DC – The Closing of the Smithsonian’s Life in the Ancient Seas Hall

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August 8, 2013 by Dr. G

I couldn’t believe the news when I first heard it in June – the Smithsonian was going to close their Life in the Ancient Seas Hall in the National Museum of Natural History.

Life in the Ancient Seas
Exhibit: May 18, 1990 – September 2013
Location: First Floor, Hall of Paleobiology

Fantastic marine fossils tell the story of evolution and extinction in the seas in three acts: the Paleozoic Era (540 to 250 million years ago), when odd prehistoric creatures such as trilobites abounded; the Mesozoic Era (250 to 65 million years ago), when marine reptiles such as mososaurs appeared; and the Cenozoic Era (65 million years ago to today), when the numbers and kinds of shelled animals increased, and when the primitive whale took to the seas.

This twenty-three-year-old exhibit will be closing in preparation for the extensive, multi-year renovation of the Fossil Halls. Now is your last chance to see fantastic marine fossils telling the story of evolution and extinction in the seas. Among the approximately 2,000 fossils on exhibit are the Zygorhiza (early whale) and the ichthyosaur (early swimming reptile). To bring these creatures to life, the exhibition features a series of murals showing the fleshed-out animals these fossils once were and a full-scale diorama of a 250-million-year-old reef made of more than 100,000 models.

My heart sunk – but only for a short time, as the closure is part of a major renovation to the hall, with a new exhibit to open in 2019.  I knew I wanted to get down to DC to see this display one final time before it was all removed and packed away for the next several years.

One of many signs to help update the information found in the exhibits.

One of many signs to help update the information found in the exhibits.

It is a constant battle, especially for science and natural history museums, to keep updating museums displays with new scientific discoveries.  The Smithsonian even acknowledges this with the sign pictured to the left, one of many I found on exhibit.  The field of paleontology is one that is certainly experiencing a constant flow of scientific updates, especially with the advancement of technologies to excavate/study/prepare fossil specimens and better global accessibility to field locations.

Yes, I will miss the amazing fossils on display, everything from trilobites to the marine reptiles of the Mesozoic Era.  I also took to the time to stop and really take a look at the impressive murals that decorate the walls of this exhibit.  They are quite beautiful, and it is a shame that these images will also be disappearing.

A sea turtle from the Late Cretaceous Period (80-70 million years ago), collected from Kansas (yes, Kansas was once completely under water!)

A sea turtle from the Late Cretaceous Period (80-70 million years ago), collected from Kansas (yes, Kansas was once completely under water!)

A pliosaur from the Late Cretaceous Period - this one, uncovered in Montana.

A pliosaur from the Late Cretaceous Period – this one, uncovered in Montana.

A beautiful painting of a mosasaur with a diving bird skeleton on display.

A beautiful painting of a mosasaur with a diving bird skeleton on display.

I took photos of everything I could, with the assistance of my husband, parents, and brother (yes, we made it a family day at the museum!).  I think I have this exhibit fully photo-documented now, with plenty of photos I can use for future classroom lectures.

Until the hall reopens, the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal has a great online site called The Ocean Through Time.  This site has so many stories, images, audio and video files, I should be plenty busy exploring their online collection until – well, 2019!

The Nittany Lion hanging out with what is believed to be the scariest predator in our oceans of all time, the Dunkleosteus!

The Nittany Lion hanging out with what is believed to be the scariest predator in our oceans of all time, the Dunkleosteus!

One thought on “DC – The Closing of the Smithsonian’s Life in the Ancient Seas Hall

  1. […] it was the closing of the Life in the Ancient Seas Exhibit (see my blog post from August 2013 – and as you can see in the image to the left, the exhibit that opened on […]

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