The geological collection of Tartu University was founded in 1802 and in
the next 80 years grew to 39000 items. Since then a lot of data about the
old collections has been lost due to several imperfect inventories, now
the total number of items is more than 80 000, including the specimen lots
from recent expeditions. The most valuable scientific collections - the
type collections of Estonian paleontology are still kept in the Institute
of Geology at Tallinn Technical University. The negotiations for the return
of these collections continue.
There are four main subdivisions of the museum's exhibition:
There are 17 collections in the museum which contain type specimens (e.g. holotypes and paratypes) as well as figured and referred specimens. Type collections of Fr. Schmidt, F. Rosen, H. Asmuss, W. Dybowski, W. Gross, H. Bekker, A. Öpik and others are still housed in the Institute of Geology at Tallinn Technical University. The list can be found in Catalogue of the Paleontological Collections, Tallinn 1974.
Approximately 80% of palaeontological collections consists of specimens from Estonia. Fossils come mainly from North and Central Estonian carbonate rocks. There are trilobites, brachiopods, corals, bryozoans, gastropods, echinoderms, graptolites, eurypterids, ostracods, algae, fish, agnatha from Ordovician and Silurian deposits.
The remaining part of collections were bought from A. Krantz (samples from Europe and America) and from L. Sämann (mainly from Europe). Several collections were obtained by exchange (Cambrian collection from Burgess Shale by C. E. Resser) or as donations during last century. Great Bohemian collection was bought from J. Barrande.
A computer database has been created for the main portion of mineralogical collection (more than 12000 items from the oldest part which were collected from the beginning of the 19th century until 1940). The remaining part of mineralogical collection comes from the territory of the former Soviet Union, collected by students and museum workers in expeditions 1950-1991.
Old petrological collections consist mainly of West European rocks donated or bought by the university during the 19th century. A portion of rocks comes from the islands of Pacific Ocean, gathered in the course of O. v. Kotzebue's round-the-world voyage. The latest part of petrological collections comes from the territory of the former Soviet Union, collected by geology students during their yearly field-practise.
The petrological collection from Estonia consists mainly of the boulders and the basement rocks, which have been recovered by drilling. Compared to the mineralogical collection, a far smaller proportion of items has yet been identified and catalogued.
Lithological collections consist mainly of Ordovician and Silurian limestones, marls and dolomites. These carbonate rocks have been gathered from outcrops in North and Central Estonia and also from drilling cores. Some old collections came from Latvia, Lithuania and the Irboska region (gathered by C. Grewingk in last century).
The location of some boreholes, the samples from which belong to the lithological collections, can be seen on the following map.
The first samples of meteorites were bought by Tartu University in 1803 together with a private collection of minerals. These were three Pallas iron pieces found in 1749 at the bank of the Jenissei River, Siberia.
In the first catalogue in 1863 C. Grewingk listed 32 meteorites and in 1882 it contained 131 names with the total mass of 46.9 kg. The catalogue compiled by K. Orviku in 1955 contained 172 different meteorites with total mass of 62 kg.
Up to 1946 the collection was housed in the Museum of Geology of the University of Tartu, later it was handed over to the Institute of Geology of the Estonian Academy of Sciences (now the Estonian Institute of Geology). The negotiations for the return of collection continue.
More information about the meteorite collection is in the Catalogue of Meteorites in the Estonian Collection, Tallinn, 1996 - compiled by R. Tiirmaa.
The archives contain inventory books and the lists of collections from the 19th century. An area of special interest is the private correspondence of A. Öpik and R. Hecker. Also, a part of the archives are various old teaching aids, and plaster models of Rügen Island, Mont Blanc and Lake Vierwaldstätter, which are kept in the museum as objects of historical value.
Photographic collection contains the negatives of type specimens described by A. Öpik, H. Bekker, W. Gross, A. Heinz and others, in the Publications of the Geological Institution of the University of Tartu, issued in 1924-43 (all together about 3200 glass photo plates and films) as well as photo prints and negatives of described outcrops, and glass slides made for educational purposes from 1906-1944.