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World-class fossil collection takes you 450 million years back in time

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 11, 2023 MEDIA CONTACT: Cody Hefner (513) 608-5777,

Cincinnati Museum Center uses world-class fossil collection to transport you 450 million years back in time

New permanent exhibit Ancient Worlds Hiding in Plain Sight opens Sept. 28

CINCINNATI – Imagine, if you will, owning a bungalow over a tropical sea in Cincinnati. Your new Queen City ocean getaway sounds like paradise – until you notice the strange, sometimes terrifying creatures gliding beneath you. Swimming to shore won’t be much better, where the temperature is well above 100 degrees, often averaging closer to 120 degrees. Welcome to Ordovician Cincinnati. Cincinnati Museum Center’s upcoming addition to its robust slate of permanent galleries will transport you back in time 450 million years as you evolve your way through the Paleozoic Era – beginning underwater in the Ordovician Period and making your way firmly onto land in the Carboniferous Period. To do so, the museum is showcasing its Late Ordovician fossil collection, regarded as one of the finest and largest in the world. The new Ancient Worlds Hiding in Plain Sight gallery will open September 28.
Without knowing it, many Tristate residents have seen glimpses of these periods for themselves – splashing through local creek beds, exploring parks or as they’re bumper-to-bumper gazing over at the Cut-in-the-Hill. The earliest period of the Paleozoic Era featured in the exhibit is the Ordovician, which stretches back 450 million years ago – well before the dinosaurs in CMC’s Dinosaur Hall thundered across the land – to an era when trilobites, arthropods, early echinoderms and giant cephalopods thrived in warm marine environments like the one that covered the Greater Cincinnati area so long ago. Ancient Worlds Hiding in Plain Sight recreates the Late Ordovician Period marine environment and the communities that thrived in it. “Exploring ancient animals and fossil communities are accessible to everyone here in the Cincinnati region. They are hiding in plain sight!” said Brenda Hunda, Ph.D., curator of invertebrate paleontology at Cincinnati Museum Center. “That’s what makes our rocks and fossils so amazing – you can grab a bag and a rock hammer, travel to a local creek or outcrop and transport yourself back in time. It’s the closest thing we have to time travel and we want everyone to have this experience.” Among the familiar – or strange – faces in the upcoming gallery will be Ohio’s state fossil, Isotelus maximus, a surprisingly large plated invertebrate that resembles a stretched-out horseshoe crab or an aquatic armadillo. Conical mollusks akin to cone-headed squid and handfuls of brachiopods also mingle in the tropical sea. As the gallery marches through time from the Late Ordovician to the subsequent Silurian and Devonian periods, you’re introduced to new creatures as marine life evolves, culminating with the fearsome, massive-jawed armored fish Dunkleosteus. The gallery uses soundscapes to immerse you deeper and deeper into the depths of the prehistoric sea and ten-foot-wide monitors turn a portion of the gallery into an ancient aquarium where animated trilobites crawl along the sea floor, fish and giant cephalopods swim overhead and Dunkleosteus chases prey. A gigapixel image of the Edrioasteroid hardground slab allows you to explore the fossilized sea floor through a touchscreen as you uncover fossil facts and reveal what some of the organisms looked like and how they interacted with each other (surrounding cases will have the actual fossil slab itself). Bronze models give you an opportunity to feel the prehistoric animals and a touchable rock full of fossils lets you actually touch fossils for real! Explore more using a magnifying glass and sketch your notes in the accompanying field guide. Profiles and stories introduce professional and hobby paleontologists who are contributing to research and our understanding of these long-gone eras. Ancient Worlds Hiding in Plain Sight is not just an opportunity for CMC to show off its impressive fossil collection. In highlighting this incredible piece of local deep time history, the gallery also addresses themes of climate change, evolution, extinction and species diversification. By continuing to study fossils and how they responded to similar changes over a long period of time, we may be able to better understand today’s major issues.

CMC hopes Ancient Worlds Hiding in Plain Sight inspires your own quest for discovery long after your visit. Since Cincinnati is such a hotspot for Late Ordovician fossils, you can begin your own paleontological dig in your backyard, creek or rock wall, with almost guaranteed success. It’s a fun, hands-on way to learn about the world around us and the prehistoric world that came before us. “We hear 450 million years ago and think this time and these creatures are so far removed from us, but we’re ready to show you they’re much closer than you realize,” said Elizabeth Pierce, president & CEO of Cincinnati Museum Center. “Our newest exhibit uses our incredible fossil collection to not just educate you about a bygone era of biodiversity, but to nurture curiosity, illuminate career paths for future scientists and inspire connection between people as they discover a new hobby of fossil hunting.” Ancient Worlds Hiding in Plain Sight is the latest addition to the award-winning roster of exhibits as CMC continues an extensive museum experience refresh funded by its $112 million Champion More Curiosity campaign. Since 2018, the campaign has opened 15 new or reimagined exhibits and experiences at CMC, including Made in Cincinnati and the John A. and Judy Ruthven Get Into Nature Gallery in 2022. Additional exhibits and experiences are currently in development with opening dates scheduled through 2024, 2025 and 2026. Anyone interested in contributing to the Champion More Curiosity campaign can do so at, as an add-on gift during your online ticket purchase or in-person at CMC’s box office.

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