The Museum of Natural History at the University of Colorado is one of Boulder’s hidden gems. Due to space limitations, this free museum offers only a handful of exhibits. Surprisingly, the museum has over four million objects in its anthropology/archeology, botany, entomology, paleontology, vertebrate, and invertebrate collections. All of these remaining items are housed in other locations.
Despite its petite size, the museum provides fascinating exhibits that will attract both young and old visitors seven days a week. Inside the Anthropology Exhibit, visitors can view a rare selection of stone tools from the Mahaffy Cache. This noteworthy assortment of tools was inadvertently discovered when a landscaper was digging in Patrick Mahaffy’s Boulder backyard.
After an extensive analysis, it was determined that approximately 13,000 years ago the Clovis people used these stone tools. One amazing clue are the tools’ connection to the western camel that once inhabited North American and became extinct approximately 10,000 years ago. Yes, there were once camels roaming the western part of the U.S. and Canada.
The concise and well-designed Mahaffy Cache exhibit focuses on the dating processes that were utilized, current theories surrounding the use of these tools, and also concentrates on the overall significance of this rare collection. According to Jim Hakala, senior educator for the museum, there are a little more than a dozen Clovis findings in the U.S. This small slice of history will intrigue anyone interested in historical mysteries.
Adjacent to this exhibit are some of the items collected by the museum’s first curator of anthropology, Earl Halstead Morris. This grouping of southwestern Native American pottery and artifacts is attractively displayed in well-lit cases with informative labeling. Some of the pots had small handles that were used to carry the vessels on people’s heads.
Fossils and dinosaur bones are always a draw at natural history museums. For a university-based museum, CU offers an impressive collection on the museum’s first floor. A full-size color-coded map pinpoints other Colorado museums and sites that feature fossils in Colorado and a key to ages of Colorado rocks.
Freely mounted from the ceiling is a rare dinosaur that was carefully removed from fossilized rock in the 1970s. What makes this artifact unique is that only the head is made out of resin. Since this particular dinosaur was known to skim the water for fish, it is assumed that something lurking in the shallow sea snacked on its head.
During our informative tour, Jim Hakala, also drew attention to two other unusual displays— one was an ancestor of the cat and the other was a primitive deer. Both provide clues to how these species adapted to their environments.
The museum is open 7 days a week and offers a variety of programs for children, families and educators. Many of these programs include interactive and hands-on learning experiences that are geared toward specific age categories. The museum also has summer workshops for primary aged kids and provides educational materials for interested classroom teachers. Children interested in dinosaurs, insects, butterflies, birds and things from the past may want to consider sharing their interest with their peers during a museum based birthday celebration.
Occasionally great things come in small packages. The Museum of Natural History at the University of Colorado definitely fits into this category.
Before You Go
Check the Museum of Natural History at the University of Colorado for additional information.
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