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Paleontology museums you shouldn’t miss

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

Fossils, including those of mammoths, dinosaurs and creatures that lived on this earth millions of years ago are on display in paleontology and natural history museums. There are hundreds of museums both large and small around the world where you can see and learn about fossils.

Here are our 5 favorite paleontology museums in the world

The American Museum of Natural History is like a dream come true for fossil lovers. This museum houses one of the most extensive fossil collections in the world, including a dazzling number of original specimens. Their many fossil halls take you on a journey through time. Permanent displays include the Halls of Ornithischian and Saurischian Dinosaurs, Halls of Primitive and Advanced Mammals and Vertebrate origins. Check their website for sleepovers for kids and adults and live your own Night at the Museum adventure.

If you are in Madrid, just a 2+ hour drive gets you to Burgos to visit the Museum of Human Evolution. This phenomenal paleoanthropology museum is located here due to its proximity to an ongoing excavation of the UNESCO site Atapuerca. Atapuerca contains the earliest and most abundant evidence of humankind in Europe. Million year old fossils have been found, proving that people inhabited this site for millennia. The Museum of Human Evolution displays fossils from Atapuerca and other locations and puts them into context to help in the understanding of the human presence on Earth and to help explain our past, present and future as a species.

The National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian is one of 19 museums that chronicles life, science, art and culture. The fossil collection at the museum contains over 40 million specimens, a truly comprehensive record of the history of life on Earth from the last 3.5 billion years. From the Hall of Fossils to the Hall of Human Origins, the Smithsonian exhibits are interactive, educational and fun for adults and kids alike. Take a peek into their collections and indulge your inner nerd.

In London, the collection at the Natural History Museum dates its origins back to a collector from the 18th century, making this collection of both scientific and historical significance. The museum itself is an architectural delight and among its many incredible holdings is an extensive array of specimens collected by Charles Darwin. For the paleontology lover, the human evolution gallery boasts a 3.5-million-year-old Laetoli canine and the first Neanderthal skull ever found. The museum also houses an extensive collection of dinosaurs from around the world. And, one of the most mysterious fossils in the collection is that of Dinocochlea which has stumped scientists since it was found in 1921. Is it a gastropod shell? A coprolite? A concretion? You decide!

For dinosaur lovers, the Royal Tyrrell is the grandaddy of paleontology museums. The museum contains an astonishing 350+ holotypes (a single type specimen upon which the description and name of a new species is based), and it houses the largest collection of fossils in Canada. The collection is both extensive and impressive, holding five Guinness World Records due to its unique collection of fossils. Borealopelta, an ankylosaur found in 2011 in Alberta is worth the trip alone. It’s the best-preserved dinosaur ever found, with the armor and skin color still intact and it’s sprawled out on display in all its armored, colorful glory. The town of Drumheller itself fully embraces its dinosaur treasures, with colorful dinosaur sculptures scattered throughout the town.

Indulge your inner paleontologist and join a fossil dig on your next vacation. Find paleontology digs on Ancient Odysseys.

Research conducted with the assistance of Sarah Besser.

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