I don’t have anything scheduled on the blogging on demand meme (LJ | DW) for tomorrow, so if you want me to ramble about something, you’d better get to it. Anyway, the 6th January, herdivineshadow asked for my favourite 5 things about the Natural History Museum.
Archie the Giant Squid
Giant Squid, Architeuthis dux , were until relatively recently a bit of a mystery to scientists, with everything we knew having come from the study of incomplete specimens washed up on beached, or found in the stomachs of sperm whales. If you’ve visited the AMNH in New York you might have seen the diorama of a squid vs whale fight constructed from speculation. In 2004, however, a trawler near the Falkland Islands caught a full specimen, which was donated to the Natural History Museum on the provision it be put on display. That posed a problem, however: the public galleries of the museum are nearly all within the iconic Waterhouse Building, which is a) not structurally sound enough to carry the weight of Archie’s giant fluid tank and b) a Grade One Listed Building, so not something you can just reinforce. Archie IS on pubic display, but to view her, you need to book a free public tour of the Darwin Centre Spirit Collection (ages 8 and up). This is well worth it.
The Aurora Pyramid of Hope
This collection of 296 naturally coloured diamonds exhibits a variety of fluorescent colours – and pretty tricks with light is of course one of my favourite things. On display in the Vault, next to a meteorite from Mars, the gems are displayed under alternating white and ultraviolet light, showing their incredible beauty to the maximum.
The Treasures Gallery
I still hold this was my idea – when we visited what was once the Tree Gallery (there is a cross section of a tree on the ceiling) and I said “they should turn this into a showcase gallery for their most iconic specimens. And the next thing I knew: BAM! TREASURES. This is the gallery where you can see a dodo skeleton, a first edition of On the Origin of Species, the only piece of Apollo moon rock owned by the UK, and of course, the fossil and counterslab of the London Archaeopteryx.
This piece of malachite
The Live Ants
I know, I know. Live leafcutter ants are so cliche for museums and zoos, but I don’t even care. Next to handleable objects, I think live and ‘real’ specimens are one of the most important things museums can provide their visitors. It makes a memorable, significant experience and captures people’s attention much more than models and labels ever can.