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  • Below Grade
    Opening 2025
  • Below Grade
    Opening 2025
  • Below Grade
    Opening 2025
  • Below Grade
    Opening 2025

Below Grade

San Diego is one of the most fossil-rich areas in the entire United States, and our collection is the region’s most important repository for many of them. Decades ago, the paleontology collection outgrew its space at The Nat, and is now split between two locations. Some fossils are on the research floor of the Museum (Level 3), while large specimens, such as fossil whale skeletons, are stored at a rented warehouse located miles away.

Bringing It Together: A New State-of-the-Art Facility

A major new initiative will ensure this collection is catalogued and cared for well into the future. Through the development of a brand-new facility at the Museum, we plan to reunite the collection under one roof and make it more accessible to staff, visitors, and researchers. This move also allows us to create space for a public gallery and a state-of-the-art processing lab, and frees up space elsewhere in the building to allow for the Museum’s other collections to grow.

Located in the Museum’s basement—an apt site for presenting excavated fossils—the venue has excellent climate control, which is critical for specimen preservation. This space was previously used as a traveling exhibitions gallery and special events venue, but has been off view to the public for most of the last five years. When this collections/exhibit combination space opens in 2025, visitors to the Museum will have five full floors of permanent gallery space to explore.

Exhibit Gallery

Feathers. Frogs. Beetles. Bones. Fossils are some of The Nat’s largest specimens, but every object in our collection is an irreplaceable piece of evidence that tells the story of life on Earth—and how to protect it. That’s why we work so hard to protect them. A new exhibit will greet visitors as they descend the stairs from the Atrium, giving them a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into caring for collections.

State-of-the-Art Lab

A state-of-the-art fossil processing lab will be visible through a glass wall, and a sliding window will encourage communication and education when interpreters are available. Guests can watch scientists in action as they give specimens a little TLC, see what goes on in collections storage normally hidden from public view, and take part in hands-on activities to share in the excitement of scientific discovery. Future scientists will leave buzzing with their own questions about nature—because there’s still so much to discover.

Visible Collections

A majority of the floor will be dedicated to storing the 1.5+ million fossils in our collection, finally brought together under one roof. The collections space will feature open shelving for the larger, more spectacular specimens relocated from our off-site warehouse, and rows of cases moved from their current space on the third floor. But this collection area will be unlike any other, because it will be completely visible to the public thanks to glass walls that provide a view from the exhibition gallery. Visitors will be able to see scientists at work in an actively used research collection. Interpretive experiences will allow visitors to discover how and why we collect, preserve, and study specimens.

Support Our Work

Part of the Museum’s strategic plan to lead with science and inspire conservation, this project is made possible by the generous support of private and public philanthropy. To learn more, please contact Eowyn Bates at

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Documenting the Past, Informing the Future

Our fossil collection tells a story of dramatic regional changes in plant and animal diversity, ecosystems, habitats, and climate that have occurred over the last 140 million years of Earth’s history.

Our Paleontology collection includes:

  • Some of the only dinosaur remains known from California

  • Significant fossils of extinct toothed and baleen whales, walruses, and giant sea cows

  • The largest record of 45-million- and 30-million-year-old land mammals known from the southwestern U.S.

Our Paleontology collection contains 1,521,671 specimens—and it’s growing each day, with a steady flow of new specimens coming from our field crew as land is excavated for freeway expansions, development, and infrastructure. Learn more.

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