Benedum Hall of Geology

wall in benedumBenedum Hall of Geology illustrates the dynamic, ever-changing nature of planet Earth. Three striking, Earth-like domes highlight geological time and dating, fossils, shaping the earth, and Pittsburgh geology. A fourth dome explores the origin, location, and economic development of coal, oil, and gas. The hall is a celebration of geology. It is also a tribute to the vital role that the rock record of Pennsylvania and the Tri-state area has had and continues to have in the development of the geological sciences.

Exhibit Highlights

While the entire hall is dedicated to interactive features that allow the public to learn about geology, a few highlights are:

  • Shaping the Earth—This video theater introduces visitors to the notion that the surface of the earth is constantly shifting, sliding, crumpling, being worn down here, and built up there—anything but "rock steady." The program uses the Pittsburgh area to show a piece of the earth that has undergone drastic change.
  • Stratavator—This simulated elevator ride takes you 16,000 feet down into the Earth below the museum. Visitors enter the elevator cab, and meet their tour guide, a miner, seen through the cab's "window"—a video screen. The stratavator stops at the museum's basement storage rooms, a coal mine, a limestone cave, and other geological features. As the cab vibrates, rock strata whiz by between stops.
  • Local Stratigraphy—Geological data about your neighborhood is available from this interactive video exhibit. Touching any part of the map will bring up information for that area. The exhibit covers southwest Pennsylvania, the West Virginia panhandle, and eastern Ohio.
  • Fossils and Fossilization—Fossils are a prominent part of the museum's earth science exhibitions. These remains or traces of past life formed in a variety of ways. This exhibit shows how fossils tell many things about past life, and how they yield information about ancient geography and climate.

Local Interest

A strong emphasis is placed on Pennsylvania geology, including fossil fuel formation. Benedum Hall of Geology explains the geological processes that shaped Pennsylvania and its neighbors, Ohio and West Virginia. The hall's fourth dome takes a close look at the geology of the Pittsburgh region. It shows how remains of immense quantities of Paleozoic plants preserved as coal, and of microorganisms, preserved as oil and gas, literally fueled the economic development of the area.

Exhibit Interactives

The remainder of the hall contains interactive features that teach people about radiometric dating of rocks and fossils, the movements of continents, the layered stratigraphy indigenous to Pennsylvania, and other geological information. The Coal Forest in Benedum Hall of Geology was the museum's preexisting Carboniferous forest. Carnegie Museum of Natural History cleaned the diorama up and added new plants and animals. The current diorama shows what Pittsburgh looked like just 300 million years ago. Another feature, the Geologic Map, is of Pennsylvania's complex geology and shows rocks dating from the PreCambrian to the Pleistocene.

Exhibit Online

Take an online tour of the internationally famous dioramas that made up Carnegie Museum's Paleozoic Hall. You may also explore the Geology of the Mesozoic Era, describing the Age of Dinosaurs.

Did You Know?

Geology, the study of earth science, has undergone great changes since it began. New discoveries and theories have radically altered our understanding of the planet's foundation. The Theory of Plate Tectonics suggests that the outer layers of the Earth are organized in plates that move both absolutely and relative to one another. Where plates come into contact a range of interactions can occur; the results of the interactions include volcanism, earthquakes, and mountain building.

Historical events that establish Pennsylvania as a key contributor to economic geology and earth sciences include Drake's oil well who, in 1859, drilled into rocks near Titusville, Pennsylvania, and marked the beginning of the world's oil industry.

There is no city in the world quite like Pittsburgh. There are other hilly cities, such as San Francisco and Hong Kong. But geologically speaking, none is hilly for the same reason. What hasn't happened here is almost as important as what has. Over the years, Pittsburgh has been the hinge or nodal point for one geologic event, phenomenon or process after another. The Pittsburgh area lay for so many millions of years on the shifting edge of a shallow sea, so it has been on the boundary of many other geologic "catastastrokes." Pittsburgh's topography is strictly caused by erosion in bedded rocks that have been lying flat and undisturbed, except for minor uplift since they were formed 250 million years ago. There are very few places on Earth where that is true.

For More Information

Contact geologist Albert Kollar at