Old image of camel caravan

All photos courtesy of American Museum of Natural History Library (Image 410783)

Photographic history at your fingertips

A treat for history buffs and photography lovers alike, the American Museum of Natural History has released more than 7,000 archival images from its collections, including photographs, rare illustrations and letters. This preview shows just a few of the artful images — each with a captivating backstory.

The photograph above was taken by cinematographer James B. Shackelford on one of his expeditions into the Gobi Desert and Mongolia with explorer Roy Chapman Andrews. The description on the museum's website reads: "Merin leading camel caravan across the desolate dunes of Tsagan Nor in search of water, Mongolia, 1925."

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Giraffe silhoutte

Image K13673

"Giraffe and landscape at sunset, Savuti, Botswana" (1977)

One of a handful of colored images in the archives (thus far), this photograph was taken in Chobe National Park by Richard George Van Gelder, who was a curator of mammalogy at the museum for more than 25 years.

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Child on the beach

Image 49480

"Child on beach at sunset, Marco, Florida, 1904"

One of the most engrossing collections is the Julian Dimock Collection, which explores the culture and ecology of the Southeast, but also documentd new immigrants at Ellis Island.

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Three Seminole girls on a canoe

Image 48241

"Three Seminole girls in canoe, The Everglades, Florida, 1907"

The Julian Dimock collection also features hundreds of photographs of the Seminole Indians of Florida, capturing their beautiful garb and canoeing customs.

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Seminole man in the water

Image 48215

"Ingraham Charley in water, The Everglades, Florida, 1910"

Dimock's arresting images show how the Seminole people interacted with the wetland ecosystem.

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Curlew in its nest

Image 47503

"Curlew in nest, Harney's River, The Everglades, Florida"

Dimock didn't just photograph the culture of the Everglades; he also took wonderful photos of the diverse wildlife in the area. This gorgeous photo was taken in 1906 and published in the October 1910 issue of "Field and Stream."

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Herons on branch

Image 47548

"Louisiana herons on branch, near Sand Fly Pass, The Everglades, Florida, 1906"

Even in photography's earliest days, photographers like Dimock were able to artfully portray wildlife in their photos.

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Hauling canoe in rain

Image 48131

"Hauling canoe in rain, The Everglades, Florida, 1910"

As the AMNH website notes, Dimock did not capture these photos easily. The equipment to produce these glass negatives was bulky and heavy — imagine lugging all that through the Everglades!

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Alligator

Image 46784

"Alligator walking on beach, Cape Romano, Florida, 1907"

Dimock had an eye for nature photography, making his collection one of the most enchanting.

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Boy petting lynx

Image 47750

"Boy with lynx, Fakahatchee Strand, Florida, 1905"

Photos like this one are up to par with today's shots. 

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Sunset

Image K14816

"Lake Kariba, Zambia"

Some photographs in the collection have less context but are just as captivating. This 35mm photograph shows a sunset unlike any other.

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Bull seal roaring

Image 219131

"Bull seal roaring, Saint Paul Island, Alaska, 1913"

Taken by explorer Roy Chapman Andrews during his Borden Alaska Expedition of 1913, this photograph is one of many that documented a seal colony residing on Saint Paul Island.

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Mt Fuji

Image LS179-33

"Mt. Fuji, person in boat in foreground, Japan"

From the museum's lantern slides collection, this timeless photograph was hand-colored.