Dear Biologists

What do you think the best natural history museum is?

Well, thats a big question Peter. It really depends if you are looking from a 'scientific' perspective, or a 'general public interested in Natural History' one.

Scientists love big museums with lots of scientific collwctions that we can access, wheres the general public want good, educational displays. Some people want to see lots of animatronic dinosaurs and TV displays, other like dusty old bones of unusual fossils and animals pickled in jars.

Persoanlly I do love the Natural History Museum in London, though I am rather predjudiced as a) I used to work there, b) I'm British, and c) I have not actually seen that many museums abroad! Still,  it is easily the most beautiful building anywhere for a museum, has one of the largest scientific collections and although it trailed the US for a long time, the exhibits are getting better and better.  Plus they are now building the new Darwin towers to bring much more of their collections to the general public.

These things do tend to be rather personal though, and I expect to see a few more posts here selling you other museums!

The Natural History Museum in Kensington is "easily the most beautiful building anywhere for a museum"?  It is certainly very beautiful, but I'm not sure that the Oxford University NHM isn't even better: it's just as grand but less grandiose, and the mostly-glass ceiling means that everything inside is beatifully lit by natural daylight, whereas many parts of the Kensington NHM (especially the dinosaur exhibition unfortunately) are very dimly lit and difficult to see clearly.

Other wonderful museums, if you enjoy being awestruck, include the Humboldt Museum in Berlin, and the Field Musuem in Chicago.  Both of these have life-size Brachiosaurus skeletons, and these are the largest scientifically credible skeletal mounts of any dinosaur anywhere in the world.  (I say scientifically credible because there are other larger skeletons -- notably the "Argentinosaurus" mount in the Fernbank Museum in Georgia, but that is a complete fiction.)

In the heading you are asking for 'best dinosaur museum' and in the text 'best natural history museum'.

The Natural History Museum in London probably get my vote as the best natural history museum just because they have extremely diverse collections of other fossil groups than dinosaurs.

Berlin and Chicago are impressive, but for best dinosaur museum, my vote would go to Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. They have new functional buildings and fantastic dinosaur collections. Even if they are situated 'in the middle of nowhere' out on the prairie, they attract a number of visitors that many museums situated in cities would envy them.

Last edited by Eric Tetlie (14th Apr 2007 21:26:59)

I have to give a shout out for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Not only is the whole museum great (and enormous, like the London one; you can easily spend 2 days there), but the dinosaur exhibits are world-class and very nicely organized conceptually and physically, with more space per skeleton than most museums give (not so crammed together).

I would have to agree with John on this one (much as I love the Natural History museum in London).  In addition to the dinosaurs, I think the mammal exhibits in New York are the best I've seen in any museum.  I don't normally go in for stuffed animals (I find them frankly macabre) but the dioramas are so well set up, and the painted back-drops so realistic, that it really brings the animals to life.  I also think that the information is communicated at just the right level; it's accessable without being dumbed down.  Speaking as someone who is as fascinated with the history of the Earth as I am with the history of its life, I'm also pleased to report that they have an excellent geology section there as well.

What a biased lot we seem to be.  I also love the NHM in London.  To this day it remains my favourite day out in London!

However, having been fortunate to do both fieldwork in China, and attend a conference in Beijing, I would have to say that the Natural History museum in Beijing is pretty special. 

There are displays on the earliest animals (they are a little small, or very flat, in most cases, to make really exciting dioramas) and some really nice CGI of Anomalocaris and other Chenjiang/Burgess Shale organisms.  The dinosaurs are pretty good too, having some great Sauropods, Theropods, and several beautiful early bird/feathered dinosaur specimens.

On top of all of this there are some nice displays about early human and Plant evolution, you enter the museum across a little grassy area with life sized dinosaur models, and the fossilised trunks of plants.

Last edited by Neil Gostling (17th Apr 2007 08:18:22)