Dedicated to natural and human history, the East London Museum's major collections include birds, molluscs, cultural history and anthropology.
The museum is internationally known for its coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae – a fish belonging to a group which was believed to have become extinct some 70 million years ago until the living specimen was trawled in 1938.
A large fossil mammal-like reptile from the Karoo, Kannemeyeria simocephalus, dating back to nearly 230 million years also features in the museum.
In the cultural section there are several galleries devoted to the material culture of the Xhosa-speaking peoples with emphasis on beadwork and personal adornment. There is also a fine exhibition of maritime history with cannon recovered from the 17th Century Portuguese Carrack Nossa Senhora da Atalaia.
Other displays include the Nahoon Footprints – the world’s oldest human trace fossil footprints left by a human at Nahoon Point 124 000 years ago and the Hofmeyr Skull, about 36 years old, which provides evidence of modern humans leaving Africa for Eurasia.
Currently the museum is working on a Botanical Exhibition – the aim of which is to increase awareness of knowledge associated with plant resources and highlight some of the ways in which botanical knowledge has been acquired and transferred through generations. Use of imifino (traditional leafy vegetables) and plants for medicinal and ritual use will be covered. The first phase opened in 2019, with the second phase due to open in 2020.
The East London Museum has had many temporary exhibitions (on display for a limited period of time) over the 25 years under review, some exhibitions being produced in-house and others on loan from other institutions. The exhibitions produced in-house have covered a range of topics and relied on members of the community for their input.
Examples of topics covered in temporary exhibitions:
Plants and People Botanical Gallery - 2019
Coelacanth 80th Anniversary memorabilia - 2018
Dominican 800th Jubilee – 2016