Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

300 Years of Evolution Goes on View at Last

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

300 Years of Evolution Goes on View at Last

Article excerpt


THEY are the definitive record of the diversity of life on earth in the past three centuries, and for more than 120 years, the collection has been growing in the vaults of the Natural History Museum.

Now, 22 million of the museum's zoological specimens are being moved to a building where they will be put on display for the first time.

The "Spirit Collection" - so-called because the 450,000 specimens are pickled in jars containing 70 per cent methyl alcohol - is one of the biggest, and is certainly the most historically important, zoological collections in the world.

It includes hundreds of thousands of "type specimens" - the definitive examples from which the descriptions of new species are written, and which are then used to compare and identify subsequent discoveries.

Their new home is to be the [pound]27million Darwin Centre, which will allow the museum to open the bulk of its deposits to public gaze. It is only able to show 100th of them at the moment.

Echoing evolution, the move to the new temperature-controlled environment started with the fish and marine invertebrates which will be seen when the first phase of the new building opens next year.

They will be followed by turtles, reptiles, spiders and worms, and then by millions of insects including butterflies, bees, beetles and ants, all neatly pinned and labelled.

After that will come dried and pressed plants, and the museum's thousands of stuffed and dried mammals and birds.

When the move is completed, there will be guided tours. "We are going to do guided tours to show people the collections we are now moving, but in addition to that, we are going to have a meet-the-scientists session twice a day," says Phil Rainbow, head of zoology.

He adds: "It may involve things like video links, and I hope we can use our Wandsworth collections - where the largest mammals like stuffed elephant and rhinos are kept - so that we can have curators showing the public who come here some of the things we have got."

The collections were started by Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), a London physician and collector who invented milk chocolate and gave his name to Sloane Square. …

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