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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Vienna Natural History Museum

Like the opera house and concert halls, Vienna has a world-class Natural History Museum, set in beautiful gardens in the city centre only steps from the Emperor's palace. This part of Europe is important for fossils of Neanderthal Man who lived some 50,000 years ago. This species evolved into a variety of forms (sub-species, maybe even separate species) and it is probable that the most generalised (least specialised) type was the immediate precursor to "modern man" Homo sapiens.

Having lectured on hominid evolution for most of my career, I was keen to see the exhibits in this museum in which the hominid displays are especially brilliant. I was encouraged to see groups of schoolchildren being guided around being presented with the tangible evidence of our ancestral heritage.

The Vienna Natural History Museum in beautiful settings

The magnificent marble stairway to the upper exhibition halls

Each exhibition hall is immaculately laid out with old, but very stylish display cabinets

Exhibits such as these can be seen clearly and there is no restriction of photography

Special for me -the famous fossil impression of of the first known bird, Archaeopteryx (Urvogel) that lived in the late Jurassic Period around 155–150 million years ago

A range of Neanderthal skulls - a moment of respectful curiosity for our ancestors

Some of the first simple stone tools (of the Oldowan type) used by Homo habilis and Homo erectus 2-3 million years ago

My favourite. the hand axe of the Acheulian cultures. These industries were the work of the later stages of Home erectus and early Homo sapiens. These beautiful tools could be used for digging roots, stripping bark, butchering animals and flensing skins.

Raymond Dart's Taung Child
On display is a cast of the renowned "Taung Child", discovered by Professor Raymond Dart near Taung in South Africa in 1924. Widely controversial at first, its name is Australopithecus africanus and is now regarded by anthropologists as being very close to the evolutionary branch-point where the hominids leading to modern man diverged from the other primates, some 2-3 million years ago.

I have never seen this fossil before and I found it remarkably moving to do so in Vienna. It is testimony to our very existence.


Blogger Martin Stickland said...

Wow! What a superb building, I could get lost in there for hours and hours!

Talking of lost, did you sister the Llama get to her holiday destination ok?

Hope you are well, Bank holiday tomorrow!!


10:55 pm  
Blogger simon said...

Impressive! the stone tools look very similar to those used by our Aboriginals.

12:09 am  
Blogger Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Facinating display - like Martin, I would be quite happy to wander about for hours looking!

Also, like Martin, I'm missing the Llama. Do say hello to her for me if you hear from her please!

5:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am digging a garden and have not found anything quite this impressive. i did however find a deer skull in the trees.

the garden is to be an effort of several people that will have some food to keep and some to give where it is needed in the community.

well, that is my visit.

God bless you with His Love.

5:48 am  
Blogger Merisi said...

And I here I am, walking by almost daily, never set foot in there. Does that make me a pagan?

6:27 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

Martin: I agree, a morning could not do it justice. A spent an hour examining the Taung skull, the morning just disappeared.

Simon, yes, that is true. Palaeolithic culture still survives where it has not become influenced by modern technology.

Halfmom: Agreed, and, you know, I ddin't even get into the birds exhibition!

Nancy: Nice to see you! Maybe you should try scratching around in a quarry or cliff, fossils are easy enough to find (but not human ones).

Merisi: Judging by the way you were up before dawn with the Amsel and the Nightngale to wash you hair in the early morning dew, I should think you probably are!

3:50 pm  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

What a museum! It would be nice to take a tour with you there so as to understand better what one is seeing.

12:23 am  
Blogger Merisi said...

I read in today's paper that this Sunday the museum is offering a special Mother's Day breakfast with a tour of the roof terraces, which offer splendid views of the city.

10:58 pm  
Blogger Ellee Seymour said...

I really liked the fossil of the earliest bird. I think you must have been a great lecturer Maalie.

10:00 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Wish I could have seen those skulls. I really find evolution fascinating.

4:59 pm  

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