The Devonian coral reef diorama, based on a coral reef found north of Coralville and on other fossil remains and rock formations from Coralville and Iowa City, depicts the state when it was beneath water 380 million years ago. Providing a sectional view through the reef, this life-sized reconstruction of the sea floor contains the wide variety of marine organisms—snails, sponges, corals, crinoids, trilobites, brachiopods, cephalopods and small fish—that eventually were buried in a lime mud.
A 500-million-year adventure through Iowa's geological, cultural and ecological history.
The coal swamp diorama takes you to a geologic period 300 million years ago called the Pennsylvanian Era. Iowa existed as a lush, tropical swamp on the shores of a shallow sea. The club mosses, or "scale trees," and ferns grew quickly, and when they died the vegetation accumulated more quickly than it decayed.
The Ice Age glacier diorama depicts a relatively recent phenomenon: the Wisconsin glacial episode, specifically the advance and retreat of this massive ice sheet's Des Moines Lobe, which started about 24,000 years ago. The Des Moines Lobe's effect on the north-central Iowa landscape still can be seen in everything from the lakes and river system the lobe formed to the productive soils it deposited. When the glaciers melted back some 12,500 years ago, a change in climate occurred.
The earliest period in Iowa prehistory is sometimes referred to as the "Paleoindian" or "Big-Game Hunting" stage. It represents the first time that we find evidence of people living in the state. The remains of even earlier people have been found in North, Central, and South America and suggest that the Western Hemisphere was colonized by 20,000 years ago, and possibly earlier.
During the late Woodland period, western and cental Iowa were inhabited by groups of people whose culture archaeologists identify as "Great Oasis." Great Oasis villages were a setting for great progress. Crops improved; corn, beans and squash were harvested in surplus; food-storing methods were improved; permanent houses were built; and social organization became more sophisticated. All of this made village-based life possible.
The Meskwaki diorama is a full-scale re-creation of a winter lodge, a dome-shaped, cattail mat-covered structure that was built in a protected area each year after the harvest. The Meskwaki called these lodges wickiups When the French drove the Meskwaki from Wisconsin in the late seventeenth century, the tribe moved into eastern Iowa with their allies, the Sauk. The Meskwaki have been dedicated to maintaining their Iowa home.