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The Box Gallery

Zone 1 of 3: Past Exhibit: The Ice Age Mammals that Roamed Throughout the Greater Kansas City Area (Spring 2022)

Featuring the life's work of Dr. Richard J. Gentile, this exhibit invites residents and visitors of Kansas City to imagine what the area was like during the Pleistocene Epoch when mammoths, giant ground sloths, and other large mammals roamed the region

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During the Ice Age, large herds of giant mammals once dominated the landscape of what is now Kansas City. Most of the “giants” became extinct about 10,000 years ago, many leaving no descendants. Some, however, are represented by descendants of diminutive size. This exhibit compares skeletal remains of the Ice Age giants with their modern day relatives. Visitors will learn about the giant ground sloth, woolly mammoth, mastodon, saber-toothed cat, and the giant beaver. The exhibit was organized by Richard J. Gentile, Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.


Dr. David Trowbridge interviewing Dr. Richard Gentile

Furniture, Table, Chair, Building

A Scene on the Country Club Plaza, KC MO, 10,000 years BC

This illustration reconstructs a scene of the Pleistocene Epoch, commonly referred to as the Great Ice Age.  A mixture of spruce and deciduous trees grows along the floodplain of Brush Creek near the Country Club Plaza. There are marshes and ponds fed by all-weather springs issuing from beneath a thick limestone bluff.  Animals have come to drink the spring water during a time of drought when Brush Creek is dry.  In addition to mastodons there is a giant ground sloth, a bison of enormous size, and a large stag moose.  A giant beaver is resting on a sand bar in the creek and munching on blades of grass.  The carnivorous dire wolf hunts peccaries, while primitive horses graze on the top of the bluff where Westport now stands.

Brown, Plant, Twig, Wood

Giant Ground Sloth illustration

Brown bear, Art, Terrestrial animal, Illustration

The Giant Ice Age Mammals that Roamed Throughout the Greater Kansas City Area and Beyond

Property, Table, Building, Interior design

Plant, Water, Sky, Plant community

Mastodon tooth (replica) discovered on the Country Club Plaza in 1928

Brown, Wood, Font, Art

Cloud, Plant, Sky, Plant community

Display case skull comparison of the Saber-toothed cat (extinct), American Lion and Cougar

Extinction, Jaw, Organism, Mammal

Display case comparison of the giant cave bear (extinct) and modern black bear

Jaw, Automotive design, Extinction, Bone

Display case comparison of Bison Antiquus (extinct) and modern bison

Jaw, Extinction, Wood, Artifact

Mastodon bone

Table, Wood, Interior design, Flooring

The Giant Ice Age Mammals that Roamed Throughout the Greater Kansas City Area and Beyond

Brown bear, Organism, Carnivore, Art

Woolly mammoth lower jaw bone

Building, Wood, Gesture, Art

The Giant Ice Age Mammals that Roamed Throughout the Greater Kansas City Area and Beyond

Building, Automotive design, Chair, Interior design

The exhibit incorporates skeletal parts and recreations of Pleistocene (Ice Age ) animals that were recovered from sand and gravel deposits of the major rivers and tributary streams of the area. The exhibit also includes fossils found in upland areas entombed in glacial sand and gravel deposits (outwash) and in wind-blown silt (loess). Pleistocene age elephants have been reported from over half of the 114 counties in Missouri and from numerous sites in Kansas. Voorhies (1990) estimates that no fewer than 10 mammoth skeletons lie buried in the average square mile of Nebraska landscape, an indication that large numbers of these huge proboscideans once roamed across the Central Mid-Continent.

The exhibit includes information on a variety of species, including ground sloths which first appeared in South America and gradually migrated into North America via the land bridge connecting the two continents that rose about 3 million years ago during the Pliocene Epoch. The species was given the scientific name Megalonyx jeffersoni in honor of President Jefferson, an amateur paleontologists, and one of the first to study extinct ground sloths. Two years before he became president, Thomas Jefferson published a description of an assortment of fossil bones including claws that had been excavated from a cave in West Virginia. Jefferson believed the claws were those from a large meat-eating animal that he named Megalonyx or “Great Claw” and instructed Lewis and Clark on their epic journey to explore the western part of the continent to watch for such a beast.

The following people and organizations contributed their time and talent to bring this exhibit to the Box Gallery:

Jonathan Kemper, Chairman Emeritus, Commerce Bank; Melissa Dehner, Illustrator, HoneyBee Creative; John Babcock, Illustrator, Babcock Designs, Robin Trafton, The Box Gallery; Gil Parker, Paleontology preparatory, Parker Paleontological Enterprises, Inc.; Denise Morrison, Director of Collections & Curatorial Services, Kansas City Museum; Megan Medley, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The exhibit was funded through a generous grant from the William T. Kemper Foundation, Commerce Bank, Trustee, and administrated by the contract and grant specialists, most notably Carrie Stewart, Commerce Bank, and Jason Elliot and Elizabeth Wheeler, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Ballard, F. A. 1880, Mastodon remains found in Jackson County, Missouri: Kansas City Review of Science and Industry 3(2): 643-644.

Lillegraven, J.A.,1966. Bison Crassicornis and the giant ground sloth Megalonx jeffersoni in the Kansas Pleistocene: Kansas Academy of Science Transactions, vol. 69 , no. 3/4, p. 294-300.

Dunbar, C.O., 1949, Historical Geology: John Wiley and Sons, New York, 563 p.

Grimm, D., 2021. Dire wolf may not have been a wolf at all: posted in Plants and Animals, January 13, 2021; David Grimm (ed.) < dol:10.1126/science.abg 5607>

Enk, J. A. and others, 2011. Complete Columbian mammoth mitogenome suggests inter-breeding with wooly mammoths: Genome Biology 12 :R51.

Feldmann, R. M. 1996 . Fossils of Ohio: Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological Survey, Bulletin 70, 576 p.

Forir M. and N. Ryan , 2016. The giant short-faced bear Arctodus simas in the River Bluff cave site, Greene County,Missouri: Transactions of the Missouri Academy of Science 40:95.

Gentile, R. J. 2015. Rocks and fossils of the Central United States, with special emphasis on the Greater Kansas City area: University of Kansas Department of Geology and Paleontological Institute, Special Publication 8, 2nd ed. Lawrence, 225 p.

Lillegraven, J.A.,1966. Bison Crassicornis and the giant ground sloth Megalonx jeffersoni in the Kansas Pleistocene: Kansas Academy of Science Transactions, vol. 69 , no. 3/4, p. 294-300.

Lister, A., and Bahn, P., 2007. Mammoths: giants of the Ice Age: University of California Press, Berkeley, 192 p.

Mehl, M. G. , 1962. Missouri’s Ice Age animals: Educational Series Number One, Missouri Geological Survey and Water Resources, Rolla, 104 p.

Mol, D., Agenbroad, L. D. and Mead, J. I. , 1993. Mammoths: The mammoth site of Hot Springs, South Dakota, 17 p.

Perri, A. R., Mitchell, K. J., Moulton, A. et al., Dire wolves were the last of an ancient new world canid lineage: Nature, vol. 591, March 4, p. 86-91 :

Prothero, D. R., Dott, R. H., Jr., 2010. Evolution of the Earth: 8th ed. , McGraw Hill Companies, New York, NY, 517 p. 

Sanders, J. J., 1977. Late Pleistocene vertebrates of the Western Ozark Highland, Missouri : Illinois State Museum, Report of Investigations , no. 33, Springfield, 118 p.

Sutcliffe, A. J. 1985. On the tracks of ice age mammals: British Museum of Natural History, London, 224 p.

Todd, J. E. 1896.Formation of quaternary deposits. In Curtis F. Marbut, ed., Physical features of Missouri . Missouri Geological Survey, 1st series, vol. 10, Jefferson City, 533 p.

Vickers, R., Vickers, T., Fenton, M. A., and Fenton, C.L. 1989. The fossil book-A record of prehistoric life: Dover Publications Inc., New York, 740 p.

Voorhies, M. R. 1990. Fossil elephant teeth in Nebraska. University of Nebraska State Museum Notes 77: 1–4.

Voorhies, M. R. 1994. Mammoths and Muskoxen, Chapter 6. In Ken Bouc, coordinator, The cellars of time, paleontology and archeology in Nebraska: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, vol. 72, no. 1, Jan/Feb., Lincoln. p. 67-74

Wang, X., 1990. Pleistocene dire wolf remains from Kansas River with notes on dire wolves in Kansas: Occasional papers of the Museum of Natural History, The University of Kansas Lawrence, Kansas, no. 137. p.1-7.

Weaver, D. 1996/97. Winter issue. When giants walked, exploring the ice age heritage of Missouri: Missouri Department of Natural Resources, vol.13, no. 4, p. 1-7.

West, H. H. 1887. Report on the discovery of a mastodon tusk. Western review of science and industry 1; 336-337

Image Sources(Click to expand)

copyright Melissa Dehner, HoneyBee Creative

copyright Melissa Dehner, HoneyBee Creative

copyright Melissa Dehner, HoneyBee Creative

copyright John Babcock, Babcock Illustration and Design

The Kansas City Star, KCMO. April 13, 1928

copyright John Babcock, Babcock Illustration and Design