Fans of the Natural History Museum, rejoice, because it has just opened an exciting new permanent gallery, Treasures, which looks to be a big hitter. Curators have selected 22 extra-special objects from the museum’s vast collection, which heaves with 70 million specimens. From moon rock to a 147-million-year-old fossil, all of the specimens chosen for the gallery have fascinating stories behind them and are of “enormous scientific, historical and cultural significance”, according to museum director Dr Michael Dixon.
Following a sneaky peak of the collection, we’ve picked five of our favourite treasures:
1. Guy the Gorilla
This stuffed ape was once one of the best-loved animals in London Zoo’s history. The western lowland gorilla first arrived at the zoo on Guy Fawkes Night 1947, hence his name. Clutching a hot water bottle, Guy was so terrified of the fireworks that he wouldn’t sleep until a keeper slept beside him. Visitors loved Guy for his gentle nature as he was known to catch small birds that flew into his enclosure, peer at them curiously and then let them go. Guy died of heart failure in 1978 after dental surgery. Taxidermist Arthur Hayward then spent nine months preparing him for display.
2. Neanderthal skull
This 50,000-year-old specimen was the first Neanderthal skull ever discovered and has played a huge role in the study of ancient humans. “Researchers have had access to this skull for years, but this is the first time it has been on public display,” says museum researcher Chris Stringer.
3. The world’s most expensive book
One of the best-known natural history books ever produced, Audubon‘s The Birds of America is renowned for its beautiful life-size, hand-coloured illustrations of birds. With only 120 copies in the entire world, complete bound sets can fetch a staggering £7 million. The museum is displaying a different page of the book every month to prevent fading.
4. Barbary lion skull
Plucked from the Tower of London’s moat by two workmen in 1937, this Barbary lion is thought to have been part of the royal menagerie from around 1280-1385. “People living nearby must have been petrified to hear the lion’s roar,” says collection manager Richard Sabin.
5. Charles Darwin’s pigeons
Bred in his garden as an experiment, Darwin‘s pigeons provided him with the evidence he needed to prove the theory of evolution by natural selection.
Treasures at the Natural History Museum opens on 30 November 2012