Find out more about our efforts to renovate and expand the fossil prep lab at the Sternberg Museum.
The paleontological collections began in 1927 when George F. Sternberg was hired by FHSU as Curator of the Museum. George primarily collected from the Cretaceous with an emphasis on specimens that might be used for exhibit; therefore, some of the best representatives of marine and flying reptiles and fish are on exhibit in the Museum. In 1970, the systematic collection of fossils from the Ogallala Group (Miocene) and Pleistocene units began. These materials now represent the largest part of the collection. These collections are being enhanced by new material being collected from the Cretaceous by adjunct staff and volunteers and the Plio-Pleistocene material from the Meade Basin Project. The majority of the Forest Service, Meade Basin, and adjunct material has been added in the last ten years. Late Cenozoic mammals primarily from western Kansas comprise the majority of the vertebrate fossils followed by fish and reptiles from the Late Cenozoic and Cretaceous of the same area. Among the fossil invertebrates, the most abundant organisms are mollusks represented by Late Cenozoic snails and Cretaceous clams and cephalopods. Small but important collections of vertebrate fossils from the Cretaceous of Utah, Eocene and Oligocene of Wyoming, and the Pleistocene of Utah are maintained. Recently, Paleozoic fossil vertebrates from eastern Kansas have been added to the collection.
We serve as a repository for the USDA Forest Service for fossils collected on the Cimarron National Grasslands, southwestern Kansas, the Comanche National Grasslands, southeastern Colorado, and fossils collected from the Meade Basin Project.
It is difficult to determine the exact number of fossil animals in the collection. Presently, 17,956 catalog numbers have been assigned to vertebrate fossils and 1,505 to invertebrate fossils. The fossil invertebrate collection is being re-cataloged. Much of both collections, primarily micro-vertebrates from faunal sites and the Pleistocene mollusks are cataloged in lots; e.g., a recent count of the number of teeth cataloged in lots from one new Cretaceous locality totaled 18,509. Much matrix remains to be picked and many uncurated specimens sorted and cataloged. A conservative estimate of the total number of fossil specimens would be 100,000 vertebrates; 300,000 invertebrates.
Since 1931, over 170 papers have been published and 30 MS theses have been completed based on specimens in the Museum collections. Nine primary invertebrate and 16 primary vertebrate types have been described.
Presently, we are applying for funding to make specimen data and images available online. However, many of our Cretaceous fossils can be seen on the award winning web site, Oceans of Kansas, maintained by Michael J. Everhart, Adjunct Curator.