Fossil Herring-like Fish
Diplomystus dentatus
52 million years ago
Fossil Lake, Green River Formation
Gift of Anita Jacobs Wainwright, in memory of her father and mother, Mr. & Mrs. Hobart B. Jacobs. Secured through courtesy of Carleton Bradley
Bruce Museum Collection 20023

Fossil Freshwater Stingray
Asterotrygon maloneyi
52 million years ago
Fossil Lake, Green River Formation
Bruce Museum Collection 84.30.02

Fossil Beaked Sandfish
Notogoneus osculus
52 million years ago
Fossil Lake, Green River Formation
Gift of Anita Jacobs Wainwright, in memory of her father and mother, Mr. & Mrs. Hobart B. Jacobs. Secured through courtesy of Carleton Bradley
Bruce Museum Collection 20022

Secrets of Fossil Lake

November 21, 2015 - April 17, 2016

“Fossil Lake is arguably the most important paleontological site in the world... the detail of preservation is beyond exceptional.”

- Dr. Daniel Ksepka, Curator of Science and expert on fossil birds

Travel back in time to a lake that vanished 50 million years ago. This exhibition brings together a remarkable assemblage of fossils that capture an ancient ecosystem from a time when Wyoming was covered in subtropical forests. Encounter ferocious predatory fish, delicate feathered birds, and tiny primitive horses, all preserved in astonishingly beautiful fossils.

The exhibition is organized to provide an overview of the aquatic ecosystem within Fossil Lake and the terrestrial ecosystem along its shores.

  • See fossils from aquatic animals that lived in the lake itself, terrestrial animals that fossilized when chance events washed them in to the waters, and the leaves, fruits, and branches of the forests that grew alongside.
  • Learn how museum preparators painstakingly remove the rock matrix to expose a new fossil specimen, and how paleontologists piece together the lifestyles of extinct species from fossil evidence.
  • Visualize extinct plants and animals through two large murals with life reconstructions. 
  • Watch a fossil emerge from the rock in a time-lapse video documenting 90 hours of preparation work. 
  • Try a hands-on activity that tests their skills at identifying perch, herring, and other fish from their fossil skeletons.

“These fossils capture remarkable moments from the lives of the animals. A soft-shelled turtle bears bite marks on its shell, testifying to a close encounter with a crocodilian. A freshwater stingray is preserved with the last of its three stingers detached near its tail, perhaps fired in a final deadly encounter.  A densely packed layer of herrings lies side by side, wiped out in a mass die-off caused by lethal water conditions.”
Dr. Daniel Ksepka

Secrets of Fossil Lake is generously underwritten by Gabelli Funds and the Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund, and made possible by loans from the Field Museum of Natural History and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.  The exhibition’s cell phone audio tour is generously underwritten by Lucy and Nat Day. 

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