Different times in ND

Sea creatures, dinosaurs to giant bison: Geologic Time Gallery visits millions of years ago

The North Dakota Geological Survey paleontology program’s newest exhibit in the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum, Bismarck, combines the artwork of a mural and the skeletal cast of a plesiosaur. The actual fossil vertebrae is displayed in a case below the mural and skeletal cast.

BISMARCK – Visitors to the Geologic Time Gallery can view life-sized casts of a Tyranosaurus rex (T-rex) and a Triceratops in battle.

“We don’t have a T-rex skeleton but (have) bones from the T-rex. So we know he was here,” said Jeff Person, a paleontologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey.

The Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time in the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck takes visitors back to geology and life in North Dakota millions of years ago.

Saber-toothed cats, Bison latifrons and other animals that once inhabited what is now North Dakota are in exhibits of the various time period.

“If you look at the distribution of saber-toothed cats (Smilodons), we fall in that range and we have very large animals like the sloth and bison,” Person said. He said a carnivore would be eating those large animals and most likely the carnivore was the saber-toothed cat.

A T-rex skeleton (cast) is shown in the Geologic Time Gallery in the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum, Bismarck. Dinosaurs lived 65 million years ago in what is now North Dakota when the climate was as warm as south Florida and western North Dakota was covered with woodlands, ponds and swamps.

Fossils have been collected for many years but when the North Dakota State Fossil Collection was established the work moved forward.

During Paleontologist John Hoganson’s 33-year career with the N.D. Geological Survey, the N.D. State Fossil Collection became official. Starting the fossil digs for the public were among his achievements with the N.D. Geologic Survey. Hoganson, now NDGS paleontologist emeritus, is retired.

Exhibits in the Geologic Time Gallery are a mix of items collected before the digs started and during the digs, plus the digs going on now, Person said.

“We found T-rex teeth last summer. One of them is on exhibit,” he said.

North Dakota was covered by inland seas about 80 million years ago. The mosesaur, a large marine lizard-like predator, and other sea creatures are shown in the underwater world exhibit.

A closeup of the skull of the T-rex skeleton (cast) in the Geologic Time Gallery.

There’s also Dakota, the 67-million-year-old duck-billed hadrosaur, one of only few mummified dinosaurs in existence, displayed in the corridor before entering the Geologic Time Gallery.

Dakota has fossilized skin and was found in 1999 by then high school student Tyler Lyson on his uncle’s ranch near Marmarth in far southwestern North Dakota. Dakota is considered one of the most important dinosaur discoveries in recent times.

The paleontology program’s newest exhibit, the plesiosaur exhibit, opened in April. It combines the artwork of a mural by N.D. Geological Survey Paleontologist Becky Barnes and the skeletal cast of a plesiosaur. The actual fossil vertebrae is displayed in a case below the mural and skeletal cast.

Person said an exhibit like this mixing the painted mural and the skeleton mount is not something often seen. “That was our idea to do that,” he said.

N.D. Geological Survey Senior Paleontologist Clint Boyd wrote in a story published in the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources’ “GEO News,” that the N.D. State Fossil Collection only has four plesiosaur specimens from N.D. Then in the early 1990s, plesiosaur bones were found in southwest North Dakota and that specimen turned out to be the most complete plesiosaur found in the state. Plans began to put it on display in the N.D. Heritage Center and State Museum.

The restored skeleton of the Highgate Mastodon, an elephant-like mammal, greets visitors in the hallway in the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum, Bismarck. The Highgate Mastodon lived during the Ice Age about 11,000 years ago.

This year four fossil digs for the public have been conducted at sites south of Dickinson, near Medora and near Fort Rice. Just a few days ago a dig wrapped up in the Pembina Gorge in northeast N.D.

Person said nothing groundbreaking was found in the recent digs. “But we always find really, really cool stuff,” he added.

He said every find helps show what North Dakota looked like in the past.

“Every time we find something that picture gets a little sharper,” Person said.

Bison latifrons, center, flanked by Smilodon (saber-toothed cats) skeletons (casts).

Dakota, a 67-million-year-old duck-billed hadrosaur, is one of only few mummified dinosaurs in existence and one of the most important dinosaur discoveries in recent times.

Three-horned Triceratops, one of the largest and heaviest of the plant-eating dinosaurs.

COMMENTS