The Natural History Museum opened its doors in 1881. It all started when physician and collector of natural curiosities, Sir Hans Sloane left his extensive collection to the nation in 1753. From microscopic slides to mammoth skeletons, the Museum is home to the largest and most important natural history collection in the world.
Once affiliated with the British Museum for much of its history, the National History Museum now stands on its own as the premier museum of science. With over 70 million objects hailing from the fields of botany, entomology, mineralogy, palaeontology, and zoology, the museum is also an illustrious center for research, where scientists seek to analyze these specimens in their quest to unlock the mysteries of the tree of life. The museum is organized into four different zones that make exploring the museum that much easier for you. The four zones are the blue zone, where you will find the museum's vast exhibits on dinosaurs, mammals, and human biology, among other things; the green zone which features primates, ecology, birds, and minerals; the red zone where you can learn all about the earth and the way in which its landscape is forever changing; and lastly the orange zone, which is home to the Darwin Center and the Cocoon exhibit, where you will learn all about taxonomy and the science behind this field of work.
The central hall of the museum houses the massive cast of the diplodocus. A plant-eating dinosaur that lived 150 million years ago, the diplodocus is one of the longest land animals to have ever lived: from the tip of its tail to its head it measures over 26 meters long! The giant diplodocuscast prepares you for the museum's impressiveness, especially its dinosaur exhibitions. However, before you make your way to the dinosaur exhibitions you should check out some of the specimens in the central hall. Most notably, the central hall houses the only complete Wooly Mammoth skull ever found in Britain, which was discovered in 1864 only 18 km from the museum's present site. If you head left from the central hall you will reach the dinosaur exhibitions. Here you can see many casts of different types of dinosaurs, including the Cammarasaurus, a plant-eater with pillar like legs and a huge backbone and small tail, and the Coelophysis, one of the earliest known dinosaurs and a small meat-eater whose last meal (a smaller coelophysis) is still preserved within its ribcage. As you walk along the catwalk above the exhibition, you will be treated to more casts of dinosaurs hanging from the ceiling and even robotic representations of the dinosaur. At the end of the catwalk is a section devoted to the Tyrannosaurus, one of the most fearsome dinosaurs in history. Here you will learn some interesting facts about the T-Rex, such as that it was one of the last dinosaurs to roam the earth 65-67 million years ago and that scientists are still confused as to whether it was a flesh-tearing killer or a bone crunching stomper. One fun fact is that the T-Rex was even longer and taller than a double-decker bus! As you enter the ground floor of the exhibit, you will learn all about the dinosaurs: the physiology of their bodies, their bone structure, the layout of the planet during the height of the dinosaurs, and much more. The museum does a very good job of relaying this information in the most enjoyable way possible. The exhibit is colorful and the illustrations are great to look at, there are numerous recreations (such as a dinosaur egg nest), and as with the rest of the museum there are lots of interactive machines that allow you to get involved with the exhibit itself.
The remainder of the blue zone is where you will spend a lot of your time, as there is just so much to see and take in here. The mammal exhibit is incredibly informative and fascinating to walk through. In addition to the various specimens of mammals that you can see, you can also learn all about what makes a mammal a mammal and learn all about the different types and classifications of mammals. For example, did you know that 100 million years ago live-bearing mammals evolved into two distinct groups: pouched mammals and placental mammals? Some specimens that you should definitely pay a visit to are the cast of the extinct marsupial Diprotodon, a massive herbivore that died out some 30,000 years ago, and of course the life-size replica of the blue whale that sits right below a cast of its skeleton. Also worth checking out is the museum's exhibition on human biology. Here you will learn everything about what it means to be human, from conception to death and everything in-between, including genetics, memory, sensory perceptions and much more. This exhibit houses some of the museum's most prominent interactive machines which include levers to see how the human body moves and games to test your understanding of human memory.
Of the other three zones, the one that you should visit just for its uniqueness alone is the orange zone. The orange zone houses the Darwin Center and the famous Cocoon exhibition. You will take an elevator to the upper floors where the museum houses over 20 million objects from the natural world. These specimens are both for the museum's visitors and for researchers who study these objects to find the links between everything in life. The scientists, whom you can see working diligently across from you during the exhibit, seek evidence for why there are so many kinds of living things in the world and wish to know how the world's natural diversity is changing. Compared to the rest of the museum, the Cocoon is designed in a minimalist fashion, with white walls and small windowed exhibits that feature the various types of specimens the museum houses.
The right side of the museum is home to the green and red zones, which are also worth seeing if you have the time. In the green zone, I would recommend taking the time to check out certain galleries that really interest you. If you are interested in minerals you should focus on the mineral exhibit and if you are fascinated by “creepy crawlies” then you should spend your time in the arachnid galleries. There is such a variety of galleries to see that if you try to rush through them all you won’t be able to fully appreciate what you see, nor soak in all the information the museum provides to you. I chose to focus on the bird galleries, where you will see full-scale replicas of many different species of birds. In particular, the Archaeopteryx is worth seeing. One of the first birds and one of only seven known specimens, the bird is famous for possibly being a missing link between modern birds and dinosaurs. For those with an interest in geology, the red zone will be particularly interesting to you. Some exhibits of note here include the Earth: Today and Tomorrow Gallery which focuses on how human consumption alters the planet, and the Earth Lab, which features an amazing entrance surrounded by marble sculptures where you take an escalator up into the planet.
With so much to see and learn, the National History Museum is one of the most famous museums in London and one that deserves its own identity separate from the British Museum. It is a supreme institution of science, where you can learn all about our world and the creatures that inhabit it. And of course there are dinosaurs as well.
-By Phillip Storm, Arts Correspondent, VisitMuseums.com
Open daily Monday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:50
nearest tube south kensinton station
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