Mineralogy & Petrography

The famous large public displays in halls 1-5 show aesthetic and scientifically valuable minerals, ores, gemstones, rocks (including decorative and building stones) as well as meteorites and impactites (including tektites) collected over more than 500 years. All objects are arranged in a systematic way and new objects are added each year. Special temporary exhibitions may be presented as well in individual halls.


For the various scientific research done in the department, see here.




Hall 1 - Mineral systematics: Elements, sulphides, sulphosalts

Special exhibition: "Evolution of minerals"

Robert Hazen, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C., discovered the evolution of minerals in 2008. He was the first to see a connection between the formation of new minerals and the change in environmental conditions during the development of our planet. The variety of minerals on Earth is far greater than on all other investigated planets and moons of our solar system. The huge diversity of minerals on Earth is mainly the result of plate tectonics and, in particular, life on Earth. Without life, more than 50% of minerals on Earth would not exist. The formation of new minerals on Earth reflects the changing environmental conditions in Earth's history.

Since April 5, 2017, this exciting concept is part of the permanent exhibit at the Natural History Museum Vienna: objects that document the development of Earth in connection with 56 minerals illustrate the evolution of minerals in Hall 1.

Special exhibition: "Building and decorative stones"

The NHM owns one of the largest collections of building and decorative stones in Europe. The collection was initiated by Felix Karrer in the second half of the 19th century and consists of rocks used in famous buildings and monuments in Vienna and throughout Austria. The collection also includes important building and decorative stones from several other countries in Europe, as well as construction materials from historical buildings and monuments.
Besides the decorative stones, which were used for interior and exterior decoration of buildings, the collection also contains artificial products such as stucco and tiles. Further important building materials like bricks and gravel are also documented.

Of the approximately 20,000 objects contained in the collection, only 500 were previously shown in nine large display cases. Having remained almost unchanged for the past 125 years, this exhibition no longer met modern standards of knowledge transfer and presentation. A decision was therefore taken to create a new permanent exhibition.
This new concept showcases samples of the stones used to decorate the interior and exterior of buildings and monuments in Vienna, with a particular focus placed on the buildings located along the city’s famous Ring Road.
Also on display are stone samples from important buildings and monuments in the rest of Austria and throughout the world. The original historical display cases have been modernized and equipped with LED lighting.
When drawing up the concept for this new exhibition, special attention was paid to the teaching material, information texts, and visual depictions of relevant buildings.

On display since 11 March 2015, the exhibition provided an additional highlight for the 150th anniversary of the beautiful Vienna Ring Road.

Special exhibition (in preparation)

Curator: Vera M.F. Hammer

Here in two wall display cases on the left side of Hall I, a new permanent exhibition will be opened at the end of 2022. It will answer the questions „What is a mineral?“ and „What is a crystal?“.

This hall contains large mineral samples (in a glass cabinet in the middle of the room), a collection of building materials (samples) and the first part of the systematic mineral exhibit (continued in Halls 2-4).


The covering of the heating stoves preserved in their original state is of historical interest. They are situated in the two corners of the room away from the windows. (In times gone by, all the rooms of the Museum were heated by warm water stoves, which were appropriately covered. These are the two sole remaining stove covers).


The paintings on the walls depict the salt mines in Wieliczka (Hugo Charlemont), the diamond works in Kimberley (Othmar Brioschi), the Calvary Hill in the Adelsberger Grotte (Carl Hasch), gold mining in the Sierra Nevada in California (Wilhelm Bernatzik), and the lead mine in Raibl (Eduard v. Lichtenfels).


The systematized mineral collection (minerals classified according to their chemical composition and crystal structure; the classification is based on the internationally valid Ramdohr-Strunz and Strunz system) begins with the first table cabinet.


Particularly noteworthy in the mineral system (elements, sulphides and related chemical compounds) are the following:

Pieces of native silver from Joachimsthal (I/2); native gold from Eule (I/5); landsbergite from Moschellandsberg (I/8); sylvanite from Offenbanya (I/17); tetradymite from Ankogel (I/18); argentite from Joachimsthal (I/21 and 22); hessite from Botes (I/24), bornite from Froßnitz (I/24), millerite from Breitenau (I/63); sternbergite from Joachimstal (I/63); galenite from Gonderbach and Neudorf (I/66); stephanite (I/77); freieslebenite from Hiendelaencina (I/81); lorandite from Allchar (I/84), and hauerite from Kalinka and Raddusa (I/86).


Of particular note in Hall 1 is the halite sample from Wieliczka, displayed in the central cabinet, which is considered to be one of the best of its kind. Also on display in the central cabinet is a smoky quartz weighing 115 kg which was discovered in the Tiefen glacier, Switzerland, in 1868. It is one of the heaviest samples ever unearthed there. The Eisenblüte ("iron flower") from the Styrian Erzberg is considered to be one of the best examples of this type of mineral. Further, the calcite from Iceland ("Iceland spar") is probably one of the largest from this deposit in the possession of a museum.





Hall 2 - Mineral systematics: sulphides, halogenides, oxides, hydroxides, nitrates, iodates and carbonates


First of all, the paintings in the Hall should be mentioned: Gold mining in Verespatak (Rosia Montana) in Siebenbürgen (Wilhelm Bernatzik); open-cast iron mine near Eisenerz in Styria (Robert Russ), and the coal works near Dux in Bohemia (Alois Schönn).


The most important specimens of the mineral system (sulphides, halogenides, oxides, hydroxides, nitrates, iodates and carbonates) include:


Sellaite from Brumado (II/6); fluorite from Striegau (II/10) and Gilgit (II/14); atacamite from Wallaroo (II/16); chrysoberyl from Takowaja (II/33); corundum from Sri Lanka (II/33); hematite from Gotthard (II/34); perovskite from Slatoust (II/38); rock crystal ("Japanese twins") from Dauphiné (II/46); rutile from Pfitsch (II/65); cassiterite from Schlaggenwald and Zinnwald (II/80 and II/66) and brookite from Frossnitz (II/83).


The displays in the wall cabinets along the sides are complementary to the systematic mineral display. Here, the following should be pointed out: stibnite from Shikoku (II/201); nagyagite from Nagyag (II/103); amethyst from Porkura (II/105); scepter quartz from North Carolina (II/106); rock crystal from Nepal (II/107); agate from Idar Oberstein (II/108), and manganite from Illfeld (II/109). Furthermore, there are halite (Haarsalz) from Inowroclaw (II/131); sylvite from Strassfurt (II/131); fluorite from Northumberland (II/133); calcite ("crystallized sandstone") from Fontainebleau (II/135) and aragonite from Agrigento (II/137).

A large amethyst sample (on display in front of one of the side doors) with deep violet coloured crystals from the Serra do Mar in Brazil was a gift from Isidor Weinberger in 1904.






Hall 3 - Mineral systematics: carbonates, borates, sulfates, chromates, phosphates, arsenates and vanadates


The paintings in this room depict the following: Along the far wall, a picture by Leopold Munsch of Hohe Goldberg in der Rauris (gold mine in the Alps); the emerald deposits in the Leckbachrinne in Habachtal (Carl Hasch), and the opal pits in Dubnik (formerly Czerwenitza) in Slovakia (Carl Hasch). On one side wall there is a picture of the natural spring in Rank near Kaschau (A. Obermüller); on the other there is a picture of the oil spring near Baku in the Caucasus (Wilhelm v. Leopoldski).


The samples of the systematic mineral show (carbonates, borates, sulphates, phosphates and arsenates) include: magnesite from Oberdorf an der Laming, Styria (III/2); dolomite from Werfen (III/7); azurite from Chessy, Bisbee and Tsumeb (III/24); bastnaesite from Trimouns (III/27); leadhillite from Tsumeb (III/27); phosgenite from Monteponi (III/28); jeremejevite from Soktuj mountains (III/32); chalcanthite from Planet Mine (III/53); devillite from Herrengrund (III/65); ettringite from N'Chwaning Mine (III/65); crocoite from Dundas (III/66); scheelite from Habachtal (III/67); wulfenite from Red Cloud mine (III/72); beryllonite from Paprok (III/72); wagnerite from Werfen (III/74); herderite from Virgem da Lapa (III/77); pyromorphite from Bad Ems (III/88); mimetite from Johanngeorgenstadt and Cobar (III/90); hureaulite from Tacquaral (III/92); scorodite from Tsumeb (III/93); erythrite from Schneeberg (III/94) and euchroite from Libethen (III/96).


Of particular note in the wall cabinets along the sides are:


Baryte from Frizington (III/102); wulfenite from Mezica (III/103); crocoite from Beresowsk (III/103); apatite from Zillertal (III/107); mimetite from Johanngeorgenstadt (III/108); vivianite from Anoua (III/108); variscite from Fairfield (III/109); epidote from Knappenwand (III/133); axinite from Bourg d'Oisans (III/134); adularia from St. Gotthard (III/137); pollucite from Paprok (III/137) and analcime from Tura, Siberia (III/138).


In one large glass cabinet, one can view the spectacular halite sample from the deposits in Wieliczka, weighing approx. 1000 kg and with crystals up to 30 cm in length.



Hall 4 - Mineral systematics: phosphates, arsenates; gemstone collection, rock collection

Hall 4 shows mineral systematics (phosphates, arsenates and silicates), gemstones and the rock collection.


The paintings in this Hall mostly depict geological phenomena. Alongside and between the paintings there are caryatids, allegorical figures, whose emblems represent the most important metals and minerals. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the artist, Rudolf Weyer, based his depictions of several of the minerals on the actual specimens contained in the mineral collection (e.g., cassiterite from Schlaggenwald (Horni Slavkov); gypsum from Eisleben, and galena from Neudorf).


Four glass cabinets in this Hall are devoted to the systematic mineral exhibit (phosphates and silicates). Among these objects, the following are of particular note: liroconite from Wheal (IV/2); phenakite from Habachtal (IV/5); axinite from Bourg d'Oisans (IV/5); epidote from Knappenwand (IV/15); astrophyllite from Mont St.-Hilaire (IV/23); serandite from Gross Meseritsch (IV/32); kainosite (cenosite) from Obersulzbachtal (IV/33); hiddenite from Alexander County (IV/38); beryl from Acworth (IV/40); euclase from Rauris (IV/57); phlogopite from Wakefield (IV/60) and datolite from Habachtal (IV/72).

A requently acquired, large "star muscovite" from Brazil.

Along one short end of the Hall (towards the Maria Theresien Platz), there are glass cabinets situated to the left and right of the windows, in which one can view the fluorescence of certain minerals under ultraviolet light.


In the right-hand corner of the Hall, there are several plates of flexible sandstone (Itakolumite).


The rock collection (petrographic collection) is located in the cabinets along the side walls. The exhibit shows samples of the various rocks from diverse locations, put together in a systematic form: plutonites, volcanites, metamorphites and sediments.


The collection of gems and precious stones can also be found in this Hall. This collection is one of the most comprehensive and valuable of its kind to be found on the European continent. One cabinet contains significant specimens of most of the well-known jewellery material today, whereby the raw material and the half-finished stones are placed alongside the finished cut and polished stones together with pieces of original jewellery. Two side cabinets contain larger samples of the precious stones collection.


The following samples of the precious stones collection are worth mentioning: Native silver from Kongsberg (IV/101); taaffeite from Sri Lanka (IV/102); azurite from Tsumeb (IV/107); brasilianite from Galilea Mine (IV/107); turquoise from Persia (IV/107); almandine (box) from Lölling (IV/110); emerald (trapiche) from Muzo (IV/113); emerald from Habachtal (IV/113); euclase from Miami (IV/124); brasilianite from Espiritu Santo (IV/123); kunzite from Urupuca (IV/123); rhodochrosite from Alma (IV/124); native silver from Kongsberg (IV/144); topaz from Murzinka (IV/144) and "Peru" (IV/146).

The most valuable and historically significant pieces of the collection are stored in safety cabinets. Particular pieces of note include:

An opal from Czerwenitza exhibiting a fabulous array of colours, which is the largest of its kind, weighing 594 grams.

Diamonds in matrix from various South African deposits; a perfect, pale yellow octahedra also from South Africa, weighing 82.2 carats, as well as cut and polished diamonds from India, partly coloured, of the highest quality; a platinum nugget from the Urals weighing 6.2 kg; gold from Siebenbürgen and a gold nugget from the Urals; Colombian emeralds, of partly excellent quality; the famous Bouquet of precious stones; a cut, flawless alexandrite from the Urals, weighing 12.8 carats with the finest colour change from red to green; one of the largest tourmaline groupings from the King Tourmaline Mine in California; top-quality rubies and sapphires set in rings, and an aquamarine crystal from Nepal weighing 1.6 kg.


In 1978, a gem topaz crystal weighing 117 kg was incorporated into the collection. It is one of the largest topazes from the deposit at Fazenda do Funil near Santa Maria do Itabira in Minas Gerais, Brazil, a pegmatite which is famous for the huge size of its crystals.



Special exhibition: "Natural radioactivity, cosmic radiation and luminescence"

Natural radioactivity
Radioactivity often gets a bad press. Many people think that radioactivity is always artificial, but in fact it is a part of our natural environment – man-made radioactivity only accounts for around a third of all radioactivity that we are exposed to. Therefore, two thirds come from nature, most as a result of decaying natural radioactive substances and from cosmic radiation. Radioactivity itself was only discovered by chance. In 1896, during research on the fluorescence of natural minerals, Henri Becquerel made a mistake in an experiment and ended up finding a previously unknown type of radiation in uranium-rich materials.
Radioactivity includes various types of radiation – for example, helium nuclei occur as alpha radiation, electrons as beta radiation, and electromagnetic radiation as gamma radiation. These are released during the decay of naturally occurring unstable isotopes, which have formed, for example, in the interior of stars. Energy-rich cosmic radiation comes not only from the Sun, but also from distant galaxies. By interacting with Earth's atmosphere, this cosmic radiation results in additional particles that constantly penetrate the human body.
A special detector in the exhibition shows "live" images of this cosmic radiation.

Geological power station
Just over two billion years ago, in Oklo in Gabon (West-Central Africa), environmental conditions were perfect for natural chain reactions in uranium ores. For many millions of years, nuclear fission in uranium generated energy in 19 known "reactor cores". Today this radiation has almost completely decayed, so a (very rare) rock sample from Oklo can be shown here in the museum.

Metatyuyamunite: Metatyuyamunite (yellow) with malachite (green) from the Mashamba West Mine, Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Size: 7 x 6.5 x 2.5 cm, cat. no. M 4283.
Metatyuyamunite (yellow) with malachite (green) from the Mashamba West Mine, Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Size: 7 x 6.5 x 2.5 cm, cat. no. M 4283.
Oklo specimen: Oklo specimen: Core from a natural nuclear reactor
Oklo specimen: Core from a natural nuclear reactor
Minerals that glow in the dark
This newly re-designed display case shows a selection of minerals which glow when exposed to short or long wavelength UV radiation. If you look closely you will even be able to see phosphorescence.
Materials become photo-luminescent when exposed to energy-rich UV radiation. If the glowing effect happens directly under the UV lamp, this is known as fluorescence. If the mineral continues to glow even after the UV lamp has been switched off, this is called phosphorescence. Fluorescent minerals can convert UV radiation invisible to the human eye into light we are able to see.
This glowing effect was first observed in 1852 by the British physicist George Stokes with the mineral fluorite.
The most common triggers for photo-luminescence are certain metal ions. These include manganese, chromium, rare earth elements, copper, tin, tungsten, lead, and uranium. The most impressive fluorescent minerals come from the zinc deposit in Franklin, New Jersey, USA. Fluorescent minerals can also be found in Austria, for example, the tungsten ore scheelite.

UV display case: UV display case with fluorescing minerals
UV display case with fluorescing minerals

Special temporary exhibit: "Jacob Frederick van der Null"
(1750 Cologne - 1823 Vienna)


Van der Null was probably one of the most famous mineral collectors within the ascending well educated bourgeoisie and economically well-off citizens in the time of the turn of the 19th century.


Van der Null descended from a Cologne merchant family who settled in Vienna around 1782. He started as an accountant in the banking and wholesaling house Johann von Fries & Co. In 1787, he became co-partner of the spinning company and dyeing factory of Ignaz Schwab in Graz. In 1802, Van der Null married the niece of his companion, Theresa Schwab (1780-1840).


Van der Null was a fanatic collector of literature, contemporary copperplate engravings, as well as molluscs and fine mineral specimens. While he was alive, his mineral collection was said to be the most beautiful within the Austrian Hungarian Monarchy and Germany. Within ten years he assembles eleven other famous private collections.

The young German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs (1773-1839), was assigned to give Van der Null's collection a new systematic arrangement and a catalogue. This three-volume edition was published in 1804.

Some years after Van der Null's death, the collection with 5,065 specimens was purchased by the Viennese Imperial Mineral Cabinet under director Carl von Schreibers. Most of these specimens are still part of the permanent mineral exhibit.

Selected Items

Hessite on quartz - Botes near Zalathna, Siebenbürgen, Romania. Size of specimen is about 8 x 3 cm, cat. no. D 15.
Hessite on quartz - Botes near Zalathna, Siebenbürgen, Romania. Size of specimen is about 8 x 3 cm, cat. no. D 15.
Stibnite crystal (31.5 cm long) from the Ichinokawa mine, Shikoku island, Japan (hall III, wall display case 102). Cat. no. D 239.
Stibnite crystal (31.5 cm long) from the Ichinokawa mine, Shikoku island, Japan (hall III, wall display case 102). Cat. no. D 239.
Aragonite ("Iron Flower") - Erzberg near Eisenerz, Styria. Size of specimen: 40 x 32 cm, cat. no. A.a. 7339.
Aragonite ("Iron Flower") - Erzberg near Eisenerz, Styria. Size of specimen: 40 x 32 cm, cat. no. A.a. 7339.
Wulfenite - Red Cloud Mine, La Paz County, Arizona, USA. Size of crystal: 2.7 x 2.2 cm, cat. no. D 4982.
Wulfenite - Red Cloud Mine, La Paz County, Arizona, USA. Size of crystal: 2.7 x 2.2 cm, cat. no. D 4982.
Hematite ("Iron rose") - St. Gotthard, Switzerland. Size of specimen: 9 x 6 cm, cat. no. A.h. 953.
Hematite ("Iron rose") - St. Gotthard, Switzerland. Size of specimen: 9 x 6 cm, cat. no. A.h. 953.
Mimetite - Johanngeorgenstadt, Saxony, Germany. Size of the crystal group: 2.3 x 2 cm, cat. no. A.c. 998.
Mimetite - Johanngeorgenstadt, Saxony, Germany. Size of the crystal group: 2.3 x 2 cm, cat. no. A.c. 998.