KU Paleontology UP CLOSE Exhibit KU Natural History Museum

The fossils in this exhibit span many hundreds of millions of years. Scroll down to travel back through time.

Ankles and Acrobatics

Notharctus was an early primate that lived in the humid subtropical Eocene forests of North America. Its long body, legs and digits, and opposable big toe point to a life in the trees.

Notharctus moved by leaping. Living lemurs do this but are only distantly related to Notharctus.

Shape Matters

Carpolestids were a group of early primate relatives with distinctive blade-like lower fourth premolars that lived in the warm temperate Paleocene forests of North America. A new species, Carpolestes twelvemilensis, described in 2018, was used to study the evolution of this specialized tooth.

Shape was more important than size during the evolution of this blade-like tooth.

Digital 3D model of Carpolestes twelvemilensis lower jaw

Petrified Forests of Antarctica: A Climate Change Story

Ancient forests underwent major changes in non-flowering seed plants as the warm, humid climate became drier and cooler. Permian forests were dominated by similar looking glossopterid species. Millions of years later, during the Triassic, new groups of seed-bearing plants evolved with a greater diversity in appearance.

Permian Roots: segmented
Triassic Roots: unsegmented
Permian Stems: variable rings (soft spongy wood)
Triassic Stems: uniform rings (hard wood)

500 Million Year Old Animals: Familiar Faces and Unique Forms

Cambrian life included most major animal groups and others with no living relatives. Understanding their relationships is challenging due to the diversity of body forms within groups. For example, snails, squids and clams are all mollusks.

New species of soft-bodied stalked filter feeder with no living relatives, described in 2017.

Siphusauctum Iloydguntheri illustration sequence

Earliest known soft-bodied tentacled filter feeder, an early relative of the animal group that includes sea stars and vertebrates.

Herpetogaster collinsi illustration sequence

New species of unusual snail-like mollusc with no living relatives, described in 2020.

Armilimax pauljamisoni illustration sequence