Closed at Mon and Tue
Open from Wed till Sun from 11:00-18:00
Last entry to exhibitions 17:15
The Orlov Paleontological Museum is a part of the Paleontological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences. It is named after Academician Yuri Alexandrovich Orlov. The museum represents one of the oldest natural-science institutions in Russia. Its history goes back to the first public museum in our country – the “Kunstkammer” founded by Peter the Great. The modern exposition is based on rich scientific collections of the Paleontological Institute. It includes about five and a half thousand natural paleontological objects. The museum is housed in a specially constructed building with original architecture and unique, monumental and decorative design. Paleontological Museum is one of a kind cultural landmark of Moscow and Russia in general. It is one of the most representative paleontological museum collections around the world. Every year it is visited by over 200 000 people and about half of them are children of school and preschool age.
The museum exposition occupies five main halls. Connected by crossings, they form a closed sequence, which begins and ends by a tower with a ceramic panel "Tree of Life". It is the biggest art decoration of the museum. All halls of the museum, except for the introductory one, are devoted to particular eras of geologic history of the Earth. The introductory hall is followed by the hall of Precambrian and Early Paleozoic, and then, by turns, halls of the Late Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic. The exposition of the museum allows to trace all main stages of life evolution on the Earth: from the fossil evidences of vital activity of the earliest bacteria aged as about 1,5 billion years, to the animals of Ice Age, the contemporaries of the ancient man.
Paleontological Museum was opened in 1987 at the south-west of Moscow.
Acquaintance with the exhibition begins in the lobby. Here in front of the stairs to the halls the showcase, illustrating how organisms that have lived millions of years ago are preserved as fossils and become the research subject of the science of paleontology, is located. The stair platform lets us to overlook the huge ceramic panel "Tree of Life" by sculptor Alexander Belashov. On the right from the stairs the introductory hall is situated. A central position in this hall is occupied by the perfectly preserved complete skeleton of mammoth. Next to it the showcase, telling about the subject and problems of paleontology, is placed. On the opposite side of the hall the showcases give an overview of the theoretical and practical significance of paleontology, its main topics and areas of research. It also tells about the birth of paleontology in Russia and history of the Paleontological Museum. At the end of the introductory hall, in front of a panoramic window above the entrance of the museum, the casts of skeletons of a huge hornless rhinoceros Indricotherium and marine reptile Vellisaurus are demonstrated.
In addition to the "Tree of Life", decorations of the lobby and introductory hall include two large ceramic panels by sculptor Valery Maloletkov – “Sea lilies" and "The birth of the sea". Above the showcases on the limestone-faced wall of the introductory hall the bas-relief portraits of famous scientists who played an important role in the development of paleontology are located. This row of portraits made of sheet copper by the artist Yuri Chernov starts by the bas-relief of great Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov and ends by Academician Yuri Alexandrovich Orlov, after whom the Paleontological Museum was named.
Hall 2. Precambrian and Early Paleozoic
The Precambrian is the stage of the Earth geologic history of from the planet origin about 4,5 billion years ago till the beginning of the Cambrian period 542 million years ago. The Precambrian accounts for almost 90% of the whole time of the planet existence. The largest part of the life history on the Earth passed in the Precambrian: the ancient paleontological evidences, fossil bacteria, have the age of 3,5 billion years. According to geochemistry data, life arose even earlier – about 4 billion years ago.
Paleontological finds in the Precambrian are relatively rare, and it is reflected in a name of this time, i.e. Cryptozoic, which is translated from Greek as "hidden life". The main reasons for the small number of Precambrian fossils are microscopic dimensions of organisms and lack of solid skeletal parts that are better preserved in a fossil condition. Visually distinguishable plants and soft-bodied animals as well as the first skeletal organisms appear only in the Vendian or Ediacaran, representing the latest period of the Precambrian.
The start of the Early Paleozoic stage of life development is marked by the so-called "Cambrian explosion", very rapid in the geological scale (within 20–25 million years) emergence of numerous and various skeletal organisms of all known types and phyla, including vertebrates. The Cambrian is the first period of the Phanerozoic, the time of "explicit life". The Early Paleozoic lasted from 542 to 400 million years ago and includes, in addition to the Cambrian, also the Ordovician and Silurian periods.
In the Early Paleozoic the life mainly developed in the seas. The main groups of organisms were invertebrates, algae and bacteria. Aquatic vertebrates were primitive and not numerous. Only at the end of the Early Paleozoic some groups of invertebrates and plants partially invaded land.
Showcases, along the left wall of the hall, tell about the development of organic life during the Precambrian, in particular – during the Vendian, and during three periods of Early Paleozoic – the Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian. The variety of invertebrates and their paleontological history are represented in separately standing showcases of the central part of the hall. A series of showcases along the right wall of the hall is dedicated to development of the plant kingdom – from algae to angiosperms. The unique plate with imprints and traces of Vendobionta, the soft-bodied organisms who lived in the Late Precambrian and had no mineral skeleton, deserves a special attention.
The decoration of the hall is created by three great works: the carved limestone by artist Elena Shelova-Kovedyaeva with the image of inhabitants of the Early Paleozoic seas on the left wall, the ceramic panel by Maria Shakhovskaya-Phavorskaya showing the evolution of the plant world on the right wall; and the sculpture by Sergey Kazansky on the wall at the right of the exit, where each sculptural element represents a particular phylum or class of organisms.
Hall 3. Temporary exhibitions
Hall 4. The Late Paleozoic - Early Mesozoic
The exposition of hall is devoted mainly to the evolution of vertebrates and their communities in Eastern Europe and the adjacent areas during the Late Paleozoic – Early Mesozoic, ranging from 419 to 200 million years ago. Late Paleozoic includes three periods – the Devonian, Carboniferous and Permian. Paleozoic era ended 252 million years ago. Then Triassic follows, which is the first period of the Mesozoic.
Vertebrates appeared in the Early Cambrian. Already at the beginning of the Late Paleozoic they were represented by different groups of Agnatha, as well as by cartilaginous, armored and bony fishes. In the middle of Devonian bony fishes gave rise to the first quadruped animals – amphibians. They dominated in the vertebrate communities during the Carboniferous period, and then their leadership was stolen by the reptiles, which were much better adapted to life on land. At the end of the Paleozoic era, the first high-speed predators – the ancestors of dinosaurs and crocodiles appeared, as well as the advanced mammal-like reptiles, cynodonts, from which mammals had later evolved. In the plant world the horsetails, clubmosses, ferns and gymnosperms dominated in the Late Paleozoic. The first forests appeared in the Devonian. The Paleozoic era has ended by the biggest mass extinction in Earth's history, resulting in a global changing of biota.
The alternation in predominance of marine or continental landscapes occurred in Eastern Europe during the Late Paleozoic. The plant and animal worlds changed accordingly. In the Permian hot and humid marshy lowlands along the western slopes of high Paleo-Urals Mountains were inhabited by a variety of ancient tetrapods, represented by predaceous amphibians – labyrinthodonts, different archaic and mammal-like reptiles. Numerous fossils of these and other animals were found in the deposits of this age.
To the left from the hall entrance the large showcase on the history of the study of Paleozoic vertebrates in Russia is located. Showcases and display tables on the right side of the hall describe the vertebrates diversity of the Late Paleozoic. Showcases of the left side of the hall are dedicated to the change of vertebrate communities of Eastern Europe during the Late Paleozoic and Early Mesozoic. In this part of the hall there are also exhibits displaying the nature of the burial of aquatic vertebrates – the plates with the remains of fishes and amphibians. The skeletons of ancient tetrapods and their tracks are demonstrated on separate podiums. The biggest podium is occupied by the group of skeletons of Late Permian reptiles from the Severodvinsk gallery composed by Professor Vladimir Prokhorovich Amalitsky.
To the left of the entrance, the wall above the historical showcase is occupied by the composition showing the evolutionary tree of vertebrates. It consists of three-dimensional figures of animals made of forged copper sheets, created by sculptors Barinov, Belashova and Panchenko. Limestone carving with the images of Paleozoic animals and plants on the left wall of the hall was created by Mikhail Barinov. On the right wall the separate ceramic bas-reliefs of animals and plants of the late Paleozoic by sculptor Olga Malysheva are located. The decoration of the hall is accompanied with the large ornamental chandelier with figures of ancient vertebrates, made of forged copper sheets by Peter Panchenko.
Hall 5. Mesozoic
The hall represents the organic world of two periods, Jurassic and Cretaceous, of the Mesozoic era, the "Era of Dinosaurs" that lasted from 200 to 65 million years ago. Two-tier architecture of the hall creates the necessary space for the skeletons of large dinosaurs and increases the opportunities for their visual examination. The broad staircase at the hall’s end, opposite to the entrance, leads to the lower level.
In the Mesozoic era the reptiles became main "characters" in the grand evolution performance. They have successfully invaded not only the land, but also aquatic and aerial environments. The dinosaurs became the top of the reptiles evolution. They appeared in the Late Triassic and reached a very high diversity in Jurassic and Cretaceous time. The giant representatives appeared in various groups of both herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs. Many other groups of vertebrates, some of them also appeared in the Mesozoic era, lived along with the dinosaurs. For example, lizards appeared in the middle of the Jurassic, snakes – in the Early Cretaceous. The crocodiles and turtles are known since the end of the Triassic. At that time the story of mammals also had began. They, as well as the birds, became more common in the Late Mesozoic fauna.
Mesozoic climate was relatively warm, even in the polar regions, and equable for a long period of time. Since the beginning of the Mesozoic the gymnosperms began to dominate in the plant cover, while the clubmosses, horsetails and ferns receded into the background. By the end of the Mesozoic the mountain-building processes activated; the temperature and the ocean level decreased. The circulation system of air flows and water currents had changed, and this resulted in the climate change. Radical transformation of landscapes was accompanied by a wide spread of the angiosperms, or flowering plants. Restructure of environments caused a gradual reduction of the diversity of dinosaurs and eventually led to their extinction by the end of the Mesozoic.
Examination of the Mesozoic hall starts with the top-level part of the exhibition, which tells about the diversity of marine reptiles, the communities of marine and freshwater basins of Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the Jurassic and Cretaceous, along with the most typical representatives of these periods – archosaurs. Archosaurs are the dinosaurs, pterosaurs, crocodiles and similar ancient groups. The separate showcases are dedicated to the crocodiles and pterosaurs. In the near-wall podium a series of dinosaur skeletons are exhibited. This is followed by a few showcases and podiums with the exposition on the origin and diversity of birds.
A large group of dinosaur skeletons is installed on the podium of the lower level. Among them, there are top three largest in the museum exhibits: the thirty-meter skeleton of quadrupedal herbivorous Diplodocus and the skeletons of giant bipedal dinosaurs – herbivorous duck-billed Saurolophus and carnivorous Tarbosaurus, the very close relative of the famous North American Tyrannosaurus. The showcases and display tables around the podium are dedicated to the diversity, biology and habitats of dinosaurs.
The monumental decoration of the hall includes two types of works. Limestone carving on the long wall of the upper level with images of Mesozoic plants, reptiles and birds made by sculptor Peter Stepanov. The opposite wall is occupied by the wall painting with reconstruction of the Late Cretaceous landscape of South Gobi created by artists Mai Miturich-Khlebnikov and Victor Duvidov. The large painting with Saurolophus dinosaurs, made by the paleontologist and artist Konstantin Flerov, is placed on the end wall of the hall, above the staircase.
Hall 6. Cenozoic
Cenozoic era began 65 million years ago and continues in our time. At this stage of organic world’s development the greatest evolutionary success was achieved by several groups of organisms that appeared during the Mesozoic, i.e. angiosperms, bony fishes, birds and mammals, particularly the placentals. As a result, the Cenozoic is also called the "Era of Mammals". Mammalian fossils are widespread and very diverse in the Cenozoic deposits. Exposition of the hall is mainly devoted to paleontology, evolution and diversity of mammals, along with the changing of their communities.
The first mammals appeared in the Late Triassic, about 225 million years ago. During the Mesozoic they developed different evolutionary strategies and created a variety of life forms. In the Early Cretaceous the most advanced groups of mammals, marsupials and placentals, appeared. The mammals moved to the main roles in terrestrial communities at the end of the Cretaceous, at the sunset of "the era of dinosaurs". However, the true rise of mammals happened only in the Cenozoic and was marked by a sharp increase in their diversity.
Landscape and climatic changes during the Cenozoic had a great impact on the formation and evolution of the mammal fauna. Types of mammal fauna being characteristic for special stages in the environment development of the Cenozoic are named after their typical representatives, i.e. Indricotherium, Anchitherium, Hipparion, and Mammoth faunas. The climate cooling in the Northern Hemisphere was the most important event of the Late Cenozoic. About half a million years ago, this led to the emergence of ice covers in Europe and North America and the formation of permafrost in Northern Asia. One day the glaciers melted, another day they re-covered the northern parts of Eurasia and North America. A special type of landscape, the steppe-tundra, has formed there. It represents the habitat of the mammoth fauna. About 10000 years ago, in the result of another warming of the Northern Hemisphere, the glaciers stood back, and the modern natural areas and modern mammal fauna appeared.
To the left of the exit the end wall of the hall is occupied by showcase telling about the origin, main structure features, evolution, and ecological diversity of mammals. The showcases along the left wall are dedicated to changes of the environments, flora and fauna of the Cenozoic. Paleontology, evolution and systematics of major orders and families of mammals are presented in the showcases in the center of the hall and along the right wall. The complete skeletons of typical representatives of various mammal faunas are exhibited on separate podiums. Opposite to the hall entrance the skeleton of a huge hornless rhinoceros Indricotherium rises. It is the largest terrestrial mammal in the Earth history. In the central part of the hall the skeleton of Borissiakia chalicothere is located. It represents a very unusual group of odd-toed ungulates with claws on the forelimbs. At the right wall of the hall, opposite to Borissiakia, the skulls of various mammoth-like elephants are exhibited. In addition, natural exhibits are located throughout the right wall, above the showcases.
The composition "The Tree of Mammals Life" was made in the technique of travertine carving by the artist Evgeniy Nikolaev. It is placed on the end wall near the exit. The left wall, above the showcases, is occupied by limestone carving with the images of Cenozoic plants and animals by sculptor Olga Kulikova. The paintings by paleontologist and animal painter Konstantin Flerov are placed on the right wall and on the end wall. Ceramic panel by the artist Adelaide Pologova "Buffaloes Hunting" is located opposite to the hall exit.