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  • Who turned out the lights on Jeremy Bentham?

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 9 November 2015

    The auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham is 183 years old and counting. Over this time it has attended parties and UCL council meetings, had its heads (wax and mummified) stolen by students, twice visited Germany and also taken a ride in a red Morris Marina. It’s fair to say that Jeremy Bentham has led an active after life, and UCL Museums are committed to ensuring that it survives for another 183 years and more.

    Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon.

    Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon.

    During recent conservation work it has become apparent that although the auto-icon appears safe and secure it is actually subject to a very damaging environmental factor – high light levels (Cue dramatic sounds and possibly someone screaming in the distance).

    Ok so actually of all the risks the auto-icon faces this doesn’t sound like a particularly bad one, especially compared to fires, wars, insect infestation and the afore mentioned head thefts (all of these the auto-icon has survived at one point in its life). But high light levels are a huge danger to the auto-icon, and can cause irreparable damage.


    A Conservation inspection of Jeremy Bentham’s Mummified head

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 6 September 2015

    I’ve wanted to write blog specifically about Jeremy Bentham’s head for a while now. ‘Can I see the head?’ is one of the most common questions I get asked. I’m not sure why it has such fascination for people – perhaps as our manager of the Grant Museum recently tweeted when he met him, ‘Face to face with one of the world’s greatest philosophers’, how often do you get to say that? Is it that we want to be able to look someone famous in the face, even if they’re dead? Or is it just that a mummified head is unusual?

    Side view of the head of Jeremy Bentham.

    Side view of the head of Jeremy Bentham.

    Last week Bentham’s head came out from the safe it is usually stored in for a full inspection by one of our conservators, Emilia Kingham. We regularly inspect the head, to ensure it remains stable. It’s survival for the future is our main concern! The inspection (and Buzzfeed story) generated a lot of interest and questions. For the story Emilia and I were sent a list of questions, which I thought were all very interesting and worth posting on our blog. The answers are from us both.

    Enjoy! (more…)

    Happy 132nd Quagga Day! It’s been a good year for quaggas

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 August 2015

    extinction in South Africa 1883 Plate CCCXVII in von Schreber, Die Saugethiere in Abildungen Nach der Natur (Erlangen, 1840-1855)

    A Quagga

    132 years ago today, 12th August 1883, the last quagga died, alone in her cage at Amsterdam Zoo.

    The celebration/commeration of Quagga Day has become annual fixture at the Grant Museum, as we are one of only six or seven institutions worldwide to care for a quagga skeleton.

    As such, we have written a lot about quaggas on this blog, and I won’t go into detail explaining what a quagga is, but for the uninitiated quaggas were a not very stripy kind of zebra that were hunted to extinction in their native South Africa for their unusual skins and as they competed with livestock for grazing grass.

    Quaggas, we argue, are the rarest skeleton in the world, and we see our role at the Grant Museum as being global quagga champions.

    For the first time in perhaps 132 years, I’m pleased to annouce that 2015 has been a very good year for quaggas.


    Specimen of the Week 199: Jar of…..

    By Dean W Veall, on 3 August 2015

    LDUCZ- Z2754 Jar of Moles (C) Matt Clayton 1011 001

    LDUCZ- Z2754 Jar of Moles


    Hello Specimen of the Week readers, Dean Veall here. The specimen I have chosen can be found immediately in front of you as you enter the Museum doors in Cabinet 12. This is not just one specimen but an assemblage of many individual specimens each with its own story to tell. The specimen in this photo has probably been viewed by 90% of the 23,000 visitors we’ve had through the doors during normal opening hours this year. This week’s specimen of the week is……



    The world’s rarest skeleton rides again… on four legs

    By Jack Ashby, on 28 July 2015

    Using cutting-edge technology, the world’s rarest skeleton – a South African extinct zebra called a quagga – has regained its missing hind limb.

    The quagga's missing fourth leg has been replicated through 3D printing.

    The quagga’s missing fourth leg has been replicated through 3D printing.

    After a brilliant year of fundraising and conservation work, we are nearing the end of a major project to restore 39 of our largest and most significant skeletons to their former glory. The main focus of the project, named Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons, has been our quagga – which is one of only seven quagga skeletons to survive globally. The Guardian gave the project a particularly positve write-up (read the comments if you want to see some of the more unexpected outcomes of media relations. *blushes*).

    The last living quagga died in 1883, having been hunted to extinction by farmers and skin-collectors. The Grant Museum specimen is the only one on display in the UK but the skeleton was incomplete – the right shoulder blade and one of its legs has long been missing, probably since World War II.


    Specimen of the Week 193: A very confused anemone

    By Mark Carnall, on 22 June 2015

    Image of LDUCZ-C1445 Amphianthus dohrnii on  Eunicella verrucosa from the Grant Museum of Zoology UCL

    Image of LDUCZ-C1445 Amphianthus dohrnii on Eunicella verrucosa from the Grant Museum of Zoology UCL

    Specimen of the week is the Grant Museum’s weekly blog series focusing on one of the 68,000 specimens in the collection. When it comes to my turn to write one, I normally try to choose a specimen that otherwise might be overlooked within the crowded cases. Whilst looking for a specimen to focus on this week, I found these lovely specimens, labelled as a fossil ostracod (an amazing group of crustaceans) and on display with the peanut worms and brachipods, whilst resembling anemones. What’s the story here? Hopefully this blog post will cure the case of mistaken identity.

    This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

    The world’s rarest skeleton returns to the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 1 May 2015

    Can you spot the difference between these two photos?

    The quagga before conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581

    The quagga before conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581

    The quagga  after conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581. Courtesy of Nigel Larkin

    The quagga after conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581. Courtesy of Nigel Larkin

    They both depict the world’s rarest skeleton – that of the quagga, an extinct not very stripy kind of zebra – the UK’s only articulated quagga lives here at the Grant. There are only six (or possibly five) other skeletons in existence. The top picture was taken in February, on the day that she left the Museum to undergo major treatment for the ills that resulted from over a hundred years of grime and questionable mounting. The second was taken on Tuesday, when she returned to us. The quagga (and our rhino) were the biggest single tasks for our massive conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our iconic skeletons, working to save 39 of our biggest and most significant specimens for the long term future.

    Hopefully you’ve spotted eveything that specialist bone preparator Nigel Larkin has done to prolong the “shelf life” of the quagga… (more…)

    Is the auto-icon wearing underwear?

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 30 March 2015

    A year or so ago a colleague drew my attention to a Jeremy Bentham related sketch by the ever excellent Horrible Histories BBC programme. Amongst the many Bentham inventions it highlights (including words such as ‘maximise’, ‘minimise’, ‘international’ and appropriately enough ‘eccentric’) was one I’d never heard of before – Jeremy Bentham invented underpants.

    Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon.

    Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon.

    As you can imagine, this is popular with school groups visiting the auto-icon, and along with his mummified head tends to be the fact school kids remember.


    Specimen of the Week: Week 181

    By Tannis Davidson, on 30 March 2015

    Scary-Monkey-Week-NineAt the Grant Museum we have nearly 68,000 specimens – and each, in its own way, has a story to tell.  Some are historical specimens dating back to the earliest days of the Museum such as Professor Grant’s thylacine skeleton  and the popular walrus penis bone.

    Others tell more modern tales of use in the collection for teaching (SOTW 178), undergoing conservation work (Return of the Rhino), or being featured in exhibitions (SOTW 180).

    This week’s Specimen of the Week has several stories to tell and as such,  I’ve always thought it one of the most interesting specimens in the collection.  It is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 175

    By Tannis Davidson, on 18 February 2015

    Scary-Monkey-Week-Nine Less than two weeks ago, the first batch of newly-conserved skeletons from our Bone Idols project returned to the Grant Museum after their completed restoration work.

    Reg the Rhino -the largest skeleton in the Museum – was treated in this group and has now been remounted in fine form back on his plinth.

    Homecoming celebrations continued with the unpacking of several smaller primate skeletons such as the juvenile orang-utan, one of the chimpanzees, and this week’s Specimen of the Week… (more…)