Museum entry from right including a skeleton and display cabinets
Faculties and schools_

J.L. Shellshear Museum

A museum of physical anthropology and comparative anatomy

This museum specialises in human, other primate and mammalian skeletal collections. It includes casts of human ancestors and other hominids.


The museum is located on the top floor of the Anderson Stuart building, room W601. 

Admission External visitors are welcome by arrangement. Please contact the curator. 
Cost Admission is free to external individual visitors, anatomy students, bona fide researchers and scholars although some services, such as group visits, attract a fee.
Research access Access to the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander skeletal collection may be given once permission is obtained from the relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Access to non-Aboriginal skeletal remains may be given with permission from the curator and the Head of Discipline.

Collections and exhibitions

Our collections are mainly of human, other primate and mammalian skeletons as well as casts and endocranial casts of hominids. These include:

  1. Human osteology
    Skeletal remains from the following regions: Australia, Melanesia, Oceania, Middle East (Pella collection) A series of foetal skeletons.
  2. Zoological
    Skulls and some skeletons of all classes of vertebrates with an emphasis on marsupials and primates.
  3. Casts
    Casts of skulls and endocranial casts of hominids and other primates. The museum also has reconstructions of Piltdown.
  4. Archival material
    Books, papers and research records of J.L. Shellshear. N.W.G. Macintosh collections relating to research and field work on the dingo, New Guinea Highlands, Australian Aboriginal fossil skulls, Aboriginal art and stone implements etc. Collected notes and references of S.L. Larnach. Historical material relating to anatomy and the museum.
The Alan G. Thorne Fossil Cast Collection of Worldwide Variation

Dr Thorne donated his extensive fossil cast collection to the J. L. Shellshear Museum and it includes the largest collection of fossil casts of the human lineage in Australia as well as the widest range of African, Chinese and Indonesian fossil casts outside of Beijing and Jogjakarta.

The Man behind the Museum: Joseph Lexden Shellshear

This exhibition includes a broad range of material, from journal entries and personal photographs, to skull casts, diagrams, and specimens that help explore J. L. Shellshear’s key research, as well as his contribution to the study of the human brain.


Research in the museum focuses on human osteology, burial practices, forensic osteology, dental morphometrics and identification of skeletal and non-human bone. Specific projects include:

  • forensic osteology of the Sydney region
  • identification of fragmented bone as human or non-human
  • non-metric variation and the forensic and clinical consequences of variation of the paranasal sinuses in a Melanesian population
  • investigation of the palaeopathology of a Bronze Age population from Pella in Jordan.


The museum is named after Joseph Lexden Shellshear (1885-1958) a Sydney University medical graduate who was the Research Professor of Anatomy at the University of Sydney from 1937 to 1948.

He is known for his work on the development of the peripheral nervous system on the study of the arterial blood supply to the brain and on the comparative morphology of the human skull and brain. 

Shellshear donated to the Department of Anatomy a large collection of human brains (no longer extant), skull and brain casts, books, bound scientific papers and records relating to his research work.

This material was added to the department's osteological and zoological collections to form this museum, established and named in Shellshear's honour in 1959. Since then, much anthropological and archival material has been added to the collections.

The museum has been completely refurbished and has become an important research facility for anthropological, forensic and other research work.

Museum Curator

Denise Donlon
  • Room W601, Anderson Stuart Building