The life of our collections
From plants to vertebrates, from parchments to cultural artefacts, from bacteria to algae, from meteorites to shells, our collections are a support for research, teaching and education like none other in the world. Discover the treasures of the Museum...
A very current, ancient history
Sixty-seven million. That's the number of specimens, living, fossil, biological, historical, terrestrial or even celestial, that we keep within our walls! A collection that is like no other in the world. Some are on display to the public and others, the majority in fact, are kept safe in drawers, freezers, boxes, jars and even safes. Many are unique and precious, all are interesting and informative. They have been brought here over the years by explorers, naturalists, botanists...
Consider that this collection began in the 17th century, when the West began to look to other horizons. Natural curiosities, unusual or rare, were brought back to the Jardin royal des plantes médicinales (Royal Garden of Medicinal Plants). Then, under the impetus of Buffon and Daubenton, two of the Museum's naturalist fathers, these objects were gradually organised within the Cabinet royal d’histoire naturelle (the Cabinet of Natural History), to form the basis of our collections. In the 19th century, military campaigns and voyages of discovery around the globe considerably enriched this heritage. The work continued in the following centuries, with the aim of advancing knowledge and sharing information.
A veritable goldmine
Take a look! Our herbarium is the largest on Earth with eight million specimens. The insect collection has 40 million. The vertebrate collection is famous for its historical specimens. The palaeontology collection contains representatives of extinct species, such as dinosaurs. Our zoos and botanical gardens reflect the diversity of life and its fragility, with many species threatened with extinction. Human practices are also represented by cultural artefacts and archaeological remains from the near and distant past. As for geology, rocks, minerals and meteorites help us trace the history of our planet and the solar system. In addition, there is one of the most bountiful natural science libraries in the world: monographs, periodicals, maps, photographs, manuscripts, prints and works of art, including a famous collection of vellum.
A multi-resource heritage
These treasures represent an exceptional tool for scientists from all over the world, like an encyclopaedia of nature. Indispensable for exploring past and present diversity, understanding our universe and describing current or extinct species, they also shed light on the history of science, to which our researchers contribute every day. But this wealth of information presents a human, technological and, of course, financial cost. It is necessary to sort, classify and computerise this heritage, to make it available to all, to protect and pass it on in the best possible condition to future generations. Specimens are sensitive to temperature, humidity, light, chemical molecules in the air, germs and shocks. For example, meteorites must be protected from oxygen, the fluid levels of specimens stored in liquid must be checked, and attacks from moths and other insects must be monitored on the skins or within the herbarium. A colossal task! The collections are also a great educational tool. For our students training in the natural, human and social sciences, they serve as course materials. And for the curious, young and old, who visit our museums and exhibitions, they bear witness to the beauty and incredible diversity of the world. This wide variety of original specimens thus helps us to deliver cultural and educational messages as well as to raise awareness of the fragility of nature and the need to protect it.
Would you believe it? The collections are even a source of inspiration for artists. They are presented in the form of drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs and films.
What about tomorrow? In order to better understand and protect the natural heritage of humanity, we must continue this conservation work. You probably already know this. Support us!