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  • Happy 78th Thylacine Day: Remember the little guys

    By Jack Ashby, on 7 September 2014

    Today, in Australia, is National Threatened Species Day, but far more importantly. to Grant Museumers, it’s Thylacine Day. Both of these events commemorate the ludicrously avoidable death of the last known thylacine - modern times’ largest marsupial carnivore – on 7th September 1936. Today, for the first time, I am actually in Australia for 7th September, so in this year’s annual Thylacine Day post I’d like to explore what it is about Australian mammals that makes me go all nerdy – the shear diversity of tiny things, that on the whole people have no idea about. (For more on the thylacine, including why we celebate it so hard at the Grant, look through previous Thylacine Day posts on this blog).

    The area of zoology I am most passionate about is Australian mammals, and as a result I spend 8-10 weeks each year over here trapping animals for conservation NGOs and university research programmes. As far as I’m concerned, although there are just 378 mammal species in Australia, it’s the best fauna there is. You only have to go 50km and you might find a whole new set of mammals. Australia has a lot of things going for it, but I will shout you down if you argue that any of them outshine the wildlife and ecosystems. The thing is so few people here, or elsewhere, have ever heard of most of them. Sure, people know that kangaroos and wallabies exist – they are the national icon, but go into any business and ask what kind of wallaby is chewing on its lawn and you’ll probably get a blank response. There are 45 species of Australian kangaroo and wallaby (excluding bettongs and pottoroos). People’s lofts and gardens are pested by possums (nearly always one species – the brushtail), but there are 25 different kinds. Once you get beyond these, koalas, wombats, dingoes, platypuses, echidnas and “bandicoots” (11 species), the rest of the Australian mammalian fauna, I fear, goes largely unloved.

    I’m not whinging about the fact that people don’t see tiny mammals and instantly know what it is. I just want to take the time to give them a shout-out.
    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 147

    By Jack Ashby, on 4 August 2014

    Scary monkeyMuseums are full of mysteries (particularly when you are as cursed with historically challenging documentation, as many university museums are). For example, why do we have a plum in a jar? Why does our dugong only have seven neck vertebrae (it is one of the few mammal species that should have eight)? Why don’t we have a wolf, one of the world’s most widespread mammals? Who ate our Galapagos tortoise? Why do we only have the heart and rectum of a dwarf cassowary? Why is scary monkey (pictured) so scary?

    Not to mention, why did we put all those moles in that jar?

    After ten years of working here, I am confident that there is no greater mystery in the Grant Museum than this one: why would you stick a battery in a dead animal?

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Black rhino hunting permit- Why are conservationists supporting it?

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 17 January 2014

    Last Saturday, 11th January 2014, a permit to hunt a black rhino for sport was sold at a US auction for $350,000. Much of the general public was horrified, and the auction house and associated hunting club subsequently received letters and emails of protest ranging from polite through abusive, to actual death threats.

     

    I for one simply can not understand the mindset of someone who would want to kill such a magnificent animal, and for sport, and that makes it hard for me to see the idea as anything but barbaric. However, is there more to it? Is it really a topic with many more branches to be considered in order for an informed and level-headed decision to be made? The permit was to hunt a black rhino (Diceros bicornis), a species listed as endangered and with only around 5000 individuals left in the wild. It would seem on the surface, a terrible thing to do, and yet many conservationists and specialists believe it to not only be acceptable, but that it will in fact help rhino populations. (more…)

    Lighting up the Petrie Museum

    By Edmund Connolly, on 13 January 2014

    Guest blogger: Pia Edqvist

    As people might have realized, the Petrie Museum is currently closed throughout January and February. But why is the Museum closed? The Museum is currently undertaking essential lighting works; the whole museum is getting new lighting including; spot and overhead lights but also new lighting within the display cases. This means that the collection will be better lit and a more environmentally-friendly system will be installed which will also ensure greater conservation-protection for the collection. We are also hoping that the new lighting system will improve the visitor’s experience of the collection. Further enhancements of the display are also planned during this period such as to improve the mounting of objects.

    The Pottery being packed up

    The Pottery being packed up

    (more…)

    Life, Stilled

    By Mark Carnall, on 9 July 2013

    Conjure up in your mind, if you will, a natural history museum and you’ll probably be picturing skeletons, taxidermied animals and maybe specimens preserved in fluid. Recently, I spent some time with Rosina Down, the curator before the curator before me, having a look at some of the more unusual specimens we have here that were prepared on site at UCL in the 1980s.

    Freeze dried mouse

    Freeze dried mouse

    (more…)

    Conserve It! Part IV – Filling and Finishing Touches

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 5 July 2013

    This is the final installment of the excellent Conserve it! blog series, written by four conservation students from the Institute of Archaeology. In this post Leslie Stephens and Louise Stewart describe the last stages of the process.

    To read the full series please click on the ‘Engineering Collections’ or ‘Science Collections’ category tabs on the left hand side of this page.

    Conservation doesn’t end when all the pieces are back together. Once researched, cleaned and reassembled, the x-ray tubes will need further work. Filling gaps and preparing the tubes for storage are the final stages in the process.

    Why do conservators fill gaps in objects? Fills are usually undertaken for two reasons: aesthetics and support.  When an object has most of its pieces remaining, it is frequently the job of the conservator to make an object look as complete as possible so that visitors are aided in its visual interpretation. When the object’s original material is fragmentary, it is often difficult for visitors to understand what it would have looked like before damage. The more material is missing, the harder this job is for the conservator. There is a fine line between aiding interpretation for the visitor, and presenting an object that is too much ‘interpretation’ and not enough original material. If the conservator is not certain what the missing fragments would have looked like, they are less likely to fill that area with a ‘guess’.  When there is very little original material left, however, fills sometimes hold fragments in place. This happens especially when there is not enough original material left for the object to hold its own weight; these types of fills are considered support fills.

    (more…)

    How To: Be a Good Museum Pest

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 20 June 2013

    Do you having any burning desires to have something explained by someone on the inside? This new blog is a How To Guide for the museological musings of a Museum Assistant. The first along this (hopefully) long and happy blogging path is…

    How to: Be a Good Museum Pest

    There are two types of creepy crawlies that you get in museums; ones that don’t eat specimens (i.e. creepy crawlies that fair poorly at being museum pests) and ones that do eat specimens (these typically do well at being pests).  First, you need to decide which you are. If the thought of eating dried cartilage, wooden drawers, paper labels, certain glues, feathers, or fur turns you off… go away, you’re a rubbish pest. However if the opportunity to chow down on the internal remnants of an animal skull makes you salivate, then continue reading my friend, this how to guide is for you. (more…)

    Supporting conservation as an individual with no money

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 29 May 2013

    In today’s world I find we are surrounded by charity adverts ready to make us feel bad for not immediately delving into our wallets for our credit cards. I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of people would make the world a better place (in the traditional sense) if they could, but in today’s economic climate (man that phrase is getting old), the weight of the world’s problems can feel like too much to bear but are all too easy to ignore. Fear not, I have a plan…

    Let’s say that after you have budgeted for the essentials each month; rent, electricity, dinosaur lego, wifi, food; you decide that you can commit £2 a month to saving the world one species at a time. How and where will you spend said precious mound of pennies? (more…)

    Conserve It! Part III – Reconstruction

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 24 May 2013

    This is the third installment of the Conserve it! blog series, written by a team of UCL conservation students who are working on four damaged objects from the Medical Physics Collection. Here Louise Stewart explains how they have gone about reconstructing the smashed tubes.

    Now that our background research is done and we’ve considered the various significances the objects, we come to the most time-consuming step of conservation: the actual treatment! In this case, the main portion of treatment for all four of us is the reconstruction of the glass bulbs of the various x-ray tubes.

    All of us working on reconstruction of the x-ray tubes!

    All of us working on reconstruction of the x-ray tubes!

    (more…)

    Conserve it! Part II – Research and Investigation

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 27 February 2013

    The second instalment of the Conserve it! blog, written by Miriam Orsini, details the research and analysis that conservators have to undertake before they even begin to work on objects. Particularly exciting for me is the photo towards the end of this post showing one of the X-Ray tubes glowing green under UV light! I had no idea they could do this…

    Probably one of the most exciting things conservators must do before they start conserving an object is researching and analysing the object itself. This is the moment when the object starts to talk to you and tells you its story. In this post we are going to share some of the pretty amazing stories which these X-Ray tubes have told us.

    We started with some preliminary research using the internet and academic literature to find out more about what kind of X-Ray tubes we were dealing with, and to try to understand their functioning and to date them. We realised that the tubes represented four stages in the history of the manufacture and design of X-Ray tubes, from  earlier examples to more modern models.

    Example of a Jackson Tube (From UCL Medical Physics  Display)

    Example of a Jackson Tube
    (From UCL Medical Physics Display)

    Advert for X-Ray tubes showing a Jackson Tube (centre)

    Advert for X-Ray tubes showing a
    Jackson Tube (centre)

     

     

     

     

     

     

    My tube (above) is an early example of an X-Ray tube known as Jackson Tube or Focus Tube. This particular example was produced by a company based in London, Newton & Co. The presence of the company’s name and address, Fleet Street London, inscribed on the metal plate contained in the tube, led us to think that the tube was made before 1930, when the company moved from Fleet Street to Wigmore Street. (more…)