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What's new at the Museum

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It’s hard to imagine the scene below in Trafalgar Square, the way it may have looked 125,000 years ago.

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Lion’s share of Trafalgar Square: this artist's impression captures what London's famous attraction may have looked like 125,000 years ago. Select images to enlarge.

 

And strange to visualise real lions, not stone ones, observing unsuspecting elephants and hippos grazing on the grassy banks of the River Thames. This unrecognisable landscape depicted above shows the river banks reaching as far east as Trafalgar Square, where cave lions, straight-tusked elephants, hippos and Stephanorhinus once roamed.

 

Large animals played a big part in London's past and there are surprising fossilised specimens to explore in our Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition.

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Trafalgar Square today: The scene echoes the same lion’s lookout of the earlier picture, but it's a very different landscape. Below: a wilder picture of what's to come this weekend at the Square's Big Dance Live festival.

 

Fast forwarding to this weekend, much wilder scenes are predicted in the Square on Saturday, 12 July. The unsuspecting stone lions may be joined by as many as 5.3 million people grooving along to the sounds of London’s Big Dance Live festival (a previous event is pictured below).

 

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Big Dance Live celebrations planned in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, 12 July.
© Foundation for Community Dance and the Greater London Authority

 

As recently as the 1950s, building work in Trafalgar Square unearthed evidence of London's wild past when a hippopotamus canine was found, dating back 125,000 years ago. It's displayed with other specimens and objects in our Britain exhibition against a huge pictorial backdrop of Trafalgar Square.

canine-hippo-1500.jpgTrafalgar Square tooth: This hippo canine was excavated in the 1950s - on show in our Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition with other animal fossils from London.

 

The fossil evidence - much of which emerged in the late 19th century when major excavations took place in the city - shows that at different times, as far back as 400,000 years ago, animals such as hippos, mammoths, wild cats, bears, wolves, horses and elephants wandered freely throughout the area that London now occupies. All perfectly adapted to the changing conditions in the ice ages.

 

Hippopotamus and elephant remains beneath Trafalgar Square, woolly mammoth fossils down The Strand, woolly rhinoceros remnants under Battersea Power Station and reindeer fossils at South Kensingon Station: these are some of the significant London fossil finds our scientists are researching now.

 

Important discoveries like these will be highlighted at a special Day of Archaeology tomorrow, Friday, 11 July, which also marks the start of the two-week-long Archaeology Festival 2014. Museum human origin experts and palaeontologists including Professor Chris Stringer will join others around the country blogging on the day. Lots of festival events are planned for all ages throughout the week.

 

July events at the Museum feature a special Lates discussion with Chris Stringer and other speakers: tickets for Britain and Beyond also include entry to our Britain exhibition so get yours now.

 

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For the first time in the illustrious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition's history, we're all invited to join a public vote for a winner in the new People's Choice Award. The new award category presents 50 incredible photographs, revealed for the first time and selected by the judges from the 41,000 international entries submitted in the 50th WPY competition across all its subject categories.

 

Among the fifty shades and shapes of wildlife wonder depicted you'll find beauty, magic, mischief, drama, savagery, technical brilliance and heaps of artistic talent. The People's Choice collection is now being showcased in the WPY community's online gallery.  All you need to do is enjoy the photos and select the one that moves you the most, then vote.

 

You can only vote once though, but after you vote, if you tweet your favourite using the hashtag #MyWPY, you'll be entered into the People's Choice Award prize draw and could win a lavish edition of the 50 Years Of Wildlife Photographer Of The Year: How Wildlife Photography Became Art book (which will also be available to purchase later in the year). Voting closes on 5 September.

 

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Great peacock moth caterpillar by young British photographer Leela Channer: one of the fifty images you can vote for in the new WPY People's Choice Award. Select the image to enlarge.

 

From today we'll also be posting one of the fifty photographs each day, every weekday on our WPY Facebook page, so watch that space to see how others are reacting to each entry.

 

The overall winner of the People's Choice Award will be annnounced in October alongside the 100 award winning images chosen by the judges and the winning image, plus the four runners-up, in the People's Choice Award vote will be presented on our website.

 

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Tom Ang, one of the judges in this year's 50th competition

 

Tom Ang, member of the 2014 judging panel, says:

 

 

'If you’ve ever puzzled over why one image wins out over another, this is your chance to have your say. But with so many outstanding shots and just one vote per person, the pressure is on to cast it wisely.'

 

As you are about to find out, this isn't always easy!

 

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Bee happy in the Wildlife Garden

Posted by Rose Jun 13, 2014

Our Wildlife Garden has been a hive of activity in recent weeks, entertaining visitors at pond life sessions and family events like Nettle Weekend, not to mention the arrival of summer all around. And there's more fun and sun promised for this weekend when we join in London's Open Garden Squares Weekend on 14 and 15 June.

 

It's an annual event and this year we'll be focusing on bumblebee conservation and welcome guest artist Jessica Albarn who will be drawing bees. Don't miss a peek inside the garden's oak bee tree to see what the honey bees are up to.

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Feel the buzz of the Museum Wildlife Garden and its bee tree at our Open Garden Squares event this weekend.

Learning how to build a green roof and decorate a flower pot are other attractions. And there will be delicious refreshments to hand and interaction for all ages.

 

Wildlife Garden ecologist Larissa Cooper, who is coordinating the event, says:

 

“Staff and volunteers have been busy preparting for the weekend.The plants are being cared for ready for visitors to plant in their own pot and take home, gazebos are going up (for the shade not to keep us dry hopefully!) and some of us are baking some yummy treats for you to enjoy!

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Watch artist Jessica Albarn at work drawing bees and meet bee conservationists. Select images to enlarge.

'We are delighted to have artist Jessica Albarn coming along to draw bees and raise awareness of the work of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Jessica’s intricate work of tiny creatures is something else and this will be an event not to be missed.'

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Learn how to build your own green roof. Spot the species on tree hunts, pond walks, nature trails and more.

Our Open Garden Squares Weekend runs from 10.00 to 4.30 each day of the weekend and is free to attend.

 

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Like dinosaurs, mammoths have attained mythical status in our mindsets. Their lumbering-trunk-appeal is bound to herd in young and old visitors over the coming months to our latest exhibition, which is now open just in time for the half-term school holiday.

 

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The most mammoth of all the different mammoth species, the Colombian, is sure to wow young and old.

 

Like a kid, after my first peek into the Mammoths: Ice Age Giants exhibition, I confess I'm still awed by the ginormousness of the exhibits and specimens. None of the early images I've seen in the lead-up truly convey the sheer size of these beasts and their characteristic body parts. This is a physical experience you need to go through yourself, to feel their presence and grasp their world.

 

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Meet the early proboscideans - the first section of the exhibition is a touch-filled experience.

 

What's suprising too are all the different shapes and sizes that mammoths and their relatives come in. The spectacular show of proboscidean heads - showing the earlier predecessors of mammoths and elephants and the development of their trunks - makes a spectacular entrance.

 

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The 42,000 year old remains of Lyuba, the baby woolly mammoth, are on display outside Russia and Asia for the very first time.

 

And of course, standing close to the enigmatic baby woolly mammoth, Lyuba, surrounded by displays that tell her story, is a unique thrill... As is turning a corner on your exhibition journey and coming face to face with a fearsome sabre-toothed cat and giant short-nosed bear (the biggest bear ever), two top predators of mammoths during the Ice Age.

 

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The biggest bear ever and the fearsome sabre-toothed cat were large enough to take on mammoths.

 

Along with the big encounters, there are many little pleasures for small hands. Try and lift a mechanical trunk, pick up a heavy hay bale and do a spot of tusk jousting. It's not as easy as you think being a 5 metre tall mammoth.

 

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How easy is it to control a long proboscis? Find out with these mechanical mimics.

 

There are many amazing specimens and fossils to linger beside, ranging from woolly mammoth fur, mammoth molars and poo... to the imposing American mastodon skeleton and the stunning African Savannah elephant skull towards the end of the exhibition.

 

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An imposing American mastodon skeleton.

 

Elephants are the modern relatives of mammoths and the exhibition also examines this connection and their plight in the modern world.

 

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An African elephant skull demonstrates the similarities between them and their mammoth relatives.

 

Look out for the skulls and specimens of other Ice Age animals that lived at the time of mammoths. My favourite is this pronghorn antelope skull and there's even a tiny cotton-tail rabbit skull that provides a stark contrast to the giants surrounding you.

 

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The pronghorn antelope skull from one of the many animals that co-existed with the mammoths.

 

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Museum mammoths expert, Adrian Lister, and exhibition project manager, Becca Jones, celebrate the opening at our VIP event.

 

Mammoths: Ice Age Giants is opent at the Museum until 7 September 2014. As The Times said of the exhibition: '...this is a family show to trumpet about.'

 

 

This exhibition was created by The Field Museum, Chicago.

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Mammoths move in

Posted by Rose May 13, 2014

'Getting such enormous exhibits into the Museum last week was probably one of the most challenging load-ins we've had, for any exhibition,' says project manager, Becca Jones. 'Simply because of their sheer size and weight!'

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Mighty mammoths, mastodons and ice-age giants make their way into the Waterhouse Gallery for the opening of our BIG summer exhibition on 23 May.

 

The excitement is mounting as the installation of our summer blockbuster exhibition strides into its final weeks. Mammoths: Ice Age Giants was created by the Field Museum in Chicago and, following its earlier run in Edinburgh, will open here at the Museum on 23 May. Our photographer caught some of the installation on camera, enjoy the pictures.

 

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'Crates containing the exhibits and sets were brought into the building through the Central Hall's front doors. We erected scaffolding and fork lift trucks and pallet trucks helped manoeuvre them inside. We had to lay down plywood pathways to protect the floors because of the weight.

 

'It's been great having Field Museum staff work alongside us to bring in the exhibits and help us with the installation. Lots of late nights! We have also added some really fantastic specimens from our own collections too.

 

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'Everything is just so massive. The sets too. But we're working fast now and I'm really pleased how well it's taking shape.

 

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'This week we will rig up the lighting designs and we're all looking forward to welcoming and installing Lyuba, the Siberian baby mammoth, who's arriving from Russia. It's incredible to have the real Lyuba in the exhibition and to showcase her UK debut.

 

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The world's longest tusk, just over 5 metres, was recently photographed with our own Museum mammoths expert, Adrian Lister, and the Field Museum's Dan Fisher at the International Conference on Mammoths in Greece. It belongs to the early mastodon, Mammut borsoni, and was discovered in 2007 at the Milia site in northern Greece. Image Matthew Scarborough.

 

The Museum's mammoths expert Adrian Lister has played an important part in our own interpretation and adaptation of this exhibition. Although we won't have the world's longest tusk in it, pictured above, we can guarantee a show of jaw-dropping proportions. Watch this space for more news.

 

Mammoths: Ice Age Giants was created by the Field Museum in Chicago.

 

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Last night, Radio 4's Robin Ince kicked off this year's Lyme Regis Fossil Festival to the sound of scientific laughter. The festival, now in its 9th year, runs from 2-4 May over the bank holiday. Today is for schools, with all the public events happening on Saturday and Sunday.

 

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From fossil collecting to stone carving and rock pooling, the May bank holiday festival is awash with beachcombing fun for fossil fans, young and old.

 

As usual, a team of Museum scientists and learning educators will be showing off amazing specimens and answering fossil enquiries. Many are already there on the beach welcoming hoardes of schoolchildren. Others are busy stuffing rare objects (carefully) into their cars in readiness for the Jurassic adventures ahead. Can't make it to Lyme? Here at the Museum we'll be following our scientists there live in our free daily Fossil hunters talks.

 

Lil Stevens, plant fossils expert at the Museum, joins our festival possé for the first time.

 

'This year we will be bringing anthropologist Margaret Clegg to talk about ancient humans and our Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhbiition. And palaeontologists Pip Brewer and Jerry Hooker will showcase some very ancient mammals.

 

'You can sieve for sharks teeth with fish curator Emma Bernard and expert David Ward. If you can find them you can take them home with you! They will also show you how to use shark jaws and teeth to estimate the body size of some of the largest sharks ever to have lived.

 

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Sifting for sharks teeth at the Natural History Museum display in the Grand Marquee's Fossil Fair.

 

'Zoe Hughes, our cephalopod and brachiopod curator and I will be explaining how palaeontologists reconstruct fossils to work out how the animals looked when they were alive. Test your palaeo-skills with our drawing challenge! Palaeontologists Martin Munt and Noel Morris are Lyme veterans and will be on hand to answer all your most technical paleontological questions - so you'd better think of some.

 

'Those mysterious Museum mineralogists are planning a sparkling surprise so come down to the beach and see some very special pebbles...'

 

The weather forecast is erratic for the weekend, so dress for both sun and rain if you're going but, as always at this popular family event, there will be tonnes to see and do outdoors and inside the grand marquee and other venues.

 

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Horace, the Pliosaur (l) with the cinematic walk-in belly returns by popular demand.
Homo heidelbegensis (r) is new on the scene, arriving with our palaeontogolists and on show with their other ancient human exhibits.

 

Citizen science is this year's Fossil Festival theme and special treats include the return of Horace the Travelling Pliosaur, the Dinosaur Runway and MarineLife's whale and dolphin research ... as well as our own fantastic displays and fossil identification services of course.

 

The festival is free to attend, but some of the events are ticketed.

 

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School's out, British summer time has arrived, butterflies are released and the call of the dinosaurs booms loud. If you're coming to visit over the Easter holidays here are some tips to make your trip an even happier one.

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Sensational Butterflies opened last week with the release of hundreds of tropical butterflies into the polytunnel hothouse on the Museum's front lawn. Select images to enlarge.

1. Butterfly rush

Our Sensational Butterflies outdoor exhibition is always a hit with kids and adults alike. Pick up an identification chart to see which species you can spot and follow the activity stamp trail. Look out for the hatchery and feeding table. Dress for the tropics though, it's very humid inside because that's the way the butterflies like it! There's a buggy park outside.

2. Queue busting

There will be queues to get into the Museum in the school holidays, especially if it's raining. Arrive early, for opening time, or later in the afternoon, to avoid the longer waiting times. Britain exhibition ticketholders can use the Exhibition Road fast-track entrance. Inside you may also have to queue to get into the Dinosaurs gallery. To avoid the dino queue, book your free timed visit in advance online. Keep an eye on queuing times via @NHM_Visiting.

 

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Nature-inspired arts and crafts in the Investigate Centre and Crafty Coral Fun workshops.

3. Hands-on activities

We have heaps of free activities for all ages. Try our new Crafty Coral workshop or head to the popular Investigate centre in the basement, which has specimens you can touch, microscopes and more. The Earth Hall's Restless Surface gallery has lots of touch displays for busy hands and the Cocoon includes fun interactives and games. Keep an eye on what's on for kids at Easter for the latest.

3. Refreshments and toilets

In addition to the main eating areas, the smaller cafes in the Darwin Centre and  Central Hall are usually less busy. Bring your own refreshments and take advantage of our basement picnic area. If it's sunny, sit outside and enjoy the front lawn or Darwin Centre Courtyard. The front lawn also has a refreshments kiosk with tables and chairs, but bear in mind there are no outdoor toilets.

5. Cool and quiet spaces

The corridor near the Dinosaurs and Mammals galleries can get crowded. Walk on to the Darwin Centre for the reflective Images of Nature gallery. It has a new Women artists exhibition and the amazing Inside Explorer Table which lets you examine micro-scans of a beefly and angler fish. Further on into the Darwin Centre, the Cocoon offers a lofty experience, with the elegant Courtyard and lovely Wildlife Garden beyond.

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Eggs in the Birds gallery. Ned the Neanderthal in our Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition.

6. Talking eggs and chocolate

Easter wouldn't be Easter without eggs and chocolate. Don't miss the Bird gallery's display of eggs and nests - the elephant bird egg is enormous - and the free talks with our experts about where chocolate comes from and why eggs, prehistoric and present, are so eggs-traordinary.

 

3. Meet ancient Britons

Our Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition opened in February to rave reviews amid news of the discovery of ancient human footprints on the Norfolk coast, dating back 800,000 years. Along with two incredibly lifelike models of a Neanderthal and Homo sapiens, this exhibition has surprising insights into our ancient ancestors, with rare archaelogical finds to marvel at. More suitable for adults and older children.

8. Gallery sensations

In January we opened Volcanoes and Earthquakes (formerly The Power Within) and this dramatic gallery is a must-see, not least because of the earthquake simulator. Hang on to little ones when the shaking in the earthquake room starts! The beautiful Treasures Cadogan Gallery, located in the upper mezannine of the Central Hall, contains 22 of our most treasured objects, including Guy the gorilla.

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Earthquake room in the Volcanoes and Earthquakes gallery. Tower of London Barbary lion skull in Treasures.

9. Tours and maps

Pick up the handheld Multimedia guide at the Central Hall's information desk. It doesn't cost much and will give you a great touchscreen tour of the Museum. Explorer backpacks are available at the Central Hall information desk with topic-related activity trails for under sevens. And the behind-the-scenes Spirit Collection Tour of our tank room is best for those who want something more weird and wonderful. Museum maps are available at both entrances.

10. Keep informed

Plan your visit - the Museum is a big place with much to discover. Check our website for what's on and refer to the useful Parent's Survival Guide and floor plans. Links below.

 

Happy holidays.

 

Useful links

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Wildlife Garden springs into action

Posted by Rose Mar 27, 2014

See what's bursting into life and who's out and about in the Museum's Wildlife Garden in our spring photo gallery below. Everyone who works behind the scenes in the Wildlife Garden team, including some very shaggy helpers, is busy getting the meadows, pathways, ponds, sheds and greenhouses ready for the garden's opening to the public once more, from 1 April.

 

It's also the time of year that the garden and its different habitats require special attention with all the new life in abundance. Frogs have been getting matey and mallards have been checking out the pond's moorhen island.

 

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The Museum's Wildlife Garden opens its gates to the public once again from 1 April with its first public event, Spring Widllife, on 5 April to herald the start of the Easter holidays.

 

The garden will be the focus of lots of fun and nature-filled activities, planned through the coming spring, summer and autumn seasons. And as usual we'll be hosting regular, free monthly weekend events starting with Spring Wildlife on Saturday 5 April.

 

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Pretty red crab apple blossom caught on camera a couple of weeks ago.

 

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Glowing cowslips appearing in the meadows.

 

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Our Greyface Dartmoor sheep, who usually visit from the Wetland Centre in the autumn, have been staying for a few days to graze down the meadow grass. It's the last chance to do this before wild flowers start coming up. By nipping the spring grass in the bud there will be more light for the flowers to come through.

 

mallards-bird-island-1500.jpgMallard visitors exploring the moorhen island lookout on the pond.

 

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Frogspawn was spotted in the garden's pond around 17 March.

 

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Wood anemones have recently come into flower.

 

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Violets on the hedge banks.

 

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Sweet-smelling gorse bushes in the early morning spring sunshine.

 

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White blackthorn blossom perks up the pathways.

 

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Behind the scenes in the garden's greenhouse, staff and volunteers have been preparing seedlings.

 

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The latest green roof in the garden atop the sheep shed was created last autumn. The sloping roof is planted with stonecrops and plants such as thrift, sea campion and sea lavender. More about green roofs coming later in the season.

 

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Alfred Russel Wallace the collector stands watch in front of the Wildlife Garden. His statue was unveiled here last November to commemorate his centenary.

 

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This weekend will no doubt be a busy one for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition in our Waterhouse Gallery. The exhibition closes here at the Museum on Sunday 23 March. However, it's at the later time of 20.00 GMT as we've extended opening for the last day (last admissions are at 19.15 so you have time to view the exhibition).

 

On Saturday, the exhibition also stays open a little later until 19.15, so book your tickets now if you don't want to miss out. On both evenings, you can also dip into tapas at the bar in the Deli Cafe between 17.30 until 19.30. Check out the exhibition page for more details.

 

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Light path by Charlie Hamilton James, runner-up in the Behaviour: Birds award category, WPY 2013 competition. Select images to enlarge.

 

Making one last tour of the gallery this morning, I noticed the tiny details in this vivid shot of a kingfisher taken by Charlie Hamilton James in Gloucestershire. The focus may be the motion blur of the bird's dazzling feathers, but look closer and you'll spot a tiny fish in its beak and another attentive kingfisher far away in the distance (the other parent). That's the joy of seeing these unforgettable photographs close up and so beautifully lit in the gallery.

 

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The magical kokerbooms by Ugle Fuertas Sanz, commended in the Botanical Realms category, WPY 2013 competition.

 

Stars twinkling over kokerbooms on one enchanted night in Namibia is another one - the image comes alive when you stand in front of it. You're beamed into that dream sunsetting scene.

 

To come across a family of endangered Amur leopards in Russia's Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve is a rare and extraordinary sight. Valeriy Maleev's composition of the staring leopards caught in the act among the deer carnage, and blending into the pale jagged rocks, has incredible impact close up.

 

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Survivors by Valeriy Maleev, runner-up in the Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species, WPY 2013 competition.

 

The exhibition of these 100 award-winning images is already on its UK tour, so even though it closes in London this weekend, it will open in Edinburgh and Cardiff shortly with more venues to follow. The 50th competition winners will go on show in the Waterhouse Gallery later in the year in October.

 

If you've entered the 50th competition, check out the jury who have now started their selection process, with the final judging rounds due in April.

 

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From newly-discovered species to common wildlife, a new free exhbiition showing the work of women artists over four centuries, opens at the Museum in the Images of Nature gallery. These women painted for pleasure, to generate income, and as Museum employees or scientists. The exhibition's unveiling on 8 March marks International Women's Day.

 

Today there are probably just as many women natural history artists as men, and they particularly dominate the contemporary botanical art scene. But in the past their contributions went largely unnoticed.

 

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This watercolour of owls, possibly spotted owlets, is by Olivia Tonge, c1908-1913, the daughter of an explorer who filled her sketchbooks with illustrations of flora and fauna on their travels. On show in the Women artists exhibition in the Images of Nature gallery.

 

'Women artists deserve to be celebrated in their own right, and this exhibiton seeks to do so. Even when they drew for pleasure, these women understood the importance of depicting their subjects with scientific accuracy. This has given us an incredibly rich collecton of artwork that is still used by contemprary scientists,' says Fiona Cole-Hamilton, Museum interpretation developer for the exhbition.

 

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Left: Mandarin duck by Sarah Stone, watercolour on paper c1788. Stone depicted specimens unknown to science and her works are important scientific records. Right: fried egg jellyfish, barrel jellyfish and moon jellyfish by G W Dalby, watercolour on board c1960.

 

More than 60 female illustrators are featured in the exhibition, from different periods, backgrounds and social classes. Are there any differences in subject or style between the male and the female visions of nature, I wonder? Some of the illustrations I've had a sneak peek at are executed with such intense pattern-like finesse.

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Various British seaweeds by Barbara Nicholson, watercolour on board c1970-1977. The image portrays the UK's ecology and biodiversity of the time. About 650 species of seaweed live in British waters.

 

Andrea Hart, Special Collections Librarian, who helped create the exhibition and the accompanying book, gives some background:

 

'Many of the artworks that we hold in the Museum collections by men were carried out on voyages of discovery or for scientific purposes and so to some extent there is quite a set way of drawing these. The Dutch floral painters were very similar in style regardless of their sex. So no, I don’t actually I think there is a visible difference (not with our Museum artworks) to say that they were completed by a male or female.

 

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Heathland by Barbara Nicholson (1906-1978). Watercolour on board c1970-1977. On show in the gallery's second rotation.

 

'It's also to do with what is required from the artist. Barbara Nicholson’s Heathland, pictured above, is beautifully intricate. But it was specifically commissioned by the Museum to show different types of ecosystems and habitats and not to focus on an individual subject like with most of the other artworks held.

 

'I'd say it's true that women did find it harder to achieve success or get their work recognised in the scientific arena especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. But others chose to work in obscurity or just draw for their own pleasure.

 

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Horse fly, c1906, by Grace Edwards. Watercolour and ink on paper. Edwards' work is part of the Museum library's collection of more than 100 illustrations of blood-sucking flies.

 

'My favourite is probably Grace Edwards' blood-sucking fly, which will be in a forthcoming rotation. Her watercolour has surprising detail and for such a small, but pain-inducing subject! We have more than 100 illustrations of African and oriental blood-sucking flies which Grace drew with immaculate precision on card no larger than 7 x 9 centimetres. I'm looking forward to the challenge of mounting 16 of them to go into the gallery for the fourth and final rotation to show in early 2015.'

 

The exhibition of women artists has four rotations in the Images of Nature gallery. The current pieces are displayed until the end of June when they will be replaced by new illustrations. Over the next 12 months the gallery will showcase more than 60 female illustrators. You can gain more insights into this collection in the accompanying book.

 

The Images of Nature gallery is located in the Blue Zone off Dinosaur Way.

 

Find out about the Women artists exhibition in Images of Nature

 

See more images from the first rotation in our highlights slideshow

 

Women Artists book

 

International Women's Day official website

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Farewell to William Blake's God, Atlas, Cyclops, Medusa, Spaceman and Scientist.

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The faces of the Earth Hall: Atlas, Scientist, Spaceman, Medusa, William Blake's God, and Cyclops (left to right, top to bottom). They're leaving the galleries on 9 March after 18 years at the Museum.

 

On Sunday 9 March, we say a final goodbye to our avenue of statues that welcomes all visitors into the Earth Hall at the Museum's Exhibition Road entrance.

 

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Our avenue of statues in the Earth Hall is soon to pass into Museum mythology.

 

These six statues, representing visions of Earth's past, present and future, have dominated the Earth Hall's atrium since it opened in 1996. They have been photographed countless times as guardians of the dramatic Earth globe escalator which takes visitors and staff on a cosmic journey to the upper floor galleries, including the newly-opened Volcanoes and Earthquakes.

 

It's the end of an era for Earth as we know it at the Museum. But, don't worry, the statues are making way for an exciting new display to be announced later in the year... watch this space.

 

'They are made of fibre glass with interior metal frameworks,' says Trista Quenzer, the Museum's Display and Conservation Manager. 'And I remember they were designed by Neil Potter, an external architect. Like all good architectural concepts, the design started as a sketch on the back of an envelope.'

 

An auction of the statues has just taken place for Museum staff, who will no doubt be making plans for their removal and new homes over the next few days. Front porch? Back garden? Spare bedroom? Gigantic hallway?

 

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Ground control recalls Major Tom. Bye, bye Spaceman.

 

There has also been another significant recent change to the Earth Hall experience ('scuse the pun). No longer will we be lured up the Earth globe escalator to the riffs and spacey vibes of Jimi Hendrix's Third Stone From the Sun track off the classic album, Are You Experienced.

 

It has echoed out into the hall from the globe since the time the statues first arrived. And now it has been replaced with an ambient composition to complement the new light shows emanating from the globe. These were introduced for the opening of the Volcanoes and Earthquakes gallery.

 

The instrumental soundtrack created by the Museum's media technician, Lee Quinn, has been warmly welcomed by visitors and staff who had outgrown the retro rockout. For those of us who might want to re-live those fond memories, there's always a download of Jimi's original.

 

Visions of Earth closes from 10 March to 2 April for the final statue removal.

 

Check our website for news of this and other gallery updates.

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There are just hours to go to submit your most spectacular and creative visions of wildlife caught on camera to the 50th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. It closes at 12.00 GMT on Thursday 27 February. So enter now.

 

This year's competition saw a simpler set of subject and photographic categories introduced as well as new awards. So far there have been tens of thousands of entries from around the world, with a lot of interest in the new TIMElapse and portfolio adult categories as well as the WILD-I category for young smartphone photographers.

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Magic mushrooms by Agorastos Papatsanis. Agorastos spotted these two parasol mushrooms growing in woodland in Greece's Grevena region. 'Nature is the true designer,' he says of his fairytale shot, taken with double exposure, in-camera.

 

Here are some words of advice from the WPY team for last-minute entrants:

 

'We want to see outstanding shots of any species, like these three 2013 award winning images pictured here. Photographs that depict the familiar to the less well known, the widespread to the endangered, the charismatic to the overlooked, and the urban to the wild.

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Grand raven by Chris Aydlett. This is a perfect example of a familiar subject presented in an original, dramatic way. Using the strong midday light, Chris created the shot in black and white, to give the scene impact and boost the metallic gloss of the raven's plumage.

'Our competition judges, as ever, are looking for fresh, creative images that reveal the diversity, majesty and beauty of life on Earth. As well as those that highlight the fragility of the natural world.

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Feast of the ancient mariner by Brian Skerry. Brian's vivid underwater shot shows the elusive leatherback turtle feasting on a free-floating colony of  tiny tunicates (sea squirts). It's a rare portrait of an incredible surivor.

'It doesn't matter where you take your shot. It could be in a garden or car park, underwater or in a remote corner of our planet. Just take a closer look and share your vision with us, wherever you are. There's still time. And good luck!'

 

The first round of the judging for the 50th competition entries starts on 10 March.

 

Find out about the competition's adult categories and young categories before you enter the competition.

 

Visit the WPY 2013 exhibition

 

Follow the WPY blog to get behind the scenes with winning photographers and judges

 

Stay connected with WPY on Facebook and Twitter

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Our ancient Britons are all yours

Posted by Rose Feb 18, 2014

After a week of full-on media attention and VIP events, our Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition is open to the public. Its first few days of opening for the February school holidays has seen it bustling with visitors.

 

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Comedian Bill Bailey and the Museum's Emily Smith celebrate the opening of our Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition at the VIP event last week. Bailey is one of six well-known figures to have their genetic ancestry traced for a film that features in the last part of the exhibition.

 

The exhibition is full of amazing archaeological finds, all beautifully displayed against spectacular backdrops, and here are a few pictured below you shouldn't miss.

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Seeing is believing: they may not look like much but these cones of pine and spruce date back to more than 800,000 years ago. They're from Happisburgh on the Norfolk coast and would have greeted the first human pioneers to Britain.

 

Standing in the presence of some of Britain's earliest human remains and artefacts in our dramatic story of evolution, surrounded by the animals these early ancestors pursued for survival and the tools they used to eek out their existence, it's hard to not be awestruck.

 

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The Swanscombe skull. This skull belongs to an early Neanderthal woman and is about 400,000 years old. She could have been the earliest Neanderthal in Britain.

 

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Trafalgar Square jaw-droppers: a hippopotamus canine from 125,000 years ago that was uncovered in 1960. This remarkable find is displayed next to other animal fossils and specimens against a stunning backdrop of a modern-day Trafalgar Square.

 

But it's not only the ancient treasures that grab your attention. Some of the show stoppers are in fact the products of very modern humans, such as the specially commissioned models of a Neanderthal and Homo sapiens made by twin Dutch artists, the Kennis brothers, along with several ground-breaking short films made by our excellent Museum film unit. Featured footage includes the big discovery of ancient human footprints on the Norfolk coast - the oldest to have been discovered outside of Africa - and the exhibition's final film tracing the genetic ancestry of famous names like Bill Bailey and Dr Alice Roberts.

 

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The exhibition's public face: Ned the Neanderthal, so named by you in an Evening Standard competition, is undeniably an attention-grabber in the exhibition's central room. Ned stands near to the other life-size model of a Homo sapiens. Both are incredibly life-like and offer visitors the chance to compare and contrast the two species.

 

Also look out for and take hold of the touch objects in the gallery, including flints, human skull casts and more.

 

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Touch obects: compare the head casts of the four human species thought to have lived in Britain in the past million years and featured at the start of your exhibition journey.

 

We will be adding more films and a great prize draw to the exhibition website soon, so check back in the next few weeks.

 

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Neanderthal woman in pieces

Posted by Rose Feb 11, 2014

She's 400,000 years old and her faceless skull is now mounted in an elegant display case in readiness for the Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition opening at the Museum on 13 February.

 

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Could this 400,000-year-old skull, belonging to an early Neanderthal woman, be one of the first Neanderthals in Britain? The skull is one of more than 120 specimens and objects on show in the Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition.

 

The early Neanderthal woman's skull was found in Swanscombe, Kent and, despite its age, it reveals a great deal. Her brain left its mark on the surrounding bone. Faint impressions of folds and blood vessels show it was a similar size as a human's brain today.

 

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The back of the Swanscombe skull has characteristic Neanderthal features, including a small pit where the neck muscles attached to the skull.

 

You'll see this striking specimen assembled as one exhibit in the exhibition, but look closely and you'll discover it actually comprises three parts.

 

Observing Museum curator, Rob Kruszynski, steadily hold the three skull pieces together at a recent photo shoot we attended, I listened intently as he recounted how remarkably well they fit together. Especially when you consider that they were found at different times in Swanscombe.

 

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The central skull section (occipital) was found in June 1935 in Swanscombe, Kent, by a local dentist A. T. Marston. The left part (parietal) was found at Swanscombe in March 1936 also by Marston. And the right parietal was found years later in 1955, by archaeologists J. Wymer and A. Gibson. Select images to enlarge.

 

Being so close to this ancient woman's skull and watching Rob handle it so carefully, I found myself wondering who she was and what her life must have been like? Did she die alone or with her family around her? We don't know as much as we would like about Neanderthal lifestyles because nothing was written down, but we do know that they sometimes buried their dead, that it's likely they did have some form of communication and that they lived together in family groups.

 

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This graphic reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman model appears in the exhibition. © PS Plailly/E Daynes/Science Photo Library

 

'There is analysis going on now on a large family group of possibly 12 Neanderthal individuals discovered in a cave site near to El Sidrón in Spain's Asturias,' Rob tells me. 'All had been cannibalised. And evidence suggests there were six adults (three males and one female), three adolescents between 12 and 15 years of age, two juveniles between five and nine years of age, and one infant, and that they were related.

 

'As of 2012, over 1,800 Neanderthal fossil remains and 400 tools have been recovered at El Sidrón, making it one of the largest collections of Neanderthal fossils in Europe to date.'

 

These El Sidrón finds are nowhere near as old as our Swanscombe skull, as they only date back to about 42,000 to 50,000 years, but they have been invaluable in revealing the Neanderthal's own story.

 

Our scientists and archaeologists continue to unravel more about our prehistoric ancestors with such amazing discoveries about the men, women, children, animals and objects they uncover and analyse.

 

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Volcanoes and Earthquakes has...

Posted by Rose Jan 31, 2014

... blasted open at long last!

 

When alighting at the top of our globe escalator in the Red Zone's Earth hall, from now on visitors will be greeted by an explosion of colour and dramatic installations as they enter the new Volcanoes and Earthquake gallery.

 

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Volcanoes and Earthquakes, our new permanent gallery, blasts open today, 31 January.

 

Alex Fairhead, interpretation manager for the new gallery, gives us an introduction:

 

''The earthquakes are back. Eleven months after our older The Power Within gallery was closed for refurbishment and, after two years in the planning, today sees the opening of Volcanoes and Earthquakes - a new, free permanent gallery in the Museum. In the exhibition we showcase about 120 specimens and objects. With these we explore the origins, geology, scientific understanding and human impact of our planet's most powerful natural forces.

 

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The new gallery has three themed zones: volcanoes, plate tectonics and earthquakes.

 

'For the gallery's design, we took inspiration from the structure of rock strata and continental plates and you can see that in the jutting, layered walls. The exhibition leads visitors through three themed areas: volcanoes, plate tectonics and earthquakes. The final encounter is inside the Museum’s renowned earthquake simulator, a re-creation of the supermarket scene during Japan's 1996 Kobe earthquake.

 

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A heat suit worn by volcanologists towers tall in the centre of the gallery. It can withstand temperatures of up to to 1,000˚C.

 

'There are a few surprises for visitors as they make their way through the gallery. The pink flamingo's feathers hide a volcanic secret, a 4,000 year old copper dagger holds the key to Cyprus’ underwater origins, and a giant catfish that was once thought to be the cause of earthquakes looms large.

 

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In Japanese mythology, the giant catfish was considered to be the cause of earthquakes.

 

'It's a gallery that was always popular with families and schools and we've really enhanced the content for this audience in the transformation. There are interactive quizzes and games, CGI films, touch objects includng a meteorite and lava bomb, and an in-depth explanation of the science behind these epic natural phenomena that have literally rocked our world.'

 

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A shaky final encounter in the gallery's Kobe supermarket earthquake simulator.

 

The Volcanoes and Earthquake gallery is a free permanent gallery. To visit, the nearest Museum entrance is our Exhibition Road entrance.

 

Come and be blown away.

 

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