A colossal squid and a cursed gem that refuses to die. In this extract from Lonely Planet Magazine, Jimmy Doherty, presenter of BBC Two's Museum of Life, reveals the secrets of London's Natural History Museum that most visitors miss.
1. The cursed amethyst
You'll find this in the mineralogy department. Everyone who has owned it has supposedly died mysteriously or committed suicide. One guy was so convinced it was cursed he put it in a silver box with lucky charms and threw it in the Serpentine. But someone found it and brought it back to him!
2. The canopy ceiling
The building itself was intended to explain a story. When you look up at the ceiling, there are a series of painted panels of plant specimens. The building told the story of evolution from plants and animals to humans, standing at the top.
3. The mosaic floor
Most people take the building itself for granted. The architecture is absolutely beautiful, and full of small, unnoticed details - like the Victorian mosaic floor. It was all built by hand and is repaired by two guys at 5am almost every day.
4. The colossal squid
Down in the Tank Room is an 8m-long fish tank with a colossal squid inside. Colossal squid are even heavier than giant squid and they're elusive - mostly only remnants have been washed up, or found inside whales. Their tentacles have great hooks that can rotate and slice through bone. It's like an alien - and more related to slugs than fish.
Darwin talked of intermediate stages in evolution but did not find any evidence. Archeopteryx is that evidence. It's the link between reptiles and birds. It's a small, meat-eating dinosaur, like a little velociraptor, with sharp teeth and fast-running legs. But look closer and you can see beautiful feathers outlined on its arms. It's a real 'wow' moment in natural history.
6. Sir Hans Sloane's plant collection
If you go into the cocoon in the Darwin Centre, you'll find a set of old volumes. They're the books of Sir Hans Sloane - the Museum's founding collection. It's 350 years old and is made up of preserved plant specimens that Sloane had gathered while travelling around the Caribbean and South America.
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