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Humboldt Museum

The Museum für Naturkunde (in English, the Museum of Natural History), widely known as the Humboldt Museum of Berlin, is the first national museum in the world, with a massive collection of more than 25 million zoological, paleontological, and minerological specimens, including more than ten thousand type specimens. It is most famous for two spectacular exhibits: the largest mounted dinosaur in the world, and the most exquisitely preserved specimen of the earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx.

Divided into Institutes of Paleontology, Mineralogy, and Zoology, it is the largest museum of natural history in Germany, and part of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, which was established in 1810; though the museum's mineral collections date back to the Prussian Academy in 1700. Significant zoological specimens were recovered by Valdiva deep-sea diving expeditions, and expeditions to the rich fossil beds in Tendaguru , Africa unearthed paleontological treasures. The collections are so extensive that less than 1 in 300 specimens is actually exhibited, and they attract researchers from around the world.

Additional exhibits include a mineral collection representing 75% of the minerals in the world, a large meteor collection, the largest piece of amber in the world; exhibits of the now-extinct quagga and tasmanian tiger, and "Bobby" the gorilla, a Berlin celebrity from the 1920s and 1930s.


Giant bones

The specimen of Brachiosaurus brancai¹ in the central exhibit hall is the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world. It is composed of fossilized bones recovered by the German paleontologist Werner Janensch from the fossil-rich Tendaguru beds of Tanzania between 1909 and 1913. The remains are primarily from one gigantic animal, except for a few tail bones (caudal vertebrae) which belong to another animal of the same size and species.

The mount is 11.72 m (38.45 ft) tall, and 22.25 m (73.00 ft) long. When living, the long-tailed, long-necked herbivore probably weighed 50 t (55 tons). While the Diplodocus carnegiei mounted at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittburgh, United States actually exceeds it in length (27 m, or 90 ft), the Berlin animal is taller, and far more massive.

Bird with teeth

The Archaeopteryx lithographica, known simply as the Berlin Specimen (HMN 1880), is also displayed in the central exhibit hall. The dinosaur-like body with an attached tooth-filled head, wings, claws, long lizard-like tail, and the clear impression of feathers in the surrounding stone is strong evidence of the link between reptiles and birds. The Archaeopteryx is a transitional fossil; and the time of its discovery was apt: coming on the heels of Darwin's 1859 magnum opus, The Origin of Species, made it quite possibly the most famous fossil in the world.

Recovered from the German Solnhofen limestone beds in 1880, it is only the third Archaeopteryx to be discovered and the most complete. The first specimen, a single 150 million year old feather found in 1860, is also in the possession of the museum.


Minerals in the museum were originally part of the collection of instructors from the Berlin Mining Academy . The University of Berlin was founded in 1810, and acquired the first of these collections in 1814, under the aegis of the new Museum of Mineralogy. In 1857, the paleontology department was founded, and 1854 a department of petrography and general geology was added.

By 1886 the University was overflowing with collections, so design began on a new building nearby at Invalidenstraße 43, which opened as the Museum of Natural History in 1889.

The collections were damaged by the Allied bombing of Berlin during World War II. The eastern wing was severely damaged, and has never been entirely rebuilt. In 1993, after the shake-up caused by the reunification of Germany, the museum split into the three current divisions: The Institutes of Mineralogy, Zoology, and Paleontology.


  1. The Brachiosaurus brancai species was moved to a new genus in 1988 by Gregory S. Paul, so the specimen is technically a Giraffatitan brancai. However common usage, and the museum's labels, still use the old genus name.

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Last updated: 05-07-2005 12:05:08
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04