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  • Specimen of the Week 313: The Newt Microscope Slides

    By Hannah Cornish, on 20 October 2017

    This week, lucky blog readers, not only do we have our usual Grant Museum Specimen of the Week, we have a super-special guest star. From the Grant Museum Micrarium and the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons come…

    Newt slide from the Grant Museum Micrarium

    Newt slide from the Grant Museum Micrarium

    Read the rest of this entry »

    The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits

    By Jack Ashby, on 18 October 2017

    Our current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition with the UCL researchers who helped put it together.

    Guest post by Dr Alan Bates (UCL Pathology)

    How did Mary Toft – a peasant from Godalming in Surrey – convince some of the eighteenth century’s leading medical men that she was giving birth to rabbits?

    Mary Toft, a copy of a portrait made in 1727 as Mary languished in Bridewell prison, while lawyers considered whether rabbit breeding was actually a crime. (C) Wellcome Library, London

    Mary Toft, a copy of a portrait made in 1727 as Mary languished in Bridewell prison, while lawyers considered whether rabbit breeding was actually a crime.
    (C) Wellcome Library, London

    Fake news out of Surrey

    The story first appeared in 1726, when a London journal reported that Mary had given birth to a creature ‘resembling’ a rabbit, but with its heart and lungs outside its body. In the following days, four more dead rabbits appeared. They were blamed on the theory of maternal impressions – that a child resembled whatever the mother was thinking of at the time of conception. Obviously, a good woman should be thinking about her partner at this key moment, but a child’s resemblance to some other man of her acquaintance might (perhaps conveniently for all concerned) be accounted for by a wandering imagination. Mary had supposedly seen rabbits hunted while she was pregnant, miscarried, and since then had had bunnies on the brain. Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 312: Hundreds of frogs’ legs

    By Jack Ashby, on 13 October 2017

    We have recently opened out biggest ever exhibition: The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The boring beasts that changed the world. It tells the stories of the mundane creatures in our everyday lives that have shaped our society, our science, our planet and even our own biology. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Don’t take my word for it though: it topped Time Out’s list of the best exhibitions in London this autumn*.

    Hundreds of frogs legs, arranged into lefts and rights. LDUCZ-W270 and LDUCZ-W271

    Hundreds of frogs legs, arranged into lefts and rights. LDUCZ-W270 and LDUCZ-W271

    We didn’t struggle too much with the issue of what counts as an “Ordinary Animal” – they are the species we find on our streets, in our labs, on our laps and on our plates. The ones that are really a commonplace part of human society and human culture (and we had to take the main geographic focus as our own European perspective). The vast majority are domesticated, but others have become Ordinary simply because of the way we consider them. There was one species that did cause me trouble, and it’s this week’s Specimen of the Week: Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 311: Banded Snails

    By Nadine Gabriel, on 6 October 2017


    Hello everyone, it’s Nadine Gabriel again. My specimen of the week is a bit of an unusual one because there are 26 of them and they’re alive! This tank of banded snails features in our new exhibition, the Museum of Ordinary Animals. Banded snails were used in 20th century genetic studies as a key model for natural selection. For the next few months, I’ll be known as the “keeper of the snails” and I would like to introduce you to these marvellous molluscs.

    snail_tank_1

    Banded snails in their tank

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Repairing our Inner Seals

    By Louise Bascombe, on 3 October 2017

    Firstly, I would like to apologise to those readers who think that this blog will be about the type of seals who like to eat fish. It is, in fact, about the seal created by a layer of tape, which protects conserved papyri from external forces. I’m not really sorry, however, because this blog is all about the importance and means by which we protect and save objects, some nearly 4000 years old, for both the present and the future.

    Papyrus with brittle paper tapes falling off

    This poor exposed seal….

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month September 2017

    By Mark Carnall, on 2 October 2017

    Welcome to this month’s EXCLUSIVE September 2017 underwhelming fossil fish of the month, your one stop shop for monthly underwhelming fish fossils delivered direct to your eyeballs in exchange for only the most precious resource you have, your time. Always ticking away. Always edging towards oblivion.

    This month we’ve got a real spectacle lined up for you. This fossil fish was a SUPER MEGA PREDATOR that struck fear into the hearts of animals that saw it. This fossil fish is so impressive, it has inspired generations of artists, toy manufacturers, video game developers and the people who make stamps, minters? Stampers? Those people anyway. These fossils often form the core of museum displays and make for the most memorable visits…..

    NOT!

    That’s right we’re bringing back the 90’s positive setup followed by an obnoxious NOT. This fossil is almost the complete opposite of exciting, in fact the least underwhelming aspect of it is how it looks and it looks like this. Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 310: The Gross, the Bad and the Ugly

    By Tannis Davidson, on 29 September 2017

    Ah, Specimen of the Week. The weekly showcasing of specimens from the Grant Museum. Over the years this blog has featured the furry, the fluid, the skeletal, the dangerous, the poisonous, the new, the old, the damaged, the conserved, the plentiful, the endangered, the extant, the extinct, the big, the beautiful, the tiny, the hideous, the lost and the found.

    The specimens are meticulously selected each week to offer a bit of fun, insight and enjoyment to the reader. This week however, is a somber affair. Rather than a celebration of life, this week’s Specimen of the Week is an obituary. Say goodbye to… Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 309: Taxidermy Chicken

    By Dean W Veall, on 22 September 2017

    Taxidermy chicken

    Taxidermy chicken (LDUCZ-Y1751)

    Hello Specimen of the Week readers, Dean Veall here. This week I have chosen a specimen that is a newly acquired piece of taxidermy which features in our latest blockbuster exhibition The Museum of Ordinary Animals which opened this week. It’s an animal that has a staggering population of 19 billion individuals, Specimen of the Week 309 is the….. Read the rest of this entry »

    The Museum of Ordinary Animals opens at the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 21 September 2017

    Throughout my career in museum zoology I have detected (and contributed to) a certain snobbery when it comes to some species of animal. It seems that as far as museum displays are concerned, not all animal specimens were created equally. Our new exhibition – opening today – seeks to address this.

    The Museum of Ordinary Animals tells the story of the boring beasts that have changed the world: the mundane creatures in our daily lives, including dogs, pigeons, cats, cows, chickens and mice. These animals are rarely represented in natural history museum displays. They are not special enough. Do we even need to go to a museum to see animals that we can find on our plates, on our laps and on our streets? People would rather see dinosaurs, dodos and giant whales.

    Domestic dog skulls. Humans’ first domestication was that of dogs from wolves. Today humans have forced the descendants of wolves to become the most anatomically variable of all species.

    Domestic dog skulls. LDUCZ-Z1046 and LDUCZ-Z1338b
    Humans’ first domestication was that of dogs from wolves. Today humans have forced the descendants of wolves to become the most anatomically variable of all species.

    Nevertheless, this exhibition puts these everyday species front and centre. It investigates some of the profound impacts they have had on humanity and the natural world, how they were created, and the extraordinary things we have learned from them. Read the rest of this entry »

    There and (eventually) back again: a tale of three papyri

    By Anna E Garnett, on 19 September 2017

    The ‘Gurob Shrine Papyrus’ (UC27934ii)

    It’s been a busy month for us at the Petrie Museum, not only gearing up for the start of the autumn term but also preparing object loans for upcoming exhibitions. Our vast collection offers many opportunities to contribute to varied exhibition narratives: our objects illustrate life in the Nile Valley over thousands of years, from Prehistory through the pharaonic period and right through to the Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic periods. We also hold a world-renowned collection of papyrus, which is the focus of our ongoing Papyrus for the People project funded by Arts Council England. We have loaned papyri to three very different exhibitions this September, which each tell fascinating stories of life and death in ancient Egypt. Read the rest of this entry »