The museum's earliest collections of artifacts were begun over 250 years ago. Today, its collections on display cover 8,700 square metres (94,000 sq ft).
As of 2011, the museum houses approximately 30 million objects and the number is growing. Behind the scenes, collections comprising some 25 million specimens and artefacts are the essential basis for the work of over 60 staff scientists. Their main fields of research cover a wide range of topics from the origins of the Solar System and the evolution of animals and plants to human evolution, as well as prehistoric traditions and customs.