The Dead Zoo

Nunatak writing on the Beagle Project Blog last month:

As an employee of London's Natural History Museum in South Kensington, I wholeheartedly agree with Professor [Steve] Jones. Random selections of specimens, no matter how spectacular, are no substitute for, as Jones puts it, "the logic of life".

Yes, but… I beg to differ. Slightly…

One of the best museums I have ever visited is the Museum of Natural History in Dublin. It's an absolute treasure: glass case after glass case of random selections of stuffed animals and fossils. No interpretation. No jazzy gimmicks. Just dead animals. The Dead Zoo, as the locals call it, is a Victorian marvel in cast iron and glass. It's wonderful. Visiting it—as I try to do every time I'm in Dublin—is like travelling back in time over one-hundred years and experiencing a museum as Darwin might have experienced one.

There you will see the skeletons of a gorilla, chimpanzee and human being standing shoulder-to-shoulder, with absolutely no mention of the word evolution. Just look and notice the uncanny similarity for yourself.

Irish Elk stampThis year is the museum's 150th anniversary. To commemorate the event, the Irish postal service has issued a beautiful stamp (I have simply got to get myself one of those!). I gather that the museum is currently closed for a major restoration programme to maintain and enhance the historic character of the building. Great news. However, I also gather that, when the building re-opens to the public, visitors will notice that public access has been improved and new facilities added for educational activities.

Let's hope they don't ruin it with educational gizmos. As a Darwin groupie, I'm all for "the logic of life"—but there should still be a place in this world for random selections of dead animals in glass cases.

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks

One comment

  1. I hope to get to see this anticipated exhibit. Sounds fascinating- the kind of collection
    that is so rare that you want to cry.

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