London Natural History Museum: The Central Hall & Tree Gallery

2010/12/02
By Student Group

The 9th grade biology students recently traveled to London for a week-long field trip to many historical sites.  The students spent three hours exploring the Natural History Museum.  The following is the first in a series of posts written by the students to discuss what they learned.

By Joe, Josh V, and Sam

After spending a very exciting and tiring week in London, we are finally back in the place we call home. Even though we were thrilled to see our friends and family, I think deep down in our hearts, we all wish we were back in London, running all over the place. This was a wonderful experience that we will value and treasure for the rest of out lives, and I think most of us did not want this experience to end so soon.

We went to many interesting sites in London, but one of the most intriguing was the Museum of Natural History. Have you ever been to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan? Well, picture that, but much bigger. It was so immense that in the three hours we spent there, most of the 9th graders only made their way through 4 exhibits. We had the opportunity to visit Darwin’s Cocoon, and then our class split up into groups of three to explore other exhibits. Our group was assigned to the Tree Gallery and Central Hall. At the Tree Gallery, we saw a 47 million year old fossil of a mammal called Ida, and if you looked up at the ceiling, there was a 17 meter long masterpiece of a 200 year old oak tree. When we walked around Central Hall, we saw many fossils of animals such as the Glyptodon, the Diplodocus, and the Paracyclotosaurus davidi. Bet you never heard of those animals before. There was so much information, that no matter how hard we tried to memorize and take note of all of it, it was impossible. Yet, we collected enough to write a very fascinating and captivating blog post for you to read.

The 17 meter long oak tree in the Tree Gallery, entitled TREE, was truly grand and is an absolute masterpiece. Tania Covats was the artist who was selected to display a piece about Darwin. The piece celebrates Darwin’s 200th birthday. The tree is made out of a 200-year-old oak tree (200 a connection), which is sliced extremely thin. The tree is an artistic interpretation, of the iconic drawing done by Darwin, entitled the tree of life. The sketch is so iconic because it is the first time Darwin tried to demonstrate his theory.  As the great scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky once said, “Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution.” So the exhibit has a profound statement, because according to Theodosius nothing displayed in the Natural History Museum would make sense without his drawing and his theory. Darwin’s idea with the tree is that everything has a common ancestor. A tree has such a simple start, a seed, that sprouts to a complex tree with hundreds of branches, thousands of leaves, and hundreds of thousands of seeds. The idea states that animals all started from small basic single celled organisms, like Radiolaria, and evolved into complex multi cellular organisms. The tree branches show closeness like two leaves on the same branch, but also the distance of some leaves on different branches, but they are all connected to the same branch and the same tree ,so they’re related, just what Darwin wanted to show.

Primate Evolutionary Tree

At the Tree Gallery, we were also privileged to see a replica of a 47 million year old female primate fossil called Darwinius masillae, or simply Ida. This was a very big discovery. Ida was found in Darmstadt, Germany in 1983, and scientists discovered its fossil in 2 halves. Determining by Ida’s youthful and adult teeth, she was only about 9 months old when she died, and Ida’s last meal,-fruit, seeds, and nuts- was still in her gut when the paleontologists found her. She was preserved very well and was in good condition. She has many similarities with humans such as her feet and hands, because we both have fingers and nails, and we both have movable thumbs.

Ida

When you first walk into the Museum of Natural History, there is a huge dinosaur called the Diplodocus standing in the middle of the Central Gallery. It is nearly 90 feet long, 16 feet tall, and the tail is 45 feet long. They would use their neck, which measures 25 feet, to retrieve food and leaves deep into the forest without actually stepping foot into it, and they couldn’t hold their neck any more than 17 feet above the ground because it was so heavy. Instead they carried it parallel to their body. This dinosaur is so big that you couldn’t take a picture of the whole thing without taking the picture in sections. Although its appearance is grand, it only weighted about 11 tons, which was light for a dinosaur that big. Even though its tail and body was very long, its head was only about 2 feet long; maybe that was why they had the lowest intellectual level compared to other dinosaurs. After some further research, we found out that this dinosaur was a sauropod, and it lived in the late Jurassic Period, 145-150 million years ago. Because they were herbivores, its main food source was leaves, and we also found out that because Diplodocuses never chewed their food; they often ate rocks to digest the leaves. The Diplodocus display at the Museum of Natural History in London was presented in 1905.

Diplodocus

We encountered a very interesting exhibit, of a giant armadillo called a Glyptodon in Central Hall. The fossil displayed was part of a show called weird animals. It had a domed carapace (shell), rather than tortoise shells, but was made of bone with a rich blood supply and hairs poking through. This shell was made up from many discrete pieces of bone, over 1,000 individual pieces, which grew in the skin of the young animals and fused together to form a solid mass about three centimeters thick in the adults. These plant-eating creatures were quite common throughout much of South America and they spread north into North America. Like so many Ice Age giants, Glyptodon became extinct at about the time of their first contact with modern humans, about 12,000 years ago.

Paracyclotosaurus davidi

We also visited exhibits like the ancient amphibian display case. The Paracyclotosaurus davidi was the only extinct amphibian that lived in Australia 235 million years ago, and it looks like a big crocodile or alligator. This exact remain that we viewed at the museum had multiple fractures in the skull,shoulder, and jaw bone, probably from an injury by a fallen tree. This specimen is 2.7 meters long and the bones were in cased in mud so over millions of years the mud hardened and the bones became as hard as a rock.

Our group also visited a very freaky fish called the Coelacanth. Apparently in 1938 when this creature was first caught people believed that it was extinct for 85 million years. In 1938 a whole colony was discovered in the waters off of the coast of Madagascar and the Comoro islands. In 1960 this specimen was caught; unfortunately, it lost its deep blue coloring. The tail and fins have 3 lobs (limb-like fins ) and scientists say that it was at the beginning of the evolutionary tree for four-limb land living animals. These fish like to swim in depths of up to 2,300 feet, and they could grow to up to 6.6 feet, and weigh up to 20 pounds. There are only about 1,000 of these fish left in the Comoros, so they are considered endangered.

Coelacanth

Where was the first Diplodocus fossil found, and how did it get its name? Where was Ida found, and how was it preserved for such a long period of time? Research a dinosaur similar to the Diplodocus and give reasoning as to why they are similar. Compare and contrast.  How did the Paracyclotosaurus davidi become extinct?  How did the Glyptodon get it name?

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  • Anonymous

    Wow, guys, this was such a fascinating post! I had a great time in London and I also thoroughly enjoyed the Natural History Museum. After doing some more research about sauropods and the Diplodocus, I found that a dinosaur called the Sauroposeidon is quite similar. Although it lived during the Cretaceous period, this dinosaur was also a sauropod and it, too, was an herbivore The Sauroposeidon had an extremely long neck, a massive body, and a small head. The Sauroposeidon was only a bit longer than the Diplodocus, being that it was 100 feet long, but it weighed in at 60 tons, a whole 49 more tons than the Diplodocus! This massive creature was one of the largest herbivorous dinosaurs to have ever lived and some people question whether this is the largest organism to have ever lived on land! Because it’s neck was so large, it is unclear whether the Sauroposeidon held it vertically, as that would have put much pressure and weight on its heart. It is possible that the Sauroposeidon kept its neck low to the ground and swept up vegetation.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/503682.stm
    http://www.earthsim.tv/index.php?page=wod&action=show_news_story&story=43

  • Anonymous

    Nice post, Sam, Joe, and Josh! I wish we were able to spend longer at the Museum of Natural History so I had a chance to see the tree! However, i luckily had a chance to see Ida. My specific exhibit was the primates exhibit so I found particular interest in seeing the oldest primate fossil in existence. Her death was most likely due to the failure to escape a toxic gas cloud of a volcanic lake, 47 million years ago. Ida was originally discovered in an area close to Darmstadt, Germany called “Messel Shale Pit” by a group of amateur archeologists in 1983. This area has been known to be the discovery site of multiple ancient fossils. The fossils name is based on a combination of Darwin (Darwinus) and the place of her discovery, “Messel” (Misillae). It’s been said that Ida is the “missing link” between the history and evolution of primates so this was an incredible discovery. Ida was said to be only about a year old during her death so not much can be concluded about full grown ancient primates.

    http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/evolution/missing_link_fossil_discovery.html
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/05/darwinius_masillae.php

  • Anonymous

    This was a really interesting post guys! I decided to do more research on the Paracyclotosaurus davidi, but couldn’t find how or why this monster became extinct. This is probably because the only fossil of this animal was sitting in the display case in the museum. The Paracyclotosaurus can also sometimes be called a ‘neer wheeled lizard.’ This animal is usually compared to looking like a huge salamander, and is said to have attacked its prey like an alligator or crocodile. Like all amphibians, it lived on both land and in the water. To catch fish, it would sit in the water and wait for some fish to pass by. Then, it would open its jaws and the fish would be sucked right in.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paracyclotosaurus

  • Deirdre

    Great job guys! You did a really good job incorporating all this information into one post that was enjoyable to read. There are many descriptions here, but the one I found most interesting has to be about the fish Coelacanth, so I did a little more research on it. I could not find the origin of it’s name but I did learn that the Coelacanth was re-discovered in 1938 by Marjorie Courtenay Latimer. Oddly enough, she did not even mean to discover this fish. She was on the way to wish the captain of the ship a Merry Christmas when she saw the unique jawbone protruding from underneath a pile of fish. She compared the results of the fish she had seen to notes and pictures of the previously thought extinct Coelacanth and realized the fish for what it truly was. This stands to be one of the only animals from our past to have survived millions of years of evolution.

    http://extinctanimal.com/the_coelacanth.htm

  • Ladali

    Excellent post guys! You mentioned something called radiolaria in your post, and I was curious about what this was so I decided to look into it. The history of Radiolaria dates back to the Cambrian Period. Radiolaria are protists, or single celled organisms. Radiolaria are very small; they can only be 2 mm in diameter tops. Interestingly enough, they can reproduce not only sexually but also asexually. They are also by and large planktonic, and travel by means of ocean currents. These amazing creatures can even be predators. You can learn more about them here:http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/protista/radiolaria/rads.html

  • Anonymous

    Wow, great post guys! Unfortunately and regrettably I did not have the time to visit this fascinating exhibit, although I am so glad that you did and shared such remarkable information with us! I did a little more research to learn that Ida was found in an abandoned mine outside of Frankfurt, Germany. Ida is 95% complete which is record breaking, and the most complete fossil today. This is just amazing to think because it is thought that Ida lived on Earth millions of years ago, and her remains are still present. The reasons for its great preservation was conditions due to fossilization which is fossils being preserved by the burial of rock or earth deposits. Ida was thought to be 9 months old when she did (or 6 years in human years) and was considered to be a “transitional species between primitive primates and the human lineage.”

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1763862/ida_a_fortyseven_million_yearold_relative.html?cat=37

  • Anonymous

    Good post, guys! After read your post, I did some research.
    I find something interesting. In China Lingwu excavation site of Ningxia, Chinese spotted fossils of diplodocus species. This was never been unearthed in China before. In China Changji excavation site of Xinjiang, it is possible for them to find the fossils of a whole large-size dinosaur skull, possibly a Asian record dinosaur fossil in terms of size.
    “Diplodocus fossils have been spotted chiefly in the southern hemisphere, and this is the first time diplodocus bones are found in Asia,” Xu Xing noted. “The findings are of great importance as it may help enlighten us on patterns and processes of continental drift.”
    The excavation site in Changji, located in southeastern Junggar Basin in Xinjiang and about 370 km from the city of Urumqi, is a classic dinosaur research site, popularly known as “dinosaur valley,” where scientists made a number of major discoveries.
    I think it’s a big discovery. I know that in Asia, we can find many dinosaur fossils. But there are not many large dinosaurs have been discovered. So this discovery really bring us a lot more information about how the dinosaurs distributed on the earth.

    source:
    http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200608/25/eng20060825_296808.html

  • Anonymous

    Great comment, Sara, but not so great sources! You used Wikipedia, which is unreliable because anyone can edit its articles!!!!!!!! You can find more information regarding the Diplodocus from more reliable sources that I’ve listed below:
    http://www.prehistory.com/diplodoc.htm
    http://www.thebigzoo.com/animals/Diplodocus.asp
    http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Diplodocus.aspx

  • Anonymous

    I loved(infinity) this post! The pictures were great, guys! The story of the ‘living fossil,’ the Coelacanth fish, was really quite riveting, and for some reason its name sounded familiar to me… then I realized that I actually learned about this fish in a video I posted in my comment on a different NHM post, the one on fish, amphibians, and reptiles (http://bit.ly/fO045O )!!! This fish is now believed by many scientists that its unique characteristics (esp. its fins, that stick out like legs ) represent when fish first starting evolving to tetrapods like amphibians.
    Other distinct features of the Coelacanth include its notocord (an oil-filled tube, its backbone), its rare thick scales, its electrosensory rostral organ located in its snout that helps it predate, and the hinged joint located in its skull that allows the Coelacanth to widen its mouth, and the fact that its brain only fills up 1.5% of its braincase, the rest is fat. I also learned that this fish is related to the lungfishes (all 3 species) which are also mentioned in the video below.

    The Life on Earth clip on the Coelacanth: http://youtu.be/RaogWgXtVe8
    Nat. Geo page: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/coelacanth/

  • Anonymous

    Great post Sam, Joe, and Josh, and great comment Molly! I did a little more research about the Brachiosaurus and found some facts showing just how large this type of dinosaur actually is. Brachiosaurus are thought to have been 23 m (75.4 ft) long, 12 m (39.4 ft) tall, and 77,000 kg (169,400 lbs). You can just imagine how large the Brachiosaurus, like the Diplodocus, was. Can you imagine walking the earth next to a creature that large? Just to put it into perspective, Brachiosaurus was as long as a tennis court, as tall as a four-story building, and as heavy as more than 10 elephants!

    Sources:

    Modern Biology Textbook by Holt, Rineheart, and Winston

    http://dsc.discovery.com/dinosaurs/brachiosaurus.html

  • Anonymous

    Great post guys!! I also saw the exhibit, but I did not have enough time to observe the exhibit fully. About the Coelacanth, species like that sometimes pop up unnoticeably or even by accident. You stated that in 1938 a Coelacanth was caught unexpectedly, and a whole research process has taken scientists by storm. I would like to point out another fish that was discovered unexpectedly.
    In the late 1970s, a US Navy ship set anchor in the ocean. When the anchor was brought back up, a shark, never seen before by any human being, was found stuck on the anchor, dead. After years of research, the species was called the megamouth shark, named since its mouth was at a large size. In comparison to the Coelacanth, there have been only a number of sightings of the fish. There have only been about 49 sightings of the rare shark, but scientists are doing more research to find out more about this rare species. In light of what was just said, I would like to raise a question. Why are some species, such as most fishes, that are thought to be extinct, just reappear automatically? In other words, what are some species that have been discovered almost by accident? Also, why are some of these species called “living fossils”?

    Link: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Gallery/descript/Megamouth/megamouth.htm

  • evagobio14

    Great Post Guys! What really fascinated me the most about you article was the replica of the tree across the ceiling that you wrote about. Although I wasn’t able to see it at the museum in person, I decided to look it up and see if i could find it on the internet, and I did. I found a great video that shows you how Tania Covats was able to make such a great replica of the tree.
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/galleries/green-zone/tree-gallery/tree-video-page/index.html
    After reading Zach’s comment, I wanted to research some of the questions that he also asked. Well, a living fossil is an informal term for any living creature or organism which appears to be the same species as any animal that has been uncovered as a fossil. These organisms are supposed to be able to live through major extinction events and be able to survive. To answer some other of his questions, these species do not reapper automatically. Although they are supposed to live through great extinction events, they are rare and hard to find, therefore they can be sighted only a few times through their lives. Some other uncovered mysterious species are a recently found orchid in Ecuador, this is now the smallest orchid in the world. It just 2.1 mm wide and has transparent leaves that only contain one cell.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_fossil
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/12/091203-worlds-smallest-orchid-picture.html

  • Anonymous

    Wow that was a great post! I had a chance to visit this exhibit with Deirdre. It was very interesting. I just have a comment about Eva’s resources. Wikipedia is not a credible source because anyone can access it and put false information on it. Your better off using this website for your research: http://school.discoveryeducation.com/lessonplans/programs/livingfossils/

  • http://extremebiology.net/blog Ms Baker

    Great! Sources?

  • Anonymous

    This is such an awesome post Sam Josh and Joe. You guys are so fortunate to have gotten the dinasour exhibit! The extinction of dinasours is so fascinating. The Diplodocus dinasour just so happens to be my favorite dinasour, so I did some further research. Diplodocus was a long-necked, whip-tailed giant, measuring 90 feet long with a 26 foot long neck and a 45 foot long tail. It was among the longest land animals ever. Its nostrils were at the top of its head. Its front legs were shorter than its back legs, and all had five-toed feet. A fossilized Diplodocus skin impression reveals that it had a row of spines running down its back. The Dilodocus species were not carnavorious creatures, more so plant eaters,or “vegetarians.”
    The Diplodocus may have weighed only 10-20 tons. Its backbone had extra bones underneath it, which had bony protrusions running both forwards and backwards, and anvil backbone, a “double beam”, for support and extra mobility of its neck and tail. It had used its whip-like tail for protection. A recent Diplodocus skin impression was found, showing a row of spines running down the back.
    For more information on the Diplodocus look at this website: http://www.thebigzoo.com/animals/Diplodocus.asp

  • http://missbakersbiologyclass.com/blog/2010/12/16/london-natural-history-museum-primarily-primates/ London Natural History Museum: Primarily Primates | Extreme Biology Blog

    [...] more information about Ida, visit the “Ida” section of the Natural History Museum website or the post on Extreme Biology that discusses [...]

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