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Badlands Museum Collections

a black and white historic photo showing an old fashioned car driving in front of badlands formations.
The archives of the museum collections preserve many historic photos.

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What are museum collections?

Badlands National Park’s museum collections stores over 360,000 objects that tell the story of the park’s past and present. These objects relate to art, history, ethnology, biology, paleontology, and more. Researchers and park employees use the collections to learn more about the Badlands and the many stories contained within the park’s boundaries.
an assortment of pieces of a fossil saber-tooth cat-like skull. the pieces are laid out on a black cloth with catalog numbers.
The collections preserve many important specimens, like this nimravid fossil found by a 7-year old visitor.

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What’s in the collections?

The collections contain objects from the park relating to many different fields of study, most of which fall under cultural resources and natural resources. The collection contains cultural resources that focus on the human history of the park like archeological finds, historic photographs, and archives. Archives include photos, letters, manuscripts, and documents related to the exploration, settlement, and establishment of Badlands National Park. Archives are by far the largest part of the collection.

The collections also contain many objects related to natural resources. The collection contains a comprehensive herbarium, which helps document the many plants and fungi of the park’s mixed-grass prairie ecosystem. Many other biological treasures are cared for in the collections -- like insects, arachnids, animal skins, and animal skeletons (which are only collected when animals are found dead). By preserving these specimens, the collections document the past and present wildlife of the park. The collections also contain many items related to geology and paleontology. In addition to rocks and minerals, these specimens include the many fossils which park paleontologists excavate, prepare, and study every year.
a variety of worked stones and arrowhead-like objects laid out on green cloth.
Some of the collection's archaeological specimens are over 12,000 years old.

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Why are collections important?

Museum collections are an important part of Badlands National Park and the National Park Service. Collections protect the past while they increase knowledge and inspiration among present and future generations through exhibits, research, and interpretive programs. Objects contained within the collection touch upon almost every aspect of the park. Human or natural, artistic or technical, two or 75 million years old. Each park's individual mission determines its museum's collecting practices, making every park collection unique.

The collections also play an important role in learning more about the park. Park employees reference the collections to help better educate the public about the wonder of the Badlands. Researchers from around the world use the collections to contribute to scientific and historical understanding. Fossils from the collection are displayed in the Fossil Preparation Lab every year for visitors to enjoy. The collections from Badlands National Park inform and inspire all sorts of people.
a square tunnel bores through thick badlands formations.
Did you know that there used to be tunnels on Badlands Loop Road? Although there are none today, photos from the collections give us a look into the past.

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Who can access the collections?

In a way, everyone gets to access the collections! Although seeing the collections themselves is typically only available to researchers, objects from the collections are used in visitor center exhibits and interpretive programs which are open to all visitors. Whether it’s the bison bones used in a Junior Ranger Program, the fossils on display in the Fossil Preparation Lab, or the historic photographs of visitor center exhibits, objects from the museum collections are sure to enrich your visit to the park.

The collections are an exciting place, and many people are interested in seeing the storage space itself. Currently, the only way to see the collections is if you are conducting research specific to objects within the collections. If your research involves items within the museum collections, contact the park for more information.

If you are not a researcher but would still like to learn more about the collections, stay tuned! The park collections portal is under development and will contain virtual collections in the near future. Check back in or follow us on social media to stay up to date.

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    Last updated: October 6, 2020