The Department of Earth Sciences makes and shares new scientific discoveries while making earth sciences relevant and inclusive for all audiences

Our community, colleagues, and facilities underpin our ability to decipher the evolution of our planet. For example, our 300+ departmental volunteers anchor activities in our fossil preparation, petrography, and digital imaging labs, support field investigations, and provide indispensable support to our collections staff to curate new specimens into the state-of-the-art Avenir Collection Center. We’re also surrounded by many collegial science partners and are adjacent to well-exposed rocks spanning much of Earth history. Utilizing these resources, our team conducts research all over the world and in our backyard, while authoring a diverse array of academic and popular publications, and building world-class earth sciences collections. In concert with these efforts, we work closely with the Museum’s Experiences and Partnerships teams to convey the utility and wonder of earth sciences to the community, and to mentor the next generation, through exhibits and programs.


Rocks and Minerals

Our collections are anchored by diverse minerals from historic mining districts, regionally relevant building stones, K-Pg boundary strata from around the world, Colorado gold, and one of the largest museum collections of diamonds. Many of our most iconic specimens are on display in Coors Hall of Gems & Minerals.

Meteorites

Our meteorite collection, anchored by the early work of Harvey Nininger, includes specimens from all over the world, including many sighted falls from Colorado and the American West. We also have a diverse collection of tektites, K-Pg boundary impact rocks, and meteorite-related samples. 

Paleobotany

Plants are the basis of all terrestrial ecosystems and have been so since they first colonized land more than 400 million years ago. The paleobotany collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science are composed of fossilized plant remains spanning the history of plant life on land. The collection is focused on the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions, arguably the most prolific fossil plant-producing regions in the world. The collection is one of the four largest and best curated collections from this region of Late Cretaceous and Paleogene age. Fossil plant specimens include compression and impression fossils on stone matrix, petrified trunks and stems, palynological slides, and bulk samples and residues.

Fossil plants are abundant in Colorado. We hold more than 30,000 specimens from Late Cretaceous, Early Paleocene, and Early Eocene strata from the state collected at over 600 salvage sites and natural outcrops since 1991. This collection includes the 64 Ma Castle Rock Rainforest, which numbers nearly 10,000 specimens and represents the oldest known tropical rainforest, and the West Bijou collection, a suite of about 5,000 specimens that tells the story of forest recovery following the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Invertebrate Paleontology

Our invertebrate fossil collections span the globe and are anchored by Eocene insects, Cretaceous mollusks, and Cambrian trilobites from the American West.

Vertebrate Paleontology

Geographically, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science vertebrate paleontology collection primarily originates from the Rocky Mountain region; however, we also have world-class fossil vertebrate collections from Madagascar and other parts of the globe. In the framework of geologic time, our collection consists predominantly of Cenozoic mammals, Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaurs, and Cretaceous seaway fishes and reptiles. The collection has now grown to almost 300,000 cataloged specimens, more than 280,000 of which have been collected from the Rocky Mountain Region since 1988; the majority of them are of fossil mammals. This significant growth has been accomplished using modern geological and paleontological field techniques as well as acquisition of established, catalogued collections. As a result, the collections are extremely well documented and of high value in addressing contemporary research questions related to the history of life, evolution, paleobiogeography, paleoclimate, and paleoecology.

The collection is divided into (1) exhibit specimens targeted at the museum visitor in Prehistoric Journey and elsewhere in the Museum and (2) research collections that are used by Museum scientists as well as visiting researchers and students from around the world. Specimens related to ongoing research projects are currently being collected from the Morrison Formation of Colorado; the Kaiparowits and Wahweap formations of Utah; the Fruitland and Kirtland formations of New Mexico; the Hell Creek and Fort Union formations of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana; the Lance Creek Formation of Wyoming; the Laramie and Denver formations of Colorado; the Wind River, Willwood, and Bridger formations of Wyoming; the Maevarano Formation of Madagascar; and various Paleogene and Neogene localities in Colorado. Since 1988, more than 500 books, scientific papers, abstracts, and popular articles have been published on the Museum’s vertebrate fossil collections. The collection includes many complete and extraordinarily well-preserved skeletons and preserves 74 holotypes, which serve as the morphological standards for various species. It also contains several institutional icons, including the skeletons of the plesiosaur Thalassomedon and several dinosaurs such as DiplodocusAllosaurusStegosaurus (Colorado’s state fossil), and Torosaurus as well as several large mammals such as MegaceropsAmebelodon phippsi, and Mammut (mastodon). 

Snowmastodon

Ice Age Fossils from the Colorado Mountains

Discovered in 2010 during excavation of a reservoir outside Snowmass Village, Colorado, the Museum’s Snowmastodon Project, in partnership with the State of Colorado and Snowmass Village Water and Sanitation, uncovered an unexpected trove of Ice Age (Pleistocene) fossils. Diverse animal and plant fossil specimens from this site represent the best high-elevation window into the Ice Age in North America, documenting nearly 50,000 years of change from a warm interglacial fauna dominated by American mastodon (Mammut americanum), giant ground sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii), and long-horned bison (Bison latifrons) to a cold glacial fauna dominated by Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), American camel (Camelops), and ancient bison (Bison antiquus).

The collection from Snowmass consists of over 5,000 large vertebrate remains and more than 50,000 microvertebrate remains. The fossils were carefully mapped during the project, providing insights into ecological transitions during major climatic shifts prior to the colonization and modification of North America by humans. These fossils have been carefully studied by scientists and students from around the world and continue to reveal secrets about Colorado’s recent fossil past.

The Rose Collection

The Origin of Modern Mammals

Kenneth Rose, PhD, professor emeritus of Johns Hopkins University and a Denver Museum of Nature & Science research associate, recently donated an unparalleled collection of some 20,000+ fossil mammal specimens from the Lower Eocene Willwood Formation of the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. This collection, amassed over a 40-year research career by Dr. Rose and his field research teams, includes some of the most complete and best-preserved specimens of the first representatives of several modern orders of mammals (e.g., perissodactyls, artiodactyls, primates). The skeletal remains in particular are providing key new insights into the anatomy, behavior, paleobiology, and relationships of these early modern mammals. The collection is impeccably well documented, with tight stratigraphic control, and thus will continue to play a strong role in testing hypotheses related to the tempo and mode of evolution at the species level. 

The Rose Collection will attract researchers from around the world and is an important complement to the collections previously made by curator emeritus Richard Stucky from slightly younger horizons in the Wind River and Bridger formations and currently being made by curators Tyler Lyson and Ian Miller from older horizons (Paleocene) in the Denver Formation.

The Hankla Family Collection

A Wyoming Dinosaur Bonebed

Collected from a single, extraordinary bonebed in the Lance Creek Formation of eastern Wyoming, the disarticulated remains of dozens of duck-billed dinosaurs (Edmontosaurus annectens) are intermixed with the fossils of other animals that lived alongside them more than 66 million years ago. Likely killed, scavenged, and buried en masse, the site preserves a single snapshot of life in the Western Interior of North America at a time when Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops ruled the continent. The strength of the collection is the ontogenetic cross-section of a single dinosaur population, with dozens of individual elements from each part of the skeleton derived from juveniles, subadults, and adults. Mixed among the remains of Edmontosaurus are the teeth of scavengers (crocodiles, tyrannosaurs) and other denizens of the Late Cretaceous floodplains and rivers (Triceratops, turtles, fish).

Generously donated in 2018 by the Hankla family of Danville, Kentucky, the collection is still being carefully prepared in Museum labs and studied by Museum researchers and scientists from around the world.

Staff

David W. Krause, PhD

Senior Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology

James Hagadorn, PhD

Tim & Kathryn Ryan Curator of Geology

Tyler R. Lyson, PhD

Associate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology

Gussie Maccracken, PhD

Assistant Curator of Paleobotany

Holger Petermann, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Kristen A. MacKenzie, MS

Earth Sciences Collections Manager

Nicole Neu-Yagle, MS

Earth Sciences Assistant Collections Manager

Sierra K. Swenson

Earth Sciences Assistant Collections Manager

Nicole Childs

Assistant Collections Manager

Rudolph R. Hummel, MS

Research Assistant

Natalie Toth, MS

Chief Preparator

Salvador Bastien

Fossil Preparator

Sadie Sherman

Fossil Preparator

Lindsay Gaona Dougan, MS

Digital Research Lab Technician

Emily J. Lessner, PhD

Postoctoral Researcher

Evan Tamez-Galvan

Fossil Preparator

Libby Couch

Business Support Specialist III

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