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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

More than just a load of old rocks…

Aficionados of the hit TV series The Big Bang Theory will know all too well that Sheldon hates geology, insisting that it isn’t an actual science. I have to say that although I wouldn’t go that far, I’m far from turned on by the idea of actually looking at a rock. However, I had to overcome this extreme prejudice when my son decided to go to university to study… geology!Try as I might, I have never been able to get excited by the subject (sorry Drystan!).

So it comes as no surprise that it was only after six years in Beijing that I could even bring myself to get off my backside to go visit the Geological Museum of China. And I’m glad I finally did!

The museum, opened on October 1, 1959, is the earliest geological scientific museum in China. Its predecessor was called the Geological and Mineral Products Exhibition Hall of the Geological Investigation Office, and was founded in 1916.

According to which web site you read and/or believe, the Geological Museum of China has more than 100,000 or 200,000 specimens. (I guess at some point around those figures you somewhat lose count.) In 2004, the museum was rebuilt and opened to the public, and now has five exhibition halls: an earth sciences hall, an ore hall, a paleobotanical hall, a gems hall, and a land and resources hall.

The museum is slap bang next to exit D of Xisi station on subway Line 4. You know you’re there before even sighting the building, as there are loads of rocks erected in the park into which exit D leads you.

And as if that isn’t evidence enough, the entire front of the building has a whole load of rocks stuck up on their own mini-podiums. I’m already beginning to feel a Sheldon moment coming on…

Anyway, into the ground floor and once you have successfully negotiated your way around the souvenir shop, the first thing you come to is the Earth Hall, a.k.a. the hall of geological resources. There is an auto-revolving model of the earth – though the “auto” part doesn't seem to be working, until a gentle shove from your favourite blogger gets it moving again!

The models on show here demonstrate how the evolutions of different landforms are influenced by external forces, such as crustal movement, magmatic activity, and dynamic deformation resulting in plate movement, folds and faults, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

The exhibits on the west side of the same gallery introduce geological processes driven by external forces like wind and water.

And all around the walls are lumps of stone and columns of earth. Exciting stuff to some perhaps; but it doesn’t float my boat.

And then the unexpected… a room made up to explain the effects of earthquakes – and dare one say this is much better than the models you can find at the actual earthquake museum!

It’s too early to get excited yet, however. The gallery comes to an abrupt end and the only way to go is up… to the second floor, which has a large sign saying Mineral Rock & Gemstone Halls. And suddenly things take a turn for the better.

The hall of mineral rocks showcases crystals of more than 1,200 varieties, together with over 800 samples of magma rock, alluvial rock and transformation rock.

There are a number of cabinets containing all kinds of carbonate minerals, each containing calcites, aragonites, ankerites and huntites among other things. Some, it has to be said, would make a good mantelpiece decoration, though I’d hate to think of how you would set about dusting it!

And everywhere you look there are rocks of different colours and shapes.

Some of the exhibits are beautiful in their own right … such as this pair of amethyst-laden rock.

But before we can learn about some of the precious and semi-precious stones that are used so widely in jewellery, there is a display of how stalagmites and stalactites are formed in caves. Looks just like the magma caves found in the southwest of Beijing!

Before you know it, you find yourself in an amazing display gallery of gemstones. I never knew there were so many different types of just about every colour imaginable. All are natural gemstones, which you can see up-close in their raw state and after they have been polished by professional jewellers.
On the north side are jades, such as jadeites, calaites and malachites.

On the south side of the gallery are gemstones, grouped together, such as diamonds, rubies and sapphires; beryls, chrysoberyls and garnets; tourmalines, olivines, topazes, spinels and zircons; pyroxenes, feldspars, apatites, scapolites and rare gemstones; and amethysts, citrines, cairngorms and rose quartz.

Suddenly Sheldon’s boring geology is taking on a life of its own.

There are even gold and silver ‘objets d’art’ on display and for a moment you have to remind yourself that you are not in an art gallery or jewellery store.

But by the time we reach the next floor, it’s back to the boring stuff again. (Is your favourite blogger simply a philistine behind that bluff exterior?)

The Prehistoric Creatures Hall spells out ‘momentous’ events in pre-history while trying to illustrate the development processes of biological generation, evolution and extinction. The hall is divided into two parts: a wall exhibition of fossils, and a second, larger area which describes evolutionary history.

There are fossilised dinosaur bones mounted below the glass floor; and plenty of examples of fossils embedded in rocks.

I’m somewhat taken with this giant dragonfly which I’m sure would make a wonderful wall decoration in my living room…

I particularly like the way they mount skeletons – such as this Dsungaripterus Weii – on fabric to show how it relates to the entire animal, something which is not always clear by simply looking at the basic skeletons.

Round the next corner of the gallery is a scenario from Cretaceous Mongolia, showing Velociraptors harassing an oviraptor. Well that’s what is says, though I think I’d have trouble recognising a velociraptor if I met one coming towards me.

There’s also a Lufengosaurus mounted at the end of the gallery. Is it for real? Or is it a good plaster-cast model? Difficult to say, though it probably doesn’t really matter I guess.

At the end of the hall, several artefacts from the Peking Man and Upper Cave Man site in Zhoukoudian are exhibited. These fossils date back 25,000 years. (From 1921 to 1927, archaeologists undertook three excavations and in 1929, the skull of Peking Man was discovered.)

It’s time to make my way up to the fourth and fifth floors. It is apparent that at this dizzying and rarefied height the translator, who had done such a good job up until now, finally gave up the unequal task, From here on in everything is in Chinese only. Thank goodness for the image translator on my mobile phone!

Here is a rather pretty pair of ammonoids, which are an extinct group of marine molluscs.

These two floors appear to be somewhere they could display the leftovers from downstairs… There are more rocks and semi-precious gemstones on display, some of them rather attractive.

Here’s a slab of lapis lazuli, for instance.

And if you look really carefully, you can see a diamond embedded in this lump of kimberlite.

And here is some ruby embedded in marble.

Yes. All in all this is a very well put together museum, though it could do with a good going over with a duster or two! Sheldon may not be far short of the mark in his description of geology, but I have to begrudgingly admit that I’m glad I finally came here.