Treasures That Unlocked Nature's Secrets

The Natural History Museum

These objects have been selected from more than 70 million specimens, books and artworks that lie at the heart of the Natural History Museum, forming one of the most diverse and revealing collections in the world. Each object has an extraordinary story, telling us something about our planet and the remarkable people who have helped explore and understand it. Some shook our world view, others inspired new insights or highlighted our responsibility as custodians of the natural world. All have fired imaginations. Many of these treasures continue to advance knowledge. They are used by scientists here and throughout the world in the collective endeavour to explore nature.

This fragment was the first evidence moa existed. Richard Owen, first superintendent of this Museum, used his great anatomical knowledge to predict it belonged to a giant flightless bird.

These delicate glass artworks of sea creatures were made with impeccable accuracy using techniques no one has been able to replicate.

This is a rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the most important book in biology, in which he describes his theory of evolution by natural selection.

These insects are from Alfred Russel Wallace’s personal collection. He co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin. He kept very few of the specimens he collected.

Charles Darwin owned these everyday pigeons, and they provided crucial evidence for his theory that changed the world: evolution by natural selection.

This one-metre page is from the world’s most expensive book, John James Audubon’s The Birds of America. There are only around 120 complete four-volume copies in the world.

The earliest surviving meteorite seen to land in the UK and one of the specimens that confirmed meteorites fall from space. It formed during the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

Beautifully carved, it is easy to imagine this shell was one of Sir Hans Sloane’s favourite specimens. His huge collection forms the core of the British and Natural History Museums.

This egg is one of three fresh eggs collected by Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to Antarctica. It was hoped that the embryo inside would confirm a link between reptiles and birds.

This lion was the jewel of the King’s zoo in the Tower of London 700 years ago. It is also the oldest lion found in the UK after the extinction of native wild lions.

The great auk is one of the most powerful symbols of the damage humans can cause. The species became extinct not through habitat loss but centuries of intense exploitation.

This bird was one of the first widely acknowledged cases of human-caused extinction. Its fame was secured by Lewis Carroll in his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Archaeopteryx (say ark-ee-OPT-er-ix) is the earliest known bird and this is the first one ever found. It is the most valuable fossil
in the Museum’s collection.

Richard Owen was the man who created the Natural History Museum. This portrait is by William Holman Hunt, one of the most significant artists of his time and founding member of the Pre-Raphaelites.

This is the only piece of Apollo Moon rock owned by the UK. It was given as a gesture of goodwill by President Nixon following the last manned Apollo Moon mission.

The father of geology, William Smith, used these fossils to prove that the rocks beneath our feet are layered through time. This launched the new science of geology, the study of Earth’s structure.

These pressed plants helped lead the great Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus to establish a revolutionary new way of classifying the world.

This is the first adult skull of a Neanderthal ever discovered. They were our closest known relatives and this specimen helped begin the science of palaeoanthropology – the study of ancient humans.

This was the first revealing human fossil ever found in Africa. It is the most likely ancestor to modern humans Homo sapiens and is still the finest known example of its kind.

Guy the gorilla was one of London Zoo’s best-loved residents. During a dental operation in 1978 Guy suffered heart failure and died. He was eventually moved into the Museum's research collections.

Natural History Museum
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