David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Alive

Synopsis: This documentary narrated by David Attenborough was filmed at the Natural History Museum, London, and uses state of the art CGI imagery to bring to life several extinct animals in the museum, including Archaeoptery, the Moa Ratite bird (Dinornis) and Haast's eagle. The documentary was well-received, and won a TV BAFTA in the specialist factual category.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Daniel M. Smith
  1 win & 1 nomination.
64 min

The Natural History Museum.

One of the most popular

of all London's attractions.

Sometimes it gets so crowded

that it can be quite difficult

to see the exhibits

as closely as you might wish.

Ladies and gentlemen,

the museum is going to be closing

in five minutes,

so please make your way

towards the exits. Thank you.

So it's a great treat if -

somehow or other -

you can manage to look around

when all the other visitors

have gone.

Some of the creatures here

you might - if you were lucky -

have seen in the wild.

But there are certain ancient

animals that we'll never see

with our own eyes...

...because they're extinct.

And among them

are one or two mysterious,

not to say suspicious, characters

that I would like to examine

as they were when they were alive.

'It's a big place.

'There are 70 million or so

specimens here, I'm told.

'And the first I want to look at

right now

'is way up on the very top floor.'

This, some might say,

is the most scientifically important

and valuable specimen

in the whole of the museum.

It's a fossil called Archaeopteryx

and it was secured for the museum

by the first director,

Professor Richard Owen,

back in 1862.

Getting it wasn't easy.

There was a lot of

international competition

and there was a certain amount

of skulduggery

and it certainly cost

a small fortune.

But what kind of creature was

Archaeopteryx when it was alive?

It had two long leg bones,

so it must have stood upright.

A bony tail and a long neck.

Its head had bony jaws packed

with teeth like a reptile's

and its arms had three elongated

fingers, each ending with a claw.

So, you might think it was

some kind of strange,

spindly-armed, upright-standing


Except for one fact...

There is evidence of more than

just bones on its slab.


Archaeopteryx lived

some 150 million years ago,

long before the appearance

of true birds.

Those feathers on its arms

certainly enabled it to glide.

But that's not all.

It had powered flight.

Marks on the bones show that there

were enough muscles attached to them

to enable it to flap.

Not only that,

a recent scan of its skull

showed that its brain would've

given it the senses and reactions

that are needed for accurate control

in the air.

This creature was half reptile,

half bird.

It was the first proof that,

in prehistory,

they were intermediate forms

that link the big,

very different groups of animals

that we know today.

But while Archaeopteryx

could certainly fly,

it could also clamber up tree trunks

and along the branches

like a tree-living reptile,

thanks to those clawed fingers.

There were insects flying around

at that time.

And Archaeopteryx's teeth show

that it was a hunter.

And this is Professor Richard Owen,

the man who acquired that fossil

and built this museum.

Although he disagreed with

Darwin's views on evolution,

he was one of the great scientists

of his time

and he had a particular flair

for interpreting fossils.

In 1839, a huge thigh bone was sent

to the museum from New Zealand.

Owen deduced

from its internal structure

that it must have belonged

to a bird.

If so, it must've been a giant.

The Maoris of New Zealand had

stories of giant, flightless birds

that had once roamed their islands,

but Europeans had dismissed them

as myths.

But eventually, Professor Owen

acquired enough bones

of these huge birds to put together

a complete skeleton of one of them.

This was no myth.

The Maoris in their legend

had called it a moa

and Professor Owen in his researches

had proved that it once had existed.

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David Attenborough

Sir David Frederick Attenborough (; born 8 May 1926) is an English broadcaster and naturalist. He is best known for writing and presenting, in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit, the nine natural history documentary series that form the Life collection, which form a comprehensive survey of animal and plant life on Earth. He is a former senior manager at the BBC, having served as controller of BBC Two and director of programming for BBC Television in the 1960s and 1970s. He is the only person to have won BAFTAs for programmes in each of black and white, colour, HD, 3D and 4K.Attenborough is widely considered a national treasure in Britain, although he himself does not like the term. In 2002 he was named among the 100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide poll for the BBC. He is the younger brother of the director, producer and actor Richard Attenborough, and older brother of the motor executive John Attenborough. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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