Lewis & Clark Fossils Displayed at Ashfall Fossil Beds

Released on 06/07/2004, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., June 7th, 2004 —
Hillory Doerr, student from Brunswick, Neb., with fossil of a long-necked sea lizard.
Hillory Doerr, student from Brunswick, Neb., with fossil of a long-necked sea lizard.

A new exhibit featuring a variety of fossils similar to those discovered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) is now on display at Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park near Orchard. The rare fossils -- including parts of a long-necked plesiosaur, a horned dinosaur and large predatory fish -- were selected from the world-famous collection from the University of Nebraska State Museum in Lincoln, and have not previously been exhibited to the public, according to Rick Otto, park superintendent.

Most of the fossil finds recorded in the journals of Lewis and Clark are remains of creatures from the great inland sea which covered the Midwest during the Mesozoic Era or "Age of Reptiles" (245 million to 65 million years ago). On Sept. 20, 1804, for example, Capt. William Clark wrote about finding the petrified skeleton of a "fish" (probably a plesiosaur) 45 feet long near present-day Whetstone, S.D. A similar skeleton from the same geological formation, the Pierre Shale, was discovered in December 2001 by science teacher Mike Baldwin near Center, Neb. The fossil was found on state highway right-of-way within the Santee Sioux Nation. It was excavated in May 2003 by Museum paleontologists in the Highway Salvage Paleontology Program funded by the Nebraska Department of Roads. Sections of the neck and paddles of the huge creature are featured in the new display and more will be added as soon as they are cleaned and stabilized. Information displayed with the plesiosaur emphasizes that it was discovered within the boundaries of the Santee Sioux Nation, said paleontologist Mike Voorhies, curator of the new exhibit.

Other "Lewis and Clark" fossils of special interest to northeast Nebraska residents include 70 million to 80 million-year-old specimens collected near Ponca, Niobrara and Verdel. The exhibit will remain open in the newly expanded Ashfall Visitor Center through 2006.

Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. through 5 p.m. The park features an intact fossil bed of complete skeletons of rhinos, horses and camels in a layer of pure volcanic ash. The fossil skeletons are left in place for public viewing under the shelter of the "Rhino Barn."

In addition, a 1,400-square-foot addition to the Ashfall Visitor Center opened this spring, more than doubling existing display space. The $100,000 expansion, funded by private donations, also includes new office and classroom/meeting space and an enlarged gift shop.

"With the increasing numbers of visitors, we were simply out of space," Otto said. "The addition will enhance our ability to bring in more exhibits, expand display space and better tell the story of the Ashfall fossil site."

CONTACT: Rick Otto, Superintendent, Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park, (402) 893-2000