Transvaal Museum, Pretoria

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  • Transvaal Museum
    Transvaal Museum
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Whale skeleton outside the Transvaal Museum
    Whale skeleton outside the Transvaal...
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Transvaal Museum
    Transvaal Museum
    by Jim_Eliason
  • CatherineReichardt's Profile Photo

    Transvaal Museum (now Ditsong)

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Dec 19, 2011

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Whale skeleton outside the Transvaal Museum
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    I had long intended to visit the Transvaal Museum, so when I found myself with an hour to kill before a meeting with a Government Department, I finally took the opportunity to discover what I'd been missing out on. And, it turns out that I had waited so long that they had changed the name in the interim: it's now Ditsong: National Museum of Natural History!

    The most striking feature of the exterior is a vast baleen whale skeleton which takes pride of place, and is probably imprinted on the memory of many an adult who once visited on a school trip.

    However, once you venture inside, you realise that the museum is badly rundown, and sorely in need of some renovation. My estimate would be that it hasn't had any significant funds spent on it in a couple of decades, and it shows. That's not to say that there isn't really interesting stuff here, because there is (see my accompanying travel tips on the coelacanth and the Taung Child), but the displays are dog eared and the exhibit format is stuck squarely in a 1970s time warp.

    However, none of this is the fault of the curators, who seem to have tried very hard to keep things going on what probably amounts to little more than a 'wing and a prayer'. In certain areas - such as the innovative use of batik for some of the notices (see my travel tip) - they have done very well, but there's only so much benign neglect that can be countered by sheer enthusiasm.

    The 'history of life' exhibit on the left hand side of the upper floor is - with the notable exception of the coelacanth - largely missable. Similarly, the Geoscience Museum - which seems to have been updated more recently - appears to have been designed by academic geologists rather than educational specialists. Thus, it consists more of a collection of rocks and minerals that are of greater interest to specialists rather than the layman (never a good thing in a museum).

    The other side of the top floor is devoted to mammals (both marine and terrestrial) as well as now extinct species such as the mammal-like reptiles and early man. This section is a lot more engagingly displayed and South African-focused, and therefore much more interesting.

    The ground floor is largely devoted to the Austin Roberts bird collection (Roberts having written the 'bible' of South African birding) and has a particularly interesting series of exhibits on prehistoric 'megabirds'.

    This museum probably would not justify a trip to Pretoria for in its own right, but is a nice thing to do (especially if you have kids or are particularly interested in one of the topics that I've highlighted) if you're in the area anyway.

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