The famous large public displays in halls 1-5 show aesthetic and scientifically valuable minerals, ores, gemstones, rocks (including decorative and building stones) as well as meteorites and impactites (including tektites) collected over more than 500 years. All objects are arranged in a systematic way and new objects are added each year. Special temporary exhibitions may be presented as well in individual halls.
For the various scientific research done in the department, see here.
Robert Hazen, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C., discovered the evolution of minerals in 2008. He was the first to see a connection between the formation of new minerals and the change in environmental conditions during the development of our planet. The variety of minerals on Earth is far greater than on all other investigated planets and moons of our solar system. The huge diversity of minerals on Earth is mainly the result of plate tectonics and, in particular, life on Earth. Without life, more than 50% of minerals on Earth would not exist. The formation of new minerals on Earth reflects the changing environmental conditions in Earth's history.
Since April 5, 2017, this exciting concept is part of the permanent exhibit at the Natural History Museum Vienna: objects that document the development of Earth in connection with 56 minerals illustrate the evolution of minerals in Hall 1.
Curator: Vera M.F. Hammer
Fascinating and amazing stories about minerals, which were named after animals, and animals which were named after minerals
This special exhibit takes the visitors on an exciting etymological adventure through the animal and the mineral kingdom. A must-see for every animal enthusiast and every mineral collector!
Some examples are the vanadium-bearing mineral corvusite which got its name from the common raven (Corvus corax); a riebeckite gneiss from Gloggnitz, in Lower Austria, with the translated name trout stone, because its texture recalls the fish scale dress of the brown trout; a variety of agate, called starling stone because it looks like the spotted plumage of the European starling. Some minerals show comparable patterns like animal skins and therefore have trade designations like dalmatian-jasper, zebra-stone, tiger-ore and leopard-skin-jasper. Further there are some optic effects, generated by inclusions, known as cats eye, tiger's eye and hawk's eye. Did you already know that the word serpentine derives from the Latin serpens for snake or that the red coloured kermesite got its name in allusion to kermes scale insects?
The name scolecite comes from the Greek skolec for worm, in reference to the mineral's reaction to the blowpipe flame. A nearly similar effect was eponymous for vermiculite, from Latin vermiculare, to breed worms, in allusion to its peculiar exfoliation on intense heating to about 300°C. Often only the common colour is responsible for the name, like the name attakolite from the Greek attakos for salmon. Moreover, you can see agate snail, diamond rattlesnake and green lizard.
This hall contains large mineral samples (in a glass cabinet in the middle of the room), a collection of building materials (samples) and the first part of the systematic mineral exhibit (continued in Halls 2-4).
The covering of the heating stoves preserved in their original state is of historical interest. They are situated in the two corners of the room away from the windows. (In times gone by, all the rooms of the Museum were heated by warm water stoves, which were appropriately covered. These are the two sole remaining stove covers).
The paintings on the walls depict the salt mines in Wieliczka (Hugo Charlemont), the diamond works in Kimberley (Othmar Brioschi), the Calvary Hill in the Adelsberger Grotte (Carl Hasch), gold mining in the Sierra Nevada in California (Wilhelm Bernatzik), and the lead mine in Raibl (Eduard v. Lichtenfels).
The systematized mineral collection (minerals classified according to their chemical composition and crystal structure; the classification is based on the internationally valid Ramdohr-Strunz and Strunz system) begins with the first table cabinet.
Particularly noteworthy in the mineral system (elements, sulphides and related chemical compounds) are the following:
Pieces of native silver from Joachimsthal (I/2); native gold from Eule (I/5); landsbergite from Moschellandsberg (I/8); sylvanite from Offenbanya (I/17); tetradymite from Ankogel (I/18); argentite from Joachimsthal (I/21 and 22); hessite from Botes (I/24), bornite from Froßnitz (I/24), millerite from Breitenau (I/63); sternbergite from Joachimstal (I/63); galenite from Gonderbach and Neudorf (I/66); stephanite (I/77); freieslebenite from Hiendelaencina (I/81); lorandite from Allchar (I/84), and hauerite from Kalinka and Raddusa (I/86).
Of particular note in Hall 1 is the halite sample from Wieliczka, displayed in the central cabinet, which is considered to be one of the best of its kind. Also on display in the central cabinet is a smoky quartz weighing 115 kg which was discovered in the Tiefen glacier, Switzerland, in 1868. It is one of the heaviest samples ever unearthed there. The Eisenblüte ("iron flower") from the Styrian Erzberg is considered to be one of the best examples of this type of mineral. Further, the calcite from Iceland ("Iceland spar") is probably one of the largest from this deposit in the possession of a museum.
Hall 2 continues the systematic mineral exhibit (sulphides, halogenides, oxides, hydroxides, nitrates, iodates and carbonates).
First of all, the paintings in the Hall should be mentioned: Gold mining in Verespatak (Rosia Montana) in Siebenbürgen (Wilhelm Bernatzik); open-cast iron mine near Eisenerz in Styria (Robert Russ), and the coal works near Dux in Bohemia (Alois Schönn).
The most important specimens of the mineral system (sulphides, halogenides, oxides, hydroxides, nitrates, iodates and carbonates) include:
Sellaite from Brumado (II/6); fluorite from Striegau (II/10) and Gilgit (II/14); atacamite from Wallaroo (II/16); chrysoberyl from Takowaja (II/33); corundum from Sri Lanka (II/33); hematite from Gotthard (II/34); perovskite from Slatoust (II/38); rock crystal ("Japanese twins") from Dauphiné (II/46); rutile from Pfitsch (II/65); cassiterite from Schlaggenwald and Zinnwald (II/80 and II/66) and brookite from Frossnitz (II/83).
The displays in the wall cabinets along the sides are complementary to the systematic mineral display. Here, the following should be pointed out: stibnite from Shikoku (II/201); nagyagite from Nagyag (II/103); amethyst from Porkura (II/105); scepter quartz from North Carolina (II/106); rock crystal from Nepal (II/107); agate from Idar Oberstein (II/108), and manganite from Illfeld (II/109). Furthermore, there are halite (Haarsalz) from Inowroclaw (II/131); sylvite from Strassfurt (II/131); fluorite from Northumberland (II/133); calcite ("crystallized sandstone") from Fontainebleau (II/135) and aragonite from Girgenti (II/137).
The two table-top glass cabinets in front of the windows contain new specimens acquired from Austria. The contents of these cabinets vary according to need.
Hall 3 continues the systematic mineral exhibit (carbonates, borates, sulfates, chromates, phosphates, arsenates and vanadates).
The paintings in this room depict the following: Along the far wall, a picture by Leopold Munsch of Hohe Goldberg in der Rauris (gold mine in the Alps); the emerald deposits in the Leckbachrinne in Habachtal (Carl Hasch), and the opal pits in Dubnik (formerly Czerwenitza) in Slovakia (Carl Hasch). On one side wall there is a picture of the natural spring in Rank near Kaschau (A. Obermüller); on the other there is a picture of the oil spring near Baku in the Caucasus (Wilhelm v. Leopoldski).
The samples of the systematic mineral show (carbonates, borates, sulphates, phosphates and arsenates) include: magnesite from Oberdorf an der Laming, Styria (III/2); dolomite from Werfen (III/7); azurite from Chessy, Bisbee and Tsumeb (III/24); bastnaesite from Trimouns (III/27); leadhillite from Tsumeb (III/27); phosgenite from Monteponi (III/28); jeremejevite from Soktuj mountains (III/32); chalcanthite from Planet Mine (III/53); devillite from Herrengrund (III/65); ettringite from N'Chwaning Mine (III/65); crocoite from Dundas (III/66); scheelite from Habachtal (III/67); wulfenite from Red Cloud mine (III/72); beryllonite from Paprok (III/72); wagnerite from Werfen (III/74); herderite from Virgem da Lapa (III/77); pyromorphite from Bad Ems (III/88); mimetite from Johanngeorgenstadt and Cobar (III/90); hureaulite from Tacquaral (III/92); scorodite from Tsumeb (III/93); erythrite from Schneeberg (III/94) and euchroite from Libethen (III/96).
Of particular note in the wall cabinets along the sides are:
Baryte from Frizington (III/102); wulfenite from Mezica (III/103); crocoite from Beresowsk (III/103); apatite from Zillertal (III/107); mimetite from Johanngeorgenstadt (III/108); vivianite from Anoua (III/108); variscite from Fairfield (III/109); epidote from Knappenwand (III/133); axinite from Bourg d'Oisans (III/134); adularia from St. Gotthard (III/137); pollucite from Paprok (III/137) and analcime from Tura, Siberia (III/138).
In one large glass cabinet, one can view the spectacular halite sample from the deposits in Wieliczka, weighing approx. 1000 kg and with crystals up to 30 cm in length. A small table cabinet contains a magnificent sulphur sample from Girgenti, Sicily.
In two cabinets in front of the windows one can see new international acquisitions. As the contents of these cabinets frequently vary, details concerning specific pieces cannot be mentioned here.
Jacob Frederick van der Null (1750 Cologne - 1823 Vienna)
Curator: Vera M.F. Hammer
Van der Null was probably one of the most famous mineral collectors within the ascending well educated bourgeoisie and economically well-off citizens in the time of the turn of the 19th century.
Van der Null descended from a Cologne merchant family who settled in Vienna around 1782. He started as an accountant in the banking and wholesaling house Johann von Fries & Co. In 1787, he became co-partner of the spinning company and dyeing factory of Ignaz Schwab in Graz. In 1802, Van der Null married the niece of his companion, Theresa Schwab (1780-1840).
Van der Null was a fanatic collector of literature, contemporary copperplate engravings, as well as molluscs and fine mineral specimens. While he was alive, his mineral collection was said to be the most beautiful within the Austrian Hungarian Monarchy and Germany. Within ten years he assembles eleven other famous private collections.
The young German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs (1773-1839), was assigned to give Van der Null's collection a new systematic arrangement and a catalogue. This three-volume edition was published in 1804.
Some years after Van der Null's death, the collection with 5,065 specimens was purchased by the Viennese Imperial Mineral Cabinet under director Carl von Schreibers. Most of these specimens are still part of the permanent mineral exhibit.
Hall 4 shows mineral systematics (phosphates, arsenates and silicates), gemstones and the rock collection.
The paintings in this Hall mostly depict geological phenomena. Alongside and between the paintings there are caryatids, allegorical figures, whose emblems represent the most important metals and minerals. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the artist, Rudolf Weyer, based his depictions of several of the minerals on the actual specimens contained in the mineral collection (e.g., cassiterite from Schlaggenwald (Horni Slavkov); gypsum from Eisleben, and galena from Neudorf).
Four glass cabinets in this Hall are devoted to the systematic mineral exhibit (phosphates and silicates). Among these objects, the following are of particular note: liroconite from Wheal (IV/2); phenacite from Habachtal (IV/5); axinite from Bourg d'Oisans (IV/5); epidote from Knappenwand (IV/15); astrophyllite from Mont St.-Hilaire (IV/23); serandite from Gross Meseritsch (IV/32); kainosite (cenosite) from Obersulzbachtal (IV/33); hiddenite from Alexander County (IV/38); beryl from Acworth (IV/40); euclase from Rauris (IV/57); phlogopite from Wakefield (IV/60) and datolite from Habachtal (IV/72).
A requently acquired, large "star muscovite" from Brazil.
Along one short end of the Hall (towards the Maria Theresien Platz), there are glass cabinets situated to the left and right of the windows, in which one can view the fluorescence of certain minerals under ultraviolet light.
In the right-hand corner of the Hall, there are several plates of flexible sandstone (Itakolumite).
The rock collection (petrographic collection) is located in the cabinets along the side walls. The exhibit shows samples of the various rocks from diverse locations, put together in a systematic form: plutonites, volcanites, metamorphites and sediments.
The collection of gems and precious stones can also be found in this Hall. This collection is one of the most comprehensive and valuable of its kind to be found on the European continent. One cabinet contains significant specimens of most of the well-known jewellery material today, whereby the raw material and the half-finished stones are placed alongside the finished cut and polished stones together with pieces of original jewellery. Two side cabinets contain larger samples of the precious stones collection.
The following samples of the precious stones collection are worth mentioning: Native silver from Kongsberg (IV/101); taaffeite from Sri Lanka (IV/102); azurite from Tsumeb (IV/107); brasilianite from Galilea Mine (IV/107); turquoise from Persia (IV/107); almandine (box) from Lölling (IV/110); emerald (trapiche) from Muzo (IV/113); emerald from Habachtal (IV/113); euclase from Miami (IV/124); brasilianite from Espiritu Santo (IV/123); kunzite from Urupuca (IV/123); rhodochrosite from Alma (IV/124); native silver from Kongsberg (IV/144); topaz from Murzinka (IV/144) and "Peru" (IV/146).
The most valuable and historically significant pieces of the collection are stored in safety cabinets. Particular pieces of note include:
An opal from Czerwenitza exhibiting a fabulous array of colours, which is the largest of its kind, weighing 594 grams.
Diamonds in matrix from various South African deposits; a perfect, pale yellow octahedra also from South Africa, weighing 82.2 carats, as well as cut and polished diamonds from India, partly coloured, of the highest quality; a platinum nugget from the Urals weighing 6.2 kg; gold from Siebenbürgen and a gold nugget from the Urals; Colombian emeralds, of partly excellent quality; the famous Bouquet of precious stones; a cut, flawless alexandrite from the Urals, weighing 12.8 carats with the finest colour change from red to green; one of the largest tourmaline groupings from the King Tourmaline Mine in California; top-quality rubies and sapphires set in rings, and an aquamarine crystal from Nepal weighing 1.6 kg.
A large amethyst sample with deep violet coloured crystals from the Serra do Mar in Brazil was a gift from Isidor Weinberger in 1904. In 1978, a gem topaz crystal weighing 117 kg was incorporated into the collection. It is one of the largest topazes from the deposit at Fazenda do Funil near Santa Maria do Itabira in Minas Gerais, Brazil, a pegmatite which is famous for the huge size of its crystals.
Hall 5 (completely renovated and modernized in 2012) presents the worlds largest meteorite exhibit.
There are about 1,100 meteorites on display (including 650 different meteorites, consisting of 300 falls and 350 finds), many of which are historic falls or finds (see highlights). At the entrance to the hall from hall 4, a glass cabinet showcasts particularly large and important stony iron meteorites. The stony meteorite Knyahinya (weighing approx. 300 kg), which for many years was the largest known stony meteorite, is displayed in the center of this cabinet. Next to it are other stony meteorites of historical significance, such as Tabor, Stannern, Lancé, Mocs, Tieschitz, Florey, and Etter.
The concept for the upgrade of the meteorite hall included the renovation of the central historic display cabinets, supplemented by new display cases and multimedia stations along the walls and in the window area. These stations concentrate on different topics and try to engage the visitor in interactive displays. The thematic stations include a unique display of all Austrian meteorites (including the Ischgl meteorite, which was added to the collections in 2012 and is only the 7th meteorite named after a location on the Austrian territory), fossil meteorites, as well as stations on Mars and the Moon, complete with displays of Martian meteorites, lunar rocks, and lunar meteorites. Among the newest additions to the collection is the Tissint Martian meteorite, which was added to the collection in 2012).
Additional highlights are a basalt rock of 83.7 g from the Moon
and two samples of lunar soils (on long-term loan from NASA).
Other topics for the new display cabinets deal with meteorite showers and impact crater as well as impactites (rocks that formed during meteorite impact events). On the front sides of each of the central historic show cases, interactive screen with informative slide shows lasting a few minutes have been installed. The topics include: "Where do meteorites come from?", "Where and how do I find meteorites?" or "What are meteorites made of?", as well as information on stony meteorite, iron meteorites, the classification of meteorites, the history of meteorite research, and the history and importance of the Vienna meteorite collection.
A variety of multi-media stations add to the attraction of the new meteorite hall. In an Impact Simulator, visitors can control the extent of a possible destruction of the city of Vienna or Central Europe by the impact of asteroids with different sizes and velocities. A major highlight is a wide-screen animation on the Origin of the solar system, specially produced for the NHM Vienna. A large magnifying glass coupled with a wide screen and special software invites visitors to explore the interior of meteorites of various types.
The hands-on station Density of meteorites enables the visitors to determine the difference in density between iron and stony meteorites of the same size. An interactive quiz challenges the public to guess which of eight displayed meteorites and rock samples really come from space and which are terrestrial rocks ("meteorwrongs").
The renovated old display cabinets in the center of the hall (V/52-115) contain a systematic meteorite collection, based on the current mineralogical-chemical classification scheme, allowing the visitors to "walk through the classification of meteorites" and to learn more about some special meteorites that are of historic and/or scientific importance, and for which explanatory labels are included. The display starts with the carbonaceous chondrites and continues through the ordinary chondrites (H, L, and LL chondrites), the Rumuruti chondrites (R), the enstatite chondrites (EC), the achondrites, the pallasites, the mesosiderites, and, finally, the iron meteorites (which are arranged according to their chemical composition; based on the proportions of the trace elements Ga, Ge, and Ir).
Large iron meteorites, including the beautifully oriented Cabin Creek meteorite and Hraschina, the founding object of the Vienna meteorite collection, can be viewed in another large glass cabinet, V/116-121, close to the exit towards hall 6.
The newly renovated mechanical planetarium (planet machine or orrery), commissioned by Maria Theresia and constructed by Johann Georg Nesstfell during the years 1745-1757 is located in the corner to the left of the entrance from hall 4.
On the long wall above the showcases opposite of the windows three paintings depict (from left to right) the fourth hall of the old mineral collection in the Hofburg (imperial palace) (by Eduard Ameseder); the meteorite fall at Knyahinya (by Othmar Brioschi), and the first hall of the old mineral collection in the Hofburg (Fahrid Sabha, based on a water-color painting by Eduard Ameseder).
Do you want to know more about the meteorite collection and meteorites in general?
Brandstätter, F., Ferrière, L. & Köberl, C. (2012): Meteoriten - Zeitzeugen der Entstehung des Sonnensystems / Meteorites - Witnesses of the origin of the solar system. Verlag des Naturhistorischen Museums & Edition Lammerhuber, 270 pp. (bilingual).