Newest Review: ... Galleries throwing a cursory look at the Earth Gallery due to our time available. Easily you need hours just to walk around the Life Galle... more
Is this a Dinosaur I see before me?
Natural History Museum (London)
Member Name: melodysparksuk
Natural History Museum (London)
Advantages: Knowledge great day out and Dinosaurs too
Disadvantages: Needs at least a couple of days to visit it all
I am fascinated with history and feel at home in Museums, I am one of those people who you would guarantee to visit the local Museum when on holiday or for the sheer fun of a day out visit a Museum in another city, and this was one of those days. Mum and I went to London and visited a Museum: not just any run of the mill Museum but one of the largest Museums in Europe: The Natural History Museum.
Rather than bore you with the full details of my journey I will just briefly say Mum and I decided we would go for a day out to the nations capital on one of local train company special deals without any idea where we would visit it was a case of pot luck until we got there, so arriving in London we bought a travel guide, opened it up and picked a Museum at random. South Kensington was our destination. The Natural History Museum is located on the corner of Cromwell Road and Exhibition Road. The Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museums are close by with Knightsbridge's shops and the Royal Albert Hall within walking distance. An underground walkway from the tube station takes you directly to the Museums without having to negotiate traffic and roads.
Mounting the steps from the walkway we came out into a large garden with a building resembling an enormous cathedral at its centre surrounded by tall cast iron gates. The first thing you see in the garden when entering from the subway walkway is a fossilised tree trunk but behind is a wonder in itself. The Victorian-style, Romanesque building is one of the most striking buildings I have ever seen. Sitting down within the gardens for a snack, Mum and I gazed upon the fascinating architecture before our eyes. Buff-coloured, terracotta tiles interspersed with Victorian blue bricks patterned the walls, moulded flora and fauna terracotta tiles decorated the round-arched windows, along the eves of the roof perched pterodactyls and large, predatory cats and other animals instead of gargoyles. The outside is a plethora of decoration, symbolic of the building's function, a Museum of Natural History. When the Natural History Department of the British Museum grew too large to remain in its home in Bloomsbury the prominent palaeontologist Professor Richard Owen had a vision. The man who gave us the word 'Dinosaur' envisage a grand building with huge galleries designed and constructed purposely to house the largest and tallest of skeleton specimens. Taking 12 years to design and construct, the vision became reality and the new Museum opened its doors to the public in 1881.
Fortified, we entered through a set of recess arches and highly detailed, ornate columns, we walked into the huge Central Hall and came face to face with an enormous 26 metre long Diplodocus skeleton. This was the first time I had seen a full sized skeleton of a dinosaur and wow I was amazed as I gazed upon it in awe but that alone did not hold my gaze and I stared around in wonder. The huge glass windows high above allowed natural light to shine down into the Central Hall with its elaborate, grand staircase rising to second floor of galleries at the far end. This Hall and its galleries were a feast for the eyes as much as the buildings exterior, the same buff-coloured highly decorated terracotta material had been used throughout in the moulded panels displaying insects and fossils, foliage and plants. Climbing monkeys' cling to the corners of walls and niches, animals perch above columns of arches, doorways entwined with climbing snakes, a vast array of life line the walls with sculptures of plants and animals and above are the highly decorated and detailed painted ceilings. Emptied, the building alone would have been fascinating.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The building is split into three sections, the Wonders and Life Galleries and Central Hall the Earth Galleries Atrium and the state of the art Darwin Centre. You can take photographs and videos. TIP always ask if flash photography is allowed as in some Museums their exhibits can be damaged from light for camera flash. You can pick up a free map and information leaflet at the front desk and large print maps are also available on request. I didn't bother with looking at the map, Mum and I were happy to wander and discover things for ourselves however I did pick up a map and a brochure later as souvenirs. Throughout the entire Museum are information touch-screen computer guides in a variety of languages and monitors, charts and displays to help you find what you are looking for. There are hundreds of specimens, tools and casts where you can handle and interact with, for the hands-on approach and with staff near by to help. There are paid Museum Guided Tours available with Special Exhibitions and Events that change regularly. And for the student, course and field studies are available. Kids activity sheets, events for under 7s are available too with discovery guides and structured workshops sessions. You need to allow at least 4-5 hours to tour the exhibits. TIP Ensure you wear a stout or comfortable pair of shoes.
WONDERS AND LIFE GALLERIES
Mum and I centred our tour on the Life Galleries throwing a cursory look at the Earth Gallery due to our time available. Easily you need hours just to walk around the Life Gallery alone. They are split into dinosaurs, insects, mammals, primates, minerals and origin of species covering a good two thirds of the Museum. Beginning at the dinosaurs, we walked into a dimmed area to be met by a Camerasaurus skeleton with its blackened bones, opposite, an armoured Euoplocephalus still partially buried in sand and rock and over in the corner a full sized Triceratops all amazing and unbelievable with a small model beside each depicting what they looked like. Taking the lift up to the 70 metre long suspended walkway just feet below the elaborately painted ceiling (which can also be reached by stairs) we wandered along in gazing wonder from above, past a huge variety of fossilized skeletons and specimens hanging on wires from the ceiling: a Gallimimus, the bird like dinosaurs you see in Jurassic park which run in flocks across the ground to the Iguanodon, or the fearsome Deinoncheirus also known as Terrible Hand because of its claws. Each exhibit had an information plate bearing the name and the phonetic pronunciation of its name with details of its size and species. Every so often we came across and animatronics model which moved and made sounds the dinosaurs made as presumed by scientists. At the end of the walkway there was a ramp leading down to the ground floor past two sets of animatronics dinosaurs, a pair Velociraptors and a pair if Oviraptors hovering over a nest of hatching eggs.
Following the ramp round we saw TV screens and interactive touch-screen computer guides detailing the environment and ecology of the era in a twisting and turning labyrinth. On one wall were cartoons asking why was the dinosaur extinct. One of the images was a group of dinosaurs lying around and one with a bat in its hand tossing a ball. The title said BOREDOM and the speech balloon from the dinosaur said "Come on its only cricket." This creased me up with laughter as I to think cricket is a very boring game. Turning one corner we discovered a full sized, latex coated head of a T-Rex with its teeth coated in blood and its beady eyes glaring indolently. Hurrying through I had to ask Doyouthinkhesawus? Proceeding through specimens and photographs we moved towards the gallery shop and in a glass cabinet on the side was a small unidentified dinosaur. Looking closer you could see it was an animatronics model, breathing and twitching and every few moments its eye would flicker open. Almost alive I expected this model to sit up and move about but fortunately it did not.
If I thought the Dinosaur hall was amazing the Mammal Hall was awesome. I have never seen a collection of mammals as extensive as this as we travelled through the glass enclosed alcoves and display cabinets. We first saw a Giant Panda skeleton at the head of the collection leading into a hall with an assortment of bear specimens with a large polar bear, the tiny red bear and the good old grizzly followed by the predator cats including, lynx, puma, polecat, mountain lion all svelte and proud. We saw a specimen of the extinct Sabre Toothed lion and a beautiful African lion that strangely had a peculiarly worried look upon its face and I was surprised it was smaller than I had imagined. "Oh look a Kangaroo and Joey in its pouch, I thought they were larger than 3 foot," I commented to mum, "and over there, are Koala, aww aren't they cute?" There were pigs, wild boar, sheep, deer, goats and even a bison and gazelle, I had only seen these in pictures. I had become a child again full of excitement at each new animal we came across. Imagine me a thirty something acting like a 7 year old. "Oh now isn't he a beauty?" Mum said and I turned to see a magnificent specimen of a horse that looked so life-like I could imagine its breath on my face. Next came the other equine-like mammals including asses and donkeys much like the one on the beaches in the summer when I was a kid and then a zebra.
I was taking a look at the zebra when mum tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Take a look at this". I turned around and exclaimed in shock "OH MY GOD...." I could not believe what I saw before me. Imagine the scene in a movie where the character looks at something and there is a look of shock on their face before the camera pans around to show the vista before them, that is what it was like for me. It was the most gob smacking sight I had ever seen. The gallery was so large that it would hold the entire Central hall within it but dominating the exhibit was life-size model of a blue whale, suspended from the gallery ceiling, dwarfing even the largest of the modern mammals surrounding it. Dolphin and porpoise cavorted around its tail and hanging beside it were skeleton of other whales. Surrounding the whale were a collection of many world animals from rhinoceros, camels, Indian and African elephants, kudu, giraffes and a comical looking hippopotamus which a gleam in its eye and an expression right out of Disney's Fantasia. So many animals I could wander for hours without getting bored I felt I had seen something special. Up the stairs, was the Primates Gallery but by now our feet were hurting our backs ached we had to rest, so sitting back we gazed along the gallery at the skeletons of primates hanging from the ceiling and each other almost like swinging through the trees. Off we set again following the exhibit that explained their intelligence, communication and social behaviour and of the dangers they face. Only one thing was missing there wasn't a gorilla, it would have been nice to compare it to the one in Wollaton Hall Natural History Museum in Nottingham which I recall first seeing when I was a very small 5 year old and have seen many times since.
Creepy Crawlies section sent a shiver down my spine, insects, spiders, crustaceans and centipedes...Yuck they make my flesh crawl. There were ants, woodlice, bees, locusts and termites all gross looking even behind their glass screens. We hurried through these as I can imagine many others would. The gallery then opened out into the Crustaceans and Molluscs with Crabs and other shellfish, the Fish, Amphibians & Reptiles. This exhibit included fish that live so deep they provide their own light ranging to the everyday Pike which I commented was one of the ugliest looking fish I had seen. There were sharks, porcupine blowfish and hundreds of colourful sea creatures and at the back of one room was an 18-metre model of a giant squid, the largest animal without a backbone. In the Reptiles there were a 150-year-old giant tortoise specimen. Mum told me of a large tortoise she had as a child that looked rather like the specimen we were staring at and other reptiles like lizards and snakes, and iguanas, each interesting and just as ugly as that pike. There was Komodo dragon looking very much like a dinosaur, the alligators and crocodiles here you could clearly tell the difference between the two species, crocodiles have a wider fatter, snout and mouth. Bird's exhibit showed minute details of many different species including nesting habits and anatomy. There were parrots, hawks, sparrows, thrush, cockatoo and many other exotic birds I had never heard of before but one magnificent sight was the hummingbird cabinet filled with hundreds of specimens of the beautiful tiny birds and then finally the skeleton and a specimen of the now extinct Mauritius dodo which became extinct during the 17th century.
EARTH GALLERIES ATRIUM
Have you ever wondered how it all began or ever been in an earthquake? Have you ever wondered why rocks and minerals are important to us or why earthquakes happen? The Earth galleries answer these questions housing a number of collections revolving around the Earth its 'self. An enormous sculpture of the Earth dominates the heart of this section flanked by six impressive statues leading to an escalator taking you other galleries and floors. Among these floors you can discover how life on the planet millions of years ago have much in common with today's Earth comparing features like chromosomes, teeth and bones to man's closest living relatives and how ancient people made and used tools or learn how without minerals which life on Earth would be impossible.
An engraved steel timeline runs the length of the gallery covering 15000 million years of the life of the universe. Following the time rail you can discover how it all began, how the universe works and the origin of shooting stars and meteorites. The Museum is home of 10,000 -15,000 pieces meteorites that have been recovered from all over the world from huge craters in the Earth's surface after their fell through the atmosphere. There is an immense collection of over 3,000 minerals and gemstones and displays showing how scientists work in finding new ways to use these resources like silicon used in microchips or quartz which keeps time accurately.
The Museum also houses an earthquake simulator where you can feel what it is like to be in an earthquake or discover where there have been earthquakes in the last week. Moving on you discover what happens when a volcano erupts and its effect on the planet. You can even see replica casts of hardened ash of a man and dog that died in Pompeii when Versuvius erupted 1900 years ago.
THE DARWIN CENTRE
Is a Research building open to visitors with state of the art laboratories, storage facilities of the valuable collections and where over 350 scientists research and care for the not only the Museums 70 Million specimens of which 22 million zoological specimens stored in jars of spirit, including original specimens collections by Captain Cook and Charles Darwin but also do research to tackle a wide range of concerns in the world today. Daily there are talks and discussions and a free-guided tour is available for those who wish to discover the wonderful collections and behind the scenes of the Museums where you can watch the scientists at work.
THE FROZEN ARK
In conjunction with the Zoological Society with support from the Institute of Genetics at Nottingham University, the Natural History Museum announced today the launch of The Frozen Ark similar to the project to collect seeds from endangered plants run by Britain's Royal Botanical Gardens. What this means is scientists will collect and freeze at - 80 degrees Celsius the DNA from thousands endangered mammals, birds, insects and reptiles is to be preserved. Scientists expect 10,000 species of animals to disappear within the next 30 years although this will be an immense project priority is being given to animals in danger of extinction within the next five years and those like the white Bengal Tiger that are surviving only in captivity. The Tiger is one of 33 species are already extinct in the wild. Specimens will be collected from the wild, animal sanctuaries and zoos.
The first samples of the Socorro Dove native to one remote island; Socorro off the coast of Mexico, Arabian Oryx: an endangered desert antelope from Saharan Africa and yellow sea horse: endangered by hunting for Chinese medicine, were placed in deep freeze on Monday 26 July 2004.
This project has been launched to safeguard animal genetic code for the future in a unique repository but it is hoped it could help in conservation and genetic research and provide future scientists, biologists and conservationists a blueprint of animals that they can understand and study rather than ask themselves questions that take years of research to answer.
There are no current plans to use the DNA for cloning but the possibility in the future will exist to perhaps repopulate the planet of its animals The collection will be stored at the Natural History Museum and the Zoological Society with duplicate specimens stored in San Diego, California and Melbourne, Australia
During the 2004 Athens Olympics a new high-performance swimwear range was used by many athletes. This development is the result of 4 years intense study into shark skin by the Natural History museum. The new line developed by Speedo mimicked the skin of sharks increasing the swimmer's speed by reducing drag through water.
THE WILDLIFE GARDEN
Outside is the Museum's first living exhibition, hundreds of wild flowers, dragonflies flitting across the ponds and birds visiting or nesting in the garden, the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside in the heart of London. Also in the gardens are specimens of wild animals like elephants and rhinos.
FOOD AND DRINK
There are three restaurants and cafes and a snack bar and picnic area. High chairs are available in all restaurants
The picnic area is unusual as you can buy, sandwiches, drinks from vending machines or you can eat your own sandwiches here without being told off and not as busy as the cafes and restaurants it's opening times are 11.00-16.30 daily Globe Fast Food sell fast food snacks, tea, coffee and cakes and has an Ice cream parlour that opens during school holidays and weekends. It's opening times are 11.00-16.00 daily
Life Galleries Restaurant is a self-service family-style restaurant, with a choice of three hot main courses, with separate children's' menu and heating facilities available for baby food, and the Waterhouse Cafe focus on Speciality coffee and tea, both have a selection of sandwiches and cakes, cold drinks and are licensed to sell alcohol their opening times are 10.00-17.00.
BOOK AND GIFTS
The Museum has several book and gift shops offering a wide range of books, maps, models, mineral specimens, and many souvenir items, including jewellery and ceramics and children's toys. A colour Souvenir Guide costs £5.50 which is rather cheap compared to many other Museum guides and part of the cost go toward the up keep of the building and its contents. The shops are the Dinostore in the Dinosaur Gallery, the Gallery Gift Shop and the Gallery Bookshop first floor near the birds and insects, the British Geological Survey information office can be found just entering the Earth Galleries and the Earth Gallery Shop in the Earth Gallery main floor
OPENING TIMES AND FACILITIES
The Museum is open every day, including Sundays and bank holidays, but is closed 24-26 December the admission is free although there are donation boxes sited in numerous areas. The opening times are Monday-Saturday 10.00-17.50 Sunday 11.00-17.50 with the last admission is at 17.30. The Museum can get very busy at weekends so it is ideal to take a visit during the week as the crowds are not so bad however you might come across a few school parties and package holiday guided tours while you are there. The additional available facilities are disabled access via many ramps and lifts, cloakroom and baby changing rooms.
I tried to express how I felt touring this Museum I know I was wandering around in a state of awe and smiling like a schoolgirl. It is a place for the whole family, where adults and kids alike can learn something new. The whole Museum from the beautiful architecture to the wonderful and informative exhibits is truly the country's most remarkable Museum; you have to visit it to believe it. I would gladly return again and again to enjoy this wonder to the world Natural History.
Is this a dinosaur I see before me? You bet it is and more.
The Museum website http://www.nhm.ac.uk/
Summary: Is this a Dinosaur I see before me? My Visit to the London Natural History Museum
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