The Treasures gallery at the Natural History Museum features some of the most significant items from the museum’s collection. I was so impressed with what was featured because not only were they important pieces of history, but they were also interesting to learn about. I had missed this room when I first visited the Natural History Museum, but I am glad I came back the day after to check it out.
Here are some of the things that are showcased there. All of the info comes from either the touch screens in the gallery or the audio tour.
[[GUY THE GORILLA]]
Just outside the room is the mounted body of Guy, a critically endangered western lowland gorilla who was captured as a baby in French Cameroon and eventually wound up being cared for by the London Zoo. He was a big hit with zoo visitors, but he died at 31 in 1978 during a dental operation.
[[BARBARY LION SKULL]]
This skull is one of two found at the Tower of London in 1937 and belonged to a barbary lion held in the royal menagerie. It is the oldest lion found in the UK after the extinction of the native lions and lived somewhere between the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
[[JOSEPH BANKS’ HERBARIUM SHEET]]
An herbarium is a collection of pressed leaves and flowers. The one on display belonged to naturalist Joseph Banks, who collected the plants while on Captain Cook’s voyage on the HMS Endeavor to Australia. The sheets on display are changed every three months.
[[THE BIRDS OF AMERICA]]
The first edition of The Birds of America, illustrated by naturalist John James Audubon, is the world’s most expensive book. Complete sets can go for £7 million (~$10.6 million USD) and there are only about 120 complete copies in the world. Audubon created life-size images of birds in their natural habitats, but he also made them look active and animated, changing how some artists thought about depicting animals. The museum changes the page on display monthly to prevent fading.
[[CHARLES DARWIN’S PIGEONS]]
Charles Darwin bred fancy breeds of rock doves in his garden. His birds were all part of the same species, but they had different characteristics. After crossbreeding them, he started developing the theory of natural selection. Darwin still spent twenty years collecting evidence, but he eventually published On the Origin of Species in 1859 and donated these birds to the Natural History Museum in 1867.
[[ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES]]
Speaking of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, the museum has three first edition copies. On the Origin of Species is one of the most important books in biology and contains Darwin’s theory of evolution. 1250 copies were made in the first print run in 1859 and it sold out the day it was published. The museum has 478 editions total in 38 different languages.
There are a lot of firsts in this gallery and this happens to be the first adult neanderthal skull discovered. The skull was found in Gibraltar in 1848 and is estimated to be 50,000 years old and come from a female. Neanderthals are the closest known relative to humans and this discovery helped start the field of paleoanthropology, or the study of ancient humans.
Following the theme of firsts, these are the first iguanodon teeth that were ever found and they helped trigger the discovery of dinosaurs. The teeth were found by Mary Mantell in Sussex in 1822. Mary’s husband, English scientist Gideon Mantell, thought that the teeth were similar to those of the modern iguana and suspected that giant lizards may have existed in the past. He was right.
The museum holds the first archaeopteryx fossil ever found and it is the type specimen to which all other specimens are compared. It’s the most valuable fossil in the museum’s collection and depicts the earliest known bird and a possible link between reptiles and birds. When it was found in Germany in 1861, people thought that it might be the remains of an angel.
The dodo was the first widely acknowledge case of human-driven extinction after it was killed off in Mauritius after only 90 years of human settlement on the island. Little evidence remains of the existence of dodos and the skeleton that is on display is actually a composite of multiple specimens. Scientists today are still unsure of what the bird actually looked like.
The great auk is another bird that was hunted to extinction. As the birds got rarer and rarer, demand from museums and collectors actually sealed their fate. This one was thought to have been collected in Iceland in 1837.
[[UK’s FIRST METEORITE]]
People used to be considered crazy for thinking that certain stones could fall from space, but when this meteorite landed in the UK on December 13, 1795, the theory became much less ridiculous. This meteorite is assumed to have been created after two asteroids collided 4.6 billion years ago.
In 1972, the United States launched three crew members into space for the Apollo 17 mission on the moon. A year later, Nixon sent out 135 pieces of moon rock to nations around the world as a gesture of good will. These pieces were put into a plaque that also contained a flag that was taken on the Apollo mission. The rock is about 3.7 billion years old and is made of basalt and ilmenite, a mineral made of iron, titanium, and oxygen.
There’s quite a few more things that I didn’t cover, but this is definitely a gallery that you should not miss because of how much important history is on display. Best of all, museum admission is free, so there should be no excuses. So many firsts!