Since 2013, the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History & Science has been housed in one of the most stunning buildings in the city: the art-deco former train station on the west side of downtown Cincinnati, now referred to as the Cincinnati Museum Center. When we visited recently, we were as amazed by the building as we were the museum–and the museum has some really nice dinosaurs to visit.
Upon entering the large gallery housing the dinosaurs, one is immediately struck by the size of the room and the size of the first dinosaur most visitors will see: a huge, relatively rare sauropod called Galeamopus. A close relative of Diplodocus, the huge creature is displayed next to a juvenile sauropod that is, like Galeamopus, from the family Diplodocidae.
While the giant dinosaur is the centerpiece of the exhibit, there are some smaller fossils displayed in cases nearby, and plenty of good signage around the exhibits. While the museum doesn’t have a lot of dinosaurs on display yet, it does a very good job of providing a lot of information about the dinosaurs they do have.
Beyond the Galeamopus are three large theropods, including two rivals from the Jurassic Period. The highlight here is the world’s most complete Torvosaurus skeleton, with over 50% of the bones having been discovered. Torvosaurus lived during the late Jurassic and was contemporaneous with the other large theropod of the Jurassic, Allosaurus. An Allosaurus stands right next to it at the Cincinnati museum. While the Torvosaurus is quite a bit larger, I think all the other animals in the Jurassic preferred to avoid them both.
The other large dinosaur skeleton on display is a menacing Daspletosaurus, one of the close cousins of Tyrannosaurus. It is posed at the back end of the gallery in front of a large window, which is a great backdrop for the fossil!
There are other fossils to see here, but nothing quite so dramatic. There is a nice pterosaur (Geosternbergia? Pteranodon?) hanging above the gallery, and a few smaller dinosaurs such as Dromaeosaurus near the large fossils. I also liked the display case that visitors see as they enter the gallery, it contains among other fossils a beautifully preserved and very rare Apatosaurus skull, attached to at least one cervical vertabrae.
Another nice display focused on the skeletons of four dinosaurs with relatively similar skeletons. The first is Compsognathus, a small theropod dinosaur found in Europe that shares many skeletal traits with the next animal on display–Archaeopteryx. For many years scientists thought the two animals were closely related, but now the Archaeopteryx, long considered the earliest bird yet discovered, is considered to be more closely related to other dinosaurs. Still, their body shapes and general layout share many similarities. The third and fourth animals in the series, as birds, are also related to Archaeopteryx: the Confuciusornis, and the modern chicken. The display does a nice job explaining the origin of birds from dinosaurs and shows how some of their body parts have changed over time.
Down the hall heading toward the lower floor, several fossils from the ancient seas can be found displayed on the walls. Across from the paleontology lab is a nicely preserved skeleton of the early Jurassic ichthyosaur Stenopterygius.
If I Don’t Like Dinosaurs, Will I Enjoy My Visit?
Most people will find something of interest at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Architecture buffs will love exploring the amazing building, it is truly a marvel. Inside are three museums: the Museum of Natural History and Science, the Cincinnati History Museum, and the Duke Energy Children’s Museum. The building also houses the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center. Beyond dinosaurs, the Natural History & Science Museum has a terrific exhibit on space exploration with many interesting artifacts and replicas.
What Could Be Better?
The dinosaurs at the museum are great! But there aren’t that many to see, yet. The good news is that there is a lot of room to display more fossils and visitors can view the paleontology lab as prep work continues on new fossils. I am excited that the new Ice Age gallery is set to open this July, and in 2023 a new gallery called Mission Ordovician: Cincinnati Under the Sea will feature a collection of ancient fossils from that time period. But for the time being, it is easy to enjoy the dinosaurs on display while also imagining a future where the museum has many more fossils to see.
Did My Children Enjoy Their Visit?
They did enjoy their time at the museum. Both boys liked the dinosaurs on display, my older son particularly liked the Torvosaurus and Daspletosaurus while my younger son was more of a fan of the Galeamopus and juvenile sauropod. For my younger son, the exhibits in the museum beyond the dinosaurs were also quite enjoyable, particularly the live frogs, snakes, and lizards. One gecko was particularly fun–he seemed to enjoy interacting with the children who came to see him.
How Much Time Should I Plan to Spend There?
If you are going to the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History & Science just to see the prehistoric fossils, it won’t take you long–there really aren’t a whole lot to see yet. We had seen the entire Dinosaur Hall in about 30 minutes, then we spent another 45 minutes or so downstairs looking at the Neil Armstrong Space Exploration gallery and some of the live animals in another room nearby. There is an OMNIMAX Theater that shows big-screen documentaries as well, check their schedule before you go.
Overall: The Cincinnati Museum of Natural History & Science shows a lot of promise and I am eager to see the museum grow with new galleries and hopefully more specimens. But even with the relatively few dinosaurs on display, it is well worth the time to check them out.
Rating Aspects of the Museum’s Fossil Displays:
Number of Fossils/Dinosaurs on Display: (5.0 out of 10)
Fossil Displays/Creativity/Visual Layout/Overall Scene: (7.5 out of 10)
Unique/New/Famous/Important Fossils on Display: (6.5 out of 10)
Educational Materials/Display Information/Signage: (7.5 out of 10)
Activities/Play Areas for Children: (7.5 out of 10)