Fossils are the remains of living things, preserved in rock. They include bones, shells, and leaves, but also any marks that they left while alive, such as burrows and footprints. The museum’s displays and reference collection hold fossils from across Northern Ireland and around the world. Collection highlights include:
• the only dinosaur bones ever found in Northern Ireland
• Giant Deer bones, less than 15,000 years old
• an Edmontosaurus skeleton [link to Edmontosaurus page], and other dinosaur remains
• giant ammonite shells and trilobites
• a fossil fish more than four metres long.
Minerals are naturally-occurring chemical compounds. Many are crystalline. More than 5000 minerals are known, with several of them first discovered in Northern Ireland—Larnite, Garronite, and Gobbinsite. Our Earth’s Treasures gallery contains spectacular specimens of coloured crystals, grey metal ores, sparkling gemstones, and gold nuggets. Many more are in our reference collection.
Our Deep Time and Elements galleries offer spectacular examples of rocks, among them the iconic Mournes granite and Cushendun ‘pebble beds’ and the 1780 million year old Inishtrahull gneiss, the oldest rock in Ireland. Rocks are solid aggregates of one or more minerals. They underlie the landscape around us, form our jagged coastline, and are the raw materials of industry and architecture.
Meteorites are pieces of rock or metal that fall from space. The museum has a small, but representative, collection of meteorites, including several that fell in Northern Ireland. Among them is a 113kg iron meteorite, spectacular slices of ‘stony iron’ pallasites, a small Lunar meteorite, and many small pieces from the great Russian meteorite fall of 2013. The largest meteorites can form huge craters and melt the target rocks. Examples of melted ‘impactites’ are included in the museum’s displays and reference collection.
The rocks that form the foundation of Ireland were formed through the effects of changing sea level and climate, of colliding continents and mountain building, and the evolution of life over more than four and a half billion years. You can explore this story, by exploring Ulster Museum’s geology collection. The collection holds around 30,000 fossils, 11,000 mineral specimens, 4,000 rocks, and a growing collection of meteorites.