Friday, November 2, 2012

Utah Travelogue Part 3: CEU Prehistoric Museum

The morning after my mom and I visited Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, we headed over to the other paleontological attraction the town of Price had to offer, the CEU (College of Eastern Utah) Prehistoric Museum. We actually arrived a little early, before the museum opened, and I was anxious to get inside and see what was to be seen. When the doors were finally unlocked, I wasted little time in entering the building.
Once inside, we were greeted in the main lobby by a very impressive mount of a Utahraptor skeleton. I don't know if it or any other dromaeosaurid was really capable of positioning its leg in the manner shown in the photo above, but it is nevertheless an exciting and dynamic pose, a nice change from the standing around of many mounted skeletons. Plus, I have to give credit for it not having pronated hands. Seeing this skeleton also gave me an appreciation for the size of the animal. Of course I knew Utahraptor was very large for a dromaeosaurid, but it wasn't until I saw this skeleton in person that I realized just how large of an animal it was. There were also a couple display cases next to the skeleton, one showing the original fossil material of the animal, and another discussing the relationship between dinosaurs and birds.
The museum has two halls, one devoted to paleontology and the other to archaeology. Not surprisingly, our first stop was the paleontology hall. To my surprise, I discovered that the hall is currently undergoing renovations to update its exhibits. Much of this has to do with the museum's new directorship under renowned paleontologist Kenneth Carpenter. I knew he took over the position as director of the museum a couple years ago, and I'm glad he's using his position to ensure the museum is kept up-to-date. I admit I was mildly disappointed to find that not everything was in place, but I was determined not to let that ruin my visit, and I'm glad to say it didn't. Besides, it gives me a reason to visit again in the future.

The centerpiece of the paleontology hall is what is referred to the "kitty litter box," a sand-filled display area with mounted skeletons of the Jurassic dinosaurs Allosaurus, Camarasaurus, Stegosaurus, and Camptosaurus. Unfortunately, this section was the subject of much of the renovation. Most of the sand had been removed, and most of the skeletons were not mounted in their final positions. Only the Allosaurus was left standing, although this was hardly something to complain about, since it's a pretty cool mount, as can be seen in the picture above. I especially like the way the right foot is gripping the large femur. The Camarasaurus and Stegosaurus skeletons were laid out on the floor in the general position they occupied in the old "litter box," which was apparently to make them seem like carcasses. It was nice to still get to see these bones, even if they weren't remounted in their exhibit yet. The Camptosaurus was in in the lab, being remounted into a new, more accurate position (but read on).
In the area around the "litter box" were numerous display cases showcasing fossils of various kinds. Each case had its own theme, allowing the displays to cover a variety of topics. Unfortunately, I can't remember all of them, but they included the Palaeozoic, dinosaur footprints, and paleopathology. I found the latter especially interesting, partly because paleopathology is a subject I find interesting, and also because of one particular specimen on display. Said specimen was an Allosaurus vertebra, I believe a caudal, that appears to have been penetrated by a Stegosaurus tail spike. And just to clarify, the spike shown in the picture above was not found embedded in the fossil, but rather is just put there to show how well a thagomizer spike fits in the wound.
In the back area of the paleontology hall was the museum's prep lab. As the name implies, this is normally where fossils are prepared, but at the time I visited one of the big projects seemed to be the remounting of the Camptosaurus skeleton. Previously the skeleton was mounted in the classic but inaccurate upright position, and now it's being put in the correct horizontal pose. The skull was not yet mounted, but I suspect it will be changed to the one now known to have belonged to the animal, rather than the Theiophytalia skull of the old mount, especially since Carpenter was coauthor of the paper that corrected the problem.
It would be a crime not to mention the Allosaurus bust mounted on the wall of the hall. The most striking feature is of course the forked tongue. It's unlikely that Allosaurus, or any other theropod for that matter, had such a tongue, but it serves as a nice reminder of a time when dinosaurs were still seen as very much reptilian.
Once we were finished looking at what the first floor had to offer, we headed up to the second floor. Up here were several more dinosaur skeletons on display. Included were two representatives of the armored dinosaurs, namely Gastonia and Animantarx, both of which were found in Utah. Nearby were some examples of dinosaur tracks that had been discovered in a coal mine near the town. Most of these were made by hadrosaurs, and a skeletal mount of Prosaurolophus was displayed to represent this family. Nearby was also a Chasmosaurus skeleton, since apparently some ceratopsian tracks have also been found.

There was also a display case covering the topic of the extinction of the dinosaurs. There wasn't much new to me there, but I like how they listed aliens as an unlikely cause of the extinction, despite the fact that it reminded my of that dreadful episode of Ancient Aliens. Next to this display was some material covering some of the local Cenozoic paleontology. I admit I'm not insanely thrilled by Cenozoic stuff, being mainly a Mesozoic guy, but it's still nice to see it acknowledged, since it is still part of Earth's history.
On the other side of the museum is the archaeology hall. I confess we hastily went through this one. While archaeology is an interesting field, after going through a hall of paleontology it seems to pale in comparison. Still, there was some noteworthy stuff there. Probably the highlight was a display of a Clovis hunter attacking a mammoth. There were some nice mounts of other Ice Age mammals, as well as an interesting display on making a Clovis point, but overall there wasn't as much to grab me or my mom. However, this is just a matter of taste, and it was still a well done hall.

After we were done with the exhibits, we of course had to get some souvenirs at the gift shop. I got a museum T-shirt and a copy of Mesozoic Vertebrate Life, of which Carpenter was an editor.
Since we entered through the back entrance, I had to go out front to see the statues that stood near that part of the building. The closest one was an Allosaurus attacking what appeared to be a Camptosaurus. It of course looks very dated, but it has a nostalgic charm I think. As a fun little side not, when we got lunch at a restaurant in town, there were numerous dinosaur toys on some shelves, two of which set to resemble the statue. The other statue was a Utahraptor in a similar position to the skeleton inside.

Overall, I highly recommend the CEU Prehistoric Museum. It has many interesting exhibits and the renovations definitely give something to look forward to. Between this museum and Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, I think Price is rivaled only by Vernal as Utah's "Dinosaur Town." And speaking of Vernal...

To be continued in part 4...

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