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  • Archive for January, 2018

    Egyptian Languages: Explained

    By Louise Bascombe, on 23 January 2018

    In our collection, we have representations of texts in all the major Egyptian languages.

    What, more than one? Yes! From ancient Egypt to historical Egypt to modern Egypt, there were many different scripts and languages used…

    Hieroglyphs:

    Limestone stela hieroglyph fragments with words from hymns (UC14583)

    Limestone stela fragments with words from hymns (UC14583)

     

    The script that is most recognisably Ancient Egyptian®. One of the oldest scripts used by the ancient Egyptians – and the script with the most longevity – its origins can be seen very early on in Egypt’s history, starting out life as single or small groups of signs that represented entire concepts or specific sounds. Already in the Early Dynastic Period (3100-2686BC), these signs were beginning to become standardised and by the 3rd Dynasty (2686-2613BC) were used in a wide range of contexts. They were, however, especially associated with religious texts, as it was believed that the beauty and monumental nature of hieroglyphs indicated that they were the ‘words of the gods’ (medu-netjer) and intended to be read by them.

     

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 326: elephant bird egg

    By Will J Richard, on 19 January 2018

    Hello e-readers! Will Richard here, once again choosing a specimen for you. And to say good bye (I am soon off to pastures new) I’ve gone for a giant. The biggest in its Class….

    LDUCZ-Y1 elephant bird egg cast

    LDUCZ-Y1 elephant bird egg cast

    (more…)

    Internal Beauty opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 17 January 2018

    It is very easy to say that biology is beautiful, and obviously a lot of it is. But when it comes to cow rectums, pig fat, maggot-infested mushrooms and sheep testicles, people may need a bit more convincing of the aesthetic qualities of nature. These are the primary materials that make up the artworks in our new exhibition – Internal Beauty – which opens today.

    Artist Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva has created sculptures and installations from caul fat (the tissue that encases pig stomachs and intestines) and other animal organs, drawing attention to parts of the body we would sometimes rather forget. There is no denying the results are exquisite.

    Elpida at work in a previous exhibition (Haruspex, Making Beauty at Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham) cow’s stomach, lamb intestines, caul fat, 2016, photo Nick Dunmur

    Elpida at work in a previous exhibition (Haruspex, Making Beauty at Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham) cow’s stomach, lamb intestines, caul fat, 2016, photo Nick Dunmur

    The Grant Museum shares its building with the UCL Medical School (we moved in to what was once the Medical School’s library in 2011), and Elpida’s work has brought some of the cutting-edge research that our neighbours are undertaking into the museum. Internal Beauty is an exhibition resulting from Hadzi-Vasileva’s residency in biomedical research labs, (funded by Wellcome Trust), considering nutrition, our gut and how man-made, microscopic materials can fix problems. (more…)

    Specimen of the week 325: The three-striped night monkey skull.

    By Hannah Cornish, on 12 January 2018

    In life this week’s specimen was small, loud and fluffy. It is also an unsung hero of science described by another unsung hero of science. This specimen of the week is…

    Three-striped night monkey skull

    LDUCZ-Z414 Aotus trivirgatus Three-striped night monkey skull

    **The three-striped night monkey skull**

    Eyebrows on fleek

    Three-striped night monkeys have huge eyes, giving them excellent night vision, and are known for their loud calls. They have a distinctive facial pattern with prominent eyebrows which makes them look rather like startled Ewoks. They eat fruit, nuts, flowers, leaves, eggs and insects, and are found in Venezuela and Brazil. This species is also known as the douroucouli, owl monkey, northern night monkey or Humboldt’s night monkey, but more on that later.

    Night monkey, Aotus trivirgatus by Dick Culbert

    Three-striped night monkeys, Aotus trivirgatus by Dick Culbert, CC Attribution 2.0 license.

    Night monkeys in science

    The three-striped night monkey is not considered to be under threat by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). However, related species of night monkey such as Aotus nancymaae are threatened by habitat loss and illegal trade for lab animals and pets, making them vulnerable to extinction. Night monkeys are particularly useful in malaria research as they are one of the few other primates that can be affected by the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and as such are highly sought-after. In the past this has led to them being taken from the wild in large numbers. In recent years various species of captive-bred night monkeys have been used in research into malaria-induced anaemia and potential malaria vaccines. Thank you night monkeys!

    Night monkey Aotus trivirgatus taxidermy from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, by David Stang

    Three-sriped night monkey (Aotus trivirgatus) taxidermy from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, by David Stang, CC SA 4.0 licence

    It was originally believed that there were only one or two species of night monkey, but a series of studies since the 1980s has uncovered a complex picture with up to 18 different potential species based on the number of chromosomes they have. Currently 11 different species are recognised by scientists, but this could well increase in the future.

    Humboldt

    In 1811 Aotus trivirgatus was the first night monkey described by a European scientist. It was named by Alexander von Humboldt, a pioneering German biologist and explorer. Humboldt was one of the first scientists to travel through South America, and is considered to be the father of the science of ecology, although he is nowhere near as famous today as he was in the 19th century. As well as being one of Darwin’s favourite authors and falling out with Napoleon over who had sold more books, Humboldt was also the first person to describe man-made climate change as early as 1800. He is said to be the person with the most species and places named after them, including at least four universities, several mountains, a penguin, and a really big squid.

    Hannah Cornish is the Curatorial Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology

    References

    http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/summary/41543/0

    http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41540/0

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41541-017-0015-7

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11986251

    The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science Andrea Wulf, 2016

     

    Specimen of the Week 324: Serval

    By Dean W Veall, on 5 January 2018

    Happy New Year to all our Specimen of the Week readers, Dean Veall here. After spending much of the last part of 2017 falling down a cat gif/video/meme hole for our event Cats Broke the Internet for The Museum of Ordinary Animals exhibition event programme I have decided to go wild with my specimen choice. Specimen of the Week is…..

    Serval (Leptailurus serval) pelt LDUCZ-Z2776

    Serval (Leptailurus serval) pelt LDUCZ-Z2776

    (more…)

    The Top Ten Grant Museum Blogs of 2017

    By Jack Ashby, on 4 January 2018

    Like everybody else, we had an eventful 2017. Surely the pinnacle was our blockbuster exhibition, The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The boring beasts that changed the world. In it we gave the mundane creatures from our everyday lives – like cats, dogs, chickens, mice, cows and rats – a chance to tell their stories. Despite the profound impacts they have had on humanity, they are typically excluded from natural history museum displays in favour of more exotic beasts.

    We’ve also been putting the conservation work that is critical to maintaining collections like ours (and which normally happens behind the scenes) front and centre, and getting our visitors involved with it. Following on from Project Pickle, which focussed on our fluid preserved specimens, we launched Fluff It Up: Make Taxidermy Great Again – a project to care for our important historic taxidermy specimens (and replace them with plushy toys in the display cases while they were off for conservation). This involved some ethical quandries, including whether or not we should “correct” the googly-eyed owl (we did).

    In July was our Whale Weekender, when we invited you, the glorious public, to come and help us clean and rebuild the largest skeleton in our collection – a northern bottlenose whale. This specimen came to us in 1948 and had never been put together here, so we had no idea how complete it was. And thanks to the 800 people that showed up to do the work, we now know that it’s pretty much all there – except the digits, the hyoid, a rib or two and the last vertebrae in the tail: the bits you might you might expect to lose if you bury a whale for two years, which is exactly what happened after it was shot in the Bristol Channel in 1860.

    On top of all of that, we’ve continued to help develop the next generation of zoologists by teaching with our specimens every day, as well as boring the world to tears with Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month (but then invigorating again with Specimen of the Week).

    As a way of looking back, on Twitter over the past week we’ve been counting down the best of 2017’s blogs – the Top Ten most viewed Grant Museum posts of last year*.

    I’ve announced those ranking at 10 to 2 in the charts, and exclusively revealing here that the most popular post of 2017 is… (more…)