Featured exhibits in the Hall of Geology and Paleontology (first floor)
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of vertebrates that share a set of characteristics not seen in other reptiles. Dinosaurs have a femur (thigh bone) with an in-turned head that fits into a completely open hip-socket and a hinge-like ankle. These features contribute to the dinosaurian upright stance and increased running ability.
The Cretaceous (145-66 million years ago) fossil record for dinosaurs in Texas includes bones, teeth and tracks. TMM has a long history of collecting dinosaur fossils in the Big Bend region of Texas. Remains of the sauropod Alamosaurus, ceratopsid Chasmosaurus (Agujaceratops), hadrosaurid Kritosaurus, and theropod Tyrannosaurus are on exhibit alongside several specimens from other parts of North America.
Dinosaurs did not completely go extinct 66 million years ago—one branch of the dinosaur family tree includes birds!
Each of these drawers invites an exploration of nature—including local fossils, crystals, dragonflies, and rattlesnake rattles. Clear acrylic glass covers in the drawers protect the specimens and provide up-close viewing. Open a drawer and make a discovery!
The majority of the drawers represent fossil-bearing rock layers in the Austin area. Visitors are able to locate their home or school on a geologic map and stratigraphic chart on the adjacent wall. To identify fossils commonly found in that rock layer, match the color and/or geological code on the map and chart with the labels on the drawers.
Fossil Animals and Plants
A fossil is any evidence of past life, be it the remains of an organism’s body, a track, or a trace. Fossils are typically formed within sediment that becomes lithified (turns to rock), and are at least several thousand years old. However, not all fossils are fossilized, that is, have undergone some kind of change during preservation.
More than 500 million years of plant and animal evolution is represented by a rich diversity of forms and environments in this hall. Plant fossils include Paleozoic ferns, horsetails and conifers; a huge petrified tree stump from the Triassic; Cretaceous cycads; and leaves from Eocene flowering plants. Corals, trilobites, bivalves, ammonites and crustaceans provide a glimpse into ancient oceans. Striking skeletons of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals highlight Texas through time.
A meteorite is a naturally occurring solid object from space that survives the destructive effects of flight through Earth’s atmosphere and falls to the ground in one or more pieces. Meteorites are classified in two ways—a fall or a find. A find is when a person discovers a meteorite on the ground, but did not see it fall there. Much rarer is a fall, when a person actually sees a meteorite fall through the atmosphere, and strike the ground.
Meteorites may be classified by their composition—they may be predominantly rock (stony meteorites) or mostly metallic (iron meteorites) or a combination (stony-iron meteorites).
Meteorites on exhibit include many of those acquired by the State of Texas during early geological surveys, and those added since that time for both research and display. Especially notable are the large Kimble and Wichita meteorites, and a meteorite collected from the Odessa impact crater.
Learn more about the impact history of Texas and elsewhere at IMPACT: TEXAS, an interactive computer module in the exhibit.
Onion Creek Mosasaur
Near the end of the Cretaceous Period, 90-66 million years ago, huge relatives of lizards and snakes swam the shallow sea that covered 40% of present-day North America. These were mosasaurs (MOSE-uh-sawrs), marine reptiles that were the top predators in their ancient environment. They preyed on fish, ammonites, and even other marine reptiles! Mosasaurs have been extinct for about 66 million years, but their fossilized bones and teeth have been found in many parts of Texas. The university is fortunate to have several fine mosasaur specimens, including the spectacular Onion Creek Mosasaur.
The Onion Creek Mosasaur, Mosasaurus hoffmannii (formerly maximus), is among the largest species of mosasaurs, and one that lived only a short time before the last mosasaurs went extinct. With whale-like flippers instead of feet, and a long, laterally flattened tail, the Onion Creek Mosasaur swam with a snake-like motion, using its powerful tail to propel its body through the water. Discovered in 1935 by UT Austin geology students W. Clyde Ikins and John P. Smith, the Onion Creek Mosasaur is 30 feet long, about 12 feet of which are tail. Excavated by a team of UT geologists and paleontologists, parts of the skeleton went on display in Gregory Gymnasium in 1936 at the University Centennial Exposition. After exhibition in TMM's Great Hall from 1965 to 1989, the skeleton was remounted into a more natural pose in the Hall of Geology and Paleontology, where you can view it today.
Paleo Lab (To meet COVID-19 safety protocols, the lab remains closed until further notice.)
The Paleo Lab is a unique working laboratory where visitors are encouraged to interact with and ask questions of a paleontologist or lab volunteer while seeing first-hand how fossils are properly prepared, catalogued, and studied.
Have you found a fossil and need help with an identification? Send an email to: TMMinfo@austin.utexas.edu.
Fossil identifications are for educational purposes only. We do not provide authentications or appraisals for monetary (market) value or for legal purposes.
Current Major Projects:
- Identification and study of late Pleistocene mammal remains from a creek site in Travis County, Texas.
- Picking and sorting remains of a 160–113 thousand year old (middle-late Pleistocene) cave fauna from Cathedral Cave, White Pine County, Nevada.