Life, As We Know It

Exciting changes are coming to the Museum in 2022, as we embark on the first major redisplay of our permanent exhibits in almost 20 years. 

This summer will see the completion of the second phase of longer-term plans to reinvigorate the main court, following the installation of the Out of the Deep displays in 2018. New high-end showcases will present displays under the concept of Life, As We Know It - beautiful presentations of the diversity of life, and the importance and fragility of biodiversity and human impact on the environment. The new exhibits will show how the biological processes of evolution combine with the geological processes of our dynamic Earth to give rise to the immense, interconnected variety of the natural world. 

Drawing on the Museum's rich collections, and backed up by the University of Oxford's research excellence, the new centre court displays will present biodiversity and animal diversity, supported by surrounding thematic displays illustrating the complex dynamics of the planet. The new displays are designed to appeal to visitors at different levels, from the casual browser to the detail-hungry learner.

While the project is underway, some existing displays will move or be removed, and areas of the court may be temporarily inaccessible. Museum opening hours will be largely unaffected, but please check our website before your visit to avoid disappointment.

The Life, As We Know It redisplay will bring fresh, contemporary exhibits to the 750,000+ visitors received each year. The project will also be chronicled on the Museum's blog, More than a Dodo. To read a press release about the redisplay project click here.

A changing vision of natural history

Since the Museum's foundation in 1860, many changes have taken place in the main court. Images from our Library and Archives in the gallery below illustrate how the Museum has changed over time.

The first image, dated 1890, shows the mammal skeletons lined up in a straight line in the centre court, as well as various other specimens on top of cases, with additional cases at right angles to the main showcases. The Iguanodon skeleton was not displayed in the centre court at this time, and the T. rex was not introduced until the 2000s. 

This second, undated, photograph shows that some of the specimens that were previously on top of displays have been moved. The Iguanodon skeleton is placed in the south narrow aisle, and the angle-topped cases in the foreground are no longer used by the Museum. The Rock-Forming Minerals display in the foreground on the left is an example of the transition to the current two-door style of showcase that you can see in the Museum today. The showcase to its right has four panels and is an older style. The mammal skeletons in the 1890 photograph remain in the centre court. 

The final colour image, taken in 1994, shows two elephant skeletons (Indian and African elephants) in the centre court. These specimens are now in the north aisle as part of our Skeleton Parade. The pitched roofs that you can see in previous photographs are absent here, but were reintroduced for the outer aisle cases in 2003. There are no specimens on the tops of the showcases.

Other useful links

Find out more about the Museum Library and Archives here.

If you have specific questions regarding the redisplay project, please contact the team here.

This phase of the Life, As We Know It redisplay project has been made possible thanks to generous funding from FCC Environment. The FCC Communities Fund gift enables us to safeguard our heritage with the purchase of bespoke showcases at today’s conservation and display standards.