Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
New exhibit in front lobby of the Utah Museum of Natural History.

A new exhibit at the Utah Museum of Natural History highlights fascinating objects from each of the state's counties, from a dinosaur footprint to ancient stone balls to a polka-dotted bat.

"Magnificent Heritage: Celebrating Utah's 29 Counties" is in two sections, one intended to travel around the state and the other installed in the museum's lobby. The lobby exhibit, which is expected to last six months to a year, consists of more fragile items, while those in the traveling exhibit are more durable.

Each part has at least two items from each county, said Ann Hanniball, associate director of the museum, 1390 E. President's Circle (top of 200 South), located on the University of Utah campus. They cover "the entire range of the natural history of Utah," she added, including examples of paleontology, pressed plants, mineral specimens, insects, birds and mammals.

The state is known worldwide for its natural history, she added, and expeditions from other regions have collected important objects here.

Traveling objects are either stored for treks around the state or en route to the Capitol, where the public and legislators will be able to see them. "We would like to start traveling them this summer or perhaps the fall," said Hanniball.

If possible, the museum staff members would like to have the display visit each of the 29 counties. Possibly they could be shown in libraries, she said. But details have yet to be worked out.

Meanwhile, some of the objects shown in the lobby have not been shown publicly before, according to the museum.

"There's a Kachina (Pueblo culture supernatural being figure) by a wonderful artist named Earl Denet," she said. A Hopi who lives in Salt Lake City, Denet works "within the religious, cultural and artistic traditions of the Hopi people."

The large and beautiful Kachina is exhibited next to a tiny, rare bat, she said. The spotted bat was discovered in the attic of the Bennion School in the Salt Lake Avenues in the 1930s. When caught, it was only the seventh known example of the species, which has black and white polka dots.

From Iron County come stone balls that were smoothed into shape by the Fremont people, who lived in the region a millennium ago. Some stone balls were used for grinding grains, which made them roughly round. Others — like the exhibit's — seem to have been shaped deliberately. They are almost perfectly spherical and are made of stones that look like they were chosen for their beauty.

"We can only guess what the purpose was," she said. "There's one that's almost pure white. ... The mineral sparkles."

One of Juab County's representatives is a gem. The red beryl is related to emeralds and sapphires, found in various locations worldwide. "But red beryl is found almost only in Utah," Hanniball said. It is a "glittery, little, completely Utah thing."

"Carbon County is famous for its dinosaur footprints," she noted.

These were formed when the prehistoric monsters trod over swamps, leaving footprints. The indentations would fill with sediments, possibly windblown sand. Over the past 65 million years or more, the swamp vegetation turned into coal, and the sand turned to sandstone.

"They used to be found quite often in coal mines," she said, "but with the new mining technologies, it's much rarer to find them now."

Hanniball said she has worked at the museum a long time, "and I think this is my favorite exhibit ever. It's so full of stories of our amazing state."

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