Prehistoric Animals


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London Museum of Natural History

London Museum of Natural History - NHM

For more than 200 years, the London Museum of Natural History has exhibited the first fossils of dinosaurs ever discovered. The museum has gradually assembled a gigantic collection of fossils from around the world. The British Museum opened in 1753 in the London district of Bloomsbury. From then on, we could observe a great choice of natural or historical curiosities. The first significant collection of fossils and other geological specimens of the museum was made from purchases and donations by prominent naturalistic gentlemen of that time. Among them, Williams Smith (who is often considered the founder of geology) and Gideon Mantell who discovered the remains of the Iguanodon. All the specimens collected by Charles Darwin during his trip on the Beagle were also collected there. The museum was moved in 1845, but by 1856 its collection became so impressive that a new building had to be built. Specimens obtained by the British Geological Survey from all over the British Empire were added to the collection. The impressive building that now houses the museum was completed in 1881. One of the main advocates for the museum's move was the famous anatomist Sir Richard Owen, who went so far as to influence the very style of the building. It was he who first coined the term "Dinosauria" after he had finished inventorying the remains of dinosaurs present at the museum at that time. His inventory focused on the complete remains of Megalosaurus, Hylaeosaurus and Iguanodon. In 1963, the Natural History section was detached from the British Museum (which now only offers historical or archaeological collections) and was officially named the Natural History Museum, which expanded further in 1986 when it housed the Geological Museum collections located only steps away. Today, the London Museum of Natural History is home to some 9,000,000 specimens, including nearly 30,000 fossils of reptiles and other amphibians. The museum is renowned as a center for the study of paleontology, including the study of dinosaurs. During the past 30 years, leading experts such as Dr. Alan Charing and Dr. Angela Milner have been working on it. The London museum dinosaur collections contain important specimens: Megalosaurus, Hylaeosaurus, Hypsilophodon, Dacentrurus, Rhabdodon (or Mochlodon), Polacanthus, Euoplocephalus, Thecodontosaurus and Brachiosaurus. The London specimen of Archaeopteryx, probably one of the best-known fossils and one of only seven existing specimens, was acquired by the museum in 1861 for 1050 euros, an important sum for the time. Sir Richard Owen's work on this specimen is considered a founding act concerning the origin of birds.

It is now admitted that Archaeopteryx is the first bird, although its morphology is closer to that of dinosaurs. The Scelidosaurus is another celebrity of the museum. This small, armored dinosaur was studied by Sir Richard Owen from an almost complete skeleton discovered in 1863 in the Dorset region of southern England. During the 1960s, scientists at the museum developed a technique to separate fossilized bones from limestone rocks where they were found with a solution that was low in acid. Thus, many details concerning the anatomy of Scelidosaurus were brought to light. The London museum also contains little-known dinosaur specimens, such as opiate bones of Rapator, Walgettosuchus and Fulgurotherium, all from Australia. However, the validity of some specimens is now questioned, notably Aristosuchus found in the Wealden, and Proceratosaurus, in the Jurassic layers of southern England. The presentation of the dinosaurs in the museum was completely redone in 1991, so that they are presented in a manner more concordant with their biological and behavioral habits. Crossing the main hall, visitors come face to face with two impressive skeletons of Diplodocus and Triceratops.

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