The “People of the Plains” are relative newcomers to this area. Long before humans arrived, the Panhandle Plains were ruled by other creatures. Our paleontology collection contains fossils from the Cambrian period to the Quaternary period, with a world-class emphasis on locally discovered reptiles and amphibians from the Late Triassic Period (225-200 million years ago) and mammals from the Late Cenozoic era (10-1 million years ago).
Many guests are surprised to learn that the Texas Panhandle was once a swampy, tropical rain forest, which explains the giant Phytosaur, a crocodile-like reptile, on display, as well as the salamander-like Metoposaurus, a 6-foot-long amphibian. These creatures lived among shovel-tusked mastodons, saber-toothed cats, giant land tortoises, the glyptodon, which is related to the giant armadillo, and the unique slingshot deer, named for the slingshot-shaped bone formation on its nose. Other unique prehistoric Panhandle residents include Harlan’s ground sloth and Scott’s horse, both of which are on display.
One fascinating wall shows the evolution of the ancient Bison Latifrons to the modern-day American buffalo (Bison bison). Here, visitors can see in sequence the visible changes to the creature’s horns across the millennia.
Click on the Paleontology Handbook for an in-depth guide to our jungle of bones.
See TEKS Alignment here.
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