The City Magazine Since 1975

Back from the Dead

Back from the Dead
October 2011
CofC’s Natural History Museum resurrects prehistoric creatures

Awash in a glow high above Calhoun and Coming streets, giant lizards hover menacingly over late-night pedestrians, their razor-filled jaws open wide. The creatures glare with empty eyes at any soul who dares pass. No, Godzilla’s gang isn’t wreaking havoc on our beloved city. These beasts are 70- to 80-million-year-old mosasaur skulls who draw visitors to the College of Charleston’s School of Sciences and Mathematics Building, where a collection of prehistoric proportions awaits.

In the second-story, 3,500-square-foot Natural History Museum, patrons of any age can journey back to, well, almost any age. From the array of Pleistocene mammals to the cast of a 385-million-year-old Dunkleosteus terrelli (armored fish), the collection donated by Mace and Chris Brown includes some 2,000 fossilized bones, teeth, claws, shells, eggs, and more. “Whether or not the fossils were found in the Lowcountry, 90 percent of these animals are related to ones who lived in this area,” explains director and curator Dr. James Carew, a geology professor specializing in paleontology.

Since the museum’s April 2010 opening, 10,000 visitors have discovered animals born from the far reaches of the imagination. “There were horned camels as small as dogs, pigs as big as buffalo, beavers the size of grizzlies, rhinos with two horns,” says Mace Brown, a local businessman who’s gathered and researched regional fossils as a hobby for 15-plus years. Patrons can also find skeletons of a saber-toothed cat, Psittacosaurus (“parrot” dinosaur), and nine-foot ground sloth.

In August, a cave bear and cub received an enhanced habitat when Technical Theater Solutions—who’ve constructed sets for Spoleto, Disney Cruise Lines, and Broadway’s James and the Giant Peach—turned foam, paint, lights, and fiber glass into a cave for the 20,000- to 40,000-year-old bones. Earlier this summer, the local company built an “Oceans Through Time” exhibit, and future plans include a setup for the replica megalodon (giant great white shark) jaw outfitted with locally found fossil teeth. And while the creative displays have helped bring these fossils to life—so to speak—don’t worry, this cool collection only truly comes alive inside the wildest of imaginations.

The College of Charleston Natural History Museum: School of Sciences & Mathematics, 202 Calhoun St. Sunday-Tuesday & Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Free. (843) 953-5592,