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UO Museum Digs Into Millions Of Years Of Oregon's History

Rachael McDonald

A giant sloth and an even larger saber-toothed salmon once lived in Oregon, millions of years ago. These creatures are some of the highlights of a new exhibit at the U of O's Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene. The grand opening is Friday evening.

"Explore Oregon" features a collection of fossils and other geologic items the museum has had for a long time but never put on display. Project Director Ann Craig says, with the museum's recent expansion, there's finally enough space to share the collection with the University and greater community.

Craig: "What we've tried to do is create something for all those different audiences so they're actually participating in the excitement and the discovery of the science we have here in Oregon. And it's really interactive. It's not just reading and learning. It's actually doing and engaging and discovering."

A model of the skeleton of a giant Sloth is one of the eye-catching features in the exhibit hall. It's more than 7 feet tall, cast from the fossils of several different individual specimens.

Credit Rachael McDonald
A sculpture of the Ice-Age giant sloth that once roamed Oregon.

Craig: "This is one of our ice age mammals who wandered around for a long time and their size is really amazing. And if you take a look at their hands, their claws, they look a little ferocious. But in fact they weren't. They weren't meat-eaters. They were using those claws to probably peel bark and leaves."

The exhibit also features an artists rendering of a 9-foot long saber-tooth salmon.

Craig: "He looks pretty similar to Chinook Salmon today except for his massive size. And these guys would have been swimming around Oregon about 5 million years ago."

This display features cutting edge technology.

Craig: "We have a 3-d print of the saber-tooth salmon skull which we were able to make a cast from because the actual fossil is so fragile, so delicate, that it couldn’t go on display. But with this new technology we have a touchable example out here that looks exactly like the real thing."

Craig says this exhibit is the largest expansion of the museum's natural history offerings. It's on permanent display. There's an open house Friday evening from 6 to 8. The U of O Museum of Natural and Cultural History will have a free open house all weekend.


Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.