Continuing with my reviews of various museums around the world I recently got to go to the State Museum for Natural History in Stuttgart (link goes to their site) for the first time. It was a place I had managed to avoid for two years while I was based in Munich despite the extensive pterosaur collection they have there and also the huge number of Plateosaurus specimens. The timing and opportunities were never quite right, so I made a special effort when I had cause to travel from Karlsruhe to Munich, so Ross Elgin, Dino Frey and I made the trip.
The museum is a essentially a single large room with various galleries and balconies spread out into the available space (somewhat reminiscent of Fukui). The focus is very much on vertebrate palaeontology and especially the Triassic rocks that abound in the surrounding areas, though with a nice section on recent mammals such as the mammoth pictured.
It is the Mesozoic that dominates however, and rightly so given its local importance. The design of the museum displays is also excellent and while not exactly original as such, their use certainly is (in my experience at least). Here dioramas dominate with large numbers of wonderfully accurate and detailed recreations of both marine and terrestrial environments with life size plants and animals on display. These are directly tied to the surrounding displays of fossils and explanations as to ecosystems and interactions and ecology of the various taxa.
There are probably a dozen or more of these in the museum in various places, with ones dedicated to a Plateosaurus herd, a birthing icthyosaur, pterosaurs on a beach, a Triassic forest with giant amphibians, aetosaurs and rauisuchians, tropical reefs and more. Each is exceptionally well made and accurate and gives a real sense of the environment. Other little displays of how palaeontologists excavate and reconstruct fossils are well done and are quite hands-on in some cases.
The accompanying displays are also good with very large numbers of original material on display. One thing that was well done in several places was to have out an original slab of disarticulated bones with each carefully labelled to show which part of the skeleton it came from, then suspended above it was a complete skeletal reconstruction of the whole animal. It really helps show off both the anatomy, and how we get from a pile of bones to a whole mounted skeleton. In a similar vein a nice aetosaur was on display but instead of the usual resin or plaster bones to replace those missing, it was completed with burnished metal, giving a real ‘living tank’ look like no other. We definitely need robot aetosaurs!
Along one side of the lowest level was a corridor of marine reptiles, but rather more dramatic than the similar gallery in London’s Natural History Museum. Here though the animals are typically rather more impressive (if less historically important) with huge pliosaurs and icthyosaurs mounded both in large slabs on the walls and with 3-D skeletal reconstructions. Finally a new exhibition on birds and the origins of flight was being prepared while I was there, but work had only just begun so there is little I can say, but it did look good and should be opened later this year.
Overall I was very impressed by the museum. Under normal circumstances you might think it would lack appeal to a mainstream audience without the obvious classic draws like giant dinosaurs and stuffed mammals etc. but obviously the focus on local fossils will alleviate that and the rest is done so well that I doubt adults or children would leave disappointed even without a T-rex in the main hallway. The displays are very well done and informative and it really was good to see so much original material on show. It’s well worth a few hours of anyone’s time and if like me you don’t know much about the Triassic you will pick up a load from this.