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More to sand than meets the eye

About 9,000 sand exhibits are on display (Neuchâtel natural history museum)

Sand may be a dry subject for an exhibition, but a Neuchâtel museum has risen to the challenge.

A special exhibition presents a fascinating and comprehensive look at what turns out to be an infinitely varied and interesting topic.

From the desert to the seabed, its geology, zoology and physical properties, its role in some religious beliefs - in Tibet and among the Navajos of North America - and even as a plaything for children.

These are just some of the aspects examined scientifically - and with humour - in "Sand" at the city's natural history museum.

Museum director Christian Dufour concedes that the subject matter of his latest exhibition might on the surface seem a dry one. But while researching it with colleagues, he soon realised that the museum had, metaphorically speaking, struck gold.

Truly infinite

"When you start working with sand, you discover it really is infinite," says Dufour. "You find it everywhere and its variety is quite extraordinary. In the exhibition we have about 9,000 samples of sand from all the oceans and deserts of the world.

"When you look at them under the microscope you see that every one is different."

Dufour added that on average, visitors were spending up to 15 minutes scrutinising the samples in a room equipped with ten microscopes. He says that by coincidence two major sand collectors live in Neuchâtel, and have provided many of the samples.

So why the fascination with sand? "It's linked in our minds with time and space," Dufour told swissinfo. "When you think of sand your mind automatically focuses on deserts and the memory of stone. The whole history of geology can be found in sand."

Animal habitats

The exhibition examines the various origins of sand, showing how most of it is created by the erosion of rocks. But there are also organic sands formed by animal life on land and in the sea. To illustrate this, live reptiles, rodents and insects can be seen - behind glass - in a reconstruction of their sandy habitat.

Like previous exhibitions at the Neuchâtel natural history museum, this one caters for children as well as adults. One room is set aside as a play area, where youngsters can make sand castles and play with buckets and spades.

But should visitors decide after a while that they've seen enough of sand, the museum is also offering an artistic treat. Parallel to the main exhibition, there's another featuring the works of the Swiss-German artist Wetz. This highly-imaginative display of sculptures and installations includes sheep hanging upside down from the ceiling - and a cow, buried up to its neck in (what else?) sand.

The exhibition ends on January 5.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

Summary

The exhibition is devoted to all aspects and uses of sand, from natural habitat to artistic material.

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