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   from the issue of March 11, 2004

Site features state’s fossils


Nebraskans now have a way to see the fossil heritage of their home counties, thanks to a new University of Nebraska State Museum Web site created by a dedicated volunteer.

Gregory Brown stands with a Bison latifrons skull in the University of Nebraska State Museum Vertebrate Paleontology Research Collections. Brown...
 Gregory Brown stands with a Bison latifrons skull in the University of Nebraska State Museum Vertebrate Paleontology Research Collections. Brown has created a Web site documenting fossils found in Nebraska and cross-listing them by county. Photo courtesy of Gregory Brown.

With a mere fraction of 1 percent of the museum collections actually on display in the museum in Morrill Hall, Gregory Brown saw the Internet as a way to make more specimens available for viewing.

“It’s been something I’ve always wanted to do, because the research collections are fairly invisible to the public,” Brown said. “I thought this would be a wonderful thing for kids and teachers to use to learn about geography, science and other things in their own counties.”

Brown had noted the perennial popularity of a Morrill Hall display that shows mammoth or mastodon teeth from most of Nebraska’s counties. And he found people often ask about fossils from their home regions during yearly open houses of the research collections.

“In Nebraska, we have such a wealth of fossils from all the counties and Nebraskans, in general, are very interested in natural history and how their own counties or regions fit into the big picture. The Web site seemed like a natural,” Brown said.

A 25-year State Museum employee, Brown lost his full-time job as chief preparator during budget cuts last spring, but later funding was found to hire him back as a half-time employee. Yet he embarked on the Web site as a volunteer project, working from home and usually late at night.

“Everyone who works in the museum likes to share what they have a passion for,” Brown said. “Ironically, as a full-time employee, I wasn’t always able to do it. At half time I now have time on my hands to volunteer.”

He started working on the Web site last July and recently has spent about 20 hours per week over several months getting the site operational.

The result is an information-rich site where users can click on a Nebraska map to get a glimpse into their county’s geologic past. For example, Scotts Bluff County yields pictures of a 21-million-year-old jawbone from a hippo-like anthracothere. Keith County yields a preserved molar of a “four tusker” elephant and a special feature on the 1988 scuba dive when the fossil was found 20 feet under the surface of Lake McConaughy.

The Web site is a work in progress. Brown hopes to add information on four or five additional counties each month as time permits. Users can request their county be posted next.

Most Nebraska counties have a rich fossil heritage. But there are a few, particularly in the Sandhills regions, where fossil finds are rare because of the geology.

Brown’s job as chief preparator is to prepare and preserve fossil specimens for scientific research at the museum, but he has found web design to be a good hobby in addition to amateur radio, genealogy and his love of sharing knowledge. The project also has allowed him to collaborate with other museum staffers: Angie Fox, a scientific illustrator, contributed to the site’s graphic design, and George Corner, collections manager, helped with content.

The Web site is a simple idea that, judging from the international feedback he’s received, Brown says might be unique. Many people are telling him: “I wish our museum would do something like that.”

Brown is eager for Nebraskans to go online and learn.

“I think it’s going to be a neat resource for science classes at every level of school,” he said, “The reward for me is the comments I get from people. I can’t wait for some of the kids to start using it and to hear from them.”

On the Web

The fossils site can be accessed from the museum homepage,



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