American Museum of Natural History. Hall of Vertebrate Origins.

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Exist Dates

1996 - present

Biographical or Historical Note

Permanent exhibition. Opened June 1996. Located on Floor 4, Section 1. The Hall of Vertebrate Origins at the American Museum of Natural History presents the 500-million-year evolution of vertebrate animals, those with backbones. Explored here are groups within the vertebrate family that exhibit crucial physical developments, including animals with jaws (gnathostomes), limbs (tetrapods), openings in the palate (sauropsids), openings in front of the eye on the muzzle (archosaurs), and watertight eggs (amniotes) (1). The scientific team of paleontology curators, supervisors, and preparators for the hall installation included Mark Norell, Lowell Dingus, Eugene S. Gaffney, Michael J. Novacek (2, 1995), John G. Maisey, Jeanne Kelly, Phil Fraley, and Steven Warsavage (3, 1995, p. 6-10).

The Museum reimagined its fossil halls in the 1990s. Chronologically arranged exhibits were updated to reflect evolutionary relationships. The Halls of Saurischian and Ornithischian Dinosaurs, the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of Mammals and Their Extinct Relatives, which includes the Hall of Primitive Mammals and the Paul and Irma Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals, the Hall of Vertebrates Origins, and the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center were the result of this rearrangement in exhibition (4, 1994/96, p. 5).

The Hall of Vertebrate Origins displays approximately 250 fossil specimens of the earliest vertebrates, animals that lacked a fully developed backbone but had a distinct head with a braincase; fishes, the most diverse group of vertebrates today; amphibians and their extinct early relatives, the first vertebrates to walk on land; crocodiles, turtles, lizards, snakes, and their relatives, the first animals to live entirely on land; giant marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, and ichthyosaurs; and flying reptiles known as pterosaurs, the first flying vertebrates (1).

This hall also features several exhibits that allow visitors to touch the fossilized remains of long-extinct animals. These “touch fossils” include a 100-million-year-old fish; the tooth of one of the largest sharks ever to have lived; and a vertebra from a plesiosaur, a marine animal. Other highlights include Stenopterygius quadriscissus, the jaws of Carcharodon megladon, and models of Coelocanth, Dunkleosteus (1).


    (1) American Museum of Natural History. Hall of Vertebrate Origins, accessed October 3, 2016,
    (2) Browne, Malcolm W. "New Dinosaur Exhibit Underscores Disputes within Paleontology." The New York Times, May 23, 1995.
    (3) Milner, Richard. "Bringing Back the Dinosaurs." Natural History, vol. 104, May 1995.
    (4) American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1994/96.
    Information for the hall appears in the following Museum publications:
    American Museum of Natural History Annual Report 1994-1996, page 5.
    American Museum of Natural History Official Guides for years 1993 (page 50); 2001 (Table of Contents, pages 22, 63)


New YorkExternal link
AMNH: Floor 4, Section 1.

Related Corporate, Personal, and Family Names

Dingus, LowellExternal link
Curator for hall (3, 1995, p. 6-10).
Fraley, Philip
Preparator for exhibits in hall (3, 1995, p. 6-10).
Gaffney, Eugene S
Curator for hall (3, 1995, p. 6-10).
Kelly, Jeanne
Preparator for exhibits in hall (3, 1995, p. 6-10).
Maisey, John G.
Curator for hall.
Norell, Mark
Curator for hall (2, 1995).
Novacek, Michael J.
Curator for hall (2, 1995).
Warsavage, Steven
Directed installation of exhibits (3, 1995).

Related Resources

Historic Halls of the American Museum of Natural History
Curated digital images of permanent halls in the American Museum of Natural History Library, Digital Special Collections.

Written by: Clare O'Dowd
Last modified: 2018 December 7


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