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The Latvian Museum of Natural History is a storehouse containing geological, entomological, palaeontological, zoological, botanical and anthropological objects. The collection consists of a total of 194 214 specimens (31.12.2011).
The origins of the Natural History Museum of Latvia collection can be traced to noted collector N. Himsel (1729-1764). Over 600 mineral samples, a collection of wood species, several turtle shells and a small number of antlers and bones from N. Himsel collections have been preserved to date in the museum collection.
The Riga Naturalist Society (1845-1939) left a valuable legacy in the form of a sizeable collection of objects from Latvia and around the world:
* Birds. The unique T. Lorenz collection of aberrations among fowl species; the collection was gathered at the end of the 19th century in Russia;
* The E.F. Stoll collection of birds’ eggs, collected in the early 20th century;
* Mammal collection;
* Tropical sea shells;
* Fossils, rocks and minerals;
* The H. Carlile butterfly collection, the C. Muethel beetle collection and many more.
Of note are the very diverse collections from School Museums and the geology and paleontology collections from the Geology Institute.
The Botany Collection consists of more than 31,000 units. The systematic plant herbarium of Latvia is augmented yearly, gradually forming a complete collection. The herbarium of mushrooms of Latvia has been enlarged and improved every year since 1988. The collection of mosses of Latvia is noteworthy. Work forming the charophyta herbarium is on-going.
The Geology Collection consists of more than 43, 000 units. The collection contains a wide sampling of the sedimentary rock of Latvia. The mineral and rock collections from the Caucasus and the Kola Peninsula are unique. The number of units in the Baltic amber collection increases regularly. Blue Dominican amber, polychrome tourmaline, amethyst druse, lazurite and other minerals have been purchased with the support of the State Culture Capital Foundation. The most valuable recent gift has been the luminescent mineral collection and mineral collection from Australia.
The Palaeontology Collection consists of ancient animal and plant fossils from Latvia and surrounding territories. Included are 2 billion-year-old algae fossils as well as relatively recent, 10,000 year-old woolly mammoth and other Quaternary period animal bones. The diverse Devonian period fish fossil collection is very valuable. Of special significance is the collection of ancient four-legged animal bones found in Kurzeme as well as the collection of armored fish and lobe-fin fish skeletons, found in the early 1970s at the clay quarry in Lode.
The Entomology Collection is highly species-diverse consisting of 63,000 units. The collection is quite diverse – it consists of very tiny insects observed through magnifying glasses to huge and colorful beetles and butterflies. The largest – Latvian butterfly and moth collection – consists of 2000 species and is represented by almost all butterfly and moth species found in Latvia. The various beetle collections are unique and colorful: longhorn beetles, fireflies, ground beetles, soldier beetles. A meaningful place has been allocated to the barklice, ant and hoverflies collections.
The Zoology Collection with its 27,000 units is very interesting and diverse. Almost all of the bird species of Latvia are included in the bird collection. The collection is augmented yearly. Many of the foreign birds and mammals have come to the museum from the Riga Zoo. The collection of birds of the Far East resulted from collaboration with the Magadana Regional Museum. In 2010 the museum received as a gift a noteworthy collection of birds from Africa. The collection of seashells from Latvia and elsewhere has noticeably improved in recent years. The museum was gifted a valuable turtle collection in 2000 by Arsenijs Eglis, a member of the Kamarins family living in the USA. Since Latvia is a member nation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the museum receives confiscated natural objects on the basis of decisions of the Nature Conservation Agency. Items include corals, shells, crocodiles, crocodile skin and snake skin articles.
Since the museum collection contains many species that are nearly or already extinct in Latvia and the world, its value is increasing and long term maintenance is becoming increasingly important.
Work is on-going to maintain and continually update an electronic data base of the museum collection and everyone can receive an insight into the collection of the Natural History Museum of Latvia by visiting the website at www.nmkk.lv.