Vertebrate Paleontology


Material of the collection

The bulk of the specimens in the Vertebrate Paleontology Collection of the Museum are fossil mammals of the Spanish Cenozoic Era. There are also fossil amphibians, reptiles, birds and fish. This is a major collection that is recognized as a historical and geographical resource for researchers registering the continental vertebrates of the Cenozoic era in Spain.

With over 1,200 matrices, the Museum makes replicas of the most paradigmatic fossil specimens readily available for exhibition and for exchange with other research centers.

There are also specimens of diverse origin which are replicas of originals that are not part of the MNCN holdings. Amongst them, visitors may find splendid specimens such as a skeleton of the species Diplodocus carnegii, a replica donated by Andrew Carnegie to King Alfonso XIII in the early 1900’s. The original is held in the Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

The collection in numbers

It is estimated that the Vertebrates Paleontology collection has ca. 380,000 pieces of fossil vertebrates and nearly 80,000 cataloged registries in the data base, which amounts to around 175,000 specimens.

To this day, there are cataloged materials from 800 national sites and 300 international sites.

In terms of anatomy, the collection is particularly rich in teeth, followed by elements of undetermined origins such as jawbones, ribs, bones of the tarsus and phalanges, vertebras and metapodials, carpal bones and mandibles.

Geographic strengths are the Spanish tertiary basins of Calatayud-Teruel, the Duero river basin and the Madrid Basin-Intermediate Depression.   

The collection houses approximately 520 different species. The most abundant macro-mammals are of the families Equidae, Bovidae, Rhinocetidae and Cervidae. A taxonomically and bio stratigraphically valuable group is the micro-mammals, as the Museum holds a very comprehensive collection of specimens from sites of several historic periods. There are approximately 57,000 cataloged micro-mammals in the collection.

Origin of the collection

Although there are some cataloged specimens from the Spanish expeditions to South America in the 19th century, the majority of fossil vertebrates were collected in Spanish sites in two different periods.

The first period, marked by Eduardo Hernández-Pacheco’s key contributions, covers the first quarter of the 20th century. The Vertebrate Paleontology collection was augmented in those years, especially after excavations in fossil sites – Cerro del Otero, in Palencia, or Concud, in Teruel – that would later achieve wide scientific recognition.

The activities of the Paleontology Section of Vertebrates and Humans of the Lucas Mallada Institute, managed by Emiliano Aguirre, inaugurated a second period. The collection grew tremendously over these years thanks to the work of Dr. Aguirre and his group of specialists, trained by him.

Relevant specimens of the collection

Although less represented than the mammals, other groups of vertebrates in the collection are indeed of great interest. Among the fish, for instance, we may find the holotype (type fossil) of Rutilus pachecoi from the Continental Turolian age in Los Aljezares (Teruel, Spain); highlights among the amphibians are the extraordinarily well preserved specimens of the well-known frogs from the superior Miocene Era in Libros (Teruel, Spain) and the frog holotype from the Triassic Era in Santa Maria de Meya (Lerida, Spain), Eodiscoglossus santonjae; regarding reptiles, there are dinosaur remains from Morella (Castellon, Spain) on display, holotypes of different ophidians from the last quarter of the Miocene in Algora (Guadalajara, Spain), and many more. Highlights amongst the birds are an Anatidae found in Libros (Teruel) and the holotype of a new species from the Pliocene Era in Layna (Soria, Spain).

Some of the strengths of the fossil collection on display are the great skeletons: a female Ichthyosaur from Holzmaden with a hatchling inside; a Gomphotherium angustidens from the Middle Miocene Era in Yuncos (Toledo), mounted in the same position in which it was found; and the outstanding skeleton of the Megatherium americanum from the Pleistocene in Luján (Argentina).

The Department also houses a wide array of replicas; besides a skeleton of Diplodocus carnegii, we also hold the skeleton of the Carnotaurus from the Early Cretaceous Era in Argentina and six magnificent skeletons: Allosaurus, Camptosaurus, Torvosaurus, Stegosaurus, and two species of Camarasaurus that have subsequently been incorporated.

To learn more about the Vertebrate Paleontology Collection, we recommend the following articles:

- Alcalá, L. y Sánchez, J. 1997. La colección de Paleontología de vertebrados del Museo Nacional de ciencias Naturales (CSIC). Graellsia, 53: 37-39.

- Sánchez, B., Pesquero, M. D., Fraile, S. y Salesa, M. J. L. 2004. Las colecciones de Vertebrados fósiles del Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC): aportación del Profesor Emiliano Aguirre a la Paleontología española. En: Miscelánea Homenaje a Emiliano Aguirre. Volumen II, Paleontología, Zona Arqueológica, 4, Museo Arqueológico Regional. E. Baquedano y S. Rubio (Eds.): 527-540 pp.

- Fraile, S. y Pérez Dios, P. 2019. La Colección de Paleontología de Vertebrados. En: Las Colecciones del Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales. Investigación y Patrimonio. I., Doadrio., Araujo, R. y Sánchez-Almazán (eds.). Editorial Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. 324-341 pp. ISBN: 978-84-00-10590-7.