Mineral and Gem Collection

The Mineral Collection consists of approximately 100,000 specimens and is significant by virtue of its size, broad representation of species and occurrences, the quality of the exhibit specimens, and the large number of type, described, and illustrated specimens.

With the exception of the micromounts, the collection is catalogued as a single entity but is physically organized into several sub collections. Notable holdings include the minerals from the zinc mines at Franklin, New Jersey (4,000 specimens), from the Tsumeb Mine in Namibia (900 specimens), and from the local New England region (7,000 specimens).

The paragenetic series are suites from particular occurrences assembled to study how minerals form. These are fundamentally geological in nature as opposed to the chemical character of the systematic series. 

Minerals in the systematic series are organized chemically. About 4,000 of the finest specimens are displayed in the HMNH mineral gallery. The rest - the "working" collection - is housed behind the scenes. It archives specimens used in past studies and holds material suitable for future investigation. This is the primary and largest part of the mineral collection.

Micromount Collections consist of small mineral specimens mounted in one-inch boxes for viewing through a microscope. The historical micromount collection (3,200 mounts) is part of Albert F. Holden's personal collection left to the university in 1912. During the 1990s a contemporary micromount collection of 6,600 mounts was built by Stephen and Janet Cares. It incorporates the collections of Gilbert George and Leland Wyman as well as many specimens supplied by the Cares. The micromount collections are rich in rare species and significantly supplement the collection of hand specimens.

The Gemstone Collection consists of approximately 1,200 gems and is broadly representative, though its strength lies in New England gems which account for roughly 60% of the collection. Though the gem collection contains cabochons, carvings, and other lapidary art material, the majority of items are faceted stones. Arguably the most prized and well known piece of the collection is the Hamlin Necklace which was created by Augustus Hamlin to showcase eighteen tourmalines from the Mount Mica Mine he owned and operated. The necklace was bequeathed to the museum in 1934.

Rock and Ore Collection

Unlike the minerals, which were mostly acquired by donation or purchase of private collections and individual specimens, the rock collections were mostly field collected by faculty and students. 

The rock collections are divided into four separate collections: igneous and metamorphic ("hard" or crystalline) rocks, sedimentary ("soft") rocks, and ores. They are organized into teaching collections and archival (research) collections. Meteorites are rocks, of course, but extraterrestrial rocks! This makes them so special that they have always been a distinct collection.

The rock collections strongly reflect faculty research interests. Among the most important of the hard rock collections are those of Professors Marland Billings (1902-1996) and Reginald Daly (1871-1957). The soft rock collection is almost exclusively a teaching collection assembled by Professor Raymond Seiver (1923-2004). Ores from Andean hydrothermal deposits are a particular strength of the "mining geology" collection. It was substantially grown by Ulrich Petersen, Harry C. Dudley Professor of Economic Geology (ret.1996).

Meteorite Collection

The MGMH holds a large and broadly representative collection of meteorites. Meteorites are extraordinary things. No other object that you can hold in your hand is as exotic or as old. Meteorites are rocks that most commonly originate from the Asteroid Belt. Rocks blasted off parent bodies by an impact or collision will orbit the Sun just as the planets do. Some small fraction of these orbiting rocks cross the Earth's orbit and, coming under the influence of Earth's gravity, fall into our atmosphere. There, momentarily glowing due to friction, they become "shooting stars" or meteors. If they survive their fiery descent to Earth, they are meteorites. Click here to find answers to frequently asked questions about meteorites.

The meteorite collection includes nearly 600 distinct meteorites and about 1,500 specimens ranging from <0.1 g to ~180 kg. It includes the collections of J. Lawrence Smith, a famous 19th century American chemist, and Q. David Bowers, a contemporary collector particularly enthusiastic about pallasites.


In December of 2005, a new meteorite exhibit was installed in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Gallery at the Harvard Museum of Natural History showcasing a fine selection of meteorites. The exhibit displays about 40 meteorites and includes significant specimens such as large touchable iron meteorites, exceptional pallasites, and other rare meteorites donated by Q. David Bowers and Don Edwards. It also features Impact!, an original video presentation based on the research of Earth and Planetary Science professors at Harvard University.     

The Meteorite Collection

The growth of the collection has been documented by four catalogues (Huntington, 1887; Palache, 1926; Frondel, 1965 and C.A Francis, 1978). At the present time, the collection consists of approximately 1,500 specimens. The collection is primarily maintained to support research at Harvard, but specimens will be provided to qualified investigators otherwise affiliated. Requests should be directed to Museum staff.

The Impactite Collection 

Large meteorite impacts produce shock effects—metamorphism and even melting of target rocks. Brecciated rocks, tektites, shattercones, and other structures that result from these events are known as impactites. The museum holds a small ancillary collection of impactites.

Geographic Visualization

In 2012, the meteorite collection was geo-visualized using ArcGIS and WorldMap. The interactive map contains name, classification, location, and fall/find information for each meteorite in the Harvard collection. The map consists of multiple layers so that the user can explore the entire museum collection or can search the collection by meteorite type. To access and explore the map of the meteorite collection click here.

EPS Teaching Collection

The Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) Teaching Collection consists of over 30,000 specimens of rocks, minerals, and fossils as well as hundreds of maps, posters, thin sections, and structural models that serve to educate Harvard University students in the fundamentals of geology. Presently the collections support the learning of hundreds of new students every year. Through their laboratory based Earth & Planetary Sciences and General Education classes, present Harvard University professors rely heavily on the collections for their teaching labs. On any given day, one traveling by the EPS teaching laboratories might see students beholding the wonders of mineral fluorescence, molding brightly colored Play-doe to demonstrate metamorphic folding, or perhaps watching the dye progress through a groundwater flow simulation tank.

The EPS Teaching Collection serves both as the foundation for instructing future geologists as well as a primary source for public outreach and education. In more recent years, many educational samples have been added to the collection by the Mineralogical and Geological Museum.The EPS Teaching Collection continues to play an important role today, whether assisting with student or public education and continued research at Harvard.