Visiting the National Museum of Natural History and Science in Lisbon

Replica of the fossilised cranium of a  Herrerasaurus ischigualastensis  | Credit: Talita Bateman

Replica of the fossilised cranium of a Herrerasaurus ischigualastensis | Credit: Talita Bateman

On the 29th June we visited the National Museum of Natural History and Science in Lisbon. This is my second trip to Portugal but my first to Lisbon. The Museum is located near ‘Estacao do Rato’ and features a Botanical Garden right next to it. The entrance was around 5 euros but for an extra euro, you get access to the Botanical Garden as well.

The building itself was pretty impressive and of significant scientific history. You can still see and walk around the chemistry laboratory that was used in practical classes during the second half of the 19th century, with fume cupboards and some of the original equipment included, such as a 19th century alembic.

Chemistry lab used in practical classes in the second half of the 19th century | Credit: Talita Bateman

Chemistry lab used in practical classes in the second half of the 19th century | Credit: Talita Bateman

19th century alembic | Credit: Talita Bateman

19th century alembic | Credit: Talita Bateman

The museum had some really interesting exhibitions going, such as the ‘Moranças’ exhibition that featured traditional habitats of Guinea-Bissau and the close relationship between mankind and the environment. One of my favourite items on display at this exhibition was the Kora musical instrument. This was described as a 21-string harp-lute type chordophone, with a resonance box made out of gourd and skin top that was played by musicians referred to as djidius or griots.

Kora Musical Instrument | Credit: Talita Bateman

Kora Musical Instrument | Credit: Talita Bateman

Koni and Banda Ritual Masks | Credit: Talita Bateman

Koni and Banda Ritual Masks | Credit: Talita Bateman

Another exhibition that caught my attention was the collection featuring the life and work of Francisco de Arruda Furtado. Arruda Furtado was a Portuguese naturalist born in 1854 that dedicated his life to studying Malacology (a branch of invertebrate zoology that deals with Mollusca) and anthropology.

Francisco de Arruda Furtado, Life & Work Exhibition | Credit: Talita Bateman

Francisco de Arruda Furtado, Life & Work Exhibition | Credit: Talita Bateman

I must admit that I had never before heard of Arruda Furtado, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading and seeing some of his work. I am quite fond of slugs and snails, so to read about someone who dedicated his life to Malacology was quite refreshing. The notes from the museum refer to him as a ‘disciple of Darwin’ and his drawings certainly seem to indicate that this was the case - incredibly meticulous and well detailed.

Quote from Arruda Furtado on the importance of identification and classification | Credit: Talita Bateman

Quote from Arruda Furtado on the importance of identification and classification | Credit: Talita Bateman

Two anatomical studies of gastropods and bivalves for an unpublished manual in biology from c. 1885-1886 | Credit: Talita Bateman

Two anatomical studies of gastropods and bivalves for an unpublished manual in biology from c. 1885-1886 | Credit: Talita Bateman

They also had an amazing medicine collection with circa 3,000 medical equipment on display. Those instruments essentially tell the history of medicine on their own. The museum stated that the collection is looking for a home and I really hope that it finds one. It was really interesting to see some of the equipment used in the past - it makes you appreciate just how far medicine has come!

My artistic interpretation of an  Allosaurus fragilis  | Credit: Talita Bateman

My artistic interpretation of an Allosaurus fragilis | Credit: Talita Bateman

Their ‘Among Dinosaurs’ exhibition was small but really well presented. They had an entire display that explained the detailed work that palaeontologists go through to prepare dinosaurs’ bones (you can see some of this at the back of the picture above) and to be honest, this part of the exhibition probably carries more weight than people realise - it was incredibly educational. They also had some well known species on display, such as an Allosaurus fragilis skeleton, Triceratops horridus skull, Tyronnosaurus rex skull, Velociraptor mongoliensis skeleton and others.

Wet collection of the Specere Exhibition | Credit: Talita Bateman

Wet collection of the Specere Exhibition | Credit: Talita Bateman

Unsurprisingly, one of my favourite exhibitions was the ‘Specere’, which is Latin for ‘to see’ or ‘to look at’. This exhibition included original and replica bone structures (skulls and skeletons) of different animal species. The museum states the following about this collection:

 

“Unknown to the vast majority of visitors, behind the scenes of natural history museums, there are collections of specimens that represent the most thorough and organised sources of information about Earth’s history and its past and present biodiversity. These collections capture the value of past research and provide an endless resource for future research”.

 

The skeletal structures in the collection included a beautiful Nile Crocodile skull (Crocodylus niloticus) and a mounted skeleton of an European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis) that was clearly used for educational purposes.  

Nile Crocodile skull  (Crocodylus niloticus ) | Credit: Talita Bateman

Nile Crocodile skull (Crocodylus niloticus) | Credit: Talita Bateman

European Pond Turtle skeleton ( Emys orbicularis ) | Credit: Talita Bateman

European Pond Turtle skeleton (Emys orbicularis) | Credit: Talita Bateman

Their wet collection includes several thousand specimens collected in Portugal since 1978 and some that were collected during missions to the former Portuguese territories in Africa. These missions were prompted by the Portuguese government between 1940 and 1960.

The Herpetology section of the wet collection included 28 different species (some repeated) - all beautifully and clearly displayed along a nicely decorated corridor. The species displayed are:

Part of wet collection of ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Part of wet collection of ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Wet Collection ( 1 - 7 )

1 - Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)
2 - Golden-stripped Salamander (Chioglosa lusitanica)
3 - Sharp-ribbed Newt (Pleaurodeles waltl)
4 - Common Toad (Bufo spinosus)
5 - Common Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans)
6 - Iberian Frog (Rana inberica)
7 - Perez’s Frog (Pelophylax perezi)

Part of wet collection at ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Part of wet collection at ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Wet Collection ( 8 - 17 )

8 - Marbled Newt (Triturus marmoratus)
9 - Iberian Tree Frog (Hyla molleri)
10 - African Clawed Toad (Xanopus laevis)
11 - Western Spadefoot (Pelobates cultripes)
12 - Perez's Frog (Pelophylax perezi)
13 - Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
14 - European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis)
15 - Mediterranean Chamaeleon (Chamaeleo chaemeleon)
16 - Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
17 - Carbonell's Wall Lizard (Podarcis carbonelli berlengensis)

Part of wet collection at ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Part of wet collection at ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Wet Collection ( 18 - 22 )

18 - Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)
19 - Ladder Snake (Zamenis scalaris)
20 - Ibero-Maghrebian Grass Snake (Natrix astreptophora)
21 - Lateste's Viper (Vipera latastei)
22 - Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)

Part of wet collection at ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Part of wet collection at ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Wet Collection ( 23 - 24 )

23 - Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis)
24 - Ocellated Lizard (Timon lepidus)

Part of wet collection at ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Part of wet collection at ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Wet Collection ( 25 - 26 )

25 - Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis)
26 - Lataste's Viper (Vipera latastei)

Part of wet collection at ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Part of wet collection at ‘Specere Exhibition’ | Credit: Talita Bateman

Wet Collection ( 27 - 34 )

27 - Ibero-Maghrebian Grass Snake (Natrix astreptophora)
28 - Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)
29 - Iberian Skink (Chalcides bedriagai)
30 - Three-toed Skink (Chalcides striatus)
31 - Iberian Mountain Lizard (Iberolacerta manticola)
32 - Bocage's Wall Lizard (Podarcis bocagei)
33 - Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
34 - European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis)

The visit was a true pleasure and I would really recommend that you stop by if if you’re in Lisbon. I didn’t mention it before, since I’ve been focusing more on the natural history side of it. However, the museum is also a science museum and did have a wonderful planetary science exhibition being featured at the time. If you like telescopes, you’re in for a treat with some of the models they had on display.

The shop was very small and only had a few items, so don’t expect something you’d find in the Natural History Museum in London, for instance. However, they did have some great books that focused on Portugal’s and Portuguese speaking countries’ flora and fauna. I bought a copy of a beautiful book on Brazilian flora of the 18th century (specifically from the states of Maranhao and Piaui) and I couldn’t be happier!

I would like to say a huge Obrigada! to the lovely museum staff and I hope that they keep up the good work!