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Fossils are the remains or imprints of organisms (animals, plants) that are preserved, usually in a sedimentary rock such as sandstone or limestone. Most fossils are those of bones, teeth or shells as the tough parts of the organism decompose more slowly than the soft parts, hence they are more likely to fossilise. However, fossils of eggs, plants, insects, skin and feathers have also been discovered.

Apart from the fossils and rocks they bring back from their international research trips, our palaeontologists, archaeobiologists and geologists have more than 3 million fossils and about 40 kilometres of core samples at their disposal in the Institute for further research! Some of the finest specimens are on display at the Museum and you can discover them for yourself during a visit, or as part of an activity with our education service.

Our researchers study freshwater fauna in rivers, lakes, ponds, pools, springs and groundwater in Belgium, not to mention elsewhere in Europe, Russia, South America, Africa and Australia. Although some of them base their research on the fossils in our collections (of fish in particular), the majority focus on modern species such as ostracods (microscopic crustaceans that are about 1mm long and whose presence can tell us about quality of their habitat), macro-invertebrates (including beetles, shield bugs, other insect larvae, slugs and worms) and amphibians (e.g. frogs and salamanders). Sometimes the researchers even create genetic “ID cards” of the species they are working on by using a technique called DNA barcoding.

Modern and fossilised freshwater animals including insects, molluscs, fish, amphibians, turtles and crocodiles are on display in the Museum. Discover them for yourself with a self-guided visit or by taking part in an activity ran by our Education Service.

The World Ocean is made up of the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Antarctic and Arctic oceans and their seas, gulfs, straits and bays. It is home to a huge variety of species and ecosystems that are currently threatened by overfishing, oil and gas extraction, sand and gravel quarrying, tourism, industrial pollution and climate change.

We need to understand the ocean in order to better protect it, so our scientists carry out a range of research projects. These include monitoring the North Sea (using the Belgica research vessel for example), developing mathematical models (e.g. of sediment movement and to predict currents), conducting international oceanographic expeditions to Antarctica (the first of which was led by Adrien de Gerlache on board the original Belgica at the end of the 19th century), making an inventory of sponges on the southern coasts of South America, DNA barcoding marine nematodes, doing geological research on tsunamis and studying whale fossils.

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Life on Earth first appeared nearly 3.8 billion years ago with simple bacteria that evolved in water. With time, organisms multiplied and became more diverse. Today there are billions of creatures, belonging to millions of species, inhabiting our planet. As they evolved, these species went through many changes; some have become extinct while others continue to diversify.

Evolution is not only a major theme in the Museum and our educational activities, but also among our scientists. Our geologists, palaeontologists and archaeobiologists, among others, investigate the evolution of life over geological time. Anthropobiologists and archaeologists concentrate on human evolution (focussing on aspects such as anatomy, adaptation to the environment and culture). Some of our biologists also study evolution, in particular the sexual and asexual reproduction of modern species.

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