The Muséum’s fossil fish collection enables us to chart a period of history spanning around 500 million years, from the oldest vertebrates to contemporary forms.

The Muséum’s collection contains a vast panel of fossil bony fish, rays and sharks, as well as many groups with no modern-day representatives (like the strange 400 million year old Doryaspis illustrated in the slideshow below). This collection contains over 50,000 specimens and is organised and stored in chronological, geographical and systematic order.

The Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle’s collection of fossil fish was enriched in the first few years of its history by the magnificent collection of fish from the Eocene (around -50 million years) from Monte-Bolca, a site near Verona in Italy. In the 19th century, renewed scientific interest raised the profile of the entire collection, thanks to the studies conducted by Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) and Louis Agassiz (1807-1873). However, most of the collection was assembled in the 20th century. Two holders of the palaeontology chair were particularly active in this enrichment: Camille Arambourg (1885-1969) and his successor Jean-Pierre Lehman (1914-1981).

Today, the collection consists of specimens dating from the Ordovician (-490 million years) to the Holocene (-10,000 years) and collected all over the world (in the Devonian of Spitsbergen and Morocco, Triassic of Madagascar, Cretaceous of Lebanon, Eocene of Italy, etc.), but also from many regions of France (Carboniferous of Massif Central, Jurassic of Cerin and Canjuers, Miocene of Anjou-Touraine, Oligocene of Provence, etc.).

This collection is internationally renowned for its important specific diversity, the high-quality preservation of its specimens and its wealth of type and figured specimens, which make it so valuable scientifically. The value of the fossil fish collection lies primarily in the fields of taphonomy and anatomy and their consequences in systematics and phylogeny, morphofunctional analysis, palaeoecology, palaeobiogeography, palaeobiodiversity inventories and analyses of palaeoenvironments and palaeoclimatology. Each year, it receives many visits from French and foreign researchers. Because of the aesthetic and scientific quality of its specimens, this collection also receives many requests for loans for museum exhibitions. A database for researchers and the general public is being created for remote consultation (including access to the systematics, age, locality, bibliography and photo of each specimen).

Loans and visits are managed by the collection managers: