Established in 1881, it’s a must see museum for both the building and its fantastic collection.
In my opinion, the most interesting part of the museum are the dinosaurs. Of course, the rest of the museum is equally fascinating, dedicated to the fauna that currently exists on Earth.
But rather than seeing sculpted animals, you may as well go to the zoo and see live animals or you can watch wildlife documentaries.
In order to write this post, I had to spend some time studying about dinosaurs. I assume that most of us have seen films like Jurassic Park. Basically, that was the scope of my knowledge about these pre-historic creatures.
There were several points that I had to wrap my head around. First of all that these animals existed on this same planet where we live now. Further, that they existed many millions of years ago, thus there was a time concept that needed proper understanding. The life span of an average human being is around 80 years, which is basically nothing compared with how far in the past we have to look when dinosaurs dominated the world.
They first appeared 243 – 233 million years ago during the Triassic period, and disappeared approximately 66 million years ago. They existed for some 170 – 180 million years which, we will all agree, is a very long period of time. The history of modern humans goes back around 300000 years, while it’s only in the previous 50000 years that humans became the way we are now.
Perhaps, you can imagine how many different dinosaurs existed before they became extinct. In fact, it’s mind boggling, especially if you consider that discovered dinosaur species are only one small part of what used to be there. In other words, most species were never fossilised and thus we will never have a complete picture of the past life on our planet.
DINOSAURS IN NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
The dinosaurs section in the museum is not big, although you can see some amazing creatures. Also, it’s a good start if you want to learn more about each animal. It’s easier to remember once you have a visual representation. At least, it was easier for me.
The holotype of Mantellisaurus, in the photo below, is the original specimen used to name this species. Discovered on the Isle of Wight in 1914, it’s one of the most complete dinosaurs found in the UK.
In fact, the Natural History Museum is home to one of the largest collections of holotypes in the world. Holotype is a single type specimen upon which the description and name of a new species is based.
The museum doesn’t have a T-Rex, but Albertosaurus is the closest that you can get. It lived around 70 million years ago, in the Late Cretaceous period. The same as the larger T-Rex, this formidable beast was probably at the top of the food chain in its ecosystem.
It’s certainly a creature that you would never want to encounter.
Allosaurus lived 155 – 145 million years ago, in the Late Jurassic period. It means that this particular beast lived long before Albertosaurus and, as the most abundant large predator of its time, it was also at the top of the food chain.
It makes you think how strange it is that the nature created such ferocious animals, although dangerous animals exist today too. Perhaps, not as big as these meat eating dinosaurs, but nevertheless equally savage: big cats, hyenas and crocodiles for example.
Massospondylus, a dinosaur from the Early Jurassic period, lived around 200 – 183 million years ago. Its remains were discovered in 1854 in South Africa. Thus, it’s one of the first dinosaurs to be named.
This animal most likely fed on plants, although it may have been omnivorous, the same as modern day bears.
Deinonychus or “Terrible Claw” lived during the Early Cretaceous period, approximately 115 – 108 million years ago. Although larger than its close relative Velociraptor, it was nevertheless too small to tackle large pray. Thus, it hunted in packs.
If it existed today, I am sure it’s an animal that you would never want to encounter.
Together with T-Rex, Triceratops is perhaps of of the most popular dinosaurs. It appeared 68 million years ago, in the Late Cretaceous period. It existed for only 2 million years, as it became extinct in the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event that happened 66 million years ago. Exactly the same as T-Rex.
Triceratops, clearly a formidable animal, was a plant eater.
I think that Baryonyx is a strange name for a dinosaur, but in all honesty they all sound very strange. This animal lived in the Early Cretaceous period, about 130 – 125 million years ago.
In the photo below, you can see the holotype specimen discovered in 1983. Its name means “Heavy Claw” due to the very large claw on the first finger.
It fed on fish, but it may have also been an active predator and scavenger.
PLESIOSAURUS – MARINE REPTILE
This is one of the earliest Pliosaurus, the large headed Plesiosaurs. It lived in the early part of the Jurassic period, around 187 – 178 million years ago.
It hunted fish and other pray.
A large part of the museum is dedicated to mammals. But as I’ve already mentioned, while it’s certainly interesting to see, you may as well go to the zoo.
Perhaps, the best exhibit is the Blue Whale in its original size, that you can see in the photo below.
What’s in my opinion much more interesting are the extinct mammals. The same as dinosaurs, they appeared and disappeared, although they lived long after dinosaurs.
In fact, mammals coexisted with dinosaurs, but they could never gain any prominence. They could not compete with far superior dinosaurs. I think, had it not been for the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, humans would never exist on Earth. Early primates wouldn’t have stood any chance and their evolution into homo sapiens species wouldn’t have taken its course.
The Ice Age relative of the modern elephant, American Mastodon, existed in North America as recently as around 13000 years ago.
They co-existed with humans, but were most likely driven to extinction through hunting, loss of habitat and climate change.
This herbivore creature lived in northern Africa approximately 35 million years ago, however 30 million years after dinosaurs disappeared.
It browsed in areas of tropical rain forest.
Australia spent many millions of years in geographical isolation. In that time, many mammal species evolved and died out. The unique Australian fauna included huge herbivores, such as Diprotodon.
This strange looking animal was still alive 30000 years ago, long after humans arrived to Australia. It’s not clear why Diprotodon disappeared, probably because of human hunting and climate change.
Megatherium, the giant ground sloth, lived in the cool dry scrub and grasslands of South America until approximately 10000 years ago.
When you see its skeleton, you’d think that it’s a dinosaur. But it’s not, it was a mammal.
The dodo is probably the most well-known of all extinct birds. This flightless bird, endemic to Mauritius, became extinct some time in the late 17th century.
It disappeared because of the arrival of humans on the island. Apart from hunting them, humans released predators such as pigs, cats and rats which fed on the dodo’s eggs and chicks.
You can certainly learn a lot in the Natural History Museum in London. Your visit can also be a good start if you want to delve further in the history of our planet.
The dinosaur era is fascinating, although at first it may seem rather overwhelming. Dinosaurs existed for a very long period of time and we will hopefully unearth many new exciting species.
What I’ll do in the future, I’ll make sure to visit natural history museums in other places, where I’ll be able to see many other species of these remarkable creatures.