Fossil fish

The Muséum’s fossil fish collection makes it possible to reconstruct a history spanning about 500 million years, from the oldest vertebrates to contemporary forms.


The Muséum’s collection consists of a wide range of bony fish, skate and shark fossils, as well as many groups with no present representatives (such as the strange Doryaspis dating back 400 million years, illustrated in the slide presentation below). This collection of over 50,000 specimens is organised and accessible thanks to an arrangement in chronological, geographic and systematic order.


The fossil fish collection of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle was supplemented in the first years of its history by the magnificent Eocene fish collection (around 50 million years ago) from Monte-Bolca, a site near Verona in Italy.

In the nineteenth century, renewed scientific interest enhanced the value the whole collection thanks to the studies carried out by Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) and Louis Agassiz (1807-1873). However, the larger part of the collection was assembled in the twentieth century. We owe these key additions to two holders of the Palaeontology Chair in particular: Camille Arambourg (1885-1969) and his successor Jean-Pierre Lehman (1914-1981).

The current collection is made up of specimens dating from the Ordovician period (490 million years ago) to the Holocene period (10,000 years ago) and from all regions of the World (Devonian of Spitzberg and Morocco, Trias 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.).

Doryaspis nathorsti, Agnathe hétérostracé, Dévonien inférieur (env. -410 Ma du Spitzberg)

© MNHN - C. Lemzaouda

Esox primaevus, Esociformes, Téléostéens, Stampien (env. -30 ma), Vaucluse, France

© MNHN - P. Loubry et L. Cazes

Exellia velifer, Ephippidae, Perciformes, Téléostéens, Éocène (env. -50 ma) Vénétie, Italie

© MNHN - C. Lemzaouda

Helicoprion sp., Eugeneodontida, Chondrichthyens, Permien (env. -270 ma). Oural, Russie

© MNHN - C. Lemzaouda


This collection is internationally renowned for its great species diversity, for the quality of its specimen preservation and the wealth of type and figured specimens, which constitute its scientific value. The areas in which the fossil fish collection makes the most scientific contributions are mainly: knowledge of anatomy and taphonomy and of their consequences for systematics and phylogeny, morphofunctional analysis, palaeoecology, palaeobiogeography, palaeodiversity inventories and palaeoenvironment and palaeoclimatology analyses.

It is frequently visited by both foreign and national researchers every year. This collection receives many loan requests for museum exhibitions, owing to the aesthetic and scientific quality of its specimens. A database for both researchers and the general public is being developed for remote consultation (including access to the systematics, age, location, bibliography and photographs of the specimens).


The loans and visits are managed by the collection managers:

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