Exploring Utah’s Natural History at KU Museum

KU Natural History Museum

The museum’s exhibitions illuminate the natural world and our place in it. Experience the geological complexities of Utah’s landscape; peer into the dregs of the Great Salt Lake; and get dirty with an erosion learning area.

Originally housed in the George Thomas Building, UMNH has since moved to the Rio Tinto Center at Research Park. This collection includes material related to the building and relocation, including correspondence with Utah’s Congressional delegation seeking funding for the project.


In the center of the museum you will find a hall with dozens of skeleton reconstructions made from real fossils. This is where visitors can geek out on paleontology and imagine what life was like 150 million years ago in the Great Basin. Highlights include the Gryposaurus (duck-billed dinosaur) and the world’s largest display of 14 Ceratopsian (horned) dinosaur skulls.

A few summers back, a crew from the museum’s Dino Lab braved the desert wilderness of Utah and New Mexico with gallons of water and hundreds of pounds of plaster to excavate bones. The team’s haul included the backbone of a long-necked sauropod called Gnatalie.

The discovery shows that the dinosaur species Allosaurus fragilis evolved into a much older species, Allosaurus jimmadseni. The new specimen reframes our view of Allosaurus as one of the top carnivorous dinosaurs in western North America.

Prehistoric Peoples

Before UMNH was established, several museums on the University campus housed natural history related collections. The Anthropology Museum contained artifacts from the Great Basin and early Native American cultures, while the Geology Museum in the Park Building held paleontological collections of both vertebrate and invertebrate fossils found within Utah. The Zoology Museum in the Biology Building included a collection of skeletons, skulls, and skins of all animal species found in Utah, and the Herbarium at the University of Utah contained specimens of flowering plants, lichens, mosses, algae, and other cryptograms from state lands. The Horns & Tusks exhibition allows visitors to step inside the shoes of archaeologists to explore the mysteries of Utah’s prehistoric past.


The museum is a center for natural history research focusing on the state of Utah, the region, and the world. Its 11 collections support scholarly work in a broad spectrum of fields, ranging from geology and archaeology to plant science, vertebrate paleontology, and zoology.

The Museum’s collection of vertebrate fossils began with the arrival of Vasco M. Tanner, Dixie Normal College’s first Biology/Geology instructor, in 1916. Prior to the opening of the Utah Museum of Natural History, four separate museums on campus housed natural history related collections: the Anthropology Museum in the Park Building contained artifacts; the Geology Museum in the Geology Building housed geological specimens; and the Zoology Museum in the Biology Building housed the skeletons, skins, and skulls of animals found within the state.

In the hallway on the second floor of the Museum you can see Tyndall Stone, a rock layered from the bottom of a sea that covered much of North America about 450 million years ago. Its mottled appearance is due to fossilized burrows made by worms and snails.


In addition to the Museum’s exhibits, KU Natural History offers a variety of educational opportunities for students. From the Museum’s online resources to teacher training, there are many ways for teachers and their students to learn more about fossils, arid environments, geologic phenomena, and more at the museum and in the classroom.

Sharpen your STEM teaching skills with Museum-designed professional development workshops. These free workshops are open to Utah public school educators, and provide relicensure or USBE credit.

NHMU has an extensive collection of field-tested and proven educational materials for classes of 10 or more people. Whether your group is an entire class, a family, scout troop or other group, the Museum can help you plan and book your visit.

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