prehistoric ungulate


These Animals Were Just As Awesome and Fascinating As Dinosaurs

Fossil mammals have been in the shadows for too long.

by Brian Switek

If you’re in New York City and need a break from the swarms crowding the sidewalks, I know where you can go. The Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals in the American Museum of Natural History is almost always quiet.

You may bump into the occasional student trying to fill out a science class scavenger hunt or a confused family wondering where the dinosaurs are, but the hall is usually as hushed as a tomb. That’s fitting for a room boasting skeletons of fossil beasts shoved into almost every corner, but it’s also a shame.

I’ve seen the same at other major museums: the Field Museum in Chicago; the Carnegie in Pittsburgh; the Peabody in New Haven, Connecticut; the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History; the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; and more. Hordes of children and adult visitors pack the dinosaur halls, but the fossil mammals stand in the shadows—dominated by the reptiles in death just as they were in life.

After a mass extinction released mammals from the tyranny of the dinosaurian reign, they became even more strange and spectacular. But even these species have been obscured by the popularity of the scaly and fuzzy reptiles. Some visitors, assuming that any skeleton in a museum must be from the Mesozoic, even go so far as to insult giant sloths, multitoed horses, and enormous elephants by calling them dinosaurs…

(read more:

photographs by Brian Switek; illustrations: Heinrich Harder, Dmitry Bogdanov, and Robert Bruce Horsfall