Discovery Trunks

Discovery Trunks are traveling teaching trunks, containing objects, artifacts, books, DVDs, activities, and lesson plans, and are ideal for educators who want hands-on materials and lessons that fit core teaching goals about Iowa's cultural and natural history.  Trunks help develop students' scientific, cultural, and historical literacy.  The trunk program has been developed by the Pentacrest Museums (Old Capitol Museum and Museum of Natural History), Office of the State Archaeologist, and Paleontology Repository.  Current Discovery Trunk themes can be explored below.

Who uses them?

Trunks are used by K-12 educators, homeschooling groups, parents working with local AEAs, libraries, nature centers, and other groups engaged in educational programming.  

Why use them?

Each Discovery Trunk helps educators tell unique stories about Iowa's natural and cultural history, using scientific inquiry, archaeology, history, and oral traditions, with themes ranging from Iowa's Devonian Period to the present. Lessons and activities (aimed at 4th-8th grade learners, but adaptable for all ages) are designed to match state curriculum priorities, such as the Iowa Core and National Science Education Standards, making them ideal teaching toolboxes ready to integrate with classroom activities. 

What do they contain?

Trunks contain many objects, including authentic archaeological artifacts, real fossils and other scientific specimens, and high quality replicas of especially rare or fragile items. Books and background references for all ages, videos, DVDs, and flash drives with digital content enhance the lessons. Each trunk has a particular theme and contains items specific to the time period/topic.

How do I reserve a trunk?

Thanks to support from the University of Iowa and the Iowa Academy of Science, the Discovery Trunks are free of charge for teachers and educators. Reservations are handled on a first-come, first-served basis. The trunks may be borrowed for a maximum of thirty days, with longer terms negotiable. We reserve the right to charge for damaged or missing items. Getting (and returning ) the trunks is easy and affordable; see the shipping options below.

Note: As of January 1, 2019 there is a $25 service fee for all trunks borrowed. This service fee covers staff time to maintain the traveling trunk program, including processing requests, preparing trunks for shipping, inventorying and replacing items, and making upgrades to trunk contents and lessons.

Shipping Options:

Pick up or drop off the trunk at the University of Iowa campus. Trunks are stored at the Museum of Natural History.
Trunks can be shipped to you free of charge!
Trunks shipped back are at the borrower's expense. We keep on top of shipping rates with the best-priced vendors, so ask for our input when you make your reservation or when you're returning your trunk. Current rates are around $20-30.

Current trunk themes:

  • Understanding Evolution
  • Geo-2-Go: Devonian Period
  • Geo-2-Go: Ice Age Iowa
  • Geo-2-Go: Pennsylvanian Period


The development of our Discovery Trunks and curriculum guides has been funded through grants from the State Historical Society, Inc., the University of Iowa's Better Futures for Iowans program, and a general grant from Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area.