Hall of Advanced Mammals
Early Relatives of Elephants
Although today there are only two living proboscideans, the African and Asian elephant, there were once many more members of this majestic order. This extraordinary display features four early relatives of elephants, including the mammoth, the mastodon, and the gomphothere.
All of these species once occupied North America, and indeed each specimen in the display was collected in the United States: from the permafrost of Alaska, to the farmlands of Indiana, to the peat bogs of upstate New York. Of the three complete skeletons, the oldest of this group is the diminutive gomphothere, which dates back 10 million years; its larger relatives, the mammoth and mastodon, coexisted along with humans during the Pleistocene some 11,000 years ago. Famously included in this display are the mummified remains of a baby woolly mammoth. Nicknamed Effie, this specimen was found in an open-pit gold mine near Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1948.
In July of 1892, seven grueling months in the field, a team of Museum paleontologists established camp in South Dakota. Over the course of their expedition, they added over one thousand fossils to the collection, but it was not until South Dakota, their final stop, that the expedition discovered one of their finest specimens—this Brontops robustus from the Eocene epoch, 35 million years ago.
Brontops robustus represents the apex in both body size and horn development in its family of brontotheres. Though it is distantly related to the horse, it bears a notable resemblance to the modern-day rhinoceros. Paleontologists speculate that its bifurcated horn was used for mating rituals, though it no doubt offered the Brontops a measure of protection. This Brontops has a broken rib on the right side of its ribcage, revealing evidence of an injury possibly incurred in battle.
The Murals of Charles R. Knight
These seven murals hanging in the Hall of Advanced Mammals were all painted between 1911 and 1930. Together they depict with spectacular detail moments in the lives of 24 different species coexisting at different points in history. Three of these works comprise a panoramic series titled Life in the Ice Ages. They are joined by another four that make up The Age of Mammals in North America; today, these four remain hung in the same positions as they did in 1895, when the first Hall of Fossil Mammals opened.
Formally trained, Charles R. Knight (1847 – 1953) is famously the first artist to study the fossils of extinct animals and recreate them on canvas. Long before imagery of prehistoric creatures could be seen on television and in movie theaters, Knight was at work capturing the imaginations of all those curious about life in the past. He was truly a pioneer and his evocative paintings that have so engaged generations of museum-goers are a central part of the Museum’s collection.
Bos gaurus grangeri
(BOS gou-rus GRAN-jer-i)
The 1920s were a formative decade for the American Museum of Natural History, and the many fossils collected by Granger and his colleagues during the Third Asiatic Expedition shaped the Museum's collections for decades to come. In 1921, during the first year of the Museum’s landmark Third Asiatic Expedition, Associate Curator Walter W. Granger and his team uncovered this hulking specimen in the central province of Sichuan, China.
The mighty Bos gaurus grangeri lived during the Pleistocene Epoch, roughly 500,000 years ago, and was native to the forested regions of southeastern Asia. It was formidable in its time as one of the largest creatures roaming its habitat. The Bos gaurus grangeri’s legacy can still be seen today: it is the predecessor of the modern-day gaur, also known as the Indian bison, the largest species of wild cattle in the world.
Megaloceros may be the largest deer to have ever lived. Dubbed the “Irish Elk,” it is closely related to both today’s red deer and wapiti. The far-reaching Megaloceros roamed across Eurasia 11,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch, extending from the Atlantic coast of Europe to as far as the Siberian steppe. Notably, the famed cave paintings of Lascaux feature images of the Megaloceros, testifying to its wide range and awe-inspiring size.
After withstanding the last ice age, the Megaloceros became increasingly restricted in its range, eventually occupying only the expanse of present-day Ireland. This handsome specimen was discovered in a peat bog near Limerick, Ireland; it was received as a gift in 1872 from Albert S. Bickmore, famed naturalist and one of the original founders of the Museum.
Evolution of the Horse
This landmark collection represents one of the most famous evolutionary series of fossils in the world. In this innovative display, Museum preparators have curated an astounding 17 specimens of this beloved family of mammals–each one unique, each one collected from a key location around the world, from the United States to Greece to China.
Since the late 1800s, fossil horses have been displayed at the Museum as a demonstration of evolution, reflecting contemporary scientific ideas about how evolution works and the links between modern species and their extinct relatives. The horses in this exhibit are arranged to contrast two versions of horse evolution. The front portion of the display illustrates the classic “straight-line” concept, which posits that over time, horses became larger with fewer toes, and taller teeth. The back row reflects more recent studies which argue that horse evolution appears more like a branching bush, with much diversity between contemporaneous species. Taken together, the two rows offer a magnificent, wide-ranging introduction to the history of this fascinating species.