Explore our collections
With over 130,000 items including special and rare specimens, there's plenty to discover!
The Museum has over 130,000 specimens including rocks, minerals, ores, fossils, historical documents manuscripts and samples, maps (geological and topographic), photographs, computer data and archives of activity by famous Earth scientists dating back as far as the late eighteenth century.
Did you know?
The last full inventory of all categories of material included:
- 30,000 research collections
- 60,000 teaching collections specimens
- 10,000 thin sections
- 7,000 economic collections
- 3,000 exam collections
- 10,000 sedimentary collections
- 3,000 map collections
- 3,000 transparency collections
- 4,000 special collections
Here are some special collections that may be of particular interest to you:
The collection holds approximately 10,000 animal and plant fossils including fish, reptiles, trilobites, brachiopods, ammonites, corals, nautiloids, gastropods, bivalves, stromatolites, sponges, forams, ferns, bark, tree sections and other plant material. There are also modern specimens of corals, echinoids, brachiopods and nautilus.
This collection consists of approximately 70 meteorites from around the world. Included within it are samples of some well-known meteorites such as the Allende meteorite which fell at Chihuahua, Mexico in 1969, often described as "the best-studied meteorite in history". Also included are an Imilac meteorite from Atacama, Chile and a Canyon Diablo meteorite from Arizona, USA.
This collection contains the first experimental outputs and apparatus for simulating melting in rocks. These objects were produced by Scottish geologist James Hall of Dunglass (1761 - 1832), who was a friend of James Hutton (known as the ‘father’ of modern geology).
A rock, mineral and fossil collection belonging to Sir Charles Lyell, and donated by Lady Lyell in 1927. It consists of stone artefacts (axes, spears and arrow heads), meteorites, fossils, rocks and Sir Charles Lyell’s own lecture notes from his tours of America in the 1840s. Some of the specimens are significant because they were used to illustrate his books or were collected at a time when important ideas were developing.
This collection has been subsequently enhanced by the University Archives' acquisition of Sir Charles Lyell's Note Books in 2019.
Brown of Lanfine Collection
This collection which consists of around 600 minerals, was donated from the estate of Dr Thomas Brown of Waterhaughs and Lanfine (1774 - 1853) in 1874. It is one of the great 19th century Scottish mineral collections. Thomas Brown’s daughter, Martha, split the collection between the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, with the Hunterian Museum currently holding around 7000 mineral and fossil specimens.
This collection consists of around 5000 mineral specimens, including 25 meteorites and accounts for almost half of our Museum’s mineral collection. It was donated by the wife of Dr James Currie in 1931. Dr Currie was a former student at the University of Edinburgh. His particular interest was in the secondary minerals of basaltic rocks and the number and quality of Scottish and Faroes zeolites within the collection reflect this.
James Davidson was a former student of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. His collection of 923 mineral specimens was donated to the University for the purpose of teaching and research, by his son, Dr James Davidson in 1947. It includes specimens from classic localities all over the world but is particularly strong in minerals from the famous Leadhills-Wanlockhead mining district as well as Northern England and Cornwall.
John Smith Collection
This collection consists of sixty one fossils from Ayrshire (mainly carboniferous, Old Red Sandstone), collected by John Smith of Dalry between 1866 and 1920.
|John Smith Fossil Collection|
This collection consists of approximately 150 fossils from cherty beds in Aberfoyle. Many of the fossils in the collection were used as figures to illustrate the article ‘The Highland Border Rocks of the Aberfoyle District’ published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1918.
Steeped in history
The original purpose of the Museum dates back to 1873 when Professor Archibald Geikie, the holder of the first Chair of Geology at the University of Edinburgh, founded "a museum for the teaching of geology"; with the straightforward objective of having collections of minerals, rocks and fossils for the instruction of students.
Geikie's example has been followed by numerous geological staff in the University, and the teaching collections have been continually added to. At the same time, the existence of the Museum over many years has led to significant donations of unique and rare specimens (particularly minerals), which provide extremely valuable reference material for research and some beautiful specimens for display.
The majority of the Museum's collections have been housed at the University's Grant Institute since its opening in 1932 and were primarily catalogued and arranged during the early years of the Institute by Dr A. M. Cockburn. The considerable care, dedication and effort undertaken by Dr Cockburn on a voluntary basis automatically led his colleagues to adopt his name for the Museum following his death in 1959.
Since 1960, the curatorial staff of the Cockburn Geological Museum have played a significant part in extending the teaching and research collections in association with the increase in undergraduate and graduate students in geology in the second half of the twentieth century, and the subsequent expansion and diversification of Earth sciences taught at the University.