Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center

E.H. Barbour Paleontology Exhibit

The mid-20th century was a time of scientific exploration in the West, and the Nebraska Sand Hills region was no exception. One particular Sand Hills scientific resource was instrumental in bringing together two legendary figures: E.H. Barbour, founder of the University of Nebraska State Museum, and “Old Jules” Sandoz. The exhibit, "Who lived here before?" highlights this exchange.

Sandoz discovered fossils on his land and he brought these to the attention of Barbour in a series of letters. Copies of these letters can be seen in the kiosk. Barbour arrived at Sandoz’s doorstep several times only to find Sandoz gone. Years later, after they finally met, Barbour realized that Sandoz had discovered a new species of giant beaver, Castoroides.

A related exhibit displays fossils collected at Graves-Potter, another Sand Hills locality. In 1999 Jennifer Cavin, a student at the South Dakota School of Mines, wrote a master’s thesis on these fossils. Cavin concluded that the fossils were deposited in an ancient lake during the Pleistocene Ice Age. The fossils show that animals living in the Sand Hills at that time are more typical of Arctic regions today. The “megafauna” of the Ice Age is represented in the bison, woolly mammoth, mastodon, giant ground sloth, western camel (Camelops), glyptodont (giant armadillo), the short-faced bear (Arctodus), musk ox, sabertooth cat, horse, tapir, and giant beaver (Castoroides).

These exhibits can be found in the Carmen and John Gottschalk - Mari Sandoz Gallery, located on the Main floor of the Sandoz Center. For more information about geology and paleontology in the area, please visit the Eleanor Barbour Cook Museum of Geology at Chadron State College.

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