no more to be found, what is the home institution to do then? Again, i am driven mad by the problem’s presence on the Central Coast. The Sespe and Caliente formations were plumbed long before I came along. Now the Kew Quarry (an Oligocene bonebed withing the Sespe) was obviously a one off and is now locked up in the L.A. Museum. Now if there were still fossils to be found in the Sespe, Caliente, and Pismo formations, i can’t exactly go out and find my own. They are all on government property, and since i don’t have a phd i’m apparently not allowed anywhere near those deposits. Not having something to show the people i’m trying to get support from is a serious detriment when all the material is locked up in foreign museums and i can’t go find my own. Sorry for the rant. I just think certain fossils are better served in their place of origin. But again, i appear to be the only one as i am always shot down whenever i bring it up (not here, but pretty much everywhere else).

    *According to a ranger i emailed at Anza Borrego State Park, all of the parks fossils were housed in foreign institutions. But when they built a “state of the art facility”, all the fossils were returned to the park. Probably a freak, one in a million case though…

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