The Gemporia Museum is full of exciting treasures, but there are plenty of museums across the UK with extensive mineralogy collections. Here are the best places across the UK to have a look at some of Mother Nature’s most extraordinary wonders.
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD
With over five million visitors a year, the Natural History Museum is a must-see if you’re visiting the Big Smoke.
With a collection of 500,000 specimens of rocks, gemstones and minerals in total, you can visit the highlights in the extensive Minerals Gallery in the Green Zone with the Ostro Topaz in pride of place. In The Vault, you can visit the Tissint, a huge Martian meteorite as well as The Medusa, a spectacularly colorful Emerald crystal. In the Red Zone, you will find Earth’s Treasury, with displays on royal links to gemstones, phosphorescent gems and mineral growth.
In the newly-renovated Hintze Hall, instead of the famous Dippy the diplodocus (who is on tour), you will see a spectacular blue whale hanging from the ceiling. Must-see items for the mineralogy connoisseur in the hall are the Imilac meteorite – a 4.5 billion-year-old Pallasite (space Peridot) crystal, as well as the two tonne Banded Iron formation (pictured, above). This huge rock was discovered in a Rio Tinto iron mine in Western Australia and was identified as being of scientific importance. "The rock tells a fascinating story," says Prof Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences at the Museum. "It records a critical milestone in Earth's history, when the atmosphere was changing rapidly and atmospheric oxygen was increasing - a key indication that primitive life on Earth was blooming." The formation is so heavy that Museum engineers had to reinforce the floor underneath it!
Free Entry • Open Daily 10am to 5.50pm • www.nhm.ac.uk
Botanic Gardens, Belfast, BT9 5AB
The Earth's Treasures gallery at the Ulster Museum displays many of the finest mineral specimens from among many thousands in the museum's collection.
There are more than 500 specimens on display in the main gallery, with more than 60 in the largest display of fluorescent minerals anywhere in the UK.
The main gallery is broadly laid out according to mineral type - different types of silicates, sulfates, carbonates, sulfides, oxides, arsenates, borates and zeolites (a local specialty). There are introductory sections on the most common minerals, on crystal shapes, and on how minerals are formed. There is a section specifically looking at gemstones and precious metals, with dozens of examples of faceted or polished stones alongside the raw minerals. There are replicas too of 19 of the most famous Diamonds.
There are other minerals and gems scattered around the museum, from examples in various display cases in the unique Elements Gallery, to the Rubies embedded in the famous gold winged salamander recovered from the wreck of the Girona, which is displayed alongside other precious items in the Spanish Armada gallery.
While you’re there, don’t miss the Seymchan meteorite slice, cut from a meteorite found in Siberia, Russia, in June 1967. The remarkable piece contains translucent
yellow to green crystals of Olivine, essentially allowing you to gaze upon extraterrestrial Peridot!
Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm • www.nmni.com/our-museums/ulster-museum
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCOTLAND
Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF
Housed in a beautiful Victorian building, the 150-year-old National Museum of Scotland has a rich collection of geological marvels.
Photo copyright National Museums Scotland
The From Minerals to your Mobile display combines geology with technology in an interesting way, with samples of the fifty or so minerals that make up a mobile phone, surprisingly including the familiar Zircon, Diamond and Fluorite.
Other must-see exhibits include the museum’s collection of Burmese Amber, with some fabulous inclusions (midges, woodlice and even a praying mantis!), a huge one tonne Amethyst geode from Rio Grande do Sul (pictured, above), as well as an extraordinary doubly terminated Calcite crystal nicknamed ‘The Rocket’ and a huge piece of Muonionalusta Meteorite.
The museum also features the personal collections of two great mineral collectors – Dr David Livingstone and Professor Matthew Forster Heddle. Scotsman David Livingstone may be familiar to many of you as the missionary and explorer who was the first European to document large areas of Africa’s interior and named the Victoria Falls. The specimens gathered while mapping the Zambezi area are on display and provide a compelling story from this geologically fascinating area. Matthew Forster Heddle was an explorer much closer to home – collecting rocks, minerals and Agate samples from all over Scotland. His collection of Agate slices must be one of the most striking and beautiful anywhere in the world and must not be missed.
Free Entry • Open Daily 10am to 5pm • www.nms.ac.uk/national-museum-of-scotland
You can explore more of the samples we have in our own Gemporia Museum by clicking here.