Cincinnati Museum Center's New Fossil Exhibit to Show Ancient Worlds Hidden in Plain Sight

Get ready to step back 450 million years in the past to Cincinnati in the Ordovician Period.

click to enlarge Isotelus maximus, the official State Invertebrate Fossil of Ohio - Photo: Cincinnati Museum Center
Photo: Cincinnati Museum Center
Isotelus maximus, the official State Invertebrate Fossil of Ohio

A new, permanent exhibit opening at the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) this fall will both transport you 450 million years in the past while also showing you the ancient world is much closer than you realize.

Showcasing a collection of world-class fossils, Ancient Worlds Hiding in Plain Sight takes you back to Cincinnati in the Paleozoic Era. You’ll start underwater in the Ordovician period and watch marine life evolve through the Silurian and Devonian periods before making your way onto land in the Carboniferous Period.

In the exhibit, you’ll get to see the creatures that thrived in the marine environment of the Ordovician Period – long before dinosaurs roamed the earth. Fossils include the Isotelus maximus, a large plated invertebrate that resembles a stretched-out horseshoe crab or an aquatic armadillo; conical mollusks similar to the cone-headed squid; and brachiopods. As you move through time, you’ll get to see new creatures, including the fearsome, massive-jawed armored fish Dunkleosteus, says the museum.

The exhibit will use soundscapes to provide an immersive, prehistoric sea experience, and large monitors will transform part of the gallery into an ancient aquarium complete with trilobites crawling on the seafloor, giant cephalopods swimming overhead and the Dunkleosteus chasing its prey. You can also explore the fossilized seafloor through a touchscreen to learn more about the fossils and what some of the organisms looked like and how they interacted. Bronze models will allow you to feel the prehistoric animals and there will be a touchable rock filled with real fossils.

The museum adds that it hopes guests, after visiting the exhibit, are inspired to explore the ancient world and fossils in their own backyards.

“Exploring ancient animals and fossil communities are accessible to everyone here in the Cincinnati region. They are hiding in plain sight!” Brenda Hunda, Ph.D., curator of invertebrate paleontology at CMC, said in a press release. “That’s what makes our rocks and fossils so amazing – you can grab a bag and a rock hammer, travel to a local creek or outcrop and transport yourself back in time. It’s the closest thing we have to time travel and we want everyone to have this experience.”

The exhibit also addresses topics important today, like climate change, evolution, extinction and species diversification. The museum says by studying fossils and how they respond to changes over a long period of time, we may be able to better understand modern issues like these.

“We hear 450 million years ago and think this time and these creatures are so far removed from us, but we’re ready to show you they’re much closer than you realize,” Elizabeth Pierce, CMC president and CEO, said in the release. “Our newest exhibit uses our incredible fossil collection to not just educate you about a bygone era of biodiversity, but to nurture curiosity, illuminate career paths for future scientists and inspire connection between people as they discover a new hobby of fossil hunting.”

Ancient Worlds Hiding in Plain Sight will open Sept. 28.

Cincinnati Museum Center, 1301 Western Ave., West End. More info:

Subscribe to CityBeat newsletters.

Follow us: Apple News | Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Or sign up for our RSS Feed

About The Author

Katherine Barrier

Katherine Barrier is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s journalism program and has nearly 10 years of experience reporting local and national news as a digital journalist. At CityBeat, she oversees the digital and social media strategies, edits web and print content and writes for the dining and arts...
Scroll to read more Culture articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.