The Museum of Natural Sciences of Belgium (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences French: Muséum des sciences naturelles de Belgique, Dutch: Museum voor Natuurwetenschappen) is a museum in the Belgian capital of Brussels dedicated to natural history. The museum is a part of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. Its most important pieces are 30 fossilized Iguanodon skeletons, which were discovered in 1878 in Bernissart. The dinosaur hall of the museum is the world’s largest museum hall completely dedicated to dinosaurs. Another famous piece is the Ishango bone, which was discovered in 1960 by Jean de Heinzelin de Braucourt.
The museum was founded on 31 March 1846 as a descendant of the Musée de Bruxelles of 1802. It was based on the collection established by Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine, which dated from the 18th century. Bernard du Bus de Gisignies, became the first director of the museum in 1846. On this occasion he donated 2474 birds from his own collection to the museum. In 1860, during the construction of new fortifications around Antwerp, several fossils were found which were mainly from whales. The museum also obtained the skeletons from a bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) and a young blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), which are still on display in the museum. In 1860 the skeleton of a mammoth was found near Lier and due to the prompt action of François-Joseph Scohy it was preserved and brought to the museum, where it has been on display since 1869. At that time the only other skeleton of a mammoth on display was in the museum of Saint Petersburg (Russia). In 1878, the largest find of Iguanodon fossils to date occurred in a coal mine at Bernissart in Belgium. At least 38 Iguanodon individuals were uncovered, of which 30 have been on display since they were moved here from their original home at the Palace of Charles of Lorraine in 1891.
The Royal Museum of Natural History of Belgium, created by a royal decree of 31 March 1846, was originally only the acquisition by the Belgian State of the Museum of the City of Brussels in 1802, itself indirectly derived from The collection gathered at the end of the eighteenth century by Prince Charles-Alexandre de Lorraine. Bernard du Bus de Gisignies became the first director of the museum from its foundation.
Between 1889 and 1891, the Museum settled in a former convent located on the heights of the park. As the building quickly became too narrow, the then director, Édouard Dupont, entrusted the architect Charles-Émile Janlet with the construction of a new south wing. The work began in 1898 and ended in October 1905.
The new rooms are specially designed to accommodate the most extraordinary paleontological discovery of the era: the iguanodons of Bernissart, which will become the main attraction. In 1878, in the galleries of the coal mines of Bernissart in Hainaut, more than 300 meters deep, are discovered about thirty almost entire skeletons of an then unknown species of dinosaurs, Iguanodon bernissartensis, dating from about 135 Ma. Y are also brought back to the day of many fossils of plants and animals of the same period: crocodiles, turtles, fish and insects.
With a surface area of over 3000 m2 and dozens of specimens, the Dinosaur Gallery is the largest room in Europe entirely devoted to dinosaurs, their discovery, lives and evolution.
Dinosaurs first appeared nearly 230 million years ago, at the end of the Triassic period. During the Jurassic period, they multiplied and diversified, colonizing every continent. They became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. But did they really disappear? We’re not so sure!
In the gallery you can see how the Olorotitan died, learn how fossils are formed and challenge a virtual Pachycephalosaurus. Listen to the Parasaurolophus’s scream, find out more about cladistics and give each hadrosaurus its own neck frill.
The Insect and Shell halls permanently closed their doors on 18 April 2017. You can still take a virtual look inside the halls thanks to Google Street View (click on the yellow guy down on the right, then select the third floor in the upper banner). You can also get in with Google Maps (drag the yellow guy onto the Institute, then select the third floor in the column on the right).
Last winter, we started digging a tunnel between the ‘Convent’ and the Gallery of Humankind – Our Evolution, our body. Unfortunately, noise disturbance will be inevitable.
The former Whale hall, North and South Poles Hall and Mammal Hall make room for a brand new gallery on biodiversity and ecology on earth, in the sea and everywhere around the world. Opening in 2018
Gallery of Humankind
From Sahelanthropus to Homo sapiens, from embryo to adult: explore the human evolution and body in the all new ‘Gallery of Humankind – Our evolution, our body’.
To start with, fossils and 3D reconstructions will take you down the branching paths of 7 million years of evolution. Next, interactive tools will reveal the adaptations that set us apart from our predecessors (including a bigger brain and smaller teeth). Then, using simulations, you will explore the marvellous and complex machine that is our body, its development, how it works and what it needs to survive and reproduce (that should get your teenagers interested!).
Gallery of Evolution
In this gallery, you will travel through billions of years of the Earth’s history, stopping off at six key moments in the evolution of life on earth: the Cambrian explosion, the proliferation of aquatic life during the Devonian era, the conquest of land during the Carboniferous period, the swarming seas of the Jurassic era, the appearance of mammals in the Eocene period, and the impact of humans in the present day.
Follow the adventure of life on earth, from the very first forms of primitive life, to giant fish with impressive jaws, giant predatory birds, whales with feet, up to human beings. We even take a little trip into the future!
The city is not just pavements, walls and concrete. It is often unexpectedly full of animal life and vegetation!
Who would have thought that a slowworm could be hiding in a corner of your garden? Have you ever tried to follow a blue-winged grasshopper along the railway verge? Or have you experienced a day in the life of a hedgehog? Even though the city may sometimes appear gloomy and grey, it is full of surprises!
Everywhere in BiodiverCITY, there are specimens, photos, films and interactive installations help to explain what biodiversity in the city entails. Moreover, you can play an active role with the aid of computer simulations and learn what you can do to protect the biodiversity in the city.
250 Years of Natural Sciences
In this room are the fantastic results of memorable scientific expeditions, unusual excavations, moving events and remarkable specimens that trace the evolution of our museum. With its 37 million specimens (minerals, dinosaurs, insects, shells and mammals from both land and sea), today the museum’s collection is the third largest natural science collection in Europe, only exceeded by Paris and London! Charles de Lorraine would never have imagined this impressive establishment when he started his curiosity cabinet in 1751!
At the time when the tyrannosaurs ruled the continents, gigantic predatory lizards roamed the seas. These were the mosasaurs.
Strangely, not many people have ever heard of them. That is why we have decided to present a few of the specimens from our mosasaur collection, one of the biggest in the world. These are now on display in a cosy, well-lit gallery next to our iguanodon exhibit in the basement.
Here, you can admire a 12.5-metre-long Belgian specimen, Hainosaurus bernardi, compare the anatomy of the mosasaurs with that of reptiles and other modern-day animals, understand the mechanics of how they swam, and much more.
In 1828 crown prince William II of the Netherlands and his wife, the sister of tsar Alexander I, donated 808 Russian rocks and minerals to the Brussels Museum, the precursor of the current Museum of Natural Sciences.
These were the first pieces of our geological collection, which today contains more than 5,000 Belgian and 25,000 foreign pieces (or 80% of the types known worldwide). It includes tens of thousands of twin crystals, 500 cut stones, nearly 140 meteorites (four of which fell in Belgium), wonderful fluorescent minerals and even a very rare sample of lunar rock.
Allow yourself to delight in the splendid colours and gorgeous shapes of some of the finest pieces in our collection.
Virtual Shell Hall
This hall contains over a thousand species of shells and molluscs! And this represents only a fraction of our collection which, with nearly nine million specimens, is one of the biggest mollusc collections in the world!
Laid out with impressive models and instructive illustrations, the Shell Hall also houses a tropical aquarium heated to 26 °C all year round, along with displays of sponges, corals, starfish, urchins and other invertebrates, a few live specimens of which can be seen in the aquarium.
Virtual Insect Hall
The Insect Hall is actually dedicated to all arthropods. As well as insects, it therefore includes crustaceans (such as crabs, prawns, and lobsters), chelicerates (such as spiders, scorpions, and acarines), and myriapods (such as millipedes and centipedes).
Did you know that arthropods make up nearly 80 % of known animal species? And entomologists are discovering new ones every day. There should be a whole museum devoted to them!
In this hall, you can study the anatomy of various different arthropods thanks to the giant reproductions of flies, amphipods, and scorpions. You can also marvel at the camouflage of click beetles, stick insects, and hawk moths, and at the variety of sizes, shapes, and colours of beetles, butterflies, and crabs. The bravest among you can even observe live tarantulas up close!
The Museum of Natural Sciences is part of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS). Like in most museums, there is a research department and a public exhibit department.
The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is one of the ten federal scientific establishments that are governed by the Belgian Science Policy Office (Belspo). It is involved in important scientific research activities and carries out public service missions. It is open to everyone through the Museum of Natural Sciences.
One in three people at the RBINS is a scientist. The scientific personnel includes mainly biologists, palaeontologists and geologists, but also oceanographers, anthropologists and archaeologists, as well as geographers, physicists, bioengineers and mathematicians, which enables us to conduct multidisciplinary research. The research is focussed on the following areas:
The RBINS provides scientific expertise under Belgium’s international commitments in relation to environmental protection. It develops tools and methods for monitoring natural land or marine environments. It also offers useful advice for the development of national and European policies for the protection and conservation of biotopes and biodiversity.
With 37 million specimens conserved as Belgian heritage of universal significance, the RBINS’s collections serve above all as reference and research tools. Just behind London and Paris in European classification, the collections in Brussels have been awarded the European label of ‘major research infrastructure’ and in this respect are constantly being visited and studied by researchers from around the world.
For the general public, the Museum of Natural Sciences is the visible part of the RBINS. It has 16,000m² of permanent galleries, temporary exhibition rooms and educational workshops, enabling us to welcome roughly 300,000 visitors each year, approximately 30% of whom are school groups.
The Dinosaur Gallery is world famous and the largest in Europe. The museum plays a leading role in the promotion and dissemination of scientific culture, both within and beyond its walls, notably through travelling exhibitions and events. We are pursuing our ambitious efforts to gradually renovate the premises, making the museum more welcoming and meeting and exceeding our visitors expectations. We also seek to promote a more respectful approach to nature.
At the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels you can learn about the human body and how we evolved in the Gallery of Humankind and go back in time in the Gallery of Evolution. You can also find out about urban species in BiodiverCITY, discover specimens which illustrate the Museum’s history in the 250 years of Natural Sciences hall, admire the magnificent crystals in the Mineral Hall, and experience something new every year by visiting our temporary exhibitions or by taking part in one of our Education Service’s interactive activities.