Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Oxfordshire, OX1 3PW
Free to all
Founded in 1860 as the centre for scientific study at the University of Oxford, the museum now holds internationally significant collections of geological and zoological specimens.
Henry Acland – the medic and educator who established the museum – enlisted John Ruskin to oversee the design, who in turn asked the members of the newly formed Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood for their advice. The resulting neo-Gothic building is 'a cathedral to nature', and perhaps the purest architectural expression of Pre-Raphaelitism.
In 2014 the museum reopened its doors after a 14 month closure to restore its Victorian iron and glass roof. The £4m project transformed the public space, with new LED lighting illuminating the collection and a major conservation of the suspended whale skeletons.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History was one of the finalists for Museum of the Year 2015. To find out more about why it made the short list, watch our video.
The collections date back to the early 1600s and range across zoology, mineralogy, geology and palaeontology. There are seven million specimens in total, 35,000 of which define species under the International Code on Zoological Nomenclature.
Among the most famous exhibits is the mummified head and foot of the Oxford Dodo – the only surviving soft tissue of the species available for DNA research. Using samples from the leg, scientists have deduced the bird hailed from Mauritius and its nearest relative was the Nicobar pigeon. The dodo would have been brought over to England by wealthy collectors.
The swifts which nest in the ventilation flues in the museum tower are also a source of fascination for scientists, providing a rare opportunity to study these elusive birds. From May to August the museum's website runs a live webcam of the nests.