Arizona museum of natural history

Arizona Museum of Natural History
Main entrance of the Arizona Museum of Natural History
Established 1977
Location Mesa, Arizona, United States

The Arizona Museum of Natural History (originally the Mesa Southwest Museum) is a natural history museum in Mesa, Arizona. It exhibits the natural and cultural history of the Southwestern United States.


The Arizona Museum of Natural History was founded as a small museum in Mesa City Hall in 1977 with a small collection of Arizona artifacts, in a building designed by Lescher & Mahoney and built in 1937 with WPA funds, that originally housed Mesa City Hall, municipal courts, city library, police and fire departments. There were expansions to the building in 1983 and 1987, and in 2000 a new wing was added. The main museum complex is currently about 74,000 square feet (6,900 m2), of which about 46,000 square feet (4,300 m2) are dedicated to exhibitions containing a collection of about 60,000 objects of natural history, anthropology, history & art, with approximately 10,000 historic photographs. A research facility was also added in 1995. Additionally, the Arizona Museum of Natural History has prominent research curators in the fields of paleontology and archeology/anthropology. Recent annual attendance is about 135,000.


The Museum's exhibitions include a three-story indoor waterfall, a real territorial jail, and a recreation of the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine. The Southwest Gallery[1] consists of a native peoples’ gallery, with exhibits about Paleoindian big game hunters and gatherers, the first inhabitants of North America, and the Desert Cultures that developed later. It also holds a recreation of a Hohokam village, with pithouses and above-ground structures, outfitted with real artifacts as they might have been from about A.D. 600-1450. Another exhibit is the Ancient Cultures of Mexico.[2] The Origins gallery [3] is designed as a voyage through the timeline of the cosmos and discusses major events in the history of planet Earth.

Among the exhibitions is a hands-on Exploration Station[4] and the Paleo Dig Pit.[5]

Three changing exhibition galleries offer a variety of subjects.

The evolution of flight—was it from the ground-up or from the tree down? AzMNH’s exhibition, "Rulers of the Prehistoric Skies," should help answer that question.

The skeleton of a Pterosaurs on display in the museum.

At no other time in the history of life on Earth were there animals like the pterosaurs, those flying creatures who truly did rule the sky. They were the first vertebrates to achieve flight, and they did it in a way that was all their own. In addition to very distinctly shaped, thin, hollow bones, pterosaurs had membranous wings which were probably flexible and able to change shape during flight. The actual mechanical details are not completely understood by paleontologists, thus giving rise to multiple opinions.

The main goal of this exhibit is to have visitors understand the amazing diversity among Pterosaurs. Exhibit volunteers have helped to achieve this goal by building everything from “rock blocks” and puzzles, to actual models of the fliers themselves. Don Puffer has created a 4-foot mechanical Dsungaripterous pterosaur also known as “Clam Digger” that will demonstrate the opening and closing of its wings. Ed Mack’s sculpture Pteranodon sternbergi is a stunning life-size model that should amaze the museum audience.

"Rulers of the Prehistoric Skies" is part of a Mesa Arts and Culture First Flight initiative and will focus on flying reptiles; however the exhibit also explores the evolution of flight from insects, the true first flyers, to birds and bats.

The "Rulers of the Prehistoric Skies" exhibit opened on February 4, 2012, and will run for approximately one year.

Another of the changing exhibits was "The Primal Desert Next Door: Land of Black Volcanoes and White Sands," which opened February 26, 2011 and closed in January of 2013. Much of the Sonoran Desert lies south of the Arizona border in Mexico. This vast expanse and its diverse wildlife is the focus of this exhibition, which included wall murals depicting the vast contrasting dark “moon-scape” volcanic fields and bright seas of sand dunes. Visitors were able to learn about the geology, flora, and fauna of this region though photographs and interactive components. The exhibition was based on the book Land of Black Volcanoes and White Sands, The Pinacate and Gran Desierto De Altar Biosphere Reserve, by Larry Marshall and Clark Blake. Interactive features included a dune machine, which replicated the phenomena of sand dunes, a hands-on basin and range topography display, and a mock lava tube, which children could climb through. This exhibition has since been replaced. For all current and future exhibitions, please visit

AzMNH exhibitions are made possible, in large part, by private donations to the Arizona Museum of Natural History Foundation, the Museum’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Additionally, the museum maintains the Sirrine House, a Queen Anne style home built in Mesa in 1896. The museum claims that the home is the only fully restored Victorian-era home museum. The Sirrine House is currently open only for special events.


The Paleontology Section,[6] which is the study of past life, is the primary emphasis of the Natural History Section of the Arizona Museum of Natural History. The Natural History Section explores, excavates, records, prepares, conserves, and researches the fossil resources in the collection at AzMNH. In addition to working with state, university, and municipal agencies, AzMNH is an official repository for specimens collected from State, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Forest, and Fish and Wildlife lands throughout Arizona.

The Dinosaur Hall[7] features an unnamed coelurosaur nicknamed the "Zuni coelurosaur", a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton and a Tyrannosaurus rex skull.[8] Also they feature a Gastornis.[9] As sauropods they have a Camarasaurus skeleton and an Apatosaurus femur.[10] As ceratopsians they have a Psittacosaurus skeleton, a Zuniceratops, Protoceratops, Pentaceratops and Triceratops[11] and as iguanodonts they consist solely on a Probactrosaurus.[12]


The Anthropology Section[13] of the Arizona Museum of Natural History conducts research and develops exhibitions on Native American cultures and the archaeology of southern Arizona. Archaeology has been a major focus of the museum since its inception in 1977. The museum sponsors ongoing excavation at the Mesa Grande Ruin, a large mound in Mesa dating from the Hohokam Classic Period.[14] This is one of the most important tasks of the anthropology department. The opening of Mesa Grande as a heritage site dedicated to public education concerning the Hohokam and O'odham people remains a central goal of the museum.


The following images are of some of the exhibits in the museum.

Exhibits in the Arizona Museum of Natural History
Children posing in front of the skeleton of a Columbian Mammoth in the museum’s lobby. 
Another view of the Columbian Mammoth in the museum’s lobby 
Arizona Museum of Natural History Lobby. 
Children posing behind the Tucson Meteorite on exhibit in the “Origins Hall” 
The skeleton of a Pterosaurs on display in the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa Arizona. 
Dinosaur Hall display 
Tyrannosaurus Bataar located in “Dinosaur Hall” 
Dinosaur Mountain exhibit 
Arizona's First Mission exhibit. 
Children in the interactive gold panning exhibit. 


  1. ^ Southwest Gallery info at
  2. ^ Ancient Cultures of Mexico info at
  3. ^ Origins gallery info at
  4. ^ Exploration Station info at
  5. ^ Paleo Dig Pit info at
  6. ^ Paleontology Section info at
  7. ^ Dinosaur Hall info at
  8. ^ Dinosaur Hall - Theropods at
  9. ^ Dinosaur Hall - Diatryma at
  10. ^ Dinosaur Hall - Sauropods at
  11. ^ Dinosaur Hall - Ceratopsians at
  12. ^ Dinosaur Hall - Iguanadon at
  13. ^ Anthropology Section at
  14. ^ "Flat Stanley at Mesa Grande". Archaeological Research Institute, Arizona State University. Retrieved 2007-10-12. 

External links

  • Arizona Museum of Natural History - museum website

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.