Since its foundation in 1860, the world-renowned collections at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History’s have become a key centre for scientific study and its much-loved building an important icon for visitors from around the world.
The museum now holds over seven million scientific specimens including five million insects, half a million fossil specimens and half a million zoological specimens. It also holds an extensive collection of archival material relating to important naturalists such as Charles Darwin, William Smith, William Jones and James Charles Dale.
This lavishly illustrated book features highlights from the collections ranging from the iconic Dodo (the only soft tissue specimen of the species in existence) and the giant tuna (brought back from Madeira on a perilous sea crossing in 1846) to crabs collected by Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle, David Livingstone’s tsetse fly specimens and Mary Anning’s ichthyosaur. Also featured are the first described dinosaur bones, found in a small Oxfordshire village, the Red Lady of Paviland (who was, in fact, a man who lived 29,000 years ago) and a meteorite from the planet Mars.
Each item tells a unique story about natural history, about the history of science, about collecting, or about the museum itself. They give a unique insight into the extraordinary wealth of information and the fascinating tales that can be gleaned from these collections, both from the past and for the future.
Kate Diston is Head of Archives and Library at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
Zoë Simmons is a curator in the Entomology Collections at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.