Beneski Museum of Natural History

Dinosaur skeletons and footprints, dazzling minerals and more await you at the Beneski Museum of Natural History.

Access limited on Barrett Hill Drive

  • PAVING ROAD CLOSURES ‐ Barrett Hill Road Extensive
  • Date Issued: September 26, 2018

Barrett Hill Road closures will last four to five hours anticipated start time is 7:00AM. Exact timing is not predictable and may be effected by weather and other construction realities. 

Barrett Hill Road from Keefe Campus Center to East Drive; The road closure will include the adjacent loading dock at Beneski. This process will create noise, odor, truck traffic and interruption of traffic. This work is highly weather dependent and therefore the timing may need to be adjusted. The likely rain date would be October 15th.

Accessibility Impact: Access to all buildings will be maintained throughout this work.

  • Date of Work: October 13, 2018
  • Rain date: October 15, 2018
  • Time of Work: 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM


Identify It Day 2018

  • WHO:  Everyone is invite (Free and open to the public)
  • WHAT: Annual Identify It Day  (See Description)
  • WHEN:  Sunday October 28, 2018  (1PM-4PM)
  • WHERE:  Beneski Museum of Natural History @ Amherst College

Is there a mysterious fossil that you found while backpacking, or a picture of the bizarre bird in your backyard? Bring in your fossils, seashells, rocks, meteorites, feathers, leaves, or photographs of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, flowers, and insects to the Museum. Scientists will attempt to identify your discoveries while showing you some specimens from the Beneski’s greater collections. Stop by, with or without mystery objects, to see (and touch) the scientific specimens out on display. Items identified in previous years have included a whale vertibra, dinosaur footprint, a mammoth tusk, the hip of a very large pig, an amazing man-made slag crystal, an ancient arrowhead from the Connecticut River Valley and some wonderful seashells.

Peter Crowley, geology professor notes,

"The history of the Earth is long and interesting, so there is a good story behind everything that you find. If you tell us the story about how and where you found it, we can complete the story and tell you what it is and how it formed. It is fun and exciting because you never know what people are going to bring in”

Image icon ID Day 243.55 KB
PDF icon Campus Map with Parking indicated314.88 KB

The Beneski Museum of Natural History is one of New England’s largest natural history museums, boasting three floors of exhibits with more than 1,700 specimens on display, and tens of thousands of specimens available for use by scholars and researchers from across campus and around the world.

Step inside the museum and you’ll find:

  • Dramatic displays of fossil skeletons, from fish to dinosaurs to Ice Age megafauna
  • An extraordinary collection of dinosaur footprints
  • Geological specimens and immersive exhibits that tell the history of the local landscape through geologic time, including when dinosaurs inhabited the area
  • Dazzling mineral specimens from around the world and meteorites from beyond Earth

The museum is located on the Amherst College campus in the Beneski Earth Sciences building, often referred to as simply “Beneski,” where students and faculty move seamlessly between state-of-the-art geology teaching labs and the museum.

The museum is dedicated to:

  • Preserving and interpreting the physical evidence of the geological history of the Earth, the evolutionary history of its inhabitants, and the processes that have shaped both through time
  • Providing direct experience with the materials and former inhabitants of the Earth
  • Challenging visitors to consider problems of scientific interpretation
  • Stimulating the scientific curiosity and observational acuity of students and scholars, fostering in them a spirit of inquiry, stewardship and wonder toward the Earth

History of the Collections

Expedition of 1911 The extensive and diverse collections at the Beneski Museum are the result of the work of faculty, students and alumni over the course of the College’s history, derived from expeditions, donations and exchanges.

The physical and biological sciences have been a vital part of the Amherst College curriculum from the time of its founding 1821. Providing natural history specimens for direct hands-on study has been an integral component of teaching, learning and research in the sciences ever since.

Five Amherst professors in particular helped shape the museum’s collection into what it is today:

Edward Hitchcock

Edward Hitchcock joined the College faculty in 1825. He had wide-ranging interests and the dynamic energy to execute numerous scientific investigations and ensuing publications. Hitchcock encouraged alumni to send back scientific specimens from all over the world, no doubt spurred by his own excursions collecting geologic and fossil specimens from local sites in the Connecticut River Valley. One of his collections, the Hitchcock Ichnology Collection (ichnology is the study of tracks and traces), continues to be among the world's largest and most studied collections of fossil dinosaur tracks.

Hitchcock was a preeminent early geologist. He collaborated with, wrote to and met with the most important earth scientists of the day in North America and Europe including Benjamin Silliman, Richard Owen, Adam Sedgwick, Charles Lyell, Louis Agassiz and Charles Darwin. Hitchcock was a founder of the Association of American Geologists, which gave rise to today’s American Association for the Advancement of Science. (More about Hitchcock)

Charles Upham Shepard and Benjamin K. Emerson

Charles Upham Shepard, Class of 1824, and Benjamin K. Emerson, Class of 1865, joined the faculty during the 19th century and strengthened the role of science at Amherst College. Shepard was responsible for the original mineral collection, considered one of the finest in the country at the time. Emerson expanded the mineral and invertebrate paleontology collections as well as Hitchcock’s collection of the rocks of Massachusetts.

Frederic Brewster Loomis and Albert E. Wood

In the early 20th century, Biology Professors Frederic Brewster Loomis, Class of 1896, and Albert E. Wood added many important vertebrate fossils to the museum collections. Loomis ventured on 18 summer expeditions with Amherst students to excavate Mesozoic and Cenozoic vertebrate fossils in the United States and South America. His many connections throughout the vertebrate paleontology community allowed him to bring significant specimens to the College through trade or gift. His contributions account for the majority of the vertebrate megafauna (dinosaurs to Ice Age mammals) on display in the museum today. (More about Loomis)

Wood was a charter member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, the preeminent professional society in that field, which now gives an annual award in his name for student research in museum natural history collections. Wood’s field of study was rodent evolution; as a consequence, the museum’s holdings in these diminutive fossils are extensive.

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