Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Delve into a unique voyage of discovery surrounded by beautiful neo-Gothic architecture.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History is another must see place while visiting Oxford. It’s a hidden gem with a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Dodo remains (one of the world’s only sets) and a home to over 250,000 specimens. If that is not enough to keep inquisitive minds occupied, you can also find there zoological and geological exhibits including crabs collected by Charles Darwin on his voyage. Whether you are beetles or minerals fan, the museum has an impressive collection of all sorts of weird and wonderful things presented admirably in countless cabinets.

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specimens
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fossils specimens
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mineral specimens

 

In October 1854 the design for the Museum was open to a competition with prizes offered for the three best designs within a cost limit of £30,000. Amongst 32 received schemes, architects Thomas Newenham-Deane and Benjamin Woodward were selected as winners and started build of museum in 1855 which officially opened in 1860. In 1885 a new building, abutting to the east of the Museum, was built to house the ethnological collections of Pitt-Rivers Museum.

Even before entering, the museum’s Victorian neo-Gothic architecture is going to leave you with a lasting impression you’ll never forget. Designed as a cathedral to science, its style was strongly influenced by the ideas of John Ruskin, who believed that architecture should be shaped by the energies of the natural world.

The building is centred around an exquisite detailed inner court with the most striking feature – a glass and iron roof decorated to resemble the unfolding branches and leaves of palm, sycamore, and walnut trees. Inside you’re greeted with a spectacular view of two dinosaur skeletons and a jawbone of a sperm whale. The museum’s court is surrounded by beautiful stone columns, each made from a different British decorative rock, with the column capitals carved to depict all of the botanical orders. The carvings were done by James and John O’Shea, who used life with plants brought up from the Botanic Garden to complete them. Around the court you will also find statues of famous figures in the study of science, from Aristotle to Darwin, Galileo to to Newton.


While inside, make sure to enjoy the ambience of the light dancing off the interior ironwork and the newly restored 8,000 glass tiles which let the light into this Grade I listed building. The museum’s roof is something to be gazed at in awe. The most striking thing about the Museum its three dramatic glass and cast iron roofs, four storeys high, which span the main exhibition quad.

In the museum you’ll find collections divided into three sections: Life, Earth and Archive. The Life Collections consists of over 250,000 examples of zoological and entomological specimens, including many that are endangered or extinct. Earth Collections covers the Palaeontological collections and the mineral and rock collection.
 


“DID YOU KNOW…”

The insects display at the Museum is among the top 10 collections in the world and specimens date back to the early 18th century! Amongst countless moths, crickets and butterflies you can get a glimpse of tsetse fly collected by explorer David Livingstone from Africa.


The dinosaur displays in the Museum include four species from Oxfordshire, and two of these, Eustreptospondylus and Camptosaurus, are remarkably complete skeletons. The Iguanodon plaster cast has been on show for at least 150 years in its original upright pose.

The dodo, the most famous of all animals to have become extinct in human history was brought to Oxford by Elias Ashmole. It was a flightless bird native to Mauritius, first known to Europeans in 1598. Today only its mummified head and foot remain which represents the most complete remains of a single dodo anywhere in the world and have proved to be of particular value to science.

Want to see more? Visit the full gallery and get to know the Oxford University Museum of Natural History better.



“DID YOU KNOW…”

The mineral collection at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History is considered one of the oldest and most comprehensive in the country. There are over 30,000 worldwide mineral specimens of crystals and minerals which are used for research at the university as well as collections of gemstones, meteorites, and mineralogical instruments.


There also are over 375,000 fossils from as far away as China, Scandinavia, and North America. Collections include items and specimens from various collectors such as Charles Darwin, Thomas Buell, Octavius Pickard-Cambridge, George Henry Verrall, Pierre François, and Pierre Justin Marie.

Another highlight of your visit might be touching a real bear! Interestingly, this family-friendly museum is actively encouraging visitors to touch large amounts of items on open display. From rocks to fossils, unusually taxidermy to a real dinosaur egg, there are plenty of opportunities to engage with the museum’s collections and discover the wonders of the natural world.

 
Opening hours:
Monday to Sunday: 10am – 5pm.
Free admission.


Accessibility:
The Museum is both wheelchair and pushchair friendly.


Café:
The family-friendly café is located on the upper gallery over-looking the dinosaurs.


Pitt Rivers Museum:
After exploring the Oxford University Museum of Natural History make sure to visit Pitt-Rivers Museum as well.

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