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A permanent paleontology exhibit featuring artwork of animals that roamed Nebraska at various times over the last 40 million years opens April 15 at the Trailside Museum of Natural History at Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford.

The exhibit, with artwork by Mark Marcuson, consists of 18 scientific reconstructions of ancient animals that once lived here.

The full-color panels include scientific information and illustrate how the creatures looked based on fossil material in research collections at the University of Nebraska State Museum and elsewhere, according to a news release from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Marcuson is a Nebraska native known for his murals that depict prehistoric creatures and landscapes. His knowledge of animal anatomy and locomotion give him the scientific foundation to create reconstructions of animals based on fossil skeletons, UNL said in the news release.

Marcuson uses fossils as base images in his sketches, then overlays musculature, skin and fur to recreate the exterior body form. His reconstructions are considered to be among the best produced.

"It's hard for visitors to imagine from fossil bones what an animal must have looked like when it was alive," Mark Harris, associate director of the State Museum, said in the release. "Marcuson has an amazing ability to bring fossils ‘to life' while maintaining scientific accuracy with the advice of our research paleontologists."

Marcuson's artwork can be seen throughout Morrill Hall at UNL, the Hubbard Rhino Barn at Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park and the Trailside Museum.

Notable paintings include his portrayal of Ice Age mammoths along the Platte River in Elephant Hall at Morrill Hall and the "Clash of the Mammoths" death match scene at Trailside.

Funded by the Prehistoric Prairies Discovery Committee of the Chadron/Crawford area, the exhibit is part of ongoing efforts to enhance the Trailside Museum, including recent installation of a new cast of a three-toed fossil horse and gift shop improvements.

The public is invited to a free open house, 2-7 p.m. MDT on April 15.

The Trailside Museum is a branch museum of the NU State Museum. Regular admission is $3 for adults, $1 for children 5-18 (4 and younger free), and $6 for families (as many as two adults with children). A Nebraska State Park permit is required for entry.

Spring hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (MDT). Summer hours - 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily - run from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

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