The Geological Museum of China is well-known among Beijingers as a place to learn about the country's prehistory, but the building itself also has a few more modern stories to tell.
Sitting in Yangrou hutong in Xisi, Xicheng District, the museum was founded in 1916 and is the largest and oldest national geological museum in China.
In its history of more than 90 years, it has helped local people and visitors to feel the pulse of China's scientific development.
A large renovation project started there in 2001 and lasted for three years. Now, there are more than 200,000 specimens exhibited at the museum, and it houses a large number of precious fossils, including the fossil of a Sinornithosaurus and the biggest, best-preserved fossil of a Hantungosaurus giganteus as well as Peking Man and Yuanmou Man.
There are five halls in the museum. The Earth Hall depicts the Earth's 4.6 billion years of history. The Prehistoric Life Hall shows the development of life on Earth. In it state-of-the-art technology and a 5-meter-long fossil of an Ichthyosauria that visitors can touch bring the world of dinosaurs to life at the museum. The Gem Hall exhibits precious stones. The Land and Resource Hall introduces the land, minerals and marine resources of China.
The study of geology began in Europe in the 18th century and was introduced to China in the middle of the 19th century. Since then several foreign scientists have contributed to the development of geology in China and the museum.
Johan Gunnar Andersson, from Switzerland, the third director of the museum made two scientific discoveries in China that astonished the world. In 1918, he organized the excavation of the Zhoukoudian site in Beijing and discovered the skull of Peking Man, the first discovery of ancient human fossils in an Asian country. In 1920, he explored Yangshao Culture in Mianchi, Henan Province and uncovered the first evidence of a neolithic culture in China.
Another notable foreign name in Chinese geology is Amadeus William Grabau, an American geologist and paleontologist. He was employed by Peking University as a professor of geology and most of China's first paleontologists were at one time his students. In the 1940s, when the Japanese invaded China, he sat in front of the door of the museum to keep them away and was consequently arrested. He remained imprisoned until the surrender of Japanese and later died in the museum.