The Harvest Foundation Hall of Ancient Life
Welcome to the museum! The Harvest Foundation of the Piedmont Hall of Ancient Life greets visitors as the first exhibit gallery with a vast assortment of fascinating displays of ancient creatures and modern science. View the flying reptile, Pteranadon, and its impressive 20-foot-wing-span soaring 40 feet above the hall. Marvel over the cast skeleton of the theropod dinosaur, Allosaurus, a 140 million year old dinosaur discovered in north central Wyoming where museum scientists conduct annual excavations. Witness Eobalaenoptera, a 14-million year old baleen whale specimen collected by museum scientists north of Richmond and in an area once deep under water. Explore the work museum scientists conduct every day inside their labs as they conduct ground-breaking research. This and much more await you inside the museum's Hall of Ancient Life!
The theropod dinosaur, Allosaurus, is about 140 million years old. This specimen is from north central Wyoming where Museum scientists have been conducting annual excavations on federal lands since 1998.
A skeleton of a Pteranodon suspended from the towering 40-foot ceiling of the museum’s Harvest Foundation Hall of Ancient Life greets visitors to the Museum. The specimen has a 20-foot wing-span, and is angled to appear as though it is diving toward visitors standing on the bridge overlooking both the museum's lobby and The Hall of Ancient Life. The Pteranodon lived around 89 to 70 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous period, and was one of the largest types of pterosaur – flying reptiles – with a wingspan of up to 30 feet. Pteranodon had toothless beaks, similar to those of modern birds. The creatures were reptiles, but not dinosaurs. However, dinosaurs and pterosaurs may have been closely related, and most paleontologists place them together in the group Ornithodira, or "bird necks".
The 14 million year old baleen whale specimen suspended from the ceiling of The Hall of Ancient Life was collected by Museum scientists at a quarry in Caroline County and is named Eobalaenoptera. It is the oldest known member of the group of whales that includes the fin whales. The best known fin whale is the Blue whale, the largest creature that has ever lived.
An exhibit featuring a 500-million-year-old stromatolite specimen is also on display in the Hall of Ancient Life. The stromatolite, which measures 6 feet in diameter and weighs over 2 tons, garnered national attention after its discovery in May 2008 at the Boxley Blue Ridge Quarry in Roanoke, Virginia. While moving a pile of loose rock, quarry employees noticed the mysterious object, but were unable to identify it. When the quarry’s geologist identified it as a stromatolite, museum scientists were asked to confirm the analysis. When they arrived to the quarry, not only did they confirm it as a stromatolite, but it was found to be one of the most complete stromatolite specimens in the world. Although fragments and sections of stromatolites are fairly common, it is very rare for a whole stromatolite head to be collected intact. This specimen is particularly unusual because the top surface of the head is very well preserved.
Visitors to The Hall of Ancient Life can also view VMNH scientists at work through windows looking into three labs. The Elster Foundation Vertebrate Paleontology Lab is where VMNH researchers prepare whales, dinosaurs and other vertebrate fossils, including over 700 dinosaur bones stored in the museum's collections from excavations in Wyoming. The museum's archaeologist, Dr. Elizabeth Moore, works in the Archaeology Lab identifying, measuring and cataloging thousands of bones, potsherds and other artifacts recovered from a number of sites on the east coast. The Scanning Electron Microscopy Lab includes a scanning electron microscope (SEM), which allows researchers to magnify objects up to several thousand times life-size. This allows scientists to look at fine details of surface structures of animals, plants, and cultural artifacts. SEM’s are also used to look at details of hairs and fibers in forensic investigations.
Temporary Dinosaur Displays
The Hall of Ancient Life now has several temporary dinosaur casts and models on display. Life-size casts of dinosaurs currently dominate the exhibit gallery, which includes a 40-foot long skeleton cast of an Acrocanthosaurus, a massive carnivorous theropod dinosaur that existed in what is now North America during the early Cretaceous period, between 125 million and 100 million years ago. The exhibit also includes a 12-foot long skeleton cast of a Deinonychus, a Tenontosaurus skeleton cast, a cast of a Triceratops skull, and the brand new Ice Age exhibit. This exhibit covers the Pleistocene period and includes 7 new skeletons such as saber-toothed cat and giant beaver. Fossils from VMNH digs accompany the new skeletons.