Research at the RMCA
***While the museum building will close its doors mid-2013 for renovation,
scientific research will continue at Tervuren.***
The Royal Museum of Central Africa is a window on the African continent and is also a research institute with internationally recognised expertise and know-how in human and natural science.
Around 100 scientists and 150 students and trainees are exploring the continent and society in all their dimensions.
Research activities focus on 3 complementary areas:
- management and enhancement of Africa's cultural and natural heritage,
- scientific expertise
- services and fundamental research.
The research institute shares its knowledge and skills with local partners and contributes to Africa's sustainable development.
Research at the RMCA
There is not one African society, but many societies, each of which has its specific features. Understanding them involves the study of groups and the people who belong to them, as well as their cultural productions, languages, rituals, music and political systems.
Field work is essential, as is the study of objects and documents, not forgetting the work on supplementing and managing the collections.
Linguists, musicologists, ethnographers, anthropologists, historians, archaeologists and political scientists from the RMCA all contribute to greater knowledge about African societies. This multi-disciplinary approach facilitates the study of colonisation and decolonisation that links Europe and Africa in a history that was shared unequally.
This knowledge of the past encourages the understanding of the present in Africa among the public and scientists.
The study of the African continent’s early geological history in a global context makes it possible to retrace the earth’s major evolutionary phases.
Geologists try to reconstruct these phases using state-of-the-art techniques such as remote sensing, geochemistry and isotopic geochemistry. They also study mineral ores, resources that have always played an important role in Central African industrialisation. They determine their distribution, draft reference maps and examine their process of formation in order to detect the kind of rocks they occupy.
In collaboration with, among others, geomorphologists, geologists analyse natural catastrophes of geological and environmental origin, thus contributing to efforts to limit their effects, anticipate their occurrence and warn of new risks.
Africa is an immense source of species and diverse ecosystems of global importance.
RMCA biologists studying fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles, mammals, insects and other invertebrates are specialised in taxonomy, and contribute to enhancing and disseminating knowledge about African biodiversity, notably through cybertaxonomy.
Thanks to molecular techniques, scientists also proceed to the genetic identification of zoological specimens on the basis of their DNA. Finally, wood biologists study species on the continent, particularly to ensure optimal, sustainable forest management.
Scientific expertise and services
Apart from its participation in international networks and projects, the RMCA is consulted regularly for opinions and scientific expertise by several organisations, including:
- CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora): expert reports at the request of the Ministry of Health, and participation in the Belgian CITES Scientific Committee, which issues opinions regarding imports of endangered animal and tree species.
- WWF (World Wildlife Fund): communication of data about Central Africa to establish the world list of biodiversity prime sites, and an estimate of the carbon stored in tropical forest ecosystems.
- IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature): survey of knowledge of African species in order to create an annual list of endangered species, the ‘red list’.
- Customs and Anti-Fraud services: identification of animal and wood species.
- Animal welfare service: advice on conditions for keeping animals for private individuals and public organisations.
- Armed Forces: identification of dead birds struck by aircraft.
- International Criminal Court at The Hague and migration services: research support for speakers and experts in African languages.
Watch the video clip on scientific research at the Royal Museum for Central Africa