200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 17: “Ancient Fauna ”

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illustrations of fossil mammals
Plates I, IV, and XXII from “Ancient Fauna of Nebraska.” An early camel, Poebrotherium, is shown at the top of Plate I (left). Two species of oreodonts (Mericoidodon) are shown in Plate IV (center). A rhinoceros, Subhyracodon, is shown on the right.

Ancient Fauna

Published in 1853, Academy naturalist Joseph Leidy's “Ancient Fauna of Nebraska” informed readers about the great paleontological treasures waiting to be uncovered in the American West. Written by Academy naturalist Joseph Leidy and published in the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, this volume provided its author the opportunity to illustrate and fully describe his specimens.

All of the fossils came from other explorers' expeditions to the Mauvaise Terres, or White River Badlands, of what is now South Dakota. Dating from approximately 38 million years ago, the fossils represented previously unknown animals, including 15 species of mammals and five species of turtles. These included an early camel, two extinct species of rhinoceroses, brontotheres (thunder beasts), entelodonts (killer pigs), and oreodonts (ruminating hogs).

In 1856 Leidy made the first report of dinosaur fossils in North America. Two years later, he reported on the skeleton of Hadrosaurus foulkii, a large dinosaur discovered in New Jersey which was the most complete dinosaur skeleton known at the time. Find Leidy's statue in front of the museum on the Parkway, and check out Hadrosaurus in our Dinosaur Hall today!

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