Visiting the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona
Visiting natural history, palaeontology and science museums whenever I visit a new city is something of a tradition to me. This time, I had the pleasure of visiting the Natural Sciences Museum of Barcelona or Museu de Ciències Naturals de Barcelona. The museum is located in a part of Barcelona that I can only describe as what looked like the ‘business’ quarter. Getting there from the centre of Barcelona was pretty easy and the Museum is a very short walk from the Meresme-Forum metro station.
We visited the museum on a Tuesday afternoon, which had its positives and negatives. The best part about it was that it was empty and we got to enjoy the exhibitions without a crowd around us. The bad part of visiting the museum on a Tuesday is that the shop was closed…sad times.
The museum was featuring an incredible permanent exhibition called ‘Planet Life’ that aims at interpreting and telling the history of planet Earth as a result of physical and chemical interactions (more to follow). They also had a temporary exhibition called ‘We are Nature’ that focused on exploring humans’ place in nature. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to attend the temporary exhibition so I just focused on their permanent one.
Natural Science Institutions and Museums of Catalunia
Just before entering the main exhibition, the museum features a sample collection with different items from different museums and institutions in Catalunia - these all focus on displays in botany, zoology, geology, and palaeontology. I really appreciated this way of promoting a collaborative group of natural sciences institutions and museums in a particular area. It definitely brought certain exhibitions to attention that I probably wouldn’t have known about and had I had more time to travel around Catalunia, I would certainly have liked to visit some of them. Here are some of my favourites:
Caretta caretta (Loggerhead turtle) from the Darder Museum
The museum’s natural sciences collection has almost 20,000 objects and derives mainly of a donation made by Francesc Darder i Llimona (1851-1918) who was a veterinary surgeon and taxidermist. The museum is described as ‘an example of the 19th-century view of the natural sciences and the geology and biodiversity of the area of influence of a unique space, the Banyoles lake’.
The young stuffed Caretta caretta specimen in the photograph belongs to the Darder Museum and is dated as 1916. They explain that it has a coat of varnish, which was customary for taxidermy specimens of the time.
Right femur of a hadrosauroid from the Conca Dellà Museum
Their collections focus on the archaeology of the Roman world and palaeontology of the end of the Cretaceous period (between 65-70 million years ago).
The photograph shows the proximal part of the right femur of an ornithopod dinosaur of the hadrosaur group. They point out that the distal part of the piece has been lost but that you can still see many of the femoral characteristics of the hadrosaurs.
They also explain that this piece is one of the most modern fossils of a non-avian dinosaur in Europe and that it was found in the stratigraphic levels - very close to the last levels of the Cretaceous period and the first levels of the Palaeocene.
Hipparion catalaunicum Skull from the Miquel Crusafont Catalan Institute of Palaeontology
Their palaeontological collection of vertebrates has 200,000 specimens dating from 240 million to 10,000 years ago. The institute has one of the most emblematic research on the fauna of the Neogene period in the Iberian peninsula, which was initiated by Miquel Crusafont in the middle of the 20th century.
Rather fitting, therefore, that the specimen featured was this complete skull of the Hipparion catalaunicum, an ancestor of modern horses. They point out that the complete dome and base of the skull are conserved, along with some of the maxillary teeth.
Planet Life: Biography of the Earth Exhibition
This exhibition was really well put together with some amazing pieces on show and a really well-curated selection. The idea of showing the history of planet Earth in a walkthrough timeline style was great and the pieces selected to illustrate each era were mostly very well selected. This was truly a multidiscipline experience, albeit mostly within the sciences, of course. The exhibition was split into three main parts that followed a somewhat natural chronological order. These are:
Biography of the Earth: a journey through the history of life and its co-evolution with our planet.
Earth Today: as the name suggests, it describes the Earth as it is today (as far as we understand it).
Islands of Science: these are what the museum describes as semi-permanent, renewable sections of small displays, within the main exhibition, that focus on subjects such as evolution, taxonomy, animal behaviours, etc.
If you’d like more information on this exhibition, their website has a great page that covers the individual sections of the exhibition in greater detail. However, in this post, I will only focus on the specific displays and pieces that caught my attention - and yes, you may notice that a lot of them focus on pre-historic reptiles and amphibians as well as Zoology in general (no surprise there) - but it is worth noting that they had a great selection on botany and geology if that is something in which you are more interested.
Eurypterus remipes (Sea Scorpions)
These lived between the Ordovician and Carboniferous periods and are representative of the Merostomata arthropods which appeared in the Cambrian period. Representative species today include the horseshoe crab, which is often referred to as a ‘living fossil’.
The Paleoniscoidea were the first fish during the upper Silurian to lower Devonian periods with a bony skeleton. Modern-day representatives include the sturgeon and the paddlefish.
Branchiosaurus (Protriton) petrolei
This is a bit controversial as some palaeontologists believe that the genus is not valid since this would only be a juvenile phase in the development of a much larger amphibian.
However, they would be comparable to modern-day newts - they certainly have the cuteness factor - and lived from the late Carboniferous to the early Permian periods.
Plesiosaurus were carnivorous marine reptiles with a broad body and short tail that shared their habitat with the elasmosaurs. They all became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period.
Although this is a replica, I just had to include it as one of my favourites because - capitasaurians. These were cosmopolitan amphibians, as the museum describes them, that were abundant in the Iberian Peninsula during the Triassic period.
These were small freshwater reptiles that lived on the Gondwana continent during the late Carboniferous and early Permian periods. Their discovery in southern Africa and Brazil, speaks of the split of the super-continent.
Jaw fragment of a Prognathodon anceps (Mosasaur)
The jaw fragment of these carnivorous marine reptiles clearly illustrates the specialised teeth that characterised them.
Gafsachelys sp. (Fossil Sea Turtle)
The museum’s description on this specimen was pretty great: ‘The first chelonids (turtles) appeared in the Triassic and were marine-dwelling. They had teeth that nowadays have completely disappeared and although the plastron (underside) was complete, the carapace was not formed by bony plates but by the ribs which broadened distally’.
For animal lovers out there, their ‘Animals’ section had some amazing specimens - a mixture of taxidermy, wet collections, skeletons and an entire sub-section on ‘Animal Behaviour’. I took a ridiculous amount of photographs and the below is a carefully selected sample of the herpetology related displays.
Finally, as I previously mentioned, I did not have time to check out their temporary exhibition ‘We are Nature’. However, I thought the cover image was really well designed and I’d like to think that the exhibition would be just as well put together.