The Dayton Society of Natural History curates approximate 1.8 million objects and specimens across several disciplines. The Anthropology Collection is our largest (1.4 million items) and is dominated by archaeological specimens, including those excavated from SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park. The Biology Collection (280,000 specimens) includes many insects as well as a wide variety of plants and animals. Our Geology Collection (15,000 specimens) has many rocks, minerals, and fossils. Our Astronomy Collection consists of several dozen meteorites and our Live Animal Collection has over 100 animals, including both exotic and local species that are on display in several areas of the museum, including the Discovery Zoo. Exotic species on display include porcupine and agoutis from South America, meerkats from Africa, a red–tailed boa, and many others. Local species represented include large animals such as otters and small creatures such as turtles and salamanders.

Each of our collections has diverse and interesting holdings, but we have many objects and specimens that we take exceptional pride in curating. An item or group of items may be a highlight of our collections due to its uniqueness, age, appearance, or scientific value.

Ohio Trilobite

See our Egypt Exhibit


Astronomy Collection

Our Astronomy Collection includes a piece of the “Dayton Meteorite,” one of the most unusual and famous meteorites ever found. This meteorite contains two minerals that have never been found anywhere else in our solar system. The Collection also includes a replica of Galileo’s telescope, one of only four in the world modeled directly from the original.


Anthropology Collection

Highlights of the Anthropology Collection include the extensive SunWatch archaeological collection, historic and modern Native American items from many parts of the United States, and large collections from Ancient Egypt (including a human mummy), Japan, the Philippines, Oceania, and China.  Check the Lichliter Site White Paper Below.


Geology Collection

Our Geology Collection includes specimens of Pleistocene (Ice Age) mammals excavated locally by DSNH, the second largest trilobite ever found, and many other fossils. We also curate a large mineral collection with many beautiful and unusual specimens.

Biology Collection

In our Biology Collection, we curate a number of specimens from species that are now endangered or extinct, though they were not at the time of collection. These include Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, a Carolina Parakeet egg, and two Passenger Pigeons. We have a number of insect type specimens, the John W. VanCleve herbarium collection from the late 1800s, and a comprehensive bird collection also dating back into the 1800s.



"The Lichliter Project: A Model for Revealing Hidden Archaeological Collections"

The contents of this webpage and associated documents are the result of a two-year project undertaken by the Dayton Society of Natural History (DSNH), a non-profit organization in Dayton, Ohio.  The project was generously funded by a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) in 2014 under an initiative titled "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Building a New Research Environment."  The purpose of this initiative was to fund proposals that would result in the cataloging of hidden museum collections of national significance using innovative methods that would have a broad impact on the scholarly community.  We extend our deepest gratitude to CLIR and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their generous funding of our proposal and we are especially grateful to the CLIR staff for their support throughout the project.

Collections Tours

Explore the world without ever leaving Dayton, as you go behind the scenes at the Museum! Join us as we head into the vault for a guided tour. Each tour will showcase highlights from the Society’s 1.8 million item Collection and give guests a unique peek into histories of various cultures around the world.

Admission & Registration


What to know before you book:

All tours last 90 minutes in total, with an introductory session and a one-hour tour through the Collections storage area.This walking tour does not cover a long distance, but there is no seating in the vaults. Guests should be prepared to stand for the tour in that area.Please note that some areas of the Collections storage areas also have limited accessibility; however, our staff will work to ensure that every guest receives a complete tour experience.Photography is permitted in most areas, but may be limited for some artifacts.

All proceeds from this program support the ongoing conservation and preservation of the 1.8 million objects in our care.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How do I donate an object to the museum?
A. The Dayton Society of Natural History has a formal process for reviewing new object donations. To accept any new collections object, both the Collections Committee and Board of Trustees must vote on whether the potential donation meets the society’s collecting scope. If you have a specimen or artifact that you would like our committee to review, please email a description of the object and photographs to collections@boonshoftmuseum.org.
Q. Can you appraise or identify/authenticate a natural history object for me?
A. Dayton Society of Natural History Collections staff can attempt to authenticate or identify natural history objects you have questions about. However, staff are prohibited by the society’s by-laws from appraising or estimating the monetary worth of objects. If you have an object you would like us to attempt to identify, please email a description of the object and photographs or an appointment request to collections@boonshoftmuseum.org. Collections staff are generally not able to accommodate walk-in authentication requests due to busy schedules. Please note that our ability to identify objects is limited to the subject expertise of our staff.
Q. I am a researcher interested in your collections, how should I proceed?
A. All researchers must submit a scientific research proposal when requesting to utilize the collection for their studies. The proposal will then be reviewed and voted upon by the Collections Committee and Board of Trustees. Please email collections@boonshoftmuseum.org for the research proposal outline.
Q. I or a family member donated an object to the museum. Can I have it back or borrow it?
A. When an object is donated, ownership of the object is transferred unconditionally and permanently to the Dayton Society of Natural History. All donors are required to sign a deed of gift legally transferring ownership of their item to the society upon their donation. Because of this transaction, the Dayton Society of Natural History cannot loan or give collections items back to individuals. However, if you would like to see the object, you are welcome to email us at collections@boonshoftmuseum.org and set up an appointment.
Q. I donated an object to the museum’s collection- why is it not currently on exhibit?
A. Very few collections items remain on permanent display in the museum. In fact, permanent display can cause serious and often irreparable damage to collections objects in the form of light damage and other environmental harm. Collections objects are much more stable in collections storage areas, where staff can ensure levels of light, temperature, and humidity are in appropriate levels to prevent damage. For this reason, collections staff rotate objects on and off display as much as possible.
Q. I think I found a meteorite. Can you authenticate it?
A. It is incredibly rare to find meteorites, especially in Ohio. To help you determine if you have a real meteorite, please follow this flow-chart to self-test the specimen: (Click Link Below)
If this self-test determines you might have a meteorite, please email collections@boonshoftmuseum.org with a photograph of the specimen or a request for an appointment.

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Curator’s Club

Joining the Curator’s Club is a wonderful way to support ongoing preservation efforts for the museum’s collection, including objects from our geology, biology, and anthropology departments.

Proceeds from each Curator’s Club donation go directly towards the preservation of collections objects, ensuring that these amazing pieces can be exhibited and enjoyed for years to come. With over 1.8 million objects, our collection serves as a unique educational tool for visitors, young and old, to learn more about the world around them.

Support our Collections!

Check out our Curator’s Club and Behind the Scenes Experiences!

All proceeds go directly towards the preservation of collections objects, ensuring that these amazing pieces can be exhibited and enjoyed for years to come. With over 1.8 million objects, our collection serves as a unique educational tool for visitors, young and old, to learn more about the world around them