rue Vautier 29, 1000 Brussels, Belgique
The iguanodons of Bernissart
The history of the collection
The content of the collection
The Russian collection
The Drugman collection
The Vanacker collection
The heart of the mineralogical collection of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences comes from the physics and natural history room of Charles of Lorraine (1712-1780 ), governor of the southern Low Countries under the reign of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. From 1741, in his Brussels residence, the Palace of Nassau, Charles of Lorraine assembled a large collection of material pertaining to natural history, but also ancient paintings, armours and medals. After his death, and thanks to an important donation made by the Emperor Joseph II, son and successor of Maria Theresa, a part of Charles of Lorraine's collection was purchased by the Academy of Sciences and Literature.
After the French invasion in 1794, Charles of Lorraine's physics and natural history room was partly plundered and what remained of his collection, transferred to the museum of the " Ecole centrale" founded in Brussels in 1797 by the National Convention. The closing down of the " Ecole centrale" in 1802 threatened the existence of the museum. However, thanks to the wakefulness of the curator, Adrien Dekin, the collections were saved and the physics and natural history room purchased by the city of Brussels in 1811 and opened for the public in 1815. Thanks to the generous support of King William I, the museum prospered under Dutch occupation. The scientific collections exhibited at the Palace of Nassau were transferred to the Belgian State in 1842 and, in 1846, the museum was given a new status, thus becoming the Royal Belgian Museum of Natural History.
The first director of the Museum, Bernard du Bus de Gisegnies ( from 1846 to 1867 ), was an ornithologist. He developed the collections of mammals and birds and was given a considerable number of fossil cetaceans discovered during the construction of the forts of Antwerp.
His successor Edouard Dupont ( from 1867 to 1909 ) was a geologist. It was he who defined the future scientific orientation of the institution: the exploration of the national territory with natural history in view. The researchers thus entered upon the study of prehistoric caves, fossil-bearing layers of the country, freshwater fauna, insect populations. Remarkable fossils were added to the collections: a mammoth of Lierre, a rhinoceros of Blaton, cetaceans of Antwerp, turtles of the Maastrichtian and Bruxellian, mosasaurs of Baudour, but especially iguanodons of Bernissart about which more shall be said below.
In order to house these new collections and the scientific departments which study them, the Museum moved from the too cramped Palace of Nassau to an abandoned convent situated in the Parc Léopold. A new " art nouveau " wing was erected in 1893 intended to house zoological and paleontological Belgian collections, as well as laboratories and workrooms.
The next director, Gustave Gilson ( from 1909 to 1926 ) , laid the emphasis on ecology, studying the animal in its natural environment. He oriented the research toward the coastal area: the study of marine currents, of the salinity and of the North Sea fauna.
Victor Van Straelen ( from 1926 to 1954 ), continued the explorations in Belgium and, simultaneously, developed the over-seas research: a systematic exploration of Central Africa and oceanographic expeditions. It is he who stimulated the creation of the National Parks in Congo, genuine open-air laboratories. In order to solve the everlasting problem of the lack of space, a new 20-floor high building was erected in the Parc Léopold. The works, started in 1934, were completed as late as the 1980s, due to the interruption caused by the Second World War, as well as to various subsequent financial difficulties.
From 1948, the official name of the Museum became: the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. Each research field was endowed with modern laboratories and repositories, and an educational service was created.
After a four-year period during which the Institute was managed by an interim director, André Capart ( from 1958 to 1978 ), a zoologist and oceanographer, was appointed head of the institution. This period was marked by an increase of the scientific staff whose numbers had doubled in ten years. The research was oriented toward oceanographic explorations, while museology remained relatively neglected.
Between 1978 and 1988, the director of the Institute was Xavier Misonne. During this period, the renovation of the public rooms was started and a modern museographical presentation inaugurated.
Since 1988, the director of the Institute is Daniel Cahen, a prehistorian. The internal organisation chart of the Institute was adapted to the trend of modern research, taking into account the size of the scientific staff. Certain research fields were particularly developed, such as the laboratory of genetics and the preservation of animal species in conformity with important international programs. The recent years have also been marked by an enormous computer revolution and a huge development of the means of communication. A special attention was paid to museological problems for the opening of new rooms intended for permanent exhibitions and provided with interactive animation. The accent was equally laid on the organisation of temporary exhibitions which attract a large public.
THE IGUANODONS OF BERNISSART
Before saying anything about the mineralogical collection of the Institute, we cannot omit mentioning the presence in the Museum of about 30 perfectly preserved iguanodon skeletons which have become in a way the symbol of the Institute.
In 1878, miners working in a shaft of the Saint Barbara colliery at Bernissart, found, at a depth of 322 m, fragments of what they believed to be fossil wood. In reality, the recovered objects were giant fossil dinosaur bones trapped in a sink hole made of Wealdian clays
( Middle Cretaceous, about 125 million years ago ). Informed at once about the discovery by the management of the mine, the Museum of Natural History sent a fossil restorer to the spot who succeeded in recovering, in the course of three years, nearly 30 almost complete iguanodon skeletons, as well as hundreds of fishes, a few turtles and crocodiles, a salamander and an insect.
Between 1882 and 1885, Louis Dollo, curator of the fossil vertebrate section, devoted himself to the restoration of the skeletons, having them mounted on their hind legs. About ten of them are exhibited in the Museum, while other skeletons are presented in the position in which they were found within the clay. One last iguanodon is represented as a quadruped, as the exact position in which these reptiles walked is still a hotly debated issue among palaeontologists.
THE MINERALOGICAL COLLECTION
Among the samples presently managed by the Mineralogy section, there is no trace of the minerals that were housed in the physics and natural history room of Charles of Lorraine. This section, whose more precise name is the section of Mineralogy and Petrography, was created in 1877 and entrusted at that time to Alphonse Renard ( 1842-1903 ), its director until 1888.
The parish of Ixelles in Brussels honoured A. Renard by giving him the name of a street
Alphonse Renard had studied geology in Vienna and in Maria-Laach. He was the first in Belgium to use a polarising microscope in the study of rocks. He is the author of extremely thorough studies of Belgian intrusive rocks and of the metamorphic zones of the Ardennes from where he described, namely, coticule. He took part in the analysis of samples collected during the Challenger campaign, between 1872 and 1876. He published works on the origin of volcanic ashes ( Krakatoa ) and on that of the sediments of oceanic abysses. Alphonse Renard also drew the first catalogue of the mineralogical collections of the Museum of Natural History. His successor, C. Klement ( from 1889 to 1902 ), developed the collection by adding as well Belgian minerals as specimens of foreign origin to it.
The section then fell into a long lethargy, remaining without an appointed curator and being managed by researchers belonging to other disciplines, such as palaeontology.
In 1947, René Van Tassel assumed the responsibility of the section and started an extended reorganisation of it; he checked the diagnosis of numerous species thanks to the acquisition of a diffractometer X and the installation of a laboratory of analytical chemistry. The collection was reclassified according to the chemical groups of Dana, and grew regularly. Van Tassel oriented his mineralogical research toward the sulphates and phosphates of Belgium. After he retired in 1981, he continued to devote his time, for many more years, to the scientific conception of the new Mineralogy room of the Museum, which was opened to the public in 1985 and fully completed in 1990.
Since 1987, the section is lead by Michel Deliens, a specialist in the field of secondary minerals of copper, cobalt and uranium deposits. A new exhibition room illustrating the minerals of Belgium was inaugurated in 1992, while the collections continue to grow. Due to the Georges Vanacker donation in 1991, comprising some 12,000 specimens, a total reorganisation of the collections appeared to be necessary, the more so as the classification according to Dana became obsolete owing to the interruption of the edition since the 1950s. That was a good occasion to sort out the material and to eliminate numerous specimens of no crystallographic or historical interest.
At present, the fabric of a new building intended for housing the mineralogical exhibition is completed and projects for new show-cases of a higher esthetical value and with an updated content, are under examination.
THE CONTENT OF THE COLLECTION
Today, in 1997, the mineralogical collection of the RBINS comprises about 5,000 Belgian specimens divided over 190 species, and 20,000 samples of various geographical origin, amounting, in total, to 3,200 mineral species and about one thousand varieties. Moreover, a collection of 3,000 well-crystallised minerals is classified separately, as requested by the donator in his will ( Drugman donation ).
The RBINS is the holder of 14 type-species ( holotypes ), complete with study material and work documents.
The classification was made according to the main chemical groups, within which the species follow each other in alphabetical order. The silicates are divided according to the six structural groups. The amply represented minerals ( calcite, pyrite, quartz ) are, moreover, also grouped to their geographical origin.
More than 5,000 specimens are reserved for exchange and for making up didactical collections for schools.
About one thousand specimens are exhibited in the Museum rooms for the public, i.e. the room of Belgian minerals and the room illustrating the properties and the systematic of minerals.
The mineralogical collection of the RBINS contains but few remarkable specimens, either from the aesthetical point of view or from that of their historical importance. This is due to the combination of several factors: the absence of particularly spectacular deposits in Belgium, a belated appearance of mineralogy courses at our universities, and the presence, at only a few km's distance from Brussels, of the Royal Museum of Central Africa which had attracted to itself the abundant high-quality material once collected in Congo. Therefore, ever since its origin, the Institute has specialised in Belgian deposits. The best-represented among them are the lead-zinc deposits of the Calamine with sphalerite, galena, smithsonite, hemimorphite, willemite and fraipontite, the galena deposits of the valley of Meuse ( Vedrin, Engis, Angleur ), the ardennite, ottrelite and vantasselite of the slate quarries of the metamorphic massif of Stavelot, the quartz of the Cambrian quartzites of Brabant and the epidote of the porphyry exploitation of Quenast. Several rare but not very spectacular species of which the Institute houses the holotypes, originate from Carboniferous limestones of the region of Visé: richellite, viseite, koninckite and diadochite. A comparison collection, made of minerals collected abroad, is also growing regularly. The Institute also boasts a collection of about one hundred meteorites, with two remarkable pieces: the meteorites ( chondrites with olivine and hypersthene ) of Lesve ( 327 g ) and of Tourinnes-la-Grosse ( 66 g ).
Three important acquisitions have marked the history of the collection: the Russian collection of 1828, the Drugman bequest of 1950 and the Vanacker donation of 1991.
THE RUSSIAN COLLECTION
The inventory number 5168 designates a collection of more than 800 specimens of Russian minerals and rocks, offered to the Museum of Brussels in 1878 by the Prince of Orange.
After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the territory of the future Belgium was administered by William I of the Low Countries ( 1772-1843 ). His son , the crown prince William ( the future William II ) had married in Saint Petersburg, in 1815, the grand duchess Anna Pavlovna
( 1793-1863 ), sister to the tsar Alexander I. The princely couple had their residence in Brussels. During a journey in Russia, in 1823, a very rich collection of local minerals and rocks came into their possession; they offered it, in 1828, to the Museum of Brussels, the ancestor of the future Royal Belgium Institute of Natural Sciences.
The collection comprises 571 minerals and 239 rock samples coming from the Ural ( regions of Perm and Orenburg ) and the lake Baikal ( region of Irkutsk ).
At the time when it was delivered to the Museum of Brussels, an expert estimated the value of the collection at 30,000 francs, i.e. nearly 7,5 million today's BEF ( US$ 200,000 ). However, if compared with the current prices of minerals on specialised markets, this estimate seems somewhat exaggerated.
In 1885, the collection was examined for the first time by a specialist, the curator A. Renard, and added to the mineralogical and petrographical collections of the Museum. The most remarkable specimens are garnets on micaschiste and vesuvianite of Slatovsk, malachite and native copper of Tourinsk, amethyst of Moursinsk, beryl and topaz of Adon-Tschilon, pyromorphite and crocoite of Beresovsk and tourmaline of Nertschinsk.
THE DRUGMAN COLLECTION
Julien Drugman was born in Brussels, in 1875. After completing his studies of chemistry at the University of Bonn, he obtained a degree of Master of Science at the University of Manchester, in 1906. He then pursued his studies at Oxford, Heidelberg and Munich and, in 1910, became a collaborator of the Brussels Museum of Natural History. Coming from a wealthy family and travelling widely, he attended numerous symposiums and took part in mineralogical excursions, which enabled him to assemble an important mineralogical collection focused on crystalline forms. His true passion, however, was the study of twin crystals to which he devoted most of his existence. Exploiting several deposits at his own expense, he studied more particularly the twin crystals of the Estérel ( Côte d'Azur), of Belowa Beacon ( Cornwall ) and of Goodsprings ( Nevada ). J. Drugman is also the inventor of legrandite of Mexico. At his death, in 1950, he bequeathed his collections to the RBINS, that is, above 4,000 minerals, innumerable twin crystals, as well as works pertaining to them.
The Vanacker collection.
George Vanacker was born in Staden ( Western Flanders ), in 1923. After obtaining a degree of chartered accountant, he settled in Bruges. His liking for mineralogy came to him from his wife. Little by little, he assembled a systematic collection to which he added by acquisitions during his travels and especially by purchases from specialised dealers. After a serious car accident which he had in 1970, he was kept immobile for several months and forced to reduce his professional activities. He took that opportunity to imagine a new classifying method for his collection and to computerise his catalogue. In the 1980s, he owned more than 15,000 specimens among which were most of the existing species. In order to prevent the dispersal of this important systematic heritage, he donated, in 1991, 12,000 specimens to the RBINS, on no particular conditions. G. Vanacker died the next year at his home in Bruges. His collection has been added to that of the Institute and has permitted, among other things, to constitute an important reserve intended for exchange.