A Place To Play And Learn

A Place To Play And Learn

Photo by
Atli Freyr Steinsson for The Reykjavík Grapevine

Chronicles of Earth at Kópavogur’s Natural History Museum is hands-on and exciting

Over the past few years, articles in the Grapevine and elsewhere have drawn attention to how criminally-overlooked Hamraborg is. This area of Kópavogur, which boasts the Gerðarsafn art museum, Salurinn concert hall, the library, music school and regional archives, is holistically called “Mekó” (Menning í Kópavogi, or “Culture in Kópavogur,” in English). Strætó routes 1, 2, and 4 will transport you from your downtown doldrums to Hamraborg’s happening hub in just about 15 minutes!

I recently bussed out to experience another of Mekó’s cultural cornerstones: The Natural History Museum of Kópavogur. Since 1983, the museum has boasted a diverse collection, with intentional space for school children to interact with and learn from real artefacts. Re-opening just a few weeks ago after a five-month closure for renovations, this intention has only been improved upon.

Chronicles of Earth

Titled “Chronicles of Earth,” the new exhibition space was reopened to much fanfare on May 11. As per a re-opening announcement from the museum, the new exhibition offers “insight into the history of our planet, the evolution of life and the relationship between animals and plants with their environment and each other. Like nature, the exhibition will evolve and change over time – even with unexpected mutations.”

A major facet of the exhibition is recognizing the interconnectedness of our world and explaining it in terms a child can understand. I enjoyed seeing these curated connections during my recent visits.

There’s a triptych about Iceland at one point: “Volcanic Island,” “Red Hot Island” and “Frozen Island.” Volcanic and frozen are polar opposites, yet they are both realities of Iceland, and therefore connected. Upon entering, you’re faced with a case of artefacts divided into seasons, highlighting Icelandic nature through everything from flora and fauna to biological life.

Enjoyably, there’s not too much of your standard long, convoluted explanatory paragraphs typical of stuffy museums. Here, in Icelandic and English, they give you simple and engaging descriptions of what you’re seeing and why it matters, often with a fun title to grab attention.

On one wall is a mural by artist Elín Edda Þorsteinsdóttir titled “What happened before Earth was formed?” It is a colourful and accessible written history of the world, ranging from 4.5-4 billion years ago all the way up to “The future: then what?” The mural and text featured some of my favourite texts in the museum, such as “Perhaps ant soup will one day be more popular?” and “Giant insects! 300 million years ago, life was a bit scary.” It is definitely way more fun than some of the jargon-y essays I’ve read on the walls of other museums.

Atlantic footballfish, arctic fox and dinosaur eggshell, oh my!

A backbone of the museum is its collection of animals. The collection’s tenants are a trifecta of acquisitions: Jón Bogason’s invertebrates, Hans Jörgensen’s birds, and Halldór Pétursson’s rocks and minerals. Approximated to be around 6,000 pieces in total, there is an abundance of fossils, rocks, taxidermy and more. I wandered around reading labels for things I had never heard of, looking at sea creatures, reptiles and worms preserved in jars, marvelling at bubblegum coral and even dinosaur eggshell. A centrepiece of the exhibition is an orca whale skeleton, which is actually pieced together from four specimens.

After-school special

When I visited — on a weekday at 5 p.m. and at 3 p.m. one weekend — the museum was packed. Perhaps a key contributor to the museum’s popularity is its location in the basement of the Kópavogur Library, adjacent to the children’s library. This is definitely not a quiet museum experience, but I found the bustle and joy to be endearing and infectious. At one point, I sat down next to some kids to try out the magnifying glasses and microscopes on the table. I examined the intricacies of rocks and shells that were scattered for us to inspect, tapping into a childhood-science-museum level of joy.

The museum is delightfully hands-on. Confirming this, curator Brynja Sveinsdóttir told me the main goal of the renovation was “to create a space that evokes curiosity and an open and inquisitive approach to our surroundings.”

The connection to the library also leads to a key point — admission to the museum is free. As the tourism industry grows and grows, so do the ticket prices for museums and attractions — especially those focusing on Icelandic nature. A free museum is already a rarity in the country, but a free natural history museum is practically unheard of.

Yes, the museum is much smaller than some of its expensive natural science counterparts, but the biodiversity they have managed to fit into the space is remarkable. “The exhibition is a work in progress,” Brynja tells me. “It will develop and change, like nature!”

Go see — and play — for yourself.

Kópavogur’s Natural History Museum is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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