A sabertooth cat ready to pounce. A Tyrannosaurus rex skull ready to bite. A coelophysis tiny dinosaur ready to scamper away.
These are just some of the things on display at “The Genesis Exhibit” at the Texas Museum of Science & Technology in Cedar Park. The entire exhibit came to the museum earlier this month by moving truck from the El Paso home of collector, curator and playwright Marty Martin.
The museum will spend months cataloguing, repairing and displaying the hundreds, maybe thousands of pieces that trace the history of life on Earth from early invertebrates to dinosaurs to humans. The exhibit contains some fossils, but also casts of some of the finest fossils from museums around the world.
Somewhere in a box is a cast of Lucy, a 3.2 million-year-old early human. And somewhere is a full T. rex, too, that will stand on the floor and a quetzalcoatlus that will fly through the air.
This is not the collection’s first stop in the Austin area, but it will be its last. Martin gifted it to the museum, which opened last spring. Previously, in 1989, the exhibit lived in a museum Martin created known as the Texas Museum of Natural History, which was at 100 Congress Ave. downtown and then at 600 Congress Ave. downtown. Later in 1994, the exhibit popped up at Northcross Mall. In recent years, it had been at the Insights Science Center in El Paso, where Martin moved to after living in Austin. Parts of it also had been loaned out to museums around the world.
The exhibit was meant to be set up like a timeline of animal and human life.
Tanya Laird, director of collections management for the museum, holds up two similar looking casts. “These gals are related right,” she says, “but you can see that one is more amphibian like and one is more reptile like, and we have an ancestor of these guys on display out there,” she says as she points to the exhibit floor from the room where she is unpacking boxes.
“That was something that Marty (Martin) expressed in his story, that at a certain point as you go through the fossil collection, there is one from ‘Hey, I have a face,’ that’s the first animal with a face, it has a front, it has two eyes and then you can follow the story of the face … and eventually you get to us,” says Tovald Hessell, executive director of the museum.
Laird has had the task of slowly unearthing the exhibit contents from a sea of boxes that are in a large space behind the exhibit floor. Some boxes are clearly labeled. Others say things like dishes or towels, though much more important things are inside.
“Each box literally is a surprise,” Hessell says.
“We feel like we are something between ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Jurassic Park,’” Hessell says. “We have a T. rex!”
The exhibit has not been fully catalogued. It was estimated 20 years ago that it was 200 pieces worth $3 million. Because it’s never been fully catalogued and because some of the pieces need repairs, Laird says she can’t just unpack a box and put something out on the exhibit floor.
And even after all of it is unpacked, Martin is still shopping for unique finds and shipping things to the museum.
This gifted permanent exhibit just strengthens the case for a new, bigger permanent space for the museum, which is now housed in a former indoor soccer field. “We need a bigger boat,” Laird jokes, making a “Jaws” reference.
Hessell says the plan is to move to a more permanent, designed-as-a-museum space within five years. Right now, the museum offers a planetarium, 30 interactive exhibits from San Francisco’s Exploritorium as well as the growing “The
Genesis Exhibit.” On March 20 it will begin hosting a microscopic photography exhibit from Nikon.
Where: Texas Museum of Science and Technology, 1220 Toro Grande Drive
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. -6 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $15 for adults, $13 for seniors students, and $11 for ages 3-17