28 July 2016

The Paleo Travel List

Update (7/28/16) : Four years ago, I wrote this post in which I listed the paleontological sites and museums that I thought would make worthwhile trips for anyone with an interest in fossils.  Looking back at it now, I realized that I had a few additions (the University of Florida's museum and three German sites associated with the Messel lagerstätte) to make to it and that, as it might be a useful resource for people looking to plan paleo-centric travel, I should provide a permanent link to it on my main page.  I've made both changes and will try to update the list more frequently than I have been in the future.

Original Post (7/15/12): As many of you are aware, while paleontology is the main focus of this blog, I occasionally lapse into writing about places I've visited. I love to travel and I love reading travel literature, and I've noticed, as I'm sure many of you have, a recent trend in the field. If you go to the travel section of pretty much any bookstore, you'll see the usual guidebooks and travel narratives, but you'll also see books that are effectively lists of places to visit. Their titles are usually variations on the themes of "X Places to See Before you Die" and "X Places You Must Visit." I'm not altogether sure it's a healthy direction: I think travel should be about experiencing a culture or landscape different from the one you live in, not crossing items off a list (though, in fairness, "checklist travel" has a certain appeal to the more OCD aspects of my personality). Still, the popularity of these books - and the corresponding websites - is undeniable, and it got me wondering: what would a list of must-see paleontology destinations look like? My attempt at an answer can be found below.

A few places on the list were no-brainers: the big museums of the East Coast and Midwest, the grand collections of Europe, or places like Dinosaur National Monument and Petrified Forest National Park where you can see spectacular fossils in situ. I added a few other places because they do an outstanding job displaying the paleontology of a particular site (Rancho La Brea, Urweltmuseum Hauff) or region (University of Nebraska Museum, Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde). A few places made it onto the list because of their especially impressive combinations of fossils and reconstructions or paleoart (the dioramas of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science or the murals of the San Diego Natural History Museum, for example), and a few more made it on due to the historical importance of the fossils there (the first described dinosaur fossil in Oxford's Natural History Museum, for example).

Obviously, this list is incomplete. It includes only places I've visited, leaving entire continents neglected. I'd be very curious to hear what else readers of this blog think would belong on it. Bear in mind that this list is intended for members of the general public, NOT for career paleontologists; we all have our own distinct ideas of which museums or sites are particularly interesting, and many of these may hold little to no appeal for someone with a more casual interest in fossils. However, I think any of the places listed below would be worth a trip for anyone with even a slight predilection for paleontology:

Map of Sites

United States


Royal Tyrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta

Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario


Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

Grube Messel (reviewed 12/2015)/Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt/Naturmuseum Senckenberg, Messel/Darmstadt/Frankfurt, Hesse

Paläontologische Sammlung, Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg

Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg

Urweltmuseum Hauff, Holzmaden, Baden-Württemberg

United Kingdom

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