I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at them, but the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) has some fantastic exhibits. I don’t usually spend time in mineral galleries because it’s very hard to make an attention-grabbing and aesthetically-appealing exhibit on minerals. You almost always just get case after case with rows of minerals divided by class with labels telling you their name, their formula, and where that specimen came from. Something about the RBINS geology exhibit made it slightly more interesting. Maybe it was the irregular layout? I’m not really sure. I’d still like to see an exhibit genius make a great exhibit on minerals, though.
RBINS has a very large hall devoted to dinosaurs—the largest in the world, in fact. A very large percentage of it is taken up by multiple Iguanadon mounts. The museum has 30 in all and they’re the symbol of the place. They were an important discovery because, prior to that, there was a lot of misunderstanding about what their posture was like. The first skeletons found of this species were very fragmentary. At first, it was only teeth and reconstructed as a giant Iguana. Then more bones were found, including what we now know is a thumb spike. Reconstructions shifted to the quadrupedal rhinoceros-looking thing of Crystal Palace fame (Which has fallen into disrepair, by the way, in spite of its historic significance. Some locals are trying to lobby the place’s caretaker to actually take care of it.) with a horn on its nose. Then, the RBINS collected the Bernissart Iguanadons and reconstructions shifted to an upright, kangaroo-like posture. And finally, we figured out that the tails couldn’t bend like that because of ossified tendons along the spine, and thus the modern posture (quadrupedal adults, possibly bipedal juveniles).
I would like to take a moment to cheer about something. RBINS has a T. rex mount. If you’ve ever been to the Field Museum in Chicago, you’ve seen Sue, another T. rex mount. The craftsmanship of Sue’s mount is excellent. Next time you’re there, take a moment to notice how, rather than simply being utilitarian, it’s also a work of art. There are wavy lines holding the vertebrae on. And if you go to the second floor and stand at the corner behind Sue and to its left (I say ‘it’ because we don’t actually know what sex it is), you’ll see that it stands in a very dynamic pose.
But there’s a problem. Two, actually, that result in one unfortunate effect. Take a look at the heads of the ribs. They aren’t actually attached to the vertebrae—they kind of float a little above them. And the gastralia (belly ribs) are also not mounted, though you can see them in a case on the second floor. Both of these purposefully create the effect of making Sue look more svelte. See, T. rexes actually had sizeable guts. But people don’t like to think of the king of the dinosaurs as having a big belly. Even ABC’s Dinosaurs got the gut size backwards, with Earl the Megalosaurus being the fat one and Roy the T. rex being about as slender as any of those puppets got.
So when I saw that the RBINS actually mounted their T. rex correctly and completely, I was ecstatic. The world should know that T. rex had a potbelly. Then maybe we can all agree that Allosaurus is much cooler.
But Dinosaur Hall doesn’t actually only contain dinosaurs. There are a small number of other Mesozoic critters in there, including crocodyliformes such as Bernissartia.
A small gallery on the bottom floor is devoted to mosasaurs, a group of marine monitor lizards. Some of them were quite large, upwards of 50 ft (some estimates say more, but exact lengths haven’t been settled on). You can see one mounted in the basement of Trowbridge Hall. The “rock” it’s in is fake, but the bones are real.
Mosasaurus is historically important because, when Georges Cuvier examined it and realized it was a giant lizard, that was the first time anyone in the Western world really thought about the fact that things could become extinct. Prior to that, real life was like a video game as far as anyone was concerned—you can shoot all the animals/monsters in sight, but they’ll still respawn later (migrate from elsewhere, in the case of the real world). It’s also the reason there’s a misconception out there that every dead reptile is a lizard. Once Cuvier correctly identified a giant extinct lizard, lesser anatomists jumped on the bandwagon and started giving things names ending in -saurus, which comes from the Greek word for ‘lizard’.
The extinct animals are only part of the displays at RBINS. There are quite a few galleries devoted to modern organisms.
Part of this hall was devoted to comparative anatomy. Most animal exhibits are set up based on environment, geography, or phylogeny. It was nice to see one set up to discuss the evolution of various body parts and systems. I wish I’d had more time to spend here because this looked like quite a good gallery.
Another thing I enjoyed about the RBINS exhibits is that there was a huge swath of galleries devoted to invertebrates. Oftentimes, they get overlooked, with vertebrates getting a disproportionate amount of the attention. But here, there were galleries for molluscs, poriferans, arthopods, tiny things living in soil, and even for zooplankton. It was awesome.
And then there was the gift shop…
Anatomically correct animal figurines are my weakness. I managed to tear myself away from the modern animals and some of the extinct ones, but I still came home with eight new figurines. I swear they were trying to make me go broke. On the plus side, they make for fun minis in tabletop games (D&D, Pathfinder, etc…) when they’re small enough. Also good as visual aids for Age of Dinos students when they’re learning about various extinct animals.