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Treasures: The new permanent collection at the Natural History Museum

30 November 2012 Tom Butler

It’s almost as if the museum have put together a highlights package to enthral and delight all comers.

There is a temptation for Londoners to become somewhat blasé and nonchalant about the cultural offerings on their doorstep. So when a new exhibition comes along to remind us of how incredibly fortunate we are, it should be celebrated and shouted about from the rooftops.

The new ‘Treasures’ exhibition at the Natural History Museum is one such exhibition and features 22 of the museum’s most significant and valuable objects. A new permanent addition, the Cadogan Gallery is a fantastic space based on the upper mezzanine of the Central Hall. The new, more intimate gallery therefore is a perfect compliment to the grandeur of what precedes it.

Each of the 22 items are fascinating in their own right and have a lovely back story which are cleverly detailed via interactive touch screens which will greatly help teachers usher the inevitable reams of school children around the gallery.

What strikes you is how incredibly eclectic and diverse the items are, and yet they combine to form a truly memorable collection. It’s clear that the folk at the museum are rightly proud of what they have achieved.

The museum’s director, Dr Michael Dixon has been quoted as saying, ‘The opening of Treasures in the Cadogan Gallery represents an exciting future for the Natural History Museum. By inviting the world to explore the highlights of our world famous collection in this permanent gallery, many generations of visitors will capture their own unique insight into our natural world.’

Welcomed by a Neanderthal skull around 50,000 years old and the first one ever discovered (in a cave in Gibraltar in case you were wondering), you soon become aware of the historical significance of what you are seeing before you and if you were still in any doubt then the next item to catch your eye leaves you awestruck.

The Archaeopteryx fossil is the most valuable of it’s kind in the museum’s collection. To give you some sort of idea why, well to begin with it’s 147 million years old. The detail on the slab of rock before you is incredible and contains the remains of the earliest known bird. Looking at it you can’t help but see both dinosaur and birdlike characteristics, if ever there was a Polaroid of evolution in action then this is surely it.

As if to compliment it, on the opposite side of the exhibition is an extremely rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species.’ Undoubtedly the most important book in the history of biology it sits alongside pigeons owned by the man himself with the story of how important the birds were to Darwin as evidence for his theory on evolution.

As well as the artefacts themselves, it’s the back stories that really capture the imagination. The tale of an Antarctic expedition team trekking for weeks in -40 to collect Emperor penguin eggs is one that defies belief, as is the one about a north African Barbary lion living in the Tower of London for over 100 years!

Clearly there has to be a great deal of thought put into this exhibition, but then when you can only pick 22 objects to display out of a collection of over 70 million possibilities how can there not be. It’s almost as if the museum have put together a highlights package to enthral and delight all comers. The only surprise must be that it has taken the museum this long to reveal such ‘Treasures’ to the public.

‘Treasures’ opens on Friday 30th November in the Cadogan Gallery. For more information on the exhibition please click on the link below

[url=http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/galleries/green-zone/treasures/index.html]http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/galleries/green-zone/treasures/index.html[/url]

Images courtesy of the Natural History Museum

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