Life, As We Know It

Exciting changes are underway at the Museum throughout 2020 and beyond, as it embarks on the first major redisplay of its permanent exhibits in almost 20 years. 

From January, a number of specimens will be on the move as the Museum begins the first phase of plans to reinvigorate the main court. New high-end showcases will present displays under the concept of Life, As We Know It - beautiful presentations of the diversity of life, and the importance and fragility of biodiversity and human impact on the environment. The new exhibits will look at how the biological processes of evolution combine with the geological processes of our dynamic Earth to give rise to the immense, interconnected variety of the natural world. 

Image showing the spaces in the main court left by the removed cases

Spaces in the main court left by the removal of the old showcases

Drawing on the Museum's rich collections, and backed up by the University of Oxford's research excellence, the new centre court displays will present biodiversity and animal diversity, supported by surrounding thematic displays that build up a picture of the complex dynamics of the planet. The new displays are designed to appeal to visitors at different levels, from the casual browser to the detail-hungry learner.

Twelve existing display cases in the centre court will be removed, one-by-one, outside of Museum opening hours, to make way for new conservation-grade showcases. Sympathetic to the Museum's heritage and architecture, the new cases take the same same form and dimensions as the current cases, and will be installed in the same arrangement from April 2020. 

The redisplay will take place throughout 2020, and during this time some displays will move or be removed, with some areas of the court temporarily inaccessible. Museum opening hours will remain as normal, daily from 10am to 5pm.

As we enter the Museum's 160th year in 2020, the Life, As We Know It redisplay will bring fresh, contemporary exhibits to the 750,000+ visitors received each year.

The project will also be chronicled on the Museum's blog, More than a Dodo. To read a press release about the redisplay project click here.

A changing vision of natural history
Since the Museum's foundation in 1860, many changes have taken place in the main court. Images from our Library and Archives in the gallery below illustrate how the Museum has changed over time.

The first image, dated 1890, shows the mammal skeletons lined up in a straight line in the centre court, as well as various other specimens on top of cases, with additional cases at right angles to the main showcases. The Iguanodon skeleton was not displayed in the centre court at this time, and the T. rex was not introduced until the 2000s. 

This second, undated, photograph shows that some of the specimens that were previously on top of displays have been moved. The Iguanodon skeleton is placed in the south narrow aisle, and the angle-topped cases in the foreground are no longer used by the Museum. The Rock-Forming Minerals display in the foreground on the left is an example of the transition to the current two-door style of showcase that you can see in the Museum today. The showcase to its right has four panels and is an older style. The mammal skeletons in the 1890 photograph remain in the centre court. 

The final colour image, taken in 1994, shows two elephant skeletons (Indian and African elephants) in the centre court. These specimens are now in the north aisle as part of our Skeleton Parade. The pitched roofs that you can see in previous photographs are absent here, but were reintroduced for the outer aisle cases in 2003. There are no specimens on the tops of the showcases.

Other useful links

Find out more about the Museum Library and Archives here.

If you have specific questions regarding the redisplay project, please contact the team here.

The first phase of the Life, As We Know It redisplay project has been made possible thanks to generous funding from FCC Environment. The FCC Communities Fund gift enables us to safeguard our heritage with the purchase of bespoke showcases at today’s conservation and display standards.

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