Permanent Exhibition » 250 Years of Natural Sciences

  • Gorilla / Gorille
  • Tortue / Schildpad / Turtle / Schildkröte (CITES)
  • Belgica (screen / écran / scherm / Bildschirm)
  • The fossilized tree stump from Hoegaarden in '250 Years of Natural Sciences'

250 Years of Natural Sciences

In this room are the fantastic results of memorable scientific expeditions, unusual excavations, moving events and remarkable specimens that trace the evolution of our museum. With its 37 million specimens (minerals, dinosaurs, insects, shells and mammals from both land and sea), today the museum’s collection is the third largest natural science collection in Europe, only exceeded by Paris and London! Charles de Lorraine would never have imagined this impressive establishment when he started his curiosity cabinet in 1751!

Remarkable Elements

Antarctic Meteorite
  • The meteorite when being discovered in Antarctica

During the austral summer of 2012-2013, a Belgian-Japanese team collected no less than 425 meteorites on the Nansen Ice Field in Antarctica. This 18kg specimen was discovered on the 28th of January 2013. According to Belgian researchers, it is the largest meteorite found in East Antarctica for 25 years, and the fifth largest of more than 16,000 meteorites found in this part of Antarctica.

This meteorite probably originated from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It is an ordinary chondrite, in other words, the most abundant kind of meteorite found on Earth. However, its size makes it very special. Come and judge for yourselves: the meteorite is now on display in the room, opposite the Belgica!

The Petrified Forest of Hoegaarden
  • Photo of the fossilized tree stump of Hoegaarden in the hall '250 years of Natural Sciences'

The construction of the high-speed rail link between Brussels and Liege laid bare hundreds of fossilized tree stumps and trunks.

They are the remains of the Glyptostroboxylon sp., a tree which is related to the bald cypresses that now grow in the swamps of Florida and Louisiana. They were found in a peat-lignite layer, which proves that the area was a swamp 55 million years ago.

You can count the growth rings yourself on the fossil tree stump on display.

 

The Lier Mammoth
  • Frontal photo of the mammoth from Lier

While work was being done on the Nete River in Lier (in the province of Antwerp) in 1860, the bones of two adult mammoths, one young mammoth, a cave hyena, a horse, and a deer were discovered. All have been dated to the Upper Palaeolithic (35,000 – 10,000 years ago).

In 1869, Louis De Pauw was given the job of trying to reconstruct an adult mammoth skeleton (he would later be put in charge of assembling the Bernissart iguanodons). He used carved wooden pieces to replace missing bones. Visitors came from all over Europe to admire the result. At the time, the only other mounted mammoth skeleton in the world was in St Petersburg, in Russia.

Admire our great mammoth in the ‘250 years of Natural Sciences’ hall.

The Tasmanian Wolf
  • Photo of the Tasmanian Tiger

The thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian wolf or Tasmanian tiger, is an Australian marsupial. Or at least it was: the last one died in 1936. Systematically eradicated by humans, the species’ ability to open its mouth widely was thought to be detrimental to sheep farming. However, it was a quiet and easily tameable animal.

The thylacine exhibited in this room has been part of our collection since 1871! It is a very rare and fragile historic specimen, so humidity and lighting have to be well adjusted. That is why the light only switches on when there is someone nearby.

In the hall, you can watch a video of the last thylacine to be captured and hear its heartbreaking howl. 

Expertise Against Illegal Animal Trading
  • Photo of the Siberian tiger exhibited in our hall '250 years of Natural Sciences'

Our researchers are often asked for expert advice to help create international agreements. Their role is to inform legislators and to identify specimens that are checked or seized by customs. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) is one such agreement. It aims to regulate the trade in threatened plant and animal species.

The Siberian tiger, Panthera tigris altaica, has been listed in Annex I of CITES since 22 October 1987. According to the WWF, there were less than 3200 of these animals left in the wild in 2010! The specimen displayed in this room was confiscated and entrusted to the museum by the Antwerp legal authorities in 2006.

The Belgica
  • The Belgica, trapped in the ice
  • Photo of Adrien de Gerlache

The first international scientific expedition to the South Pole was led by a Belgian, Adrien de Gerlache. He left for Antarctica in August 1897 on board the Belgica.

For two years scientists carried out oceanographic and meteorological measurements, mapping the Gerlache Strait, making an inventory of the local terrestrial fauna and taking samples of marine life. They brought back so many newly discovered species to the museum that it took nearly fifty years to study them all.

Listen to the exciting account of the expedition, watch it on screen and discover the results.

The Ishango Bone
  • Photo of the Ishangp Bone
  • Photo of Jean de Heinzelin on the bank of Lake Edward in 1950
  • Photo of the four sides of the Ishango bone

In 1950 Jean de Heinzelin, a geologist from the Museum, led excavations on the Congolese bank of Lake Edward. In the ground he discovered this 10cm long bone, which is topped with a fragment of quartz and is nearly 20,000 years old.

What makes it unique are the notches that appear to be grouped together. On one side, for example, there are groups of three and six (2 x 3), four and eight (2 x 4), and five and ten (2 x 5) notches.

Take a look at the bone yourself and try to decipher it using the interactive display.

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