The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, March 19, 1975, Page page 8, Image 8

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    Morrill Hall: 'Instilling investigation and discovery'
By Deb Gray
On a larger scale, the same
force that breeds Susie
Spotlesses and Sierra Club
lobbyists is the same force
unifying dinosaur skeletons to
glacial rocks.
That force which ties
together the potpourri of a
natural history museum is
ecology, according to Dr.
James Gunnerson, director of
Morrill Hall. True, he said, the
ecology is "implicit rather than
explicit," but all these
specimens in Morrill Hall, 14th
and U Sts., tell something of
how that organism related to
its environment.
"All these factors are
interrelated. The forces that
create mineral deposits in rock
are the same forces that
brought about the end of the
dinosaurs or the passing of a
Gunnerson specializes in
natural history through an
"anthrocentric viewpoint"--how
man coped with his
physical environment. He is a
UNL graduate, receiving his
Ph.D. in anthropology.
1st an thro director
When Gunnerson was hired
last summer, he became the
first anthropologistdirector in
several years. Most of the past
directors, Gunnerson said, have
been paleontologists
(specialists in fossil remains).
Gunnerson resembles Burl
Ives without the height or
width. A soft-spoken scholar in
cowboy boots.
This past paleontologists'
blitzkreig mirrors Morrill Hall's .
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Dr. James Gunnerson, museum curator
forte. The museum has one of
the largest vertebrate
paleontology collections
(fossilized creatures with
backbones) in the U.S.,
Gunnerson said.
Compared to other
universities, UNL's exhibit
ranks fourth. In the national
museum league, which includes
such heavies as the
Smithsonian Institute and the
Museum of Natural History in
Chicago, Morrill Hall ranks
ninth, Gunnerson said.
Exhibits included in this
genre are the skeletons of the
world's largest hog and the
largest American rhinocerous,
and Elephant Hall, a cavernous
room of prehistoric
elephant-like animals.
Summer expeditions
The collection of
vertebrates grows every year.
Each summer, Gunnerson said,
two to six field expeditions
explore Nebraska for fossils.
Their work is not a hit-miss
operation, for the researchers
usually know before digging
what lies beneath the surface.
"By looking at geological
deposits, they can give that
deposit's age. From this, they
know what animals existed
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"They also have an idea of
what sort of deposits are
conducive to present fossil
materials," Gunnerson said.
"Some areas in the state are
rich in fossils. The conditions
at one time were ideal and
attracted a large variety of life.
If you go there, you expect to
find more fossilized materials."
The fossils also come to
Lincoln through other
channels, Gunnerson said. Like
a farmer who finds some bones
in his field. Or an amateur who
contributes his collection to
the museum.
Advance teams also survey
potential highway beds before
the road graders begin,
insurance against tearing up
paleontological goldmines.
There are a number of rich
areas in the state for
exploration because "fossils are
found almost anywhere,"
Gunnerson said. But, he added,
the largest chunk of Nebraska
paleontology comes from the
Panhandle and Niobrara River
Few of the estimated 3
million specimens collected for
study ever reach a display case.
Only about 1 per, cent of
museum specimens are on
exhibit at any one time,
Gunnerson said.
The rest, he said, are stored
in two places. Some specimens
are kept in the Research and
Systemic Collection Center on
fourth and fifth floors of
Nebraska Hall. The others are
stored at Mead in a former
World War II-era bombloading
The specimens are filed
away because "to a large
extent, not all these things are
of equal interest to everyone.
They are fragmentary
specimens of more scientific
value than of interest to
visitors," Gunnerson said.
Take entomology, the study
of insects. Morrill Hall has 1.7
million specimens in its
collection, but few on exhibit.
Why? The general public
doesn't have that great an
interest in insects, Gunnerson
Continued on p. 9
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page 8
daily nebraskan
Wednesday, march 19, 1975