Birds in the vertebrate collection
1. Birds

The bird collection is made up of around 82,000 specimens. It includes a significant collection of skeletons and eggs as well as type material for 92 species. It is one of the institute's oldest collections and for much of the historical material, including the tropical birds, we owe our thanks to ornithologist Bernard du Bus de Gisignies, the first director of the Museum of Natural Sciences in 1848. Alphonse Dubois, who was appointed curator of the vertebrate collections in 1869, was the first to describe many of De Gisignies’ specimens. In the 1930s Zoologist René Verheyen added a great deal of material to the ornithological collections and in particular, an exceptionally large collection of Belgian and Central African fauna.


The iconic Iguanodons in our Dinosaur Gallery

1. Vertebrate Fossils (VF)

A. The Bernissart Iguanodons (‘Wealden’ dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period, from Belgium)
The petrography collection
1. Petrographic collection

This collection contains all kinds of petrographic samples. The origin is Belgian as well as foreign. They are classified either according to  geological origin (magmatic – sedimentologic or metamorph) or classified according to stratigraphical order.

More information

Portret of Gustave Gilson (1859-1944), North Sea explorer and former director of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
1. Belgian Collections

The Belgian collections are kept separately. They comprise approximately 1 million specimens, mainly molluscs. A large proportion of this material comes from former RBINS director Gustave Gilson, who was one of the first Belgian oceanographers. He systematically sampled the North Sea between 1898 and 1939 and conducted research on the influence of the environment on North Sea organisms, and on the impact of fisheries on fish populations.
Of course, his colleagues also brought material back from expeditions to Belgian waters and on land, as they still do today. The collections are classified systematically and include both dry and wet specimens.


Human remnants found at the Spy Cave (Belgium) in 1886.
1. Paleolithic Era

Our objects and specimens from the Palaeolithic era (the Early Stone Age) come from sites in the Meuse basin and Hainaut (Belgium) and Semliki (Democratic Republic of the Congo). A tooth found in Ishango (DRC) is the oldest known human fossil, at between 2.5 and 2 million years old, and belonged to an early species of human. It was also the first fossil of the ‘Homo’ taxon to be found west of the Rift Valley.

The majority of the Belgian Neanderthal fossils also belong to this collection: the Neanderthals from Spy, La Naulette, Fond-de-Fôret, and Goyet – in total more than 200 fossils. We also have the remains of anatomically modern humans from the Upper Palaeolithic, from both Belgium and Ishango. The latter constitute the largest collection of fossils of anatomically modern humans from the Late Stone Age in Central Africa. During excavations undertaken by our institute, tens of thousands of artefacts were found from the different cultures of the Middle Palaeolithic (Mousterian) and Upper Palaeolothic eras (Aurignacian, Gravettian, and Magdalenian) in Belgium, as well as from the Late Stone Age in Central Africa. There are also several pieces of artwork from the Upper Palaeolithic period, including portable art, jewellery, and mysterious objects. 

One of the scientists showing a Goliath birdeater, a spider species from South America, conserved in alcohol

1. Arachnological collections

A. Acari collection (mites, dry collections)
  • Collection of oribatid mites put together by Prof. J-C Lions: mites collected between 1967 and 1970 from a limestone ridge in the South of France. The collection contains specimens from more than 200 Oribatid taxa.
  • Collection put together by Prof. Dr. A. Fain: about 100,000 microscopic slides, more than 30,000 type specimens, and 2,407 described species of Acari.
B. Araneae collection (spiders, in alcohol)
  • Belgian collection, J. Kekenbosch
  • Other alcohol collections: non-Belgian spider collection (Galápagos collection), diplopoda (millipedes), myriapoda (centipedes), scorpions and pseudoscorpions, and arachnids
Fish species in the wet collection.
2. Fish

The fish collection consists of more than 285,000 specimens. Oceanographer Gustave Gilson (director of the RBINS in 1909) started the collection during his study of the North Sea. It was the very first study of marine fauna in Belgium. We have type material for 325 species. Central African fish species are well represented thanks to our expeditions to the national parks in Congo. Missions by His Majesty Leopold III and RBINS biologist Jean-Pierre Gosse have also yielded many South American species.


Hainosaurus bernardi
B. Mosasaurs (marine reptiles from the Cretaceous period, from Belgium)
2. Speleothems

The Speleothem collection has been made up by Sophie Verheyden. It contains speleothems from Belgian and foreign caves. Several speleothems are already dated. The collection has the goal to use the sampled material in an optimal way in order to avoid duplicate sampling in caves. Speleothems are used at RBINS to reconstruct ancient climate and environments. More information on each speleothem is available in the DaRWIN database.

In the philosophy of the RBINS, reference collections were (and are) built from all corners of the world. Thus we have specimens that scientists collected during many foreign expeditions: the famous Belgica expeditions to the poles, the Mercator expedition (1935-1938), the hydrobiological exploration of Lake Tanganyika (1946-1947), the Mbizi oceanographical expedition (1948-1949), and the expeditions to the national parks of Zaire (1933-1957) and to Laing Island in Papua New Guinea (1976-1994). And that’s not including the countless smaller expeditions, frequently to exotic locations.

The “dry” specimens (shells) in these international collections are housed in 3000 wooden drawers, while the “wet” specimens (whole specimens retaining their internal organs) are contained in 10,000 glass jars. These collections are also classified systematically. 

Ax found in the mines of Spiennes (Belgium)
2. Mesolithic and Neolithic

The Mesolithic and the Neolithic eras are also represented in our collections. We have the remains of several individuals from the Early Mesolithic period (from Malonne and Waulsort in Belgium) and several hundred remains of individuals from the Middle Neolithic period. Recently, individuals from this period were found in the Meuse basin, in cave burials (often collective graves). The Neolithic collections come mostly from Early Neolithic sites in Hesbaye (Darion and Oleye) and the mines at Spiennes (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), in Belgium.


Mantises (Mantodea) in the entomology collection

2. Insect collections (dry collections), 25 larger orders

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Frogs in the vertebrate collection
3. Amphibians

The amphibian collection contains more than 135,000 specimens. We have type material for 109 species. The majority of the specimens were collected by herpetologist Gaston François de Witte on his missions to the national parks in Congo (between 1933 and 1958). On many more recent missions over the years herpetologist Philippe Kok has amassed a beautiful and valuable collection of amphibians, containing species from Guyana (South America).


Jawbone of the oldest European carnivore, Dormaalocyon latouri, from the basal Eocene, from Dormaal (Belgium)
C. The Dormaal Collection (microvertebrates from the basal Eocene period, from Belgium)
Collection of Belgian minerals
3. Mineralogical collection
Some Belgian species from the Dautzenberg shell collection
2. The Dautzenberg Collection

Other large collections that were purchased by the institute or that were donated are kept separately. The most famous of these is the Philippe Dautzenberg collection. Dautzenberg (1849-1935) was one of the best-known amateur malacologists of his time. In June 1935, the RBINS – then still known as the “Musée Royal d’Histoire Naturelle” – bought the majority of Dautzenberg’s collection. The resulting collection totalled 40,000 species (7000 of which are fossilised): 4.5 million specimens, in 300,000 lots, classified in 2000 (mostly open top) drawers. There is also the associated library of 8000 publications. The specimens are still in their original green cardboard boxes or in glass tubes stopped with cork or cotton. Each lot still retains the original handwritten labels.


Fractured femur from the collection of individuals from the Early Middle Ages. They were found at the cemetery of Ciply (Belgium)
3. Historical Periods (Dating From the First Written Records)

Our anthropological collections include individuals dating from Roman times to the 20th century. The most impressive Roman collection comes from the early Roman necropolis in Oudenburg, which comprises more than 200 tombs of non-cremated individuals. Our institute houses around a dozen collections dating from the Early Middle Ages (from Merovingian cemeteries in Ciply, Cuesmes, Torgny, and Braives) and many groups of individuals dating from the Late Middle Ages (Ronse, Nivelles, and especially Coxyde, with over a thousand individuals). We also have many collections from after the Middle Ages, including a large number from the Brussels region. 

Human skeleton
4. Osteological Reference Collections

Our reference collections consist of a small collection of individuals with very different geographical origins (Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and America) and a group of individuals of known age and gender (ISC = Identified Skeletal Collection). The Schoten collection consists of around fifty individuals that died during the 20th century. For each of these, we have information on gender, age at death, profession, and occasionally cause of death, which makes them ideal for testing and developing new anthropological methods. 

Snake in the vertebrate collection
4. Reptiles

We have about 45,000 reptilian specimens, and type material for 183 species. The majority of the specimens were collected by Gaston François de Witte during his missions to the national parks in Congo. Philippe Kik has also put together a fine collection of reptiles from Guyana. Biologist Olivier Pauwels has added material to the South East Asia and Gabon collections, and his colleagues Benoit Mys, J. Swerts and Jan Hulselmans have contributed a significant collection of reptile species from Papua New Guinea.


Turtles from the Messel Pit collection
D. The Messel Pit collection (vertebrates from the middle Eocene period, from Germany)
Slice of the Gibeon meteorite, that fell in prehistoric times in Namibia. It was named after the nearest town: Gibeon.
4. Meteorites

The collection is taxonomically classified and to ensure that it is searchable, RBINS staff, under the direction of Dr. E. Leloup and Prof. Dr. W. Adam created a double catalogue card filing system. One card is classified according to species or subspecies, the other according to geographical region. In total, there are approximately 85,000 cards. The Dautzenberg collection is therefore entirely searchable on site, but unfortunately not yet digitalised. This is one of our next projects, and looks to be a mammoth task.

The Dautzenberg library is also searchable using a catalogue card filing system. This library includes almost every work on malacology (molluscs) up to 1934. Even in today’s digital world, it remains a very valuable research tool for malacologists the world over. Consultation of this library can take place only with the agreement of the curator, Yves Samyn. This library will be digitalised as soon as the required resources become available.

5. Mammals

The mammal collection contains 42,000 specimens and includes significant osteological material (bones and skeletons). The best represented groups are bats, rodents, carnivores and primates. We have type material for 27 species. The rodent collection was extended by RBINS biologist Xavier Misonne. Walter Verheyen built up the collection of fauna from Belgium and Papua New Guinea, and Jacques Verschuren put together a large collection of mammal specimens from Africa.

Whales collection shown in the Museum from 2009 to 2014.
E. The Van Beneden collection (whales from the Miocene period, from Belgium)
Geological description of the city of Ostend
5. Drill core archive
3. Other private collections

The RBINS is also home to other private collections. Some of the most eye-catching of these are the rich R. Van Belle chiton collection, the G. Poppe South Asian shell collection, the Mr. and Mrs. Buyle collections, and the R. Marquet collections.

4. Overview

It is the aim of our institution to have representatives of all invertebrate taxa and we have material from almost every large group. Below is an overview (not including molluscs – see Dautzenberg collection). Again, the Belgian collections are kept separately.

Bear teeth from the Dupont collection (Goyet cave, Belgium)
F. The Dupont collection (vertebrates from the Pleistocene period, from Belgium)
Woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis, composite specimen based on bones from Blaton, Lier, and Grands-Malades) and cave lion (Panthera leospelaea, Goyet specimen)
G. The large mammals of the Quaternary period, from Belgium (including woolly rhinoceros, mammoths, cave lions and cave bears)
Gastropods from the Mailleux collection

2. Invertebrates of the Palaeozoic (IP)

A. The Maillieux collection (invertebrates from the Devonian and Carboniferous periods, from Belgium)
Invertebrates from the De Coninck collection
B. The De Koninck collection (invertebrates from the Cambrian to the Ordovician period)
Trilobite in the palaeontology collection
C. Trilobites (invertebrates from the Cambrian to the Ordovician period)
Spirifer in the palaeontology collection
D. Spirifers (invertebrates from the Cambrian to the Ordovician period)
Fossilized coral in the palaeontology collection
E. Corals (invertebrates from the Cambrian to the Ordovician period)
Bivalvia of the Pliocene, from Spain (Marquet Collection)

3. Invertebrates from the Secondary and Tertiary period (IST)

A. IST from Belgium 
B. IST from abroad
C. The Marquet collection (invertebrates from the Cambrian to the Ordovician period)
D. The Michiels-Bayens collection (mainly ammonites from the Cretaceous period)
Aralia looziana

4. Palaeobotany and Micropalaeontology (Pbot-Mpal)

A. The Gelinden flora (Lower Palaeocene period, from Belgian Limburg)
Mariopteris muricata
B. The flora of the Belgian Carboniferous period
Petrified trunk of the Glyptostroboxylon sp. from Hoegaarden (Belgium) in the Hall 250 Years of Natural Sciences
C. The Hoegaarden flora (Landenian and Eocene period, from Belgium)


Olivier Pauwels, curator of the vertebrate collections (Photo: Olivier Pauwels)

Biologist Olivier Pauwels is the curator of our recent vertebrate collection since 2017. In this job, he combines his experience with fieldwork around the globe and his biodiversity expertise. ‘As a child, I was fascinated about frogs and newts’, Olivier says. ‘I spent a lot of school holidays at the reptile and amphibian section in the Africa Museum.’ After high school, he studied biology in Brussels.

Around The World

Olivier specialised in environmental impact assessment, environmental project management and biodiversity inventories. From 2001 to 2011 he was based in Gabon. His various roles included Training Manager for the WWF and Manager of the Smithsonian Institution’s Gabon Program. ‘It was an adventurous time, leading scientific expeditions in remote and unexplored jungles and even living with the Pygmies.’

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