Exploring Dinosaurs, Gems, and World History at the Fantastic Carnegie Museum of Natural History
One of my favorite things about Pittsburgh is the amount of amazing cultural destinations in the city. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the city’s cultural offerings are on par with some of America’s largest cities. And, for a city of only 300,000 people, that is truly special.
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Carnegie Museum of Art were both founded in the 1890s by industrial tycoon Andrew Carnegie to help bring a bit of culture to the working-class city of Pittsburgh. As two of the best museums in the country, they offer visitors the chance to see amazing art and history in one of America’s most surprisingly pleasant cities.
Even better, since the museums occupy the same complex, admission to both museums is included in one price, making the museums a fantastic deal.
When I visited, I started my time with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Considered one of the top natural history museums in America, the Carnegie Museum is home to an impressive collection of over 22 million items. Even though a small percentage of their collection is on display, the items that you can see are truly quite amazing.
My first stop was the museum’s geology exhibits, which included information on the earth’s formation, as well as a large collection of insanely beautiful gemstones. What I liked about this section was that it didn’t just tell you the facts, but really delved into how different minerals and gemstones are formed. I walked away feeling like I had not only seen some beautiful stones, but also had a better understanding of how rocks and minerals are created.
The gallery exhibits both polished and unpolished gemstones that are strikingly beautiful. Walking amongst the glimmering stones, I started to think I might have stumbled out of the museum and into a high-end jewelry store.
Truthfully, it was the best collection of gemstones I’ve seen, with the possible exception of the collection at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, DC.
From the gemstones and geology galleries, I proceeded into the dinosaur gallery. I’ve been to many different museums around the world with dinosaur exhibits; some have been quite good, while others have been pretty poorly done. I must say, the dinosaur fossils at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History can be summed up in one word: Wow!
Walking through the towering fossils of dinosaurs, I felt quite happy that I wasn’t alive when these beasts were roaming the earth. This was especially true when I reached the museum’s two Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex) fossils. The T. rex fossils on display are some of the best in the world, with one being the type specimen for the species (in other words, the one against which all other T. rex fossils are judged). Pretty cool if you ask me!
The museum also has two very large herbivore dinosaurs, Diplodocus and Apatosaurus, on display. Both dinosaurs measure upwards of 70-feet long and are some of the largest animals to ever roam the earth. Even though they were plant-eating animals, their massive size still makes me glad they aren’t alive today.
While the entire Carnegie Museum of Natural History is worth visiting, I found the dinosaur gallery to be the most fascinating. So, don’t feel bad if you take a few extra minutes to gape at the enormity of these creatures.
The second floor of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History features a large collection of taxidermied animals. I personally prefer to see live animals in the zoo, but for those that really enjoy animals, the section is very well done. In many ways, it reminded me of the displays at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philly.
Probably the best feature of the second floor, however, is the observation deck over the dinosaurs below. Seeing them from above definitely gives you a unique vantage point and offers a great perspective on these massive creatures.
Moving towards the top floors of the museum, I enjoyed checking out the museum’s collection of Native American and Egyptian artifacts. While neither section is very large, the exhibits are certainly worth visiting as they do a great job teaching about the history of these cultures.
In the Native American section of the museum, there is a significant amount of information about native tribes from all over the US. While the Heinz History Center does a better job covering local tribes, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has a significant collection that is well-worth seeing. Items range from clothing to weapons and domestic tools, and are well laid out to tell the story of a variety of native tribes.
My favorite part of the section was the “Star Watchers” program, which projected an image of the night sky on the ceiling and told native stories about the stars above.
The Egyptian section was considerably smaller, but very interesting. I found their information about mummification to be especially interesting as it explained the entire process and had a few small mummies that visitors could look at. However, Egypt-philes might find more to interest them at The Penn Museum of Natural History in Philadelphia.
The top floor of the museum connects directly into the Carnegie Museum of Art, which is included in the admission price to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. However, since the museums are so different, I’ll talk more about that in my next article.
Overall, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is really an amazing museum. The dinosaur fossil and gem collection at the museum are top notch and among the best in the world. And, the ability to view artifacts from ancient cultures, and see some of the world’s best art all in one place make this a must-visit destination for history lovers visiting Pittsburgh.
So, if you find yourself in Pittsburgh and want to see one of America’s best museums, definitely take the time to visit the Carnegie Natural History Museum.
Note: My visit to the Carnegie Natural History Museum was hosted by Visit Pittsburgh. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Hours: Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat: 10a-5p
Cost: Adults: $19.95, Children: $14.95
Address: 4400 Forbes Avenue
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Jim Cheney is the creator of UncoveringPA.com. Based in the state capital of Harrisburg, Jim frequently travels around Pennsylvania and has visited, written about, and photographed all 67 counties in the state. He has also traveled to more than 30 different countries around the world.