The museum has a collection of fossils ranging from specimens that are 450 million to 1 million years old and from sea to land creatures, and a geological collection that includes shells and mineral specimens.
Highlights of the fossil collection include part of a jaw and fossilised teeth of an ichythosaurus, a large marine reptile that lived during the Mesozoic period (252-66 million years ago), and a lower jaw section and two lower molars of a woolly mammoth, which were found locally on the site of the Courtauld factory in Bocking in 1956. This mammoth lived around 1 million years ago. Other fossils include many different species of sea urchins, squids and bivalves.
This mammoth jaw section from Bocking is on permanent display in the museum’s Main Gallery.
The museum is currently expanding its fossil handling collection which has already proved popular with children and adults. This collection includes a 450 million year old Trilobite (one of the first creatures to live in the Earth’s oceans) a 55 million year old fossilised fish, and a fossilised crab found in High Ongar in Essex.
The fossil collection at Braintree District Museum is particularly significant in relation to local natural historian John Ray (1627-1705). As well as laying the foundations for the scientific study of plants, animals, bird, fish, reptiles and insects, Ray was also the first person in England to suggest that fossils were the remains of actual creatures, some of which must therefore now be extinct. Ray lived in a period when most people thought fossils were just ‘plastic models’ made by nature, not the remains of real, living organisms. The common belief at the time was that any species created by God could not become extinct, nor could the potential age of the fossils fit with Biblical interpretations of the age of the earth current in the 17th Century. Ray was therefore a very perceptive scientist willing to challenge the beliefs and interpretations of his day, whilst staying true both to his religion and to his insistence on scientific approaches and methodologies when studying the natural world. To find out more visit our John Ray webpages at and visit our John Ray Natural History Gallery which is open during normal museum opening hours.
The museum will be developing a new fossil display in our John Ray Natural History Gallery during 2014. Check out our website and John Ray blog over the summer to find out more.