The fossil mammal collection is the Muséum’s richest collection of vertebrate fossils in terms of number of types and well-preserved specimens. It contains objects of varying sizes, ranging from an entire mammoth skeleton to a tooth measuring a few millimetres. The collection is famous all over the world for the diversity of its specimens.
The mammal fossil collection at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle houses 300,000 to 500,000 specimens. It contains original specimens as well as casts.
Although mammal fossils were present in the collections when the King’s Cabinet was created by the Count de Buffon and Daubenton in the 18th century, the fossil mammal collection has only existed as a distinct entity since the end of the 19th century, when the fossils could finally be managed by the holder of the Chair of Palaeontology. The oldest specimens, in the museographic sense, present in the collection are the bones of the "giant Teutobochus" (in fact a proboscidean related to the Deinotherium genus), presented at the court of Marie de Medicis in 1613.
This collection is made up of original pieces and mouldings spanning 100 million years from the end of the Mesozoic to the Pleistocene. The specimens come from all continents, although French deposits are particularly well represented, as the Muséum’s researchers had the opportunity to go on excavations there on multiple occasions (for example: gypsum from Montmartre, phosphorites from Quercy, Saint-Gérand-le-Puy in Auvergne, Sansan and Simorre in Gers). The fossil mammal collection from Pikermi (Greece) is also of particular importance since it laid the foundations for evolutionary paleontology in France in the 19th century.
Therefore, this collection illustrates many aspects of the history of palaeontology, established thanks to the comparative anatomy practised on mammal fossils, with the work of Daubenton, Cuvier, Blainville and Gaudry in the 18th and 19th century, and Boule, Arambourg and Ginsburg in the 20th century. The housed specimens vary greatly in size, from a microscopic rodent or chiropter tooth to a mammoth’s tusk, not to mention the mounted skeletons in the gallery.
These world-renowned collections attract many foreign scientists every year and still contain many unpublished specimens. The daily activities involve welcoming visitors, making specimens available to Muséum researchers or students, managing loans for exhibition or study, restoring damaged specimens, inventory-taking, computerising and repackaging the collections, and renewing the specimens on display to the public.
This collection forms the basis of the research carried out by students and researchers from France and abroad, who work on extremely varied themes, from phylogeny to locomotion through climatic evolution, biotic crisis, faunistic exchanges or the search for anthropic traces.