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Heritage Center gears up for expansion

Posted 12/14/09 (Mon)

Bismarck Tribune
A full-scale Tyrannosaurus Rex model to old war-time guns are just some of the items that are planned to be on display when the expanded North Dakota Heritage Center is completed in 2014.

The expansion will include three new galleries, a 3-D theater and more space to store artifacts as well as 5,000 square feet to house traveling "blockbuster" galleries from around the world, officials at the center said last week. The center's current auditorium also will undergo a renovation to increase access for the disabled.

Just 12 percent of the center's stored artifacts, fossils and archives are on display for the public to see, said Claudia Berg, the Heritage Center expansion coordinator.

The $52 million project is just getting under way with its fundraising efforts. At least $6 million must be collected by the State Historical Society Foundation before construction can start next spring.

The expansion is planned to be completed on the 125th anniversary of North Dakota's statehood in 2014, Berg said.

The new displays also will take into account the larger context of world history by juxtaposing artifacts from ancient Rome to Japan's feudal era with North Dakota artifacts in a timeline exhibit.

That timeline exhibit also will tell the state's geologic history from its days as a sub-tropic ecosystem to the most recent ice age 50,000 years ago when giant bison, with horns spanning seven feet, roamed the prairie, said John Hoganson, a paleontologist with the State Geologic Survey.

"People will be able to experience not only the changes in life that have occurred in North Dakota, but also how the climate and environment has changed," Hoganson said.

Hoganson said there are plans to erect a 40-foot-long replica of a fossilized Tyrannosaurus Rex fighting a replica of a 30-foot-long Triceratops fossil.

Beneath the main floors of the Heritage Center is the area where thousands of artifacts are stored, about 60,000, Berg said. All of them carry a story.

"We've got soup to nuts," said Mark Halvorson, a curator and self-described pack rat at the Heritage Center.

There are portraits, one of Henry Clay Hansbrough, the first U.S. House representative from North Dakota elected in 1889 to 300 pairs of Native American moccasins to old rifles from the days of Lt. Col. George Custer.

Other potential display items include about a dozen peace medals given to Native Americans, some dating as far back as President Andrew Jackson.

There are some newer artifacts, too, including a military uniform fitted for a pregnant woman brought back to North Dakota by a woman who recently served in the U.S. military.

Ancient pottery also will be included in the displays, from pots used by the ancestors of the Mandan people in the 1300s to decorative medallions made of seashells that traveled to the Midwest with tribal traders more than 1,000 years ago.

Berg said many Native American artifacts could go on display inside a recreated Indian village once the expansion opens. And while many of the artifacts are planned for display, some will be left in storage for protection, such as an authentic birch bark canoe.

Oil, the natural resource responsible for North Dakota's current economic boom, also will have its story told, Hoganson said.

"We're going to try to tie it all together," he said. "The geological setting of the state, the geologic history and how it all relates to what we're doing today."