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USU’s New Tie to Prehistoric Museum

















It would have been a regular greet and eat the visitors for the Utahraptor hanging out in the lobby of the USU Eastern dinosaur and archaeology museum had it been open 125 million years ago.


That in-your-face introduction to the Utah State University-College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Dinosaur Museum is precisely what Ken Carpenter was going for when he recently unveiled Utahraptor in its latest lobby location and new attack stance.


If you have seen Jurassic Park, you get a feel for how unnerving this nimble and vicious predator might have been, Carpenter said. He especially liked how Steven Spielberg got people thinking about what it would have been like to have lived among dinosaurs and wants to do the same thing for visitors to his museum.


“I want to bring to life the museum by bringing in human interest,” he said. “I want to go beyond simply showing stuff off to begin educating people as to why they are important. I want to take various pieces, whether archeological or fossil, and put them into context to help people better understand and appreciate them as more than simply trophy pieces.”

Seeing yourself eyed by a Utahraptor begins to do that. Adding a human hunter throwing a dart at a five-ton Mammoth also helps. So does the museum’s Fremont pit house. So does the recent giant clam, now on display, that he uncovered an hour east of Price near the Green River.

“We want people to imagine,” he said. “We want to get them to think about what it means to have lived without refrigerators and grocery stores.”

The museum, in existence since 1960, adds great depth and breadth to Utah State University’s educational offerings since its merger with the College of Eastern Utah in 2010. It is a museum in flux and because of that, students can potentially play a significant role — from the ground up — in its future.

That is because the museum, at its current downtown Price, Utah, location, has run out of space. It needs a new and larger structure and needs it fast. Prime property for a new building has already been donated and now only awaits the necessary capital to begin construction.

By doubling the museum’s space, Carpenter said they can begin to more properly tell the museum’s story. It will be a compilation of stories and one that he hopes USU students will be able to help him to create. His hope is to begin more readily tying into classes taught on the USU Logan campus.


“It’s a unique opportunity we have to essentially build a museum with students,” he said. “As far as I know, this has never been done.”


He sees an opportunity for student involvement in the museum studies program at all levels, from design of a new building, to the design, construction, installation and testing of new museum exhibits. If done right, it has the potential for the university to become a model in museum studies with national and international influence.


“There are only one or two programs in the country that even come close to us,” he said. “We’ve got a definite niche and definitely there’s a market out there, not only for college students, but also for people who work at other museums to come here to learn new techniques. This is a rare opportunity we have.”


Rare as seeing a Utahraptor face to face.

— John DeVilbiss