A walk through the MNCN

An expedition through one of the oldest museums in the world.

By Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, MNCN - CSIC

Take a walk through the MNCN (National Museum of Natural Sciences) in Madrid, one of the oldest museums in the world. Through its exhibitions and its scientific research you can learn about the importance of biodiversity conservation and environmental protection.

Geology

The skeleton of dinosaurs and other fossil remains are the protagonists of this area of the exhibition which shows the evolution of the Earth. More than 4,500 million years concentrated on a journey through fossils from all geological eras.

The skeleton of the Diplodocus carnegii, known as “Dippy”, come from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh, USA). This replica was donated by Andrew Carnegie to King Alfonso XIII in 1913.

“Dippy” is one of the most outstanding pieces in the museum.

The Mastodon Gomphotherium angustidens is one of the most complete specimens from Europe. It was found in a clay quarry in Yuncos (Toledo, Spain).

Gomphotheres had about the size of the current Indian elephant and they had four defences, of which the superior ones were more developed than the inferiors.

The skeletons of dinosaurs and large mammals are the protagonists of this exhibition area.

It is a unique opportunity to contemplate the dimensions of these already extinct animals, as the Megatherium, the Elephas antiquus or the Cave bear.

The Megatherium americanum arrived to the Royal Cabinet of Natural History more than 200 years ago from Lujan (Argentina).

Besides being the species holotype, it was the first skeleton assembled in an anatomical position. It was studied by G. Cuvier, the father of palaeontology as a scientific discipline.

The elephant Elephas antiquus was very abundant during the Pleistocene in Europe. This specimen was found in 1958 in an old railway station in Villaverde Bajo (Madrid, Spain).

The current mounting was performed with the fossil remains of at least two different individuals. It is 4.5 meters tall and the defences are about 2.5 meters long.

Biodiversity

The aim of the exhibition “Biodiversity” is to raise awareness among visitors on the importance of biodiversity and the need to preserve it.

This area explains what is biodiversity and the different biomes on the planet. We can observe outstanding pieces such as the African elephant, a whale skeleton and a diorama of bee-eaters.

Diorama created by the taxidermist José María Benedito in 1916. It shows 37 European bee-eaters Merops apiaster).

This diorama masterfully reports different aspects of the biology of this migratory species that visits our country for breeding.

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is one of the most emblematic pieces of the museum. It was hunted in Sudan in 1913 by the Duke of Alba and mounted by Luis Benedito in 1930.

The skin, which weighed 600 kg and occupied an area of 37 m2, was sent to the Royal Botanic Garden to be prepared.

Common rorqual skeleton (Balaenoptera physalus), the second biggest animal after the blue whale.

It's a female whale which stranded on a beach in Marbella (Málaga, Spain) in 2008. It is 21 meters long and the weight of the bones is 2,500 kg.

Biology (Sierra de Guadarrama)

This area of the exhibition groups some of the animals that can be found in the last natural area that was added to the network of National Parks in Spain: the National Park Sierra de Guadarrama.

It includes a large number of birds and the fighting bull, either represented individually or in group dioramas. Most of them are true masterpieces of taxidermy created by Luis and Jose Maria Benedito, early in the 20th Century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Veragua’s cattle became the standard for the breed of Spanish Fighting bulls.

The most emblematic specimen was this bull, donated to the Museum by the Duke of Veragua in 1911 and mounted by the taxidermist Luis Benedito to be publicly exhibited.

The spanish imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti) is an Iberian endemism associated to the Mediterranean forest.

Although it can be found at high mountains and coastal dunes, it requires a certain degree of tree coverage and open areas where it can hunt its main prey: rabbits.

The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is the largest eagle in Spain.

It nests the highest and most inaccessible rock formations and only on rare occasions it nests in trees. It is a super predator, hunting large preys such as goats or roe deers.

The Royal Cabinet

This area aims to recreate the Royal Cabinet of Natural History created in 1771 by the King Carlos III. The current National Museum of Natural History is the inheritor of the Royal Cabinet of Natural History.

Important historical pieces can be observed such as the Asian elephant, the Malayan Pangolin, or an oil painting on canvas with the portrait of a female anteater, among others.

This Malayan Pangolin (Manis javanica) coming from Java, is a historical specimen.

It was a gift from the Museum of Natural History of Leiden (Holland). The pangolins are insectivorous mammals which live in the tropical forests of South East Asia. This species is on the verge of extinction due to hunting.

The Asian elephant is one of the first specimens mounted in Europe. This specimen was a gift from the governor of Philippines to the King Carlos III. Unfortunately, it died in 1777, four years after his arrival in Spain.

Carlos III asked the painter and taxidermist Juan Bautista Brú to naturalize it, for its exhibition at the Royal Cabinet of Natural History, which was inaugurated in the previous year.

The Japanese giant spider crab (Macrocheira kaempferi) is the largest arthropod known today.

It is almost 4 meters long from claw to claw, its forelegs reach up to 1.5 m, and it weighs more than 20 kg. It is very long-lived, some specimens are known to be about 100 years of age.

Oil paint on canvas entrusted to Rafael Mengs by King Carlos III in 1776. The documents provided by the researchers of the MNCN and other specialists reinforce the theory that this could be a painting by Francisco de Goya.

Credits: Story

Coordination: Pilar López García-Gallo, Communication and Public Programs Department, MNCN-CSIC.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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