Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Celebrating Kansas's new state fossils at the Sternberg Museum!

Tylosaurus (top) and Pteranodon (bottom) fossils on
displayat the Sternberg Museum of Natural History
in Hays, Kansas.
Last month, the Kansas legislators passed a bill naming Pteranodon and Tylosaurus as the state fossils of Kansas.  Tomorrow, Wednesday April 23rd, Kansas governor Sam Brownback will visit the Sternberg Museum here in Hays for a ceremonial signing of the fossil bill. The bill was formally signed into law on April 4th, but Governor Brownback and supporters of the bill felt it appropriate for the ceremony of formally recognizing state fossils to be held at the Sternberg Museum. The Governor will be signing the bill at 3:30pm in the lobby of the Museum and the event is open to the public.

Prior to April 4th, Kansas was one of ten states in the union without a state fossil.  So to make up for lost time, we now have two.  Pteranodon and Tylosaurus are iconic Kansas fossils representing a time 85 million years ago when the state was covered by an inland sea that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. Pteranodon was one of the flying reptiles (pterosaurs) the lived along side dinosaurs throughout the Mesozoic Era (The Age of the Dinosaurs).  They were the first reptiles to evolve flight capabilities.  The fossils of these flying reptiles are found almost exclusively in the marine chalks and shales of western Kansas.  The Pteranodon has long been the symbol of the Sternberg Museum.  Tylosaurus is a group of mosasaurs - marine reptiles that dominated the oceans of the Mesozoic. They were powerful swimmers with mouths full of sharp teeth.  Both fossils are featured in the Chalk Bed Gallery at the Sternberg Museum.

Many members of the paleontology community in Kansas helped pushed the legislation forward. Sternberg Museum's own Adjunct Curator of Paleontology Mike Everhart testified before the legislators on behalf of the bill naming the state fossils. Local fossil hunter Alan Detrich pushed the bill forward, and students, fossil hunters, and paleontologists from across the state emailed and called in their support for the bill to state senators and congressmen.

All are welcome to come celebrate with us at 3:30pm on Wednesday April 23rd in the lobby of the Sternberg Museum for the ceremonial signing of the fossil bill by Governor Brownback.  Bring your kids, bring your friend, bring yourselves!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sternberg Summer Camps Update


The Mission of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History is to foster "an appreciation and understanding of Earth's natural history and the evolutionary forces that impact it...with an emphasis on the Great Plains." Located in Western Kansas, we have a unique position serving rural regions of the Great Plains and surrounding urban populations with science education.  While continuing with school tour groups, after school programming, adult programming, family days, and community events, we are now expanding our reach by bringing Kansas' natural history to K-12 students, and brining K-12 students to Kansas' natural history.

As announced in a previous post, the Sternberg Museum is offering summer camps for elementary, junior high, and high school students beginning in the summer of 2014 (that's THIS summer!!). These camps focus on introducing students to hands on field- and lab-based biology, ecology, and paleontology educational activities and adventures. Western Kansas is filled with exceptional, accessible natural resources that we are excited to introduce to and share with learners of all ages.  These camps are one more way the Sternberg Museum can provide science education to K-12 students and families. And in a world that is moving indoors and moving less, we can offer our camp-goers outdoor adventures in the wilds of Kansas.

We are offering single day camps for grades K-5, three day camps for grades 6-8, and a 2 week camp for grades 9-12.  You can find more information in the Camp Catalog posted on the Museum website.  There are still openings for new campers, but register soon because spots are filling! Contact the Education Director David Levering (the mastermind, energy source, organizer, and facilitator behind the camps) with questions or for more information.

So what could be more awesome than biology and paleontology camps in Kansas?  How about our efforts to keep registration costs down?! As with any new venture, there are a lot of start-up costs associated with getting the summer camp program off the ground.  Using a crowdfunding website called RocketHub, we are raising money to purchase camping gear like tents, stoves, and pots and pans for use in the overnight camps.  This keeps students from having to purchase/bring more than the personal essentials for camping.  We are also raising money to purchase the more technical gear associated with biology, ecology, and paleontology field work (GPS units, compasses, excavation supplies, etc.).  All in all, these fundraising efforts mean that we can keep the registration costs for each student down, making camps available to a wide range of students.

Amid our fundraising efforts, we have also had several generous donors donate money specifically for student scholarships.  There are 10 scholarships available for elementary students, one for junior high students, and two for high school students. The application process for financial aid is included in the Camp Catalog.

In the past months, we have had a tremendous outpouring of support for our camps by way of private donations, donations through RocketHub, and student registrations. But we have a bit further to go to help our camps live up to their potential.  Please consider signing a young family member up for a camp or supporting our fund raising efforts - we can't do it without you!

Check it out! Our upcoming camps were also recently featured in an awesome write-up in the Outbound Adventurer blog

Monday, February 10, 2014

Crowdfunding Museum Education

The Sternberg Museum has launched a new fundraising campaign to help support our summer field programs for elementary, junior high, and high school students. Located in rural western Kansas, our museum has the opportunity to provide science education not only to the Hays, KS community, but all of western Kansas and the Central Great Plains region.  Traditionally the education department, with support from the rest of the Museum staff, organizes events at the Museum and in the community (including schools) around the region to provide educational programming to inquisitive minds of all age. We are now expanding our program to take students into the field to experience a hands-on, outdoors approach biology, geology, and paleontology.

Summer camps kick off in June 2014! There are day camps for elementary school students, overnight camps for junior high aged students, and 1-2 week long camps for high school students.  All the camps focus on local and regional biology, paleontology, and geology. They not only get students outside and exploring the environment, but also learning how to ask and answer scientific questions; these camps provide a great way for students to develop analytical skills they will take with them beyond school. There will also be some family-based programming, as well!

Fundraising is underway to help cover the initical costs of camping and field equiment needed to run the biology and paleontology field camps. Covering these costs through crowdfunding means that we can keep camp fees down for students.

Check out our RocketHub website for more information. Recent press coverage provides additional information about the camps, too.

As always, you can find Sternberg actives online!
http://sternberg.fhsu.edu/
http://sternberg.fhsu.edu/active-learning/camps/

You can also contact Education Director David Levering for more information:
DALevering @FHSU.edu

Please think about supporting the Sternberg Museum and our efforts to provide more, engaging science education for all ages!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Titans of the Ice Age: When Big was Cool

We have a new exhibit at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History!

Last Saturday, December 14, we opened Titans of the Ice Age: When Big was Cool!  This new exhibit was built by Sternberg Museum staff and features information about Ice Age mammals. The last ice age took place during the Pleistocene Epoch, which lasted 2.6 million years ago to 10,000 years ago.  During this time, large portions of Earth's surface (up to 30%) was repeatedly covered by glaciers, and then uncovered when glaciers retreated as climate warmed.  Many of the animals that lived at this time are referred to as the Pleistocene Megafauna because they were bigger than their modern descendants.

This new exhibit explains why the climate was colder during the Pleistocene and why many of the animals were bigger. It compares extinct Ice Age animals to their living descendants and discusses the current scientific hypotheses surround the extinction of the Megafauna around 10,000 years ago.

This new exhibit showcases Pleistocene animals next to their modern counterparts, demonstrating the changes in size, ecology, and behavior within different mammal lineages.  Bison latifrons (the long-horned bison), Panthera atrox (the North American lion), and Mammuthus columbi (the Columbian mammoth), and Arctodus simus (the short-faced bear) are just some of the animals on display.  These animal are distinctly different from their modern relatives.  Understanding these differences is important for scientists, policy makers, and anyone concerned about the future of our ecosystems given ongoing global climate change.

Kansas is well known for our Cretaceous Seaway fossils like mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, sharks, and sea turtles, but we also have a record of the animals that roamed the grasslands at the edge of the ice sheets during the Pleistocene.  Mammoth, horse, bison, camel, and sloth skeletons can be found in gravels and other glacial deposits around the state.  With the unveiling of this new exhibit, we are finally able to tell the stories of the animals that lived not too long ago, but during a time that was characterized by extreme changes in the climate and landscape.

Titans of the Ice Age: When Big was Cool will be open for the next year and is part of a series of exhibits the Sternberg Museum will be building and opening over the next few years.

Come discover what's under the Dome!
Panthera atrox, the North American lion that used to roam the plains during the last Ice Age. This cat was larger than any known lion species - past or present.

Monday, December 9, 2013

New Exhibit Opening!

Opening Saturday December 14th, 2013:


TITANS OF THE ICE AGE:
                         When Big Was Cool


By comparing fossils from the most recent Ice Age with their modern descendants, this new exhibit showcases some of the Megafauna that used to roam North America. 





  • Why was the Ice Age cold?
  • Why did mammals get so much bigger?
  • Why did the Megafauna die 10,000 years ago?

The Museum members-only opening is 10am - Noon on Saturday.*
The exhibit opens to the public at NOON on Saturday

Come visit the Museum if you're looking for something to do with the family, an escape from the cold, or to do some holiday shopping at the Excavations Gift Shop!

*Members-only opening includes a guided tour of the new exhibit, Q&A with Museum staff, and refreshments.  If you want to become a member, membership registration will be available on-site Saturday morning. 

UPDATE: KSN aired a nice segment on the new exhibit opening.  Thanks, Molly Hadfield and KSN!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Update: San Diego Museum fossils pulled from auction

The world of vertebrate paleontology has been abuzz over the past week about the pending sale of 12 fossil vertebrate to the highest bidder. What was different about the auctioning of these fossils, compared to other fossil sales, is that they were being sold by a public museum.  The San Diego Natural History Museum de-accessioned 12 vertebrate fossils to sell at auction - meaning they would most likely be sold into private collections where they could no longer be used for education and science. Please see my previous post for more information on the significance of these fossils and why the sale of them would have been devastating to natural history museums, professional paleontologists, and our communities.

In this light, the good news just broke that the San Diego Museum Natural History Museum has pulled all of its fossils from the auction. In their official statement, SDMNH states:
"The San Diego Natural History Museum has made a decision to withdraw the 12 fossils listed for sale in the Bonhams public auction scheduled for November 19, 2013 ... By withdrawing the specimens from the auction, and in light of the recent interest shown by numerous institutions in these fossils, we will be reevaluating how to proceed. This will allow us to revisit alternative strategies that would allow the fossils to remain in the public trust." 
A large outcry of concern from the paleontology community as well as the general public, has resulted in the preservation of these historically and scientifically significant specimens.  Thank you to everyone who joined your voices together to let the SDNHM know the implications of their actions - from the paleontologists who led the charge, to the western Kansas community members who grew up with a love and respect for our natural history. It has been wonderful to see professionals, amateurs, students, museum patrons, and concerned citizens stand on the same side of an important issue.

Well Done.

Laura Wilson
Chief Curator/Curator of Paleontology
Sternberg Museum of Natural History
Fort Hays State University

** As an aside, although the San Diego Museum has not decided how to proceed with keeping these fossils in the public trust, the Sternberg Museum has let them know that our offer to accept their Charles Sternberg collection is still on the table. **

Sunday, November 17, 2013

An Open Letter to the San Diego Natural History Museum

On November 19, 2013 the San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM) is set to sell 11 fossils on public auction through Bonhams. Six of these fossils were collected by Charles H. Sternberg from the chalks of western Kansas (note that the Canadian chasmosaur dinosaur skull has been withdrawn from auction), and so have significant historical and scientific value. Specimens like the large Xiphactinus have been studied by researchers and been included in scientific publications. The selling of fossils is a direct breech of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's code of ethics. On the subject of commercial sale or trade, the Member Bylaw on Ethics Statement reads:

"The barter, sale or purchase of scientifically significant vertebrate fossils is not condoned, unless it brings them into, or keeps them within, a public trust. Any other trade or commerce in scientifically significant vertebrate fossils is inconsistent with the foregoing, in that it deprives both the public and professionals of important specimens, which are part of our natural heritage."

Below is the letter I sent to the SDNHM expressing my concern over the sale of fossils. This is not a matter of amateur vs. professional paleontologist, or even commercial collecting, but is about the role of museums in safeguarding our natural history collections.  For a public, federally recognized repository to sell fossils into private collections (sadly, museums just don't have the financial resources to purchase fossils) violates the very essence of a museum. If sold, these spectacular specimens will be lost from public education and scientific research forever.  This is a crucial issue for paleontologists, museum professionals, and members of our community who trust us to care for and preserve our human and natural history heritage.

Please feel free to leave comments on this thread and/or share this thread with others.  If you wish to send comments directly to the San Diego Natural History Museum speaking out against selling these fossils, you can contact them here.

Please feel free to contact me, as well.

Thank you for your concern,

Laura Wilson
Chief Curator/Curator of Paleontology
Sternberg Museum of Natural History
Fort Hays State University

**It should be noted that the decision to sell these fossils was not made by paleontology or science staff at the San Diego museum, but by the Museum President, Board of Directors, and other administrators.

The Xiphactinus mount on auction by the San Diego Natural History Museum. Collected by Charles H. Sternberg and accessioned into SDNHM in the 1920s. Image taken from the Bonhams catalog (linked above).


***********