One of the events organized for Bora’s visit to London was a fantastic behind-the-scenes tour of the Darwin Centre, a newly built section of the Natural History Museum which houses the museum’s researchers and contains a vast collection of around 70 million bottled animal specimens.
The Darwin Centre’s tank room is a most remarkable place. This is where the largest specimens are stored, in glass jars and metal containers whose lids are opened and closed with a system of chains and pulleys suspended from the ceiling.
The tank room mostly contains fish specimens, including a coelacanth, but there all sorts of other species, including Komodo dragons and dolphins, many of which are holotypes (the single specimen used for naming the species). It also contains a small glass cabinet containing specimens of fish collected by Darwin himself during his voyage on the HMS Beagle.
The tour was kindly arranged by Karen James, a postdoc in the museum’s Department of Botany, and the director of science for the HMS Beagle Project, which aims to build a working replica of the ship on which Charles Darwin sailed, that will circumnavigate the world next year to coincide with the great naturalist’s 200th birthday.
I’ve uploaded a few photos of the Darwin Centre on Flickr. Bora has more, plus pics of the drinks at the pub and the meal we had at a nearby Polish restaurant, where, much to the amusement of our waitress, most of our party partook in a bit of a capella karaoke. Karen and Matt have also written about the day’s events, and Karen’s photos include a couple of good shots of my son Oscar next to Archy the giant squid.
The next morning (Thursday), Bora and I went to Buckingham Palace to see Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery, an exhibition of works from the late fifteenth to early eighteenth century, which includes drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.
Also featured are some wonderful watercolours by Maria Sybilla Merian, including the one above, from Metamorphosis Insectorium Surinamensium, which was first published in 1705, which has been digitized and is online at the website of the Audobon House Gallery of Natural History in Key West, Florida.