Natural History Museum, London

By Charles Tanford & Jacqueline Reynolds

Natural History Museum, London.

The Natural History Museum and the Geological Museum used to be separate entities but are now combined. The main building is a fantastic architectural structure, well worth viewing for its own sake. The principal exhibits in the Natural History Museum include dinosaurs and their living relatives, man’s place in evolution, human biology, and living and fossil mammals. The museum has recently undergone a major administrative reorganization and now leans toward “trendy” presentations, ostensibly to lure an otherwise uninterested public.

The formerly separate Geological Museum has a good exhibit called Story of the Earth, but without names of people or any reference to the titanic struggles that often took place to establish individual chapters of the story. This is a pity because many of the controversies make fascinating stories. The exhibit does, however, accurately present the current views on the origin of sun, earth, and moon, describes the inner core of the earth, the surrounding mantle and the outer crust; it has up-to-date accounts of very modern topics, such as reversal of magnetic field and plate tectonics.

A fascinating organization in the museum’s “back rooms” is the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, the body responsible for keeping track of the scientific names of all species of the animal kingdom (fossils as well as alive) and for assigning names to new species – 15,000 new species names are added to the zoological literature each year! The commission’s quarters are not open to the public, but visitors with any legitimate interest are warmly received. (The “back rooms” of the museum have recently been subjected to controversial administrative changes with the objective of diminishing scholarly activities. The future is somewhat uncertain.)

A statue commemorating Richard Owen, founder of the museum but also resolute opponent of Darwinism, stands impressively on the staircase.