By Rebecca Olsen
There”s more to BYU”s Earth Science Museum than meets the eye. Many people may not know that the metal-sided building across from LaVell Edwards Stadium is a museum, and that BYU is storing one of the largest dinosaur collections in the United States with more than 100 tons of plaster-covered bones.
A visitor to the museum can unearth these treasures:
Every state has a state bird, tree and flower. But what many people do not know is that Utah has its own state dinosaur, the Allosaurus.
“I didn”t know that Utah had a state dinosaur or that BYU had an Earth Science Museum,” said Klysta Brooks, a junior from Granby, Mass., in the nursing program. “But I would be interested in seeing it. I am in a geology class right now learning about these things.”
This large dinosaur dates back to the late Jurassic Period and was the most common predator in the western part of North America. Bones and teeth of the dinosaur are found in almost every dinosaur quarry in the United States.
Tyrannosaurus Rex Skull
Probably the most recognizable and a favorite with children because of the sharp protruding teeth, the skull cast of the T-Rex in the museum is one of the most perfect skulls ever found. The original is displayed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Up until a few years ago the museum”s large collection was stored underneath the football stadium and in other places on campus. Now, with a new 5,000 square foot addition, the museum is able to store the collection where fossil preparation and research is more convenient. This research and preparation work is done in the paleontology lab. Throughout the day visitors can see employees working in the lab.
“Preparators are continually working on new projects in the lab,” said Rod Scheetz, curator at the Earth Science Museum.
The employees seen through the glass, separating the lab from the museum, are students, and not necessarily geology or paleontology majors.
“Some students are putting together some skulls of Allosaurus,” Scheetz said. “One student is working on a sauropod pelvis, while another is extracting an early Cretaceous crocodile skull from the rock.”
The museum is on the verge of naming a new sauropod dinosaur in the coming months. Since 1978, BYU has been unearthing a giant bonebed near Moab, Utah. The museum hopes to announce the official name in the spring, with a cast skeletal mount exhibited in the museum. Until then, several bones currently exhibited at the museum – including the braincase, vertebrae from the neck and some limb bones – may be seen.
Giant Ground Sloth
Another popular attraction is the Giant Ground Sloth in the north section of the museum. The lumbering sloth was a 5-ton herbivore that roamed the Americas on its hind legs during the Ice Age. It”s related to the small tree sloths of today.
An extinct group of marine animals, Ammonoids are in the class Cephalopoda, including octopus, squid and the pearly nautilus. The museum has a large collection that shows how they changed over time and adapted to different surroundings.
“Ammonoids evolve fairly rapidly, making them nice index fossils,” Scheetz said. “When you find a certain species within sediments, you can often approximate a relative age of sediments.”
Like many other displays in the museum, visitors can touch an actual Ammonoid and feel the smoothness of its scales.
Lizard of the Sea
Three 14-year-old boys found this large Prognathodon fossil when they were playing on the side of a road near Cedaredge, Colo., in 1973.
“They are big varanid lizards,” Scheetz said. “Like huge marine Komodo Dragons. They were the major marine predator of their day, as sharks are now.”
Prognathodon is a mosasaur, which was a giant marine reptile that roamed the Cretaceous seas more than 82 million years ago. Mosasaurs were about 34 feet in length and had long slender bodies with large hands and feet that were used as paddles.
Rocks and Minerals
When entering the front door, the first thing a visitor will notice is the large collection of rocks and minerals. The collection includes clusters of brilliant purple and deep amber specimens and rocks housing fossils. It serves as a great resource for those interested in geology and paleontology.
“We get a lot of school groups through here,” Scheetz said. “We even get art classes that draw skeletons and biology classes to do comparative anatomy.”
What: Top exhibits
Where: BYU Earth Science Museum, 1683 N. Canyon Road (across from football stadium)
When: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tours: By appointment
Web site: http://cpms.byu.edu/ESM