The history of the paleontology collection at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History dates back to the advent of fossil collecting in North America. Charles H. Sternberg began collecting fossils when he moved to Kansas in 1867 (following his brother, George M. Sternberg, who was an Army surgeon). Charles began collecting for E.D. Cope, one of the first professional paleontologists in the United States. After Cope’s death, Charles continued collecting fossils in Kansas and throughout the US and Canada with his three sons. George F. Sternberg, one of Charles’ sons, became particularly interested in collecting, preparing, and studying fossils. In 1915, George F. was appointed to oversee the development of a museum on the Fort Hays Kansas State Normal School (now Fort Hays State University) campus. Sternberg continued to collect fossils and add them to the museum collection throughout his life, and fossils collected by the Sternberg family still form the backbone of the paleontology collection at the Sternberg Museum. Museum staff, other university researchers, and donations from local landowners and collectors have increased collection over recent decades.

The paleontology collection includes more than 400,000 vertebrate and invertebrate specimens (including 30 holotypes) representing broad taxonomic diversity from all Phanerozoic time periods. However, most of the specimens are from Kansas deposits, making it an important resource for documenting past life and environments in the Great Plains region of North America. The largest portions of the collection represent animals from the Late Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway and Late Neogene grasslands. Small but important collections of vertebrate fossils from the Cretaceous of Utah, Eocene, and Oligocene of Wyoming, and Pleistocene of Utah are maintained for comparison.

Notable collections include Late Miocene mammals from the Minium and Jack Swayze quarries (Ogallala Group), Plio-Pleistocene mammals of the Meade Basin (SW Kansas), and fossils from the Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands (USDA Forest Service, SE Colorado). Recent research has focused on vertebrates that lived in the Western Interior Seaway that covered central North America 100-66 million years ago.

Digitizing and sharing data from this collection has been made possible by National Science Foundation grants award number 1559733 and award number 1601977.


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