Fossil sponge collection (Porifera)

The Natural History Museum has a substantial collection of fossil sponges. It contains an estimated 71,000 specimens, including over 200 type and figured specimens.

Specimens of the related phyla Archaeocyatha and Stromatopoidea are stored in the same area as the sponges.

The collection is supported by a specialist library.


Geological range:

Each class within the Porifera is represented across its full geological range:

  • Demospongea (Cambrian to Recent)
  • Calcarea (Cambrian to Recent)
  • Hexactinellida (Cambrian to Recent)
Geographical range:

The collection is representative of all continents.

  • Historic collections containing fossil sponges

    The Museum cares for many important collections connected with major characters in the history of palaeontology. Find out some of the highlights containing fossil sponge specimens.

  • Research visitor facilities

    Discover what facilities are available in the Palaeontology Department for research visitors to the fossil sponge collection.

Collections management and curation


The collection is primarily arranged:

  1. stratigraphically
  2. taxonomically
  3. with further subdivisions based upon locality

The systematic arrangement follows the Treatise on Invertebrate Palaeontology.

Historic collections are separate.

  • Content is kept in drawer units
  • Specimens are:
    • generally boxed
    • sometimes adhered to cards (in the case of some older specimens)
    • sometimes preserved as thin sections

Each drawer has a label which identifies the content to familial, generic and often specific level.

Most of the collection is well provenanced:

  • For historic content the associated person is identified.
  • Original labels are often retained with the specimens.

Type specimens are indicated by pink spots, figured by green.


The fossil sponge collection is based across 3 locations in London:

  • Most is housed in the Palaeontology Department at South Kensington.
  • Some specimens, principally ex-display, are in expansion storage at Wandsworth.
  • Some specimens are on display at the Natural History Museum in the Earth Lab and in the Fossils from Britain gallery.