Misty stretches majestically through the room, frozen in mid-stride. As if watching a tennis match, you have to turn your head from left to right to capture all the action. At one end, dozens of vertebrae slowly shrink as the tail tapers almost into thin air. At the other, a long elegant neck reaches gracefully for the sky. Misty’s tiny head makes the ancient creature appear docile, and perhaps a little dim-witted. But you don’t need to be clever to be beautiful – and Misty is mesmerising.
The 17-metre, 150-million-year-old Diplodocus Longus is the big draw for the Zoological Museum’s new exhibition, Precious Things. The dinosaur was discovered accidentally in 2009 by the sons of German palaeontologist Raimond Albersdörfer, who had joined his expedition in Wyoming, USA. The museum bought Misty last year for 4.3 million kroner at an auction in London. Now it stands here in Copenhagen, the star of the show.
Well, not according to Hanne Strager, the museum’s exhibition manager, whose favourite exhibit is of a more diminutive stature: barnacles. But these aren’t any old barnacles – Charles Darwin himself gave these 77 hardy species of arthropod as a gift to Danish zoologist Japetus Steenstrup in 1854. Strager discovered the barnacles deep within the museum’s cavernous basement when she was investigating the relationship between the two scientists.
Almost all the other exhibits were excavated from the same basement, but each was selected for its own unique reasons. Strager explains that the exhibition has no clear theme: instead, curators, scientists and artists trawled through the museum’s basement, looking for the curious, the odd, and the special.
“I’ve worked here for ten years, and I’ve always thought that it was such a pity when we had exhibitions based around themes, because certain items would never be shown, because they just didn’t fit anywhere. But they might still have powerful and wonderful stories,” Strager says.
The sound of hammers and drills fills the exhibition space. It is due to open in a few days, and Strager is confident they’ll be ready – there are just a few finishing touches remaining. A man is putting together a full skeleton of a sperm whale, and the toothed jaws lie on the floor as he prepares them for mounting.
Artists also contributed to the exhibit, on the condition that they use the museum’s specimens. One has created intricate photographs of guillemot eggs, while another is adjusting an arrangement of stuffed birds before the glass is mounted and they are sealed in (above).
An ice core from two kilometres beneath the Greenland ice cap sits suspended in silicon oil, cooled to -27ºC. The core has dark stripes that contain organic matter, Strager explains. Scientists have managed to extract 500-million-year-old DNA that proves the island used to be covered by a boreal forest.
Then there’s a spider, Lycosa danica, which was collected in Djursland in the 19th century and identified as a brand new species. No other specimen has ever been found.
The heart of a Bowhead Whale. The tub of screws adds perspective.
There are also whale hearts and dodo heads, turtle skeletons and ancient fossils – even a set of snail specimens collected by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s a quirky, fascinating and captivating exhibit that, even without Misty, will leave visitors brimming with excitement about the natural world. M
From October 1