Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published June 28th 2014
The Unauthorised Biography of Planet Earth
Natural History Museum
Travel Through the Centre of the Earth.
Until Doctor Who releases the technical specifications of his Tardis, London's Natural History Museum is the next best thing when it comes to time travel. In many ways, the museum is very much like a Tardis. Sure, from the outside, the building may look big, but it is not until you start wandering round that you grasp the sheer enormity of the place.
When I visit somewhere, I like to cover the entire grounds; I don't want to miss a thing. But with the Natural History Museum unless you plan on going on a Dino Snore sleepover, it isn't possible. When I walked inside there was a sign indicating four coloured zones. Four zones. Okay, I can do that, I thought. Think again. These zones are highly deceptive, each branching off into several different areas. I made a good stab at it, but still didn't make it to the Darwin Centre before closing time.
Inside the Earth
There are a number of entrances to the museum, but if you enter via Exhibition Road, the first think to catch your eye will be the stairway through the centre of the earth. Travel the escalator to the top floor and brace yourself for some earth shattering discoveries in the Volcanoes & Earthquakes exhibit.
Create your own volcano
Hear you can learn how volcanoes work, and create your own volcano through an interactive game that teaches you the four different types it is possible to get. A model displaying the victims of Pompeii show the dangers volcanoes pose, but you also why they are a necessary part of life, giving us fertile soil.
Earthquakes on the other hand are nothing but a pain in the butt, causing widespread devastation. Before we discovered that earthquakes were caused by shifting tectonic plates, different cultures had all sorts of theories. Aristotle thought they were due to underground winds causing disturbance, while Hindus believed elephants were to blame, because myth said that Earth was carried on the backs of eight pachyderms. According to Japanese legend, earthquakes were cause by a giant catfish called Namazu. Namazu was held under the earth by the god, Kashima, but when he let down his guard, Namzu would thrash about.
Kashima let down his guard on the 17th January 1995, bringing an earthquake to the city of Kobe. The exhibit has a simulator so visitors can experience the event. To be honest, it wasn't very strong, and didn't really give me the impression of being in an earthquake. Then again, I'm sure it was terrifying if it happened in a building that wasn't meant to move, and you weren't expecting it. I also have a feeling that health & safety restrictions prevented the simulator from being any more realistic.
Today we have sophisticated equipment to predict earthquakes, but people from the past also invented ingenious ways to detect them. In 132AD, Chinese Mathematician, Zhang Heng, designed a device in which a dragon would drop balls into a frog's mouth; which frog got the ball determined the direction of the earthquake.
The museum was very busy when I went, but one place I managed to find complete peace was in the Earth Lab, which housed David Henley's collection of over three hundred fossils that were discovered in Dorset. Specimens include footprints, fish skeletons, and plants.
Giant Rock Crystal
Two of the most beautiful galleries to visit were Visions of Earth and Earth's Treasury, showcasing all the finest, sparkliest, and precious gems in their natural state, and polished into jewellery.
A member of the Bradsaurus Bunch
From the beginning explore the conception of the planet, from a poisonous atmosphere to a diverse ecosystem. It has some amazing skeletal displays, including that of the Bradysaurus, and an elephant graveyard. It also explains how man evolved from a long and slender build to cope with the heat in Africa to a short stocky build to suit the colder climate of Europe.
Bulldozing the planet.
Going back down to the ground floor, you'll enter the Today and Tomorrow exhibit, which focusses on how our activities impact the planet. Covering water, soil, and fuel, it uses case studies to show the effects of man's interference. There are some interesting statics go with it to. Did you know that per year, the UK makes 3,043 million bricks a year? That's 217 for a family of four.
If you're into taxidermy, then the Green Zone is for you. Staring off with a section on birds, you'll be astounded by the sheer variety; it is particularly interesting to note the differences between British birds and those from more exotic locations. I also liked comparing bird eggs, which went from the minuscule goldcrest to the enormous, but extinct elephant bird.
Anatomy of an Albatross head.
If you are sensitive to seeing dead or stuffed animals, then you might want to give this section a miss. I must admit I felt a little upset further on, when I saw a poached lion on display. The museum does note that these are all old specimens (and thus very faded), and the practice of killing endangered animals for display is no longer undertaken. Many of the specimens have been on display since the museum opened in 1881.
From a scientific point of view, I was absolutely fascinated. It is one thing to watch a nature program, and hear how big an animal is, but you never get a true sense until you are up against the real thing. I was astounded at just how big an ostrich is.
As well as living and endangered species, there were also a selection of extinct animals, including the infamous dead dodo.
Out of all the animals on display, however, there was none that I was more surprised by than the giant sloth. Sid from Ice Age gave me the completely wrong idea of scale. It was as tall as a tree.
Creepy Crawly Centre
From nature's giants, we move on to nature's creepy crawlies. Here you will find out the difference between a centipede and a millipede, that arachnids are more than just spiders, and what happens if you leave crumbs on the kitchen table.
If there is one exhibit you're going to take the kids to, this is it. It is full of colourful displays and interactive activities. They have even built mini ecosystem for a colony of ants, which you can watch at work.
From here, you can enter the Central Hall, which has the most beautiful architecture, reminiscent of a cathedral. Of course, not to be outdone by is Dippy the Diplodocus, who since his unveiling in 1905, has featured in newspaper cartoons, news reports, film, and television.
Founder, Richard Owen
The Central Hall is full of surprises, leading down corridors and hallways that seem to go one forever. On the top level you can find out more about the history of the museum itself, such as its founder, Richard Owen. It also covers Darwin, and a number of famous zoo animals, including Chi Chi the Panda and Guy the Gorilla.
One of the corridors leads you onto the section about evolution, and you can see how modern day animals have changed over hundreds of millennia. One interactive display has you compare skeletal remains of a horse's ancestors, and you have to determine which species it is related to.
Different types of rhino.
There were sections on marine life, Africa, marsupials, rodents, and everything in between. For the first time I was able to distinguish between the difference subspecies of rhino. It was at this point that my camera battery flashed 'battery exhausted', which was just the word I could have used to describe myself. I had been the museum for over five hours. There was still more to see, such as the section on dinosaurs, the art gallery, ecology room, and the Orange Zone, where you will find the Darwin Centre. But my camera had said night night, I was ready to do the same, and museum staff were starting to lock up certain areas and close.
So I didn't quite manage to make it all the way round, but considering Earth is four and half billion years old, I think 75% is pretty good going. Anyway, the past isn't going anywhere, so I can also go again.