Cincinnati Museum Center exhibit explores the birthplace of American paleontology

CINCINNATI – Cincinnati Museum Center is preparing to open an exhibit of mammoth importance. Big Bone Lick: A Place of Discovery will open in the Ruthven Gallery at Cincinnati Museum Center on October 10. The exhibit is free to the public.

birthplace of American paleontologyBig Bone Lick: A Place of Discovery lets you explore the paleontological and archaeological history of one of the most important scientific sites in the world. Casts of the original Mastodon molar discovered by a French military party in 1739 and an ancient bison tooth discovered during the first American paleontological excavation in 1807 blend history and science. Clovis points, prehistoric blades likely used as spears and knives, show how these giant beasts and man collided. Additional artifacts from Cincinnati Museum Center’s paleontology and archaeology collections including mastodon tusk fragments, a giant sloth jaw fragment and prehistoric pottery are also included.

“Big Bone Lick is the birthplace of American paleontology,” says Glenn Storrs , PhD, associate vice president for collections & research and Withrow Farny curator of vertebrate paleontology at Cincinnati Museum Center. “The site has played a tremendous role in the development of science and our nation. As the region’s premier repository for fossils and archaeological artifacts, we’re proud to have this opportunity to show the beginnings of the study of paleontology in America.”

For centuries, mastodons, mammoths, bison, horses and giant ground sloths were drawn to the salt licks at what is now Big Bone Lick State Historic Site. The giant beasts of the Ice Age flocked to the site, where they were hunted by man as early as 13,000 BCE. The remains of the animals accumulated around the site and were gradually covered by sediment from flooding streams, preserving them for future discovery.

Native Americans and European explorers were fascinated by the big bones they found as early as 1739. The puzzling discovery drew the attention of notable European naturalists and America’s founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Fossils from Big Bone Lick were carried off by naturalists from Europe. In 1807, President Jefferson ordered William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, to lead the first organized paleontological excavation of the site. The existence of such large bones without evidence of living creatures of comparable size led to revolutionary theories on extinction, evolution and climate change.

Big Bone Lick: A Place of Discovery is open through February 21 and is free to the public. For more information visit