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Rooted in curiosity, PEM’s natural history collection supports an ongoing engagement with nature.
A deep-seated curiosity about our living world and a drive to document and study the nature of this region are at the heart of PEM’s historic natural history collection. With regional holdings of plants, animals and geology complemented by a selection of historically important specimens from around the world, these holdings now serve to help the museum establish a sense of place and to present humans as a part of nature, not separate from it.
Engagement with nature has been a part of the museum since its origins in 1799, with the “natural curiosities” donated by the museum’s founding sea captains being among the first objects to enter the collection — from a giant clam found in Sumatra to an ostrich egg from the Cape of Good Hope and a coco de mer nut from the Seychelles. Other specimens followed, including the first penguin exhibited in North America — the elongated neck of which suggests the taxidermist was unfamiliar with the marine bird’s anatomy — and a red Malay rooster from Southeast Asia’s Malay Peninsula, later recorded as the ancestor of the Rhode Island Red.
Explore some highlights from the collection