The dinosaurs of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
Miss M is only 3, but she LOVES dinosaurs. She knows more facts about dinosaurs than most children her age and many older children as well. When a recent study showed that children, who are interested in dinosaurs, are generally more intelligent, our suspicions were confirmed.
An underrecognised gem
I have visited many dinosaur museums, including the Natural History Museum in London and the Museum for Naturkunde in Berlin. While they are all fantastic, I don’t feel that the Belgian dinosaurs get the recognition and accolades they deserve. The Belgian exhibit is not nearly as crowded as the London Museum, but it has just as many dinosaurs. CNN awarded the museum third place in its ranking of top dinosaur museums, behind Berlin and the Field Museum in Chicago. I was not surprised. Miss M definitely gave it her seal of approval.
A word to the wise: Parking is a nightmare! The museum is on a narrow residential street: only one car can pass when other cars are parked. Parking at the museum itself is also very limited. So, be prepared to park further away and walk. Or catch public transport.
We ended up parking on the other side of the European Parliament building, so we got to see that, too.
The main attraction: the Bernissart dinosaurs
The museum has an impressive number of dinosaur fossils, the most famous of which are the Bernissart Iguanodons. More than thirty relatively complete iguanodon fossils were discovered in a coal mine in the town of Bernissart in 1878. The coal made them much darker than typical fossils.
Experts originally mounted the skeletons in one of the local churches – it was the only place that was large enough. Unfortunately, at that stage, the experts believed that the Iguanodons walked on their two hind legs. Further research has shown that they actually walk on all fours. The fossils are now too fragile for their position to be changed, so many of them are shown ‘upright’.
Eight of the Bernissart Iguanodons are on full display. They are housed in a glass ‘cube’, complete with a ‘tunnel’, which lets visitors view the specimens up close from all angles. More Iguanodon fossils are shown in their original positions in the mine. The number on display indicates the impressiveness of the find.
Of course, the Iguanodons aren’t the only dinosaurs on display in the dinosaur hall. There is a T-Rex skeleton called Stan and “Ben” the Plateosaurus, which look remarkably similar apart from the “spikes” on Ben’s head. There is also a Stegosaurus, a Triceratops, a Diplodocus, a Maiasaurus and a Dimetrodon. Various leg bones and skulls are also displayed. The Parasaurolophus skull, which demonstrates the sound they made, was one of Miss M’s favourites.
The curators have done much to make the exhibition interactive and engaging for kids. Numerous monitors throughout the exhibition show videos of experts explaining something about certain fossils, digs etc. Many of these also showcase some of the research being done by the paleontologists associated with the museum.
The CGI pachycephhlosaurus was a hit with most children. A a motion-sensor let them guide what the little dinosaur did – dance, jump, head-butt the camera.
Miss M made a beeline for the little archaeologists’ pit. This is a glorified sandpit, where children could use brushes to find ‘fossils’. I think she spent the first 20 minutes with her bottom in the air and head down, digging.
All of the information and videos are in three languages : English, French and Dutch (Flemish). Typically Brussels, a number of languages were being spoken around us during our trip. It is not a museum just for Belgians. Clearly, ‘dinosaur’ is a universal language.
Fun for adults?
I must admit, I have always like dinosaurs. There is something fascinating about the amount of information we can learn just from their fossils. When the dinosaur gallery reopened in 2007, while I was living in Brussels, of course I visited. Still, no one had to twist my arm to get me to go. This visit, I was interested to see what our daughter would think.
The dinosaur hall is not just for kids. Both the size of the hall and the number of artifacts is impressive. It is supposedly the largest hall in the world that houses just dinosaurs. The building, at least the dinosaur wing, is gorgeous with its ironwork, is just gorgeous. The juxtaposition of the original architecture and modern glass ‘cube’ is great for adults to look at too.
I think our family would give it six thumbs up (which, of course, is the maximum).