Big Bone Lick completes mammoth 3 year revitalization of visitor center at Cincinnati Museum Center

UNION, KY – The Big Bone Lick State Historic Site is celebrating the completion of a four-year revitalization of the visitor center. The mammoth undertaking was spearheaded by the Friends of Big Bone in partnership with Big Bone Lick State Historic Site and Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC). Completed in three phases, the visitor center makeover now tells the site’s historic narrative in a more vivid and engaging way. The Friends of Big Bone, Big Bone Lick and CMC are celebrating the completion of the project Thursday, September 7, with remarks and the public’s first opportunity to see the new visitor centre.

For centuries people have recognized the importance of Big Bone Lick. Since its discovery in 1739 it has drawn the attention of notable European naturalists and America’s founding fathers. The first organized paleontological excavation in North America was conducted there in 1807 by William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) at the request of Thomas Jefferson. The giant bones of extinct animals found there in the 18th and 19th centuries created intense interest and discussion in the emerging scientific community. The study of these “big bones” fed the development of new concepts such as extinction, climate change and evolution.

“Big Bone Lick has figured prominently in the history of science and in the history of our country,” says Glenn Storrs, PhD, associate vice president for collections and research and Withrow Farny curator of vertebrate paleontology at Cincinnati Museum Center. “With the revitalization of the visitor center, we hope residents of our region will more easily appreciate the significance of this local treasure that is famous around the world.”

In 2014, the Friends of Big Bone began a project to more effectively tell the story of Big Bone Lick by revitalizing the visitor center. Phase I of the project involved the installation of nine thematic cases designed and installed by CMC. The cases cover the site’s history and prehistory, from the undersea world of the Ordovician era nearly 450 million years ago to the massive mammals of the Pleistocene era (also known as the Ice Age) to the modern day. Phase I was completed in May 2015.

In June 2016, Phase II of the project was completed and featured a large diorama behind a full-size reproduction of a Bison antiquus, ancestor of the modern, smaller American bison. The Bison antiquus, which were regularly hunted by Paleo-Indians, stood over seven feet tall and weighed more than 3500 pounds but died out 10,000 years ago.

CMC has just completed Phase III, the final step of the revitalization – a skeletal reconstruction of a Harlan’s Ground Sloth. Alongside the reconstruction of sloth is a tibia of a Harlan’s Ground Sloth recently discovered at Big Bone Lick. The first Harlan’s Ground Sloth, a Pleistocene mammal that stood nine feet tall and weighed over a ton, was discovered at Big Bone Lick in the 1840s, making it a fitting capstone to the revitalization project.

“With the improvements we see today, this park can now dramatically tell the story of this area and draw visitors from all over to explain why we call this the birthplace of American paleontology,” says Donnie Holland, Kentucky State Parks commissioner.

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