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Evolution In Full Swing At The Witte: Current Era--The Ice Age

Dinosaurs have gotten a lot of attention in the last few years, but there’s a group of creatures who arrived just after that which haven’t quite had their due in the attention department.  I got a peek recently at a new San Antonio exhibit featuring them.

“We have Mammoths, we have Mastodons, we have Sabre-Tooth Cats, Dire Wolves.”

Thomas Adams is the Witte Museum’s Curator of Paleontology and Geology, and he’s describing Discover the Ice Age.

"It’s an opportunity to see what it would’ve been like 2 and a half million years to 10,000 years ago, and see all the animals that would’ve been around, including some that would’ve been in Texas.”

The Ice age is that period long after the Dinosaurs departed, and before modern man appeared.

"Dinosaurs had been extinct for 62 and a half million years by this time. And of course, ten thousand years ago is the start of the Holocine, which is the period we’re currently living in.”

The recently-opened exhibit is filled with real-looking, really hairy beasts.

“We’ll have some life-size animatronic re-constructions. We’re going to have a skeleton of a mammoth.” 

Right here in Texas, there once were both Mastodons and Woolly Mammoths.

“They were both large, prehistoric elephants, and of course, they could be here in Texas at the same time because they were eating different things. Mammoths were eating grass. Mastodons were typically eating trees and the brush and things like that.  And so we’re talking about two really large elephants in South Texas.”

Texas was also home to a really big bird—one that didn’t fly. But you wouldn’t wanted to get face-to-face with him. 

“Imagine a bird the size of an Ostrich or Emu that had a beak like an eagle or a hawk, and these are chasing down small horses, they’re probably chasing down deer. They were vicious carnivorous birds.”

I had to ask “So if we saw them we would probably be eaten by them?”

“Oh absolutely—I think we’re on the menu! Fortunately they were here before people were.”

There was however an overlap of modern day species that were also here in the Ice Age.

“White-Tailed Deer, Mountain Lion, Skunks, raccoons—they were here too.”

Adams says he exhibit is all science-based, and it’s clearly geared towards the young.

“For kids we talk about cave painting and the art that was left behind by early people. We have tables where they can do their own rubbings and have something to take home something from the experience.  We even have some real fossils, including some that you can touch.

Adams draws an interesting analogy about the cave painters of pre-history.

“I would actually compare cave painting to modern-day blogging. To social media.  It’s not much different than going out and going ‘we hunted this horse today’ or ‘we hunted this bison today.’”

If you haven’t been to the Witte in a while you should know much of what you remember isn’t there anymore. Their 65,000 square foot expansion is well under way. So there’s another thing you can see if you go.

“We have windows for you to view where the old building was—in fact it’s almost gone. We’ve demolished most of it.”

As the Ice Age exhibit reveals, evolution takes its toll. As to those extensive animatronic exhibits…

“…who doesn’t want a selfie with a Mammoth?”

More on Discover the Ice Age is here.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii