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Theodore Roosevelt Tour of the Museum: TR and the Giant Sloth

On Exhibit posts

The restored Theodore Roosevelt Memorial is now open, and a new self-guided tour—available as part of the Museum's Explorer app, or on our website—highlights exhibits around the Museum with a connection to TR, who was President from 1901 to 1909. In this post, the third in a series, we explore one of the tour's stops: the skin and dung of an extinct giant sloth, Mylodon darwinii, now on display in the Hall of South American Peoples.

While president, Theodore Roosevelt made a gift, now on display in the Early Peoples section of the Hall of South American Peoples, of dung and skin (catalog no. 96263) from a giant ground sloth, Mylodon darwinii, extinct for 10,000 years.

The skin specimen is a fragment of the only complete preserved skin of the species ever found, discovered in the late 1890s in a cave in southern Chile. Ossicles, or bone fragments within the skin, are a primitive characteristic not shared by the two- and three-toed sloths living today.

Mylodon darwinii Roosevelt SA Peoples

While president, Theodore Roosevelt donated specimens including this sloth skin and dung to the Museum.

© AMNH/D. Finnin


The Hall of South American Peoples also includes Roosevelt contributions from an arduous expedition to Brazil that nearly cost him his life.

In 1914, the ex-President and Brazilian explorer Colonel Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon led an expedition down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon now known as Rio Roosevelt. They were accompanied by Museum ornithologist George K. Cherrie and mammalogist Leo E. Miller.

In addition to bird and mammal specimens, they collected 249 ethnological artifacts including Nambikuara palm nut bead and bamboo necklaces (such as catalog no. 40.0/ 1260) highlighted in the hall's Adornment case.

Palm nut bead necklace SA Peoples Roosevelt

Catalog no. 40.0/1260

© AMNH/D. Finnin


On the arduous journey, the group endured impassable rapids, malaria, and near starvation, and Roosevelt nearly died from infection.

The next year, Roosevelt wrote a book about the expedition, called Through the Brazilian Wilderness, in which the photograph below appeared.

Theodore Roosevelt Brazil Mosquito Net

"I did my writing in headnet and gauntlets," he explains in the photograph's caption, perhaps because, as he writes in a different part of the book, "at times the torment of insect plagues can hardly be exaggerated."

Download the self-guided tour as part of the Museum's Explorer app, or on our website.

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