Picture the Great Plains: rolling hills, cattle-dotted fields, a sprawling sky. But travel back 300 million years and you’ll discover that Kansas City was beachfront property.
Fossil proof from two geological periods when oceans and enormous mammals ruled the landscape will soon be on display at the Linda Hall Library.
Eric Ward, co-curator of Paleo Kansas City, which opens Monday and runs through Sept. 12, said the fossils tell an important story about Kansas City’s geological past.
“It’s a deep history of the region’s climate and the evolution of its flora and fauna,” he said.
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The exhibit features fossils courtesy of Richard Gentile, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and curator of UMKC’s Richard L. Sutton Jr. Museum of Geosciences. It showcases several specimens found in the Kansas City area, including:
▪ The wisdom tooth of an adult mammoth found on a sandbar in the Kansas River.
▪ A spruce log uncovered from under 30 feet of glacial drift near St. Joseph.
▪ An impression of a fern frond found along Cliff Drive, with the carved date “November 11, 1904.”
Visitors can also flip through rare paleontology books from the library’s History of Science collection.
During the Pennsylvania Period of Earth’s history, Kansas City was nestled near the paleoequator. Warm waters teeming with life withdrew to form swampy lowlands. Damp soil grew dense rain forests bursting with palms and ferns that spread across the middle of North America.
Enter the Great Ice Age, or the Pleistocene Epoch, whose continental glaciers entered what is now downtown and set the Missouri River’s course nearly 1 million years ago. This was the age of large mammals: mastodons, mammoths and ox-size ground sloths.
Ward said the fossil record between those periods is missing for the metro area.
“Unfortunately for a lot of people, myself included, that period was the age of the dinosaurs,” Ward said.
But Lisa Browar, president of the library, thinks visitors will be surprised by some of the specimens found in the region and said the local population has a great appreciation for its past.
“People have an innate curiosity about where they came from, whether it’s in regard to personal history or local history or the history of animal and plant life,” Browar said. “It’s become very popular and Kansas City is a part of that.”
About the exhibit
Paleo Kansas City opens Monday at the Linda Hall Library, 5109 Cherry St. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month. Admission is free.
For more information, go to LindaHall.org.