This mission, carried out by the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and delayed because of the health crisis, took place between 2021 and 2022.

Led by Pierre Pénicaud, General Curator and Heritage Inspector of the College Museums-Scientific, Technical and Natural Heritage, it concluded with the submission of a written report last November: "Inventory and structuring of a network of natural history collections in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region". While providing an in-depth overview of the thirty-one institutions that maintain natural history collections, this report explores possible actions to improve management, as the title shows: “structuring a regional network of naturalist collections”.


In the first part, Pierre Pénicaud lays the foundations of the methodology that could be used for other types of collections, such as archaeology, fine arts, extra-European ethnography for example, or for other regions.

Musée museum départemental des Hautes-Alpes - Gap
Vitrine de préhistoire au Musée museum départemental des Hautes-Alpes - Gap

The Musée-Muséum Départemental des Hautes-Alpes, located in Gap, is the only museum with the appellation «Musée de France» of the Hautes-Alpes (05). Rich in diverse collections (paintings, sculptures, ceramics, ethnographic and archaeological objects), it has more than one hundred thousand natural history specimens.

Natural history collections in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur

Numerical importance of natural history collections preserved in the Region.

Almost four million natural history specimens are preserved in PACA, mainly in the five museums in the region and in the University of Aix-Marseille. 

Identification of two categories of establishments.

Those whose Scientific and Cultural Project relies almost exclusively on the natural sciences like the five Natural History Museums and those with plural collections not centered on natural history and for which the question of the integration of this area in the museum.

Diversity of typologies of natural history collections.

The best known are zoology (including vertebrates, entomology and malacology), botany, paleontology and geology (mineralogy, petrology) but there are also documents (archives, manuscripts, photographs, prints, etc.) as well as collections of other related sciences such as biological and cultural anthropology or prehistory.

Pigeons naturalisés et manuscrits
Diversity of collections statutes.

A large part of the natural history collections are devoted to scientific research, which is why some objects are considered as study material. The question then arises of the sorting between study material, teaching material, documentation and «Musée de France» collection.












Avenues for plural action

Several courses of action are outlined according to the various questions raised in the summary:

Ownership of the collections and the various possible statuses.

More than other museums, museums are confronted with numerically colossal collections (1,200,000 specimens estimated for the Musée Requien in Avignon), accumulated over the decades without sorting operations and sometimes with very lacunary documentation. In order to improve the management and knowledge of collections, the definition of the status is an indispensable prerequisite.
Therefore, the study of collections is more than necessary; it requires the mobilization of scientific teams and therefore of time but also specialized knowledge in targeted and diverse fields. In order to do so, institutions that cannot have all the resources in-house can address these gaps by establishing scientific partnerships or by drawing on the expertise of specialized external providers.

Atelier de conditionnement d’herbiers par des bénévoles au Muséum Requien
The future of orphan collections

Pierre Pénicaud refers to “orphan collections” as natural history collections that some institutions cannot deal with because they are not integrated into their scientific and cultural projects and/or lack of expertise.
The future of these collections presupposes questioning their status and their valorization within other museum institutions.  Two solutions are then available: either the deposit, which is a traditional contractualization framed by an agreement whose duration is to be determined or the transfer of ownership to institutions having the necessary skills for their management and evaluation.

Recherche dans les collections Bigot
Towards a new governance?

The third question concerns the structuring of a network of naturalistic collections in PACA. The Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region has features that bring specific solutions, especially because of an already existing network of natural history museums particularly well distributed in the territory.
This network can be structured at different levels (national, regional, etc.) and in more or less integrated organizational configurations, depending on local political decisions.

Collections de Ptérophores