Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals
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The Paul and Irma Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals is one of two halls in the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of Mammals and Their Extinct Relatives, which together tell of the great diversification and sudden extinctions of this group of animals. The roots of the mammalian line reach back almost 300 million years, but the mammals featured in this hall, including both primitive and advanced species, arose after the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs.
The Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals features extinct mammal relatives such as mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, camels, and giant ground sloths, which roamed North America until about 10,000 years ago. These species became extinct, possibly due to climate changes at the end of the last ice age, hunting by humans, and infectious disease.
This hall also includes mammals with such modern traits as the hoof, a stirrup-shaped ear bone, and eye sockets near the snout, as well as traits found in primitive mammals: the synapsid opening in the skull, three middle ear bones, and the placenta. Among the animals represented are bats, rodents, rabbits, cats, seals, bears, primates, deer, horses, whales, and elephants.
The Museum owns the largest collection of fossil horse skeletons in the world. Since the early 1900s, the exhibit has shown a classic, linear progression of evolution. Today, the display also offers a more current view of evolution with a complex, branching history.
Weighing around 1,500 pounds and rivaling a large moose in size, the Irish elk is one of the largest known deer. Originally discovered in bog deposits in Ireland, the Irish elk, or Megaloceros giganteus, lived on the European mainland as well.
The Museum's great standing skeleton is Mammuthus, the mammoth. Found in Indiana, this mammoth lived about 11,000 years ago. Mammoths were larger than their relatives the woolly mammoths but lacked their long, coarse hair.
Numerous remains of the Smilodon, or saber-toothed cat, have been found at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Scientists are unsure why this site attracted so many saber-toothed cats, but some suggest these cats may have been scavengers rather than hunters.
When found in a bog in Newburgh, New York, the Warren mastodon was still in the position in which it had died some 11,000 years ago: standing upright with its legs thrust forward and its head tilted upward, apparently gasping for air.
As cetaceans (the mammal group that includes whales, dolphins, porpoises) began moving from land to water about 55 million years ago, they evolved special adaptations including streamlined bodies, blowholes for nostrils, and loss of external hind limbs. Forelimbs became flippers. Note the similarity between the bones of flippers and the human hand.