Museu de Ciències Naturals de Barcelona


Science Collections Geological collections Palaeontological

In 1891, the first major palaeontological collection of the Museum (then the Martorell Museum) was acquired from F. Pisani, a Paris merchant. This collection soon had others added as a result of the collecting carried out to prepare the Geological Map of Catalonia (Almera Collection), the headquarters of which were established in the Museum. The monographic reviews carried out by specialists such as J. Lambert, G. de Angelis d’Ossat, P. Fallot and F. Blanchet, led to a significant increase in type and figurative specimens. The bulk of the material, completed with some purchases abroad, collection and excavations by technical staff of the Museum, entered the Museum in the first third of the 20th century. The current register of the general palaaeontology collection of the Museum was started in 1922 with the entry of the Lluís Marià Vidal collection. In recent decades, other important collections have been added, including those of José F. de Villalta and colleagues (notable for their variety and the number of specimens), the collection of plants from the Oligocene in Catalonia by Martí Madern, the Gurrea and Campreciós collections, partially recorded in 1995 and 2009, respectively, and the collection of J. A. Vela, with a strong representation of trilobites, recorded between 2010 and 2014.

Thus, the palaeontological collection is currently growing thanks to continuing donations and the collection carried out during field campaigns by the technical staff (as part of different research projects).

  • Collection fund
  • Sources of acquisitions
  • Preparation and preservation
  • Collection of the Real Acadèmia de les Ciències i les arts de Barcelona

    This collection contains some 1,500 registered entries, most of which come from Catalonia, Spain and France, but there are also many from Italy, the United States, Uruguay and Cuba. Academics such as Gimbernat, Vidal and other early members of the Academy participated in the creation of this compilation.

  • Pisani Collection

    The Pisani Collection contains more than 1,200 registered entries, most of which are invertebrates. It includes the most well-known and the most common species from nearly every group, level, and basin, in Sweden, Bohemia, Germany, Switzerland, France, England and even the United States, thus explaining the rich diversity, ranging from Cambrian to Pliocene.

  • Vidal Collection

    The Lluís Marià Vidal i Carreras (1842-1922) Collection is undoubtedly the most significant Catalan palaeontology collection from the 19th century and early 20th century. Besides containing a great diversity of species, levels and basins in Spain and Europe it includes samples from the main fossil sites in Catalonia, many of which were discovered by Lluís Marià Vidal in person. Highlights include specimens from the Pyrenean Silurian and Devonian, the Camarasa Jurassic, and the Montsec Cretaceous, and from important sites such as Santa Maria de Meià and Tàrrega, Surroca-Ogassa (Carboniferous), and the Seu d’Urgell (Miocene). The collection includes the bulk of the type and figured specimens from Catalan paleontolog. There are around 6000 registered entries. Although this collection is rich in vertebrates and flora more than 90% of the samples are invertebrates.

  • Serradell Collection

    This collection is almost exclusively made up of invertebrates, mainly gastropods and bivalves, from the Cenozoic of Catalonia and France.

  • Villalta Collection

    Acquired by the Museum in 1986, the Villalta Collection comprises:
    – The invertebrate fossil collection from the University of Barcelona’s Department of Geomorphology. It is temporarily deposited at CSIC (Barcelona), awaiting transfer to the new university campus in Pedralbes. It contains approximately 20,000 specimens.
    – The collection of Pleistocene vertebrates from CSIC (Barcelona). It was assembled through the excavations carried out by Dr. Josep F. de Villalta and coworkers, mainly in the 1970s, and contains around 10,000 specimens.
    – A collection of flora from the Cerdanya Miocene and some type specimens from Villalta’s private vertebrate collection. This collection was accessioned to the Museum in 1986. It contains 1,000 specimens.

  • Modern Collections

    One of the most significant collections is the Gurrea Collection, partially accessioned in 1995, and collected by an amateur palaeontologist. It contains more than 4,500 registered entries. Like the collection from the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona, more than 95% of its specimens are invertebrates. Most of the remaining material, accessioned in recent years, comes from research projects carried out by Museum technicians and from private individuals. Examples include the Torà Collection from the Jurassic of Mexico and duplicates from the Ferrer-Condal Collection from the Triassic of Alcover (Tarragona). Most specimens are invertebrates.

  • Palaeobotanical Collection

    The palaeobotanical collection at the Museum is the most extensive in Catalonia. It includes:
    – The Lluís Marià Vidal Collection, accessioned in 1922. Highlights include Carboniferous specimens from the Sant Joan de les Abadesses Basin, and material from the Oligocene of Tàrrega.
    – Professor Josep F. de Villalta’s Miocene flora collection from Cerdanya, accessioned in 1986.
    – Dr. Julio Gómez-Alba’s collection from the Miocene of Cerdanya.
    – The Martí Madern i Carreres Collection from the Oligocene of the area around Cervera, donated in 1989.
    – Joan Vicente i Castells Collections from the Miocene of Montjuïc (Barcelona) and the Cretaceous of Isona, donated to the Museum in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
    – The Joan Campreciós Palaeobotanical Collection (that includes Pujalt Oligocene, Anoia) donated to the Museum in 2009.
    The palaeobotanical collection, partially studied and published, contains several thousand specimens and numerous type and figured specimens.

  • Vertebrate fossils Collection

    The vertebrate fossil collection is mainly made up of:
    – Specimens from European deposits, notably the Paris Basin Eocene. Purchased from the Baron Collection in 1890.
    – Material from the Geological Map of Catalonia; specimens mainly from the Pleistocene Cova de Gràcia (Barcelona).
    – Specimens from the Lluís Marià Vidal collection, added in 1922. Most are from the Cretaceous of Santa Maria de Meià (Cretaci) and the Oligocene of Tàrrega.
    – The CSIC (Barcelona) collection of Pleistocene vertebrates is derived from many sites and caves. Most excavations were led by Dr. José F. de Villalta and registered in 1986.
    This vertebrate fossil collection has some 15,000 samples and is currently undergoing inventory.


  • Micropalaeontology and thin section Collection

    The taxonomic groups that can be included under the description of micropalaeontology collections are many, but the collection of sedimentary rocks and thin sections with large foraminifera (protozoans) stand out. Although some of the museum’s palaeontology collections contain some entries of large foraminifera, the micropalaeontology collection is being developed and increased in volume due to the research line being developed since 2011 in the museum by Dr. Vicent Vicedo, curator of the palaeontology collectionof the museum. It is thus a collection with considerable scientific worth and with many type and figurative specimens.
    Currently, the collection consists of more than 2000 entries, including rocks, thin sections and specimens. The material comes from different locations in the world (mainly Spain, Italy and Oman) and from different ages (from the Jurassic to the Miocene).

In the case of the museum’s palaeontological collection, there are three different sources:

  1. The first is from the collecting done by museum personnel, essentially for the duration of the research projects funded by the State, or through field work funded via projects of the Barcelona Cultural Institute.
  2. The second source is the offer of donations of collections by private individuals or institutions. In these cases, the palaeontology section always reserves the right to accept or reject each of the specimens that make up the collection. Since 1986, the museum always notifies the donor of the registry data of the material that is finally accepted.
  3. Finally, the third source is samples collected by geologists and palaeontologists, basically during the fieldwork required for carrying out doctoral theses or post-doctoral research projects. These scientists, with an eye to future scientific publications, try to identify (with the aid of a specialist) the specimens of certain groups that may be biostratigraphically or palaeoecologically important. When this specialist, who is often the only one in Spain, works in the museum, the identified specimens tend to become part of the collections and often end up being important specimens. These are called type or figurative specimens because they represent new species or have been reproduced in specialist publications and are the object of consultations by other world specialists.

As in any field of the natural sciences, one of the essential criteria for incorporating specimens or collections is to be accompanied by accurate and consistent documentation (describing, among other things, their geographical origin), because without this information the fossil is worthless for a number of disciplines (such as Biostratigraphy or Palaeobiogeography) which are reliant on such data.

As in any area of the natural sciences, one of the essential criteria for samples or collections to be accepted is for them to be accompanied by reliable and consistent documentation (which describes the geographical origin and other data) because, without this information, the fossil loses all interest for a number of disciplines that rely on this data, such as biostratigraphy and palaeobiogeography.

The preparation process requires different techniques, depending on the nature and state of the fossil. Treatment may consist of simple dry brushing or washing with water (with or without soap, neutral or unspecified, with or without a brush), rinsing and drying (naturally or using a dryer).

Consolidation may also be necessary, using adhesives or different consolidation materials, or separation of the fossil from the surrounding sediment, which requires the application of physical procedures (hammer and chisel, pneumatic pencil, microabrasion, etc.) or physical-chemical procedures such as the disaggregation of samples in water with or without hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). In the case of microscopic fossils, the thin-section technique may also be used as a preparation method, for subsequent study and conservation.

Once prepared, the specimen is recorded, labelled and placed in a bag (usually polythene) so that it is not affected by dust or moisture. If the rock or sediment containing the fossil holds a large amount of iron sulphide in the form of the mineral marcasite, silica gel will be required to balance (by absorption) part of the humidity inside the bag, thereby prolonging the conservation of the fossil, as, otherwise, the humidity would alter the marcasite and create particles of sulphuric acid that would eventually destroy the fossil.

When conditioning has been performed, the fossil is entered in the computer database that includes data on registration details, numerical data, positional data, historic, systematic, geographic, biostratigraphic, and typological data.

Finally, it is stored in optimal ambient conditions in compact cupboards.