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“When Giants Roamed” exhibit brings historic Idaho mammals back to life at the Idaho Museum of Natural History

Posted June 30, 2014

The Idaho Museum of Natural History on the Idaho State University campus is opening a thrilling new exhibit that will showcase some of the giant mammals that lived in Idaho during the last three million years. “When Giants Roamed” opens to the public on July 1, with a special event on July 5 from 3 to 5 p.m.

This also marks the 37th birthday of the IMNH as the state’s museum for natural history, and the 80th birthday of the museum as an institution.

“This exhibit will give people the chance to learn what Idaho was like in the past,” said Mary Thompson, the senior collections manager at the IMNH. “We want to show the natural history of Idaho and highlight the great things about it.”"When Giants Roamed" IMNH Exhibit

The exhibit features different elements about the giant animals and early humans who roamed Idaho in the distant past, including the migrations of these animals across the landscape during the Great American Interchange, sexual dimorphism of different animals, the excavation of Owl Cave at the Wasden Site, and the evolution of bison on the Snake River Plain.

The migrations of these giant animals are discussed in the “Great American Interchange,” which illustrates the migration of different animals from Europe to North America and from North America to South America.

One little-known fact displayed in the exhibit is that camels originated in North America, and then migrated into Europe and South America becoming the camels and llamas we recognize today. It was because of this Great American Interchange that the camel adapted and thrived in its new environments, while becoming extinct in North America around 10,000 years ago.

On sexual dimorphism, Thompson said, “the sexual dimorphism of different animals is very distinct. When looking at male and female muskox, the difference is their size. But sexual dimorphism can take a different form, for example, when looking at a male and female peacock, whose primary difference lies in their coloring.”

The exploration of the human experience of Idaho’s paleoenvironment begins with a discussion of the excavation of Owl Cave at the Wasden Site, located 18 miles west of Idaho Falls. This portion of the exhibit illuminates the ice age layer of the cave, the bison kill, human occupation, and some of the personalities associated with the 1960s excavation of the collapsed lava tube."When Giants Roamed" IMNH Exhibit

Notable features of the exhibit include Muskox bone material, the cast of a giant Bison latifrons, and the life-size mounted skeleton of a ground sloth, on loan from the Museum of Idaho. A scan of the Wasden site utilizing the 3-D technology of the Idaho Visualization Laboratory provides a virtual tour of the site and shows the depth of the cave.

The exhibit also features the many uses of bison, including how its tongue was used as hair combs and its bones were used for paintbrushes.

“The kids coming to the exhibit will enjoy the display about the many uses of bison,” said Amber Tews, the anthropology collections manager. “And seeing how much dirt was excavated from the Wasden site in the 3-D scan is incredible.”

All of the exhibited items are from Idaho and, with almost all of the materials on display, some of them for the first time, coming from the museum’s collections.

A number of other exhibits open at the same time in the museum. Explore the museum for exciting new mini-exhibits detailing the use of the dart and atlatl (a prehistoric hunting tool) and on Saber Tooth Cats and other Ice Age predators. Visitors may also check out the preview of the exhibition, “I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story,” which comes to IMNH from the Smithsonian Institution in September.

Admission for the exhibit is $5 for adults and $1 for children in grades kindergarten through 12. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. ”When Giants Roamed” will be open through early 2015. For more information call the museum at 208-282-3168 or visit the museum’s website at www.imnh.isu.edu.