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Paleontology Collection

Where Fossils Find a New Life

The Nat’s Paleontology collection is the most important repository for our region’s fossil record , and we return to it every day with new questions and new technologies to discover more about the history of life on Earth. Our fossils reveal a story of dramatic changes in plant and animal diversity, ecosystems, habitats, and climate over the last 140 million years.

Although our fossil specimens have been dead for a long time, our collection is very much alive. Our own staff, and researchers from around the world, make new discoveries from our collection all the time. Our shelves contain undescribed species, uncertain evolutionary relationships, and unclear timelines just waiting to be studied .

And it doesn’t stop there! At 1.5 million fossils and counting, our Paleontology Collection is always expanding as new specimens are brought in by our field crews. The majority of our specimens are unearthed as Southern California’s sedimentary archive is excavated for freeway expansions, residential and commercial development, and infrastructure.

Collection Highlights

  • We house california’s richest record of 2-4 million-year- old marine mammals and marine invertebrates. Most of them were found in San Diego, National City, and Chula Vista .

  • We also have California's richest record of 28 million-year-old fossils of early dogs, rhinos, camels, and oreodonts. These were discovered in Chula Vista and Otay Mesa.

  • In San Diego, Carlsbad , and Oceanside, we have unearthed California’s richest record of 40- to 50-million-year-old foss ils of early bats, rodents, hedgehogs, primates, carnivores, tapirs, brontotheres , and camels.

  • Our collection contains s ome of the only dinosaur fossils known in California , from 75- million-year-old s ediments in Carlsbad .

  • We have significant fossils of extinct toothed and baleen whales, giant sea cows , and walruses. (Yes, walruses in San Diego County!)

  • We house 168 holotype fossils pecimens, which are the first (and sometimes the only) specimens known for an entire species. We also have 474 secondary types and 851 hypotypes.

Access Our Collection

The Nat’s Paleontology C ollection is under the care of Kesler Randall, Paleontology Collections Manager, and Tom Deméré , Ph.D., curator of the Paleontology Department and director of PaleoServices .


Information about individual specimens can be accessed by searching our online collections database , which contains thousands of detailed 3D models like the one seen below.

This skull of an early dog-like predator, Mesocyon coryphaeus , was found in Chula Vista, CA. Thousands of 3D models like this can be explored in our collection database.

Use Policy

The collections may be used by appointment only. Please contact us to arrange a visit to our collections.
Download the Paleontology Collections Access Guidelines (PDF).