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There's a stegosaurus in the statehouse, and she has buddies.

You might recognize some: fellow dinosaurs like triceratops, plus a tortoise, a bat, a butterfly and 31 other creatures crawling in circles around the Capitol floor.

Others are strangers to most of us: eurypterid, uintathere, onychophoran.

Bob Diffendal wants you to meet them.

"I've been down in the Capitol any number of times and seen teachers and parents struggling with what some of those creatures are," the retired UNL research geologist said last week.

So he put together a pair of guidebooks about the beasts, all mosaics on the Rotunda floor just outside the legislative chamber.

One is a coloring book, with black-and-white pictures and fill-in-the-blank questions.

"It'll work for little kids and older adults like me," says Diffendal, 75 — or maybe something to keep those meddling lobbyists busy next legislative session.

The other book has more information, along with copies of the original color drawings by Nebraska paleontologist Erwin H. Barbour in the 1920s, which Capitol artist Hildreth Meière used to design the mosaics.

Those drawings disappeared for decades after the Capitol was complete, but re-emerged in 1982 when a descendant of someone who did structural tile work in the building handed them over to a Capitol archivist. 

Diffendal learned about them last year, and was inspired.

Barbour's brightly-hued images would have given the creatures, many of them extinct for millennia, life beyond the gray tones that were possible in cinema and photography a century ago.

"He drew these things — dinosaurs, with colors on them — back in the 1920s," Diffendal said. "He was right."

The books, called "Fossils on the Floor," are available at the Capitol's Landmark Store, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources, the Discovery Shop at the Nebraska State Museum and online at Amazon.com.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com. On Twitter @zachamiLJS.

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Assistant city editor

Zach Pluhacek is an assistant city editor.

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