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What's new at the Museum

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It's just over one month since we opened our beautiful permanent gallery showcasing the Museum's 22 most prized objects and specimens. In that short space of time, 1,000s of visitors, including HRH The Duchess of Cambridge (and the little royal on the way) who opened the gallery, have already enjoyed Treasures in the new Cadogan Gallery. Many of you have also been voting for your favourite exhibit in the gallery, and in our new year Top 10 Treasures poll, being huge and hairy is stll a winner for Guy the gorilla, who's at Number 1...  (You can select each image below to enlarge it.)

Your top 10 Treasures

1. Guy the gorilla

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London Zoo’s much-loved resident, Guy, a western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), remains as majestic and iconic as he was in his time. Guy stands proudly at the righthand entrance of the Cadogan Gallery, at the top of the Central Hall's grand staircase, welcoming visitors into Treasures. It's great to think that he is regaining the popularity he had in life over 30 years ago. Listen out for our podcast coming soon, telling Guy's unique story from childhood star to preserved treasure here at the Museum.

 

2. Blaschka glass models of sea creatures

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Glimmering away in the gallery at the other end to Guy, the 3 delicate Blaschka glass artworks of sea creatures are as enigmatic and eye-catching. They were made with impeccable accuracy using techniques no one has been able to replicate since. Giles Miller, Curator of Micropalaeontology, tells the story of how the Blaschka's went from cardboard box to Treasure on display in his own blog.

3. Dodo skeleton

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The dodo skeleton on show is unmissable. There are so few complete skeletons that we may never know exactly how they looked or lived. The dodo is one of the first widely acknowledged cases of human-caused extinction. It's fame was secured by Lewis Carroll in his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

4. Neanderthal skull

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This remarkable specimen in Treasures is the first adult skull of a Neanderthal ever discovered. They were our closest known relatives and this specimen helped begin the science of palaeoanthropology – the study of ancient humans.

5. Archaeopteryx fossil

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Archaeopteryx is the earliest known bird and this is the first skeleton specimen ever found. It is the most valuable fossil in the Museum’s collection. This is the type specimen of the species, the one to which all others are compared. So for many, the chance to see this Archaeopteryx in person is a special joy.

6 On the Origin of Species book

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We had to include this masterpiece in Treasures. It's an inspiration to view the rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It is the most important book in biology, in which Darwin describes his theory of evolution by natural selection.

7. Great auk

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You might not all know it, but the great auk is one of the most powerful symbols of the damage humans can cause. The species became extinct not through habitat loss, but due to centuries of intense exploitation.

8. Alfred Russel Wallace's insects

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The gorgeous and diverse creatures in the insect case on display are from Alfred Russel Wallace’s personal collection. He co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin. He kept very few of the specimens he collected.

9. Barbary lion skull

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You can see why this lion was the jewel of the King’s zoo in the Tower of London 700 years ago. The skull and teeth are even more dramatic up close than we have already witnessed in photographs. It is also the oldest lion found in the UK after the extinction of native wild lions.

10. Hans Sloane's nautilus shell

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Exquisitely carved, it is easy to imagine why this perfect shell was one of Sir Hans Sloane’s favourite specimens. You can really appreciate the intricate details in the carving as you observe the exhibit. Sloane's huge collection forms the core of the British and Natural History Museums.

 

Make sure you experience these and the other 12 amazing objects in Treasures on your next visit to the Museum. Each is accompanied by scientific information and there is more to unearth on the digital screens in the gallery. Entry to the new gallery is free.

 

Vote for your favourite treasure online

Get a glimpse inside the Treasures Cadogan Gallery in our audio slideshow

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From today, you can see this gorgeous 110-carat pear-shaped yellow diamond in The Vault gallery thanks to the generosity of Cora diamond manufacturers who have loaned us the gem.

 

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Model Jerry Hall is dazzled by the arrival of the Cora Sun-Drop in The Vault gallery (Image copyright Adrian Brooks - Imagewise)

 

These large (over 100 carat) coloured diamonds are extremely rare in nature and are historically significant as so few exist. So it's a privilege to be able to have the Cora Sun-Drop on show to our visitors.

 

Cora-Sun-Drop-(black)-Photography-700.jpgI asked Alan Hart, the head of collections in our Mineralogy Department if he could tell me what particularly fascinated him about diamonds like this. He says:

 

'When you look at a diamond like this you are not only looking at a unique piece of art, you are looking at the fascinating science that bought this stone to us.

 

'The Cora Sun-Drop diamond was formed deep within the Earth’s crust 1-3 billion years ago. As it grew, it incorporated nitrogen into its carbon crystal structure. It is these nitrogen impurities that give the diamond its yellow colour as they modify light, absorbing the blue part of the visible spectrum. The diamond then travelled on a long journey upwards in a slushy rock magma. After it was found within a kimberlite pipe (a type of volcanic rock), it was expertly studied and cut, bringing the diamond to life.

 

'Good quality coloured diamonds, known as "fancy" diamonds, are extremely rare. Only about 1 in 10,000 mined diamonds are thought to have good body colour, and only a small percentage of these are considered to have good enough clarity to be labelled as a fancy diamond.

 

'The Cora Sun-Drop combines both a vivid yellow colour and another rare quality, a large size. At just over 110 carats, it is not only exceptionally large, it is the largest yellow pear-shaped diamond known.'

 

But diamonds aren't forever, I'm afraid! The Cora Sun-Drop is only with us in The Vault for a limited time, so bask in its light while you can. And don't forget there are 300 other diamonds in The Vault, including the Aurora collection, as well as a model of the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond.

 

You can hear Alan Hart talk about our impressive diamonds and gemstones at The Treasure Trove talk here in the Attenborough Studio on 25 March at 14.30.

 

And in case you wondered what the largest faceted diamond in the world is? At a whopping 545.67 carats, it's said to be the Golden Jubilee, also known as the Great Star of Africa, which now resides in the Royal Thai Palace as part of the crown jewels.

 

Watch the video about the Cora Sun-Drop diamond and The Vault gallery

 

Glimpse The Vault gallery highlights in our slideshow

 

Find out more about diamonds on our website

 

Pear-shaped Cora Sun-Drop image right courtesy Tom Tragale for M Patricof, Creative Group