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Frequently overlooked treasure trove on Chicago’s lake shore

Not all gems come from rocks. Although considered gems, opals are the result of fossilized dinosaur backbones.
Not all gems come from rocks. Although considered gems, opals are the result of fossilized dinosaur backbones.
Sue Masaracchia-Roberts

Originally created as part of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Chicago’s Field Museum not only has a great history, but its collection of 25 million artifacts – including anthropology, botany, geology, culture, zoology and the environment -- offers a treasure trove of valuable information, insights and discoveries. Until September 7, 2014, the museum is featuring highlights of this expo that led to its creation. Its special exhibits change periodically and are available at an additional charge beyond the admission fee.

The Great Hall entry of the Field Museum
Sue Masaracchia-Roberts

Aside from possessing the world’s most complete dinosaur skeleton, Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex, the Field Museum also is one of the few places in North America where one can visit a three-story recreation of an ancient Egyptian tomb, see hieroglyphs, mummies, a Book of the Dead, and daily artifacts. Its extensive collection of mummies is among the largest in the United States, and includes insights on ancient daily ancient Egyptian life, their views of the afterlife, a marketplace, and dioramas showing how the deceased were transformed into mummies and prepared for burial.

In the McDonald’s Fossil Prep Lab, visitors get to watch as museum staff paleontologists and scientists work to reveal and study nature’s treasures. The area has its own exhaust system to remove dust from the air, as well as a variety of tools and equipment especially designed to assist them in these efforts.

“Visit” Africa and explore its wide array of environments and cultures. Gain an insight into trade practices and how African traditions endured the tragedy of slavery and became interwoven in American culture. The iconic gorilla, Bushman, who resided for many years at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, is also preserved under glass.

In its Ancient Americas exhibit, a visitor can walk through the world of Ice Age mammoth hunters, an 800 year-old pueblo dwelling and explore the Aztec empire and its incredible engineering feats.

The Grainger Hall of Gems shows the evolution and creation of Earth’s gems and their transformations from their raw sources to stunning stones. This is one of the most comprehensive exhibits of its kind in the US. In its newly renovated Elizabeth Hubert Malott Hall of Jades, not only can a visit see more than 450 objects on display, but also walk through China’s history from prehistoric burials through its 2000 year history as one of the world’s most enduring empires. Additional insights into China’s extensive history can be found in the Cyrus Tang Hall of China.

Compare individual strength with that of a prehistoric dinosaur or modern shark. Discover how plants and animals stay in one piece despite the crushing forces of gravity, air, wind and water pressure as well as predators. Learn how different creatures are able to jump, gallop, slither and swim. These are only a few of the insights available in the exhibit called Biomechanics: The Machine Inside. Gain more information about the evolution of man in the DNA Discovery Center, and learn about the evolution of our fragile planet, including its historic periods of destruction and reinvention.

New information about the relationships between bird specials abounds in the Gidwitz Hall of Birds. Among the many other sections of the Field Museum open for exploration, discover what it like to live on a tropical island, how edible nuts and seeds are grown and harvested, and much more.

Visitors can also obtain a bug’s-eye view of the world – smaller than a penny coin – and not only how insects and worms positively impact the earth, but how human actions may help or hurt soil, leading to either healthy or a threatened ecosystem.

Like the earth, the museum has gone through its own changes. It began as the Columbian Museum of Chicago and became known by its current name, after businessman and philanthropist Marshall Field, donated one million dollars, in 1893, to the creation of a permanent museum.

Open every day, except for Christmas, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., basic admission is $18 for adults, $13 for children (3-11), $15 for students (with ID) and $15 for seniors 65 and older.Check the museum website for discount days, which allow for free basic admission and the opportunity to upgrade to either a Discovery Pass for $11 or an All-Access Pass for $18. Family annual passes are reasonably priced.