Releases | New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs

Everything old is new again: NM Museum of Natural History & Science re-imagines hall showcasing early life in New Mexico

September 18th, 2023

Albuquerque, NM – The New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science (NMMNHS) will soon be unveiling a new exhibit showcasing New Mexico’s oldest lifeforms in a brand-new way. 

Starting later this week, the museum’s Origins Hall will close as part of a comprehensive re-imagining of the exhibit space. The new hall will feature hundreds of never-before-seen fossils from NMMNHS’s Research Collections and be the largest exhibition of its kind in the Southwest. The coming hall, titled Ancient Life, is the first renovation of this exhibit space since 1987, just a year after the museum opened to the public. 

“Across our 15 museums and historic sites, our focus is making sure our exhibits stay relevant, current, and engaging for all New Mexicans,” said New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego. “We’re thrilled that the $800,000 that the Department of Cultural Affairs has been able to secure for this upgrade will give New Mexico’s most-visited museum the opportunity to upgrade one of its core exhibits with a focus on New Mexico fossils.” 

“For more than 30 years, museum scientists have collected and studied fossils across New Mexico to learn what our state was like before the dinosaurs,” said NMMNHS Executive Director Dr. Anthony Fiorillo. “Not only will the renovations feature an updated look and feel, but they will allow us to bring many of our oldest fossils out of research collections for the public to view for the very first time and tell new stories about the ancient history of our state.” 

Beginning nearly 300 million years before the dinosaurs began walking the earth, the Paleozoic Era was the first of three geologic eras that featured multi-cellular life. During the Paleozoic, life crawled out of the sea for the first time and amphibians, reptiles, and arthropods all evolved. The Paleozoic Era ended with the Permian extinction, the largest extinction event in known history, which eventually paved the way for dinosaurs to evolve. 

Ancient Life will focus on what Paleozoic Era was like in what’s now New Mexico, showcasing around 200 fossils collected all over the Land of Enchantment, from Rio Arriba to Doña Ana County. Approximately half of the counties in New Mexico will be represented by the fossils in this new exhibit. Did you know ancient sharks and other aquatic life once lived in shallow seas that covered much of New Mexico? The exhibition will also feature the oldest discovered fossil in New Mexico: a trilobite fossil from around 500 million years ago discovered near the Caballo Mountains, as well as the footprints made by the largest arthropod to have ever lived on Earth.   

Ancient Life is slated to open by the end of 2024. Check for updates and additional details about the exhibit. 

About the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, under the leadership of the Board of Trustees of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. Programs and exhibits are generously supported by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History Foundation, through the generous support of donors. Established in 1986, the mission of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science is to preserve and interpret the distinctive natural and scientific heritage of our state through extraordinary collections, research, exhibits, and programs designed to ignite a passion for lifelong learning. The NMMNHS offers exhibitions, programs, and workshops in Geoscience, including Paleontology and Mineralogy, Bioscience, and Space Science. It is the Southwest’s largest repository for fossils and includes a Planetarium and the large format 3D Verus Research DynaTheater. 

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Origins Hall

The exterior of Origins Hall

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