Dino-tours: The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences - revisited

The Lowdown:

Attraction: The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Admission: 7EUR per adult

Last year Mike of the Mesozoic showed me around the delights of the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin; a museum that he had visited previously, but had been on my wish-list for a long time. So this year I repaid the favour with a trip down my own memory lane at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels.

I visited this collection some years ago (one of my earliest 'Dino-tours'!), so I was interested to see if anything had changed since my last visit. The RBINS holds a special place in my heart, as it is home to the iconic Bernissart Iguanodons; making it a place of pilgrimage for an Iguanodontid-lover such as myself.

I'm pleased to say that the display of the Iguanodons themselves is still the star of the show and the dinosaur hall in general is just as rich and varied on a repeat visit. The glass case that protects the I. bernissartensis specimens from dust and detritus makes reference photography a challenge, but the visual effect of the glistening specimens encased within their shining glass case makes for a visual treat. I think we spent as much time wandering around the collection as I had done on my last visit; such is the breadth and quality of the specimens on display.

Making our way around the remainder of the collection, I took time on this occasion to take reference of as many features that I had missed on my previous visit. I have developed a recent fascination with ornithopod dentition and the internal workings of dinosaurs generally, so I spent what must have appeared to be a disproportionate amount of time taking endless reference photographs of Hadrosaurids' teeth!

The splendid mounted casts of Amurosaurus rabinini and Olorotitan arharensis with their seemingly exploded skulls provided an excellent opportinity to observe the incredible dentition of hadrosaurs - one of the most complex of any terrestrial animal group.

Amurosaurus rabini

Olorotitan arharensis

I also spent a great deal more time this time around observing the mounted examples of Zalmoxes robustus and Bactrosaurus johnsoni, both of which show a number of interesting features. In spite of its name, poor Z. robustus is missing both manus and pes, but an exciting encounter for an Iguanodontid-lover none the less.

Bactrosaurus johnsoni

Zalmoxes robustus

We took a break at lunchtime and were amused to discover what must be one of only a handful of museum cafes in the world where you can order a pint of Belgian beer on tap! Our lunch was pleasant and very reasonably priced, but both Mike and I commented on the noticeable lack of fellow diners. Indeed, all morning we had been forced to share our museum space with only a handful of families, individual visitors and a party of schoolchildren on a day-trip.
We concluded that this may have been down to the fact that the summer holidays have only just come to an end at the time of our visiting and so we'd hit that lull between holiday crowds dropping off and school-trip season starting up. Plus, it has to be observed that the RBIN is located in a sadly dilapidated area (perfectly safe, just a bit run-down without many cafes or shops nearby) and this might be a turn-off for some?

Resuming our tour of the dinosaur gallery, we took in some more lovely specimens such as Diplodocus carnegii (eagle-eyed Mike spotted that this cast is currently displayed on Wikipedia as Kaatedocus siberi).

Diplodocus carnegii

We were also treated to an unidentifiable sauropod forelimb of humongous proportions! Frustratingly, according to the signage the provenance of the specimen is just about all that can be said about it, so the species remains a mystery. As close as we could tell it belongs to a brachiosaurid from North America, but that's about as close as it gets.

Unidentified sauropod

I had also completely forgotten about the exquisite Pinacosaurus mephistocephalus specimen that shows vertebrae and limb bones sheathed in the animal's hard plate armour. On this visit, for me personally this little guy was one of the stars of the show.

Pinacosaurus mephistocephalus

Once around the layout and back with the I. bernissartensis at ground-level, we made our way through their big glass enclosure and down into the lower-level of the display, which shows numerous specimens "lying in state" in matrix. This nifty exhibit is surrounded by a glass floor, allowing you to walk around and over the fallen Iguanodons. Whilst a very cool piece of exhibition design, years of visitors have scuffed up the glass around most of the display to the extent that it is hard to see any detail at all, although fortunately this problem seems to have affected some panels more than others, so there are still sections where you can look down and clearly see articulated bits and pieces of skeletons underfoot.

Saying goodbye to my favourite Iguanodons at the end of our day was a bit of a wrench for me, but just as before I gave a silent promise that I will be back to see them again some time soon.

We picked up some presents and souvenirs at the museum shop, which has a wide selection but is poorly under-stocked with T-shirts (which should be the big sellers!). This was an issue I had also found on my previous visit, but little sadly seems to have been done to rectify it.

Nevertheless, Ron the Raptor made away like a little bandit and I did manage to come away from our trip with a very fetching new hat...

Ron Raptor with his designer spoils!

'guanodon thumbs-up, yo!

The Verdict:

Experience: 8/10 - I'm a 10/10 personally, but I recognise that I'm biased. If you're not an Iguanodon roadie like me, you will still enjoy the great range of exhibits on display
Scientific accuracy: 8/10 - Most of the signage looks very up to date, which is impressive for a museum of this size. However the small terracotta "life-restorations" that accompany most specimens are too abstract to serve any real function.
Food & facilities: 6/10 - the staff were all lovely and we had a pleasant enough lunch, but the toilets were in need of refurbishment and the lack of apparel in the shop was a disappointment for us.
Value for money: 9/10 - I felt my 7 Euros admission fee was money well spent, as we had a great day overall and I'm looking forward to returning sometime in the future.


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