Rock collection

caption for main image

Hornblende-biotite granite collected during Robert Falcon Scott's British Antarctic Expedition (1910-1913)

The Museum rock collection contains approximately 123,000 sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks collected around the world during the past 250 years. These specimens help us better understand the evolution of our planet.

Over the past 250 years the Museum has built the rock collection by acquiring samples brought back from historic voyages of discovery and material found during geological surveys.

The rock collection is particularly strong in examples of:

  • igneous rocks, particularly alkaline rocks and carbonatites, and kimberlites
  • specimens from remote oceanic islands
  • historic collections from major expeditions, particularly to Antarctica, Africa and Australia

It also contains samples from many historic expeditions, including:

  • various nineteenth century Arctic expeditions focused on finding the Northwest Passage
  • Antarctic exhibitions, including the journeys of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott
  • George Mallory and Sandy Irvine's fateful Mount Everest expedition (1924)
  • HMS Challenger expedition (1872-1876)

The Building Stone Collection

The rock collection is home to the Building Stone Collection - containing around 16,000 specimens it is one of the largest documented collections of its kind in the UK. It is particularly useful for matching stone in historical buildings during conservation work.

The Building Stone Collection was founded when a survey of UK quarries was launched to find suitable stone to rebuild the Palace of Westminster following a massive fire in 1834.

Scientifically important acquisitions

  • xenoliths from kimberlites donated by Prof Peter Nixon in 1994
  • carbonatites and natro-carbonatites from eruptions of Ol Doinyo Lengai, Tanzania, donated by Prof Barry Dawson in 2003
  • xenoliths from Pali-Aike, Chile, from Dr Pamela Kempton
  • alkaline igneous and carbonatite rocks collected by Dr Mike LeBas from various sites in Africa, America and Europe
  • a suite of volcanic rocks from the major eruptions of Popcatépetl, Mexico

Major collections

  • Building Stone Collection
  • HMS Challenger expedition
  • Mount Everest expedition (1924)
  • Simplon and Lötschberg tunnels collection

Antarctic expeditions represented in the collections include:

  • Sir James Clark Ross's expedition to the Antarctic 1839-43
  • British Antarctic (Southern Cross) Expedition 1898-1900
  • National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition 1901-4
  • British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition 1907-09, led by Sir Ernest Shackleton
  • British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition 1910-13, led by Robert Falcon Scott
  • Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-14, led by Sir Douglas Mawson
  • Shackleton-Rowett (Quest) Expedition 1921-2
  • British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) 1929-31, led by Sir Douglas Mawson
  • British Graham Land Expedition 1934-7
  • Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1955-8

Voyages represented in the Arctic expeditions:

  • Sir John Ross, 1818
  • Sir William Edward Parry, 1819-20 & 1821-23
  • Sir John Franklin, 1825-27
  • Sir Edward Belcher, 1852

Looking for a specific specimen?

The rock collection is being digitised

Collections manager

Dr Giles Miller

Any questions?

If you would like to use any specimens for research   

Important collectors

  • John Milne
  • Adam Sedgwick
  • Leonard Horner
  • Roderick Impey Murchison
  • Henry Thomas De la Beche
  • Charles Lyell
  • George Bellas Greenough
  • William Babington
  • Sir William Hamilton

Related collections

visitor-accessing-collections-hti-single

Accessing the collections

Scientists and collections management specialists can visit the collections and borrow specimens for research.

Collections management

Our duty is to provide a safe and secure environment for all of our collections.