Palaeoanthropology collection

Fossil hominin craniums

Left: Cranium of Broken Hill, or Rhodesian man (H. heidelbergensis) found at Broken Hill, Zambia in 1921. Right: Cranium of a Neanderthal woman found at Forbes quarry Gibraltar in 1848 (composite image).

The Museum's palaeoanthropology collection includes the UK's largest assemblage of fossil hominin remains and a diverse collection of hominin tools.

3,000                            17                            6,000

Hominin specimens               Species                                   Tools

Fossil hominin collection

With over 3,000 specimens, the Museum's collection of fossil hominins is the largest in the UK. The collection includes 17 of the 24 generally recognised hominin species, in the form of original fossils and scientific-quality replicas.

The fossil hominin collection contains about 400 original fossils, including the following internationally recognised examples:

Australopithecus afarensis and Paranthropus robustus teeth from:

  • Laetoli, Tanzania
  • Swartkrans, Republic of South Africa

Homo heidelbergensis remains, including:

  • tibia and incisors from Boxgrove, England
  • cranium and postcrania from Broken Hill, Zambia

Homo neanderthalensis skulls:

  • from Forbes Quarry and Devil's Tower, Gibraltar
  • cranial bones from Swanscombe, England
  • from Tabun Cave, Israel

Early Homo sapiens remains from:

  • Kabua and Kanam in Kenya
  • Singa in Sudan
  • Kebara and Es Skhul Caves in Israel
  • Gough's Cave and Tornewton Cave in England
  • Paviland Cave in Wales

Looking for a specific specimen?

The palaeoanthropology collection is being digitised

Accessing the palaeoanthropology collection

Access to the Palaeoanthropology collections for academic research is restricted to academic researchers affiliated to universities and associated institutions. Please contact the curator for further information if you would like to apply for access.

Opportunities for employment, work experience and volunteering in the anthropology collections are advertised on the Museum jobs page.

Collections management

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

Geological range

  • Miocene to Holocene

The collection includes replicas of Sahelanthropus tchadensis from around seven million years ago. The most recent fossils are those of Homo sapiens from around 10,000 years ago.

Any H. sapiens remains dating from the last 10,000 years are stored in the human comparative collection.

Recent acquisitions

Recent additions to the collection include casts of:

  • the small-bodied extinct hominin Homo floresiensis
  • the newly discovered Australopithecus sediba

Artefact collection

The Museum's artefact collection is a unique resource containing over 6,000 tools made by hominins (Homo species and perhaps certain late species of Australopithecus and Paranthropus).

The specimens are geographically, chronologically and technologically diverse, representing 80 per cent of the time-span of human tool-making history.

The bulk of the collection derives from the Palaeolithic period, approximately 2.6 million years to 11,000 years ago. The majority of the tools originate from the British Isles and Africa, but all inhabited continents and over 50 countries are represented in the collection.

Nearly all items in the collection are made from stone, with a smaller number made from bone, antler, horn, shell, or ivory, and fewer made from metals.

The collection also includes small sub-collections:

  • an ethnographic collection featuring examples of tools made by foragers in stone, wood and other materials during the last 200 years
  • early evidence of fire
  • the Hazzeldine Warren Collection of experimental flint knapping

What can we learn from artefacts?

Analysis of how and where tools were designed, produced and used on site can tell us about:

  • the cognitive capabilities of toolmakers
  • how cultures spread across time and space
  • the environment in which toolmakers lived
  • the way toolmakers lived