Imagine being at a dig site, when suddenly you uncover volcanic ash from 12 million years ago. As you carefully dig through the layers, you discover the remains of elephants, rhinos, and horses that roamed the lands long ago. The excitement must have seized their hearts as they made these amazing discoveries. Now fast-forward to today, and we have the opportunity to see many of these artifacts with a visit to the Nebraska State Museum at Morrill Hall. Located in the heart of Lincoln, this museum offers visitors a chance to see life in the past lane.

We want to thank Lincoln CVB and Nebraska State Museum for hosting our visit. Rest assured all opinions are our own. 

Models of dinosaurs show how paleontologists imagine these creatures looked when alive.

Picture the Past

Like many history museums, we found a variety of specimens from dinosaur days. One difference was the addition of skeletal and reconstructed versions arranged side by side. This was an interesting feature, as it helps to better understand how paleontologists arrived at how they believe dinosaurs would have looked. Examining these two models at one time made the skeletons “come to life” in a way that we rarely find.

Morrill Hall is filled with some of the many mammoth specimens that have been unearthed in Nebraska.

Hall of Giants

Did you know that mammoth fossils have been uncovered in all of Nebraska’s 93 counties? This was an eye-opener for us. Stepping into Morrill Hall, we found ourselves in a gallery filled with various versions of ancient elephants. The largest is “Archie”, which is the biggest fully-mounted mammoth fossil. It towered over us at a height of over 15 feet, as we stood in awe.  Mammoth relics are so commonplace, in Nebraska, that they have become the state fossil.

There are a wide range of animals whose bones have been unearthed during life in the past lane.

History of the Heartland

While mammoths seem to command the historical landscape, they were certainly not the only animals to roam the plains. Continuing through the galleries, we found ourselves facing a myriad of ancient creatures. A common theme seemed to be that most of these were gigantic versions of creatures that still exist today. We tried to imagine a world full of 6-foot flightless birds and giant land tortoises. This was also the home of a lion larger than those roaming the African Savannah. Many of these relics were discovered during road projects, which puts a whole new spin on “Life in the Past Lane”.

A saber-toothed cat strikes a fearsome figure in a display at Morrill hall.

Unusual Creatures

Making our way to the fourth floor of Morrill Hall, we found ourselves in a recent addition named “Cherish Nebraska”. Comprised of seven galleries, it tells the history of the state through the diversity of life. In the background, we could make out chirping birds, among other sounds of the plains. One of the most unusual-looking creatures on display is the Saber-toothed cat. This frighteningly fierce animal stalked the plains about 7 million years ago. We are certainly glad that they are no longer a force to be faced.

The Giant Bison was a massive creature that grazed the plains of Nebraska over 125,000 years ago.

Blast from the Past

In the middle of all of these unusual creatures stood the imposing figure of the massive Giant Bison. An ancestor of today’s bison, it would have roamed Nebraska territory around 125,000 years ago. We can imagine the thundering sound of hundreds of these creatures moving across the plains. It certainly was the time of giants.

Life in the past lane includes the evolution of creatures that can still be found in the region.

Changing Landscapes

Moving through the galleries, we found the mix of present-day creatures beginning to blend with those from the past. We have made many excursions across Nebraska. This made it easier for us to imagine some of these massive creatures strutting across the landscape. Over time, the woods gave way to gently rolling grasslands. This would have certainly attracted huge herds of grazing creatures, which in turn would bring in predators. Eventually, it created what we see today.

The Sandhill region is filled with many migrating species throughout the year.

Life Today

Our tour of Morrill Hall eventually led us back to modern times. One of Nebraska’s most notable natural regions is the Sandhills. The grass-covered sand dunes, which can reach over 300 feet in height, cover nearly a quarter of the state. Sitting atop the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest in the world, the region draws in huge amounts of migrating birds. Animals and people have been traveling in this area for generations. We learned a little about that during a visit to The Archway Museum in Kearney.

The authors pose for a selfie with Archie the largest mammoth specimen unearthed in Nebraska.

Life in the Past Lane

Our visit offered us some interesting perspectives. Life in the past lane was quite different than what we find rolling along the highways and byways of Nebraska. Before wrapping up our time at Morrill Hall, we posed for a quick selfie in front of Archie. This massive memorial reminds us that the landscape has changed many times over the eons of existence. Who knows what other amazing discoveries lie just below the surface, waiting for fate to bring them out and into public view?

the authors signatures.

Life in the Past Lane!

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