What Are They Hiding? The Smithsonian’s Incredible Hidden Collection Rooms

In the back rooms of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, are drawers upon drawers of exotic bird carcasses, cultural artifacts, hunks of rock, and much more.

For over two decades the museum has preserved more than 90% of its collection in these rooms, sorting each natural wonder down to the color of its feathers or the era from which it hails — all for the sake of keeping history alive.

Over the course of 17 years, the museum’s chief photographer, Chip Clark, snapped photos of these collections and the people who maintain them.

Take a step inside.

The museum’s bird collection, in the department of vertebrate zoology, is the third-largest in the world. More than 640,000 specimens are housed there.

Approximately 97% of the museum’s anthropological artifacts are stored inside the collections room …

… and that’s not even counting the more than 203,000 images that have been digitized for safekeeping.

The museum’s entomology collection boasts an astounding 35 million specimens, making it the second-largest in the world. Its 300,000 species represent roughly 60% of the world’s known insect families.

Encompassing more than 15 linear miles of storage, the museum’s invertebrate zoology collection contains 35 million specimens.

More than 350,000 minerals and 10,000 gems live in the museum’s mineral collection. Each year, it loans hundreds of specimens to scientists around the world to study.

The first specimens in the museum’s herbarium were collected in 1838. Today, over 1.2 million forms of plant life can be found through a simple online search.

Then there’s the fish collection, which started in the mid-1800s and now contains more than 19,000 of the world’s most important specimen types.

The mammal collection contains 590,000 animals, from tiny deer mice

to the hundreds of preserved whale skulls, which fill a warehouse meant specifically for the largest mammal on earth.

And inside the museum’s paleobiology collections are approximately 40 million fossil specimens that span 2.5 billion years of life on Earth, including more than 1,500 different dinosaurs.