The Sternberg Museum of Natural History is a bit of a surprise.
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Hays, Kansas, the museum is unprepossessing from the outside. It grew out of the local fossils collections originally housed at the Kansas State Normal School, founded in 1902, which later became Ft. Hayes State University.
George F. Sternberg was in charge of gathering all the exhibits together into a museum that could share this wealth of specimens and knowledge. Sternberg found his first major fossil, a complete plesiosaur, in 1892. He was 9 years old at the time.
Here are the FreshPlans guys at the museum that bears Sternberg’s name. They’re feeling uncertain about this field trip.
Once inside, they see that the museum is definitely worth a visit. Here’s Mr. Sternberg himself — or at least a model of him — showing how archaeologists and paleontologists work. All dirt and dust has to be cleaned away from the fossil very carefully so there’s no damage. Fossils tell us more all that we can know about what life was like before human beings were around to see and record the world. Being very careful and accurate is super important!
There are a number of permanent exhibits that show what Kansas looked like long before people came to see it. The “Titans of the Ice Age” exhibit shows the prehistoric animals that lived here during the last Ice Age, along with some modern animals that are similar to them.
The modern lion, for example, is similar to the ancient lion which we know only from fossils.
Before the Ice Age, dinosaurs roamed what would later become Kansas. Pteranodons are a special focus at the Sternberg, which has an exceptional collection of materials relating to these flying dinosaurs, the forerunners of modern birds.
You can also play video games designed to help visitors understand what like would have been like for the dinosaurs, and to get a sense of these large animals as animals, rather than cartoon monsters. Using joysticks, visitors can make decisions based on the environment and the sensory information available to the dinosaurs.
Traveling back even further in time, we come to the days when Kansas was under the sea.
It can be hard for kids to imagine that the places where they live were once covered by oceans, but the Sternberg has extensive interpretive materials which help visitors understand this more fully.
There are also temporary exhibits. When FreshPlans visited, there was an exhibit about rattlesnakes.
There were live snakes as well as interpretive exhibits that explained about the morphology, habitat, and habits of the rattlesnake, as well as their relationships with humans.
There were quite a few more live animals, and it was nice to see the modern animals along with those that are extinct. The sheer variety of exhibits kept the interest level high.
The Discovery Room is a great hands-on area with lots to see and do. There are many educational programs, from guided hikes to sleepovers, for schools and for families. While you’re there, explore the online exhibits at the website.
If you find yourself in Hays, do not fail to visit the Sternberg.