Collections

The Dayton Society of Natural History curates approximate 1.8 million objects and specimens across several disciplines. The Anthropology Collection is our largest (1.4 million items) and is dominated by archaeological specimens, including those excavated from SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park. The Biology Collection (280,000 specimens) includes many insects as well as a wide variety of plants and animals. Our Geology Collection (15,000 specimens) has many rocks, minerals, and fossils. Our Astronomy Collection consists of several dozen meteorites and our Live Animal Collection has over 100 animals, including both exotic and local species that are on display in several areas of the museum, including the Discovery Zoo. Exotic species on display include porcupine and agoutis from South America, meerkats from Africa, a 16-foot long Burmese Python, and many others. Local species represented include large animals such as otters and small creatures such as turtles and salamanders.

Each of our collections has diverse and interesting holdings, but we have many objects and specimens that we take exceptional pride in curating. An item or group of items may be a highlight of our collections due to its uniqueness, age, appearance, or scientific value.

Our Astronomy Collection includes a piece of the “Dayton Meteorite,” one of the most unusual and famous meteorites ever found. This meteorite contains two minerals that have never been found anywhere else in our solar system. The Collection also includes a replica of Galileo’s telescope, one of only four in the world modeled directly from the original.

Highlights of the Anthropology Collection include the extensive SunWatch archaeological collection, historic and modern Native American items from many parts of the United States, and large collections from Ancient Egypt (including a human mummy), Japan, the Philippines, Oceania, and China.  CLICK HERE for the Lichliter Site White Paper.

In our Biology Collection, we curate a number of specimens from species that are now endangered or extinct, though they were not at the time of collection. These include Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, a Carolina Parakeet egg, and two Passenger Pigeons. We have a number of insect type specimens, the John W. VanCleve herbarium collection from the late 1800s, and a comprehensive bird collection also dating back into the 1800s.

Our Geology Collection includes specimens of Pleistocene (Ice Age) mammals excavated locally by DSNH, the second largest trilobite ever found, and many other fossils. We also curate a large mineral collection with many beautiful and unusual specimens.

Our Live Animal Collection has over 100 animals, most of which are species that are or were native to Ohio. Of our locally native animals are some of the most well-known residents of our museum. We have a smaller number of exotic species in our care, some of whom are on display in the Bieser Discovery Center such as our sixteen foot long Burmese Python, Rajeev. Learn more about our live animals by clicking here.

How do we get objects and specimens for our Collection?

The Dayton Society of Natural History gets objects for its Collections almost entirely through donations. Many Miami Valley residents have lived in other countries, or have traveled to distant places for work or vacation. These people often bring back specimens from the natural world (such as shells, rocks, fossils) and from the ethnographic world as well (such as clothing, jewelry, or household items). In some cases, these items are donated to the Society when the visitor returns home. In other cases, items may have been kept within a family for decades and are left to the Society in a bequest as part of a will. For more information about how to donate a specimen or artifact to the Museum contact collections@boonshoftmuseum.org.

Private Tour of the Dayton Society of Natural History Collection

From unusual oddities to important pieces of history, the Dayton Society of Natural History’s Collection houses 1.7 million objects that are just waiting to be explored. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of DSNH Collection, housed at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, and get a glimpse of extinct species, thousand-year-old fossils, cultural objects from around the world, and ancient artifacts from Dayton’s earliest inhabitants. Our professional anthropologists and historians guide you through our anthropology, biology, and geology collections and answer your questions. Perfect for small groups of up to 8 people. Group of 4, $150 and up to 8 people, $200. Learn More.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How do I know if I have a “museum quality” object to donate? What happens to objects that are donated to the museum? Why should I donate? When will my donation be placed on exhibit?

A. Specimens and objects are kept in a museum’s collection because they are useful for research, educational programming, or exhibition. Some objects might have the potential to be useful for all three purposes while others may have more limited relevance. When an object is donated, ownership of the object is transferred unconditionally and permanently to the Dayton Society of Natural History. Some donors assume that this means their object will be kept in the permanent collection and/or placed on permanent display.

When we accept an item through donation, we do not guarantee its disposition in our permanent collection unless it is of ethnographic or scientific value and falls within our collecting scope. Objects in the permanent collections are kept indefinitely and are likely to be used for research and exhibition. In contrast, we sometimes receive ethnographic items of good craftsmanship, but low ethnographic or scientific value. Such items may have been made for the tourist industry, are of questionable authenticity, or are reproductions. These types of items are usually added to our teaching collection and are likely to be used for public programming or exhibition.

If an item is not appropriate for the museum collection at all, it may be offered to another museum, sold at auction, or in a few cases discarded. The proceeds of items sold at auction are used to support the museum’s collections. In many cases, donors may donate a large collection of related items with the expectation that not all pieces may be equally appropriate for permanent curation. Some donors would prefer not to donate pieces that are not likely to be added to the permanent collection, in which case department staff will be happy to pre-screen material prior to transferring ownership.

Very few objects remain on permanent display since most types of objects will eventually be degraded or altered by remaining on extended exhibition. For example, textiles can be quickly ruined by light damage from continuous exposure to ultraviolet light. Special filters placed over museum lights help reduce this damage, but cannot completely prevent it. Almost all materials, even stone, are susceptible to damage from their environment. Proper curation of a collection usually includes the rotation of objects on and off display whenever possible. At any given time, most of our collection is not on permanent or temporary display as would be the case with any collections-based museum. Some items may not go on exhibit often if they do not easily fit into common exhibit themes.

Q. My great-grandfather donated an object to the museum many years ago. Can I have it, borrow it, or see it? 

A. The Dayton Society of Natural History maintains legal ownership over the items in our collection and all donors are required to acknowledge this transfer of ownership in writing at the time of donation. It is not customary to loan museum objects or specimens to individuals, although we routinely loan items to other museums, universities, and similar organizations which have a legitimate reason for borrowing the object and can properly care for the item. If you would like to see any of our collections, you are welcome to call or email us and we will be happy to set up an appointment.

Q. I’m doing a book report for school. Can you please send me any brochures, posters, pamphlets, or information about a culture/species/object/country? 

A. We do not maintain any fact sheets or other standard information to be sent by mail. In most cases, basic information can usually be found easily through a search of the internet, though users should be cautious about the source of online content. If you have a specific question, please call or email the curatorial staff and we will be happy to answer if it is within our fields of expertise.

Q. I’m a researcher interested in your collections. What should I do?

A. Researchers who would like to utilize our collections or data should call 937-275-7431, ext. 114 or email collections@boonshoftmuseum.org

Looking for the Lichliter Site White Paper?  CLICK HERE to view.

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