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December 18, 2015

Saber-tooth cat and muskoxThe Virginia Museum of Natural History has unveiled its latest permanent exhibit, “Ice Age”, giving visitors a glimpse into a time period ruled by giant mammals and some of the most exceptional animals to have ever lived.

Through the museum’s casting and molding program, VMNH has re-created full-sized, skeleton casts of some of the most iconic creatures of the Pleistocene epoch, which ended approximately 11,700 years ago.  The exhibit is highlighted by a saber-tooth cat (Smilodon), muskox (Bootherium), and giant beavers (Castoroides) depicted in carefully crafted scenes consisting of plant replications and insect life true to the time period.

Though Virginia’s climate was significantly cooler during the Pleistocene epoch than today, the climate was still warm enough to allow wildlife and vegetation to thrive.

"Many people think of the planet as having been under one massive sheet of ice during the Ice Age, but in North America, the glaciers actually only came as far south as Pennsylvania and Ohio," said Dr. Alex Hastings, assistant curator of paleontology at VMNH.  "At the time, temperatures were a lot cooler, but Virginia was still warm enough to allow life to flourish."While some iconic creatures of the latest ice age, such as the saber-tooth cat and wooly mammoth, are now extinct, many species of animals and plants that thrived during the last ice age continue to thrive today.

"Virginia's landscape during the latest ice age was similar to what we see today in a lot of ways," said Hastings.  "While we're fortunate not to have to scare off wooly mammoths from our front yards, many of the animals they once shared a habitat with are still a part of today's landscape.  However, some vegetation, such as pines and spruces, would have been far more common in the forests of Virginia’s Ice Age."

Giant BeaverThe museum hopes the exhibit gives visitors a more well-rounded understanding of Virginia's past.

"The exhibit is a wonderful addition to the museum's Harvest Foundation of the Piedmont Hall of Ancient Life and gives visitors an opportunity to learn about a very distinct period in Virginia's ancient history that doesn't necessarily receive the same attention as the age of dinosaurs," said Ryan Barber, deputy director of VMNH.  "While dinosaurs will continue to be a focal point, we believe the 'Ice Age' exhibit proves that they aren't the only inspiring animals to have once roamed Virginia's landscape".

The "Ice Age" exhibit is made possible by generous gifts provided by The Helen S. and Charles G. Patterson Jr. Charitable Foundation Trust and the Hermes Family Foundation.

The museum is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed December 24, December 25, and New Year’s Day.  Admission is $5 per adult, $4 for ages 3-18, $3 for seniors and colleges students, and free for children under 3 and museum members.