While on vacation last year, I happened to see a Twitter thread by paleontologist Jim Kirkland about an ankylosaur specimen he had helped to ID at a small, local museum and prep lab called Texas Through Time. I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it before, especially since it was less than an hour from my home in the Dallas area (though as it turns out it had only opened a year prior). It happened to be on our way home as we finished our trip, though we got there close to closing, and I essentially only got a preview at the time. I had been meaning to go back ever since, and was just about to set a date back in May 2020… when of course the Coronavirus Lockdown went into full effect. However, after a couple months, things finally started opening back up, and I was eager to finally pay Texas Through Time a proper visit. I felt particularly intent on going as many museums have faced financial difficulties due to Covid-19, and I wanted to support them in any way I could. Now that things have opened back up, they’re back in the swing of things again, and even have some exciting additions planned for the future.
Nestled in the small town of Hillsboro in a historic former auto service garage, Texas Through Time is certainly one of the smaller museums I’ve visited in terms of size, but they manage to pack a surprisingly comprehensive overview of Texas paleontology into their exhibit space.
Walking around the exhibit space from left to right takes visitors past fossils from the Permian, Cretaceous creatures of the land & sea, and finally some Cenozoic mammal fossils, petrified wood, and taxidermy mounts. In terms of time periods represented, I think they actually managed to pack a more comprehensive overview of Texan prehistory into this small space than the Mayborn Museum did with its similarly themed fossil halls. A fun fossil dig pit sits in the center of the exhibit space, which of course captured my boys’ attention most of the time we were there.
Texas Through Time also houses its own fossil preparation lab, which visitors can view through large windows in the back. While they excavate plenty of their own fossils, they also provide their services to other museums in need of extra field hands and preparators. During my visit they were in the middle of prepping a Triceratops fossil from Colorado for the Denver Museum.
The prize specimen they have most heavily promoted is the aforementioned ankylosaurid, confirmed by Jim Kirkland to represent a new species unique to Texas. Enough remains are present that they plan to eventually reconstruct a whole skeleton for display once preparation of the fossils has finished. Despite my inherent dinosaur bias (and having not yet seen the whole ankylosaurid yet) however, I might hazard the suggestion that their Ptychodus specimen may actually rival the club-tailed dinosaur in importance. This odd shark had a cobblestone arrangement of rounded and flattened teeth, rather than the neat rows of sharp chompers typical of most sharks, which it likely used to crush seashells. While not the largest example of its genus, this specimen is among the most well-preserved individual known to science, and even preserves skin and cartilage!
Museum admission is free for all visitors, but I wanted to give them a little financial support, so I made sure to check out the gift shop before I left. The bulk of their items for sale consist of T-shirts of various amusing designs, as well as gems and minerals for rock collectors. I was particularly surprised however to see a display of Paleo Pals toys, as I’ve only ever seen them online before. I was rather tempted to get Dusty the Diplocaulus for
myself the boys, though I ended up just going with a striking ankylosaur t-shirt instead. Though come to think of it, a Paleo Pals plush toy would make for a fun review, so perhaps I’ll have to go back…
While certainly a smaller museum, Texas Through Time has steadily added to their exhibits over time, and plan to open a whole new wing of the museum in the near future. They occasionally have special temporary exhibits come through as well, such as the exhibit on the End Cretaceous extinctions they hosted a while back, which included a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. If you live nearby or happen to be passing through, it’s worth checking out, especially considering the free admission. I look forward to seeing them grow in the coming years, and I plan to visit again soon!