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Exhibition National Museum of Scotland

Extinction Bell

24 Sep 2021 - 9 Jan 2022

The Grand Gallery


Luke Jerram's Extinction Bell raises awareness of biodiversity loss.

Next time you come to the National Museum of Scotland, you might hear a bell tolling throughout your visit.

The Extinction Bell is a work by Bristol-based artist Luke Jerram. A fire engine bell from our collection has been adapted to toll at random intervals 150-200 times per day. Each ring of the bell symbolises the extinction of a species, representing the number being lost every 24 hours (according to a 2007 report from the UN).

Scientists estimate that the current extinction rate of plant, fungi and animal species is nearly 1,000 times more than the ‘natural’ or ‘background’ rate.

Some biologists say this is greater than anything the world has experienced since the dinosaurs vanished around 65 million years ago. We are the main cause of these extinctions largely through habitat loss and global climate change.

By the time this display closes on 9 January 2022, the bell will have rung up to 21,000 times.

Why a bell?

Bells call us to action and communicate a sense of emergency.

Luke Jerram’s artwork uses this universal sound to symbolise extinction events, which are happening across the world, but which we don’t see.

This Extinction Bell uses a 19th-century brass fire engine bell from our collections, chosen by our curators. It was originally used on a horse-drawn fire engine from St Mary’s Isle estate near Kirkcudbright. It originally warned of danger from fire – here it alerts us all to the alarming rate of species loss caused by human activities.

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National Museum of Scotland
Chambers Street

Map and directions

We want everyone who comes to our museums to enjoy their time with us and make the most of their visit. 

  • There is level access to the Museum via the main doors to the Entrance Hall on Chambers Street and the Tower entrance at the corner of Chambers Street and George IV Bridge. 
  • Lifts are available to all floors and accessible toilets are available on most floors, as well as a Changing Places (U) toilet in the Entrance Hall on Level 0.
  • There is an induction loop in the Auditorium.
  • Guide dogs, hearing dogs and other recognised assistance dogs are admitted.

Find out more about our access information.

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