Vertebrate Paleontology

Vertebrate Paleontology Collections

The Vertebrate Paleontology Collection is global in scope and includes over 62,000 fossils from over 2,500 localities from all seven continents. The collection includes fossil mammals, birds, dinosaurs, reptiles, amphibians and fishes, as well as a rapidly growing collection of scientifically important fossil marine mammals from the Pacific Northwest.

If you have questions, please review the collections details below and contact the paleontology and geology collections manager on the People and Contact page.

Collection Details

Fossils sit in individual boxes and trays on a shelf
Photo: Burke Museum
Marine mammals of the Pacific Northwest

Highlights: Aetiocetidae specimens, oldest members of the modern cetacean suborders (odontocetes and mysticetes)

Vertebrate paleontology has an important collection of fossil marine mammals ranging in age from about 30 to 5 million years old, with the bulk of the collection comprising tooth whales, early baleen whales, as well as a variety of extinct dolphins.

The Burke’s marine vertebrate collection also includes a rapidly growing collection of scientifically important specimens from the Pacific Northwest, including fossil salmon from Ice Age lakebeds in western Washington.

The collection also has specimens representing seals and sea lions (pinnipeds), an extinct family of marine, quadrupedal herbivores (desmostylians), large penguin-like birds (plotopterids) and an unusual bear-like animal that ate clams and snails (Kolponomus).


Photo: Tom Wolken
Hell Creek Vertebrates

Highlights: Dinosaurs, mammals, and other vertebrates from the end of the dinosaur era

Life on land was fundamentally altered by the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. In addition to wiping out large-bodied dinosaurs, terrestrial animals of all sorts were affected. One of the best places to document and interpret these changes is in northeastern Montana, where rocks of the Hell Creek and Tullock formations are exposed.

The Burke Museum houses the fastest growing collection of microvertebrates (i.e., the remains of small mammals, lizards, fish, etc.,) from this critical interval in Earth history. Because of their abundance, these fossils allow researchers to understand the pace, timing, and selectivity of end-Cretaceous extinction.


Fossil specimens in boxes with labels
Photo: Burke Museum
Pliocene vertebrates from Washington state

Highlights: Five million year old fossils of mammoths, camels, horses, rodents, rabbits, turtles, fish, and numerous other groups document ancient life in central Washington 

Unfortunately for paleontologists, much of central Washington is covered by the Columbia River basalts. However, in several places sedimentary rocks are exposed that allow us to understand what animals were living in this area. The Burke Museum houses over 8000 vertebrate fossils from the Pliocene of Washington State, including the first fossil deer in North America and some of the last rhinos.


Collections-Related Services

For more information about specimen loans or visiting the collections, see the Services and Policies page.

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