DINO LAND TRAVELS PHOTO DATABASE
Amherst College was first founded in 1821, and almost immediately became recognized as one of the great paleontology centers on the East Coast of the United States. In 1844, Amherst named professor of geology and natural theology Edward Hitchcock as college president. Hitchcock was known around the area for his pioneering study of dinosaur footprints. The first dinosaur footprints ever discovered were unearthed in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 1802, and were later studied by Hitchcock. After his initial look at these tracks, the study of these ancient tracks overcame the college president, and he soon amassed quite a collection of fossil prints.
The major question was: what to do with all of these tracks? This question was answered in 1855, a year after Hitchcock retired from his post as Amherst President. That year the Appleton Cabinet was built. This museum was built specially to house Hitchcock's impressive footprint collections. Today, these tracks, which number over 8,000 are housed in another museum on the Amherst campus-the Pratt Museum.
The Pratt Museum is recognized today as having one of the most outstanding research collection of vertebrate fossils in the New England area. Most of the most impressive fossils are on display in the museum's main exhibit hall (which formerly was a gym), but Hitchcock's footprint collection is housed in a locked room in the basement. One must make a reservation to view it.
Many of the display fossils represent the Pleistocene Fauna, better known as the Ice Age, and include a mammoth, mastodon, Irish Elk, saber tooth tiger, dire wolf, and cave bear. The museum does have some dinosaurs on display, including a skeleton of the duckbill Kristosaurus, and casts of Podokesaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex (skull). One of their most impressive exhibits deals with the evolution of early horses and camels, and includes several skeletons. Alongside the Pleistocene specimens is an exhibit following vertebrate evolution through time, from early fish to amphibians to reptiles, onto dinosaurs, mammals, and birds. Above the main exhibit floor is a large, winding balcony, once the bleachers in the gymnasium which was the Pratt Museum. Included on this floor is the Pratt's hall of invertebrates, including several trilobites and sea scorpions, and the Pratt's plant fossil and mineral specimens. Below part of this balcony, adjacent to the main exhibit floor, is an exhibit on the formation of the Connecticut River Valley.
Several of the best specimens exhibited in this museum can be seen in the photos below, which I took in August of 2000.
Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus)
Dire Wolf (Canis dirus)
Saber Tooth Tiger (Smilodon californicus)
Irish Elk (Megaloceros)
Titanothere (Megacerops tyleri)
Early Horse (Mesohippus)
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