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  • Specimen of Week 214: Fossil Vertebrae

    By Tannis Davidson, on 16 November 2015

    LDUCZ-X1111 Dimetrodon vertebrae

    LDUCZ-X1111 Dimetrodon sp.vertebrae

    In the spotlight this week is a specimen that is currently experiencing it’s ‘busy season’. The Grant Museum collection is widely used in teaching at UCL and the Museum is home to many specimen-based practicals. For example, during term 1 in 2014, there were 34 practicals using over 600 specimens by 1400 students.

    Amidst this flurry of activity, certain specimens catch the eye. Is it that they are finally freed from the safe-keeping of their fossil drawers and have their moment to shine? Could it be that they are used over and over and over again to illustrate a turning point in evolution so critical that repeat viewings are essential? Or is it that the specimen is quite simply, an attractive object in itself, perhaps a worthy contestant in a specimen beauty contest?

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

    Specimen of the Week 209: Mammoth tusk

    By Tannis Davidson, on 12 October 2015

    LDUCZ-Z2978 Elephantidae

    LDUCZ-Z2978 Mammuthus primigenius

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is one of the first objects to be seen upon entering the Museum. Majestically, it sits just behind the front desk cradled in a graceful arc of perfect balance and symmetry. It is the largest fossil in the Grant Museum’s collection and although incomplete, measures over 1.7m in length.  What a beaut!  This week’s specimen is…



    Specimen of the Week 205: The Plesiosaur

    By Tannis Davidson, on 14 September 2015

    LDUCZ-X227 Thalassiodracon hawkinsi  Copyright UCL Photo by Colin Dunn of Scriptura

    LDUCZ-X227 Thalassiodracon hawkinsi (C)UCL. Photo by Colin Dunn of Scriptura

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is one of the largest single objects in the Grant Museum, but it is one which is often overlooked. Tucked away along the wall behind the large elephant skull, many who visit the Museum miss it as they are drawn to the illuminated cave which is the Micrarium. The warm glow of over 2300 backlit microscope slides attracts the eye, but also diverts attention from the dim end-of-corridor/rope-barrier/back-entrance-to-the-office area which is home to the specimen of which I speak.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is…


    Specimen of the Week 203: Mastodon jaw fragment

    By Dean W Veall, on 31 August 2015

    Fragment of mastodon jaw with molar

    Fragment of mastodon jaw with molar

    Hello Specimen of the Week readers, Dean Veall here. Unfortunatley we had to be closed over the last week (and also this coming week) for some essential heating works. As part of the process we needed to empty some of our cupboards, (I say we, mostly Tannis Davidson, Curatorial Assistant), in the emptying I came across this week’s specimen of the week and what a treat of a specimen it is with a great name and backstory. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…….


    Specimen of the Week 198: Ammonite-ee-hee*

    By Mark Carnall, on 27 July 2015

    In both sad and happy news, I’m off to pastures new at the end of August, leaving the Grant Museum after what will be ten years and off to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Although that’s still a while away yet, the schedule for the specimen of the week writing mean that this will be my last specimen of the week.

    Image of LDUCZ-R16 Asterocera obtusum from the Grant Museum of Zoology UCL

    LDUCZ-R16 A clue to this week’s specimen of the week

    One question I get a lot working at the Grant Museum is “What is your favourite specimen?”. My normal answer is that it changes from week to week depending on what I’ve recently been working on or the specimens I’ve become familiarised with which have been requested for use by researchers. However, I do have a soft spot for this week’s specimen of the week which has been used in teaching and research and hundreds, if not thousands of people have got hands on with this specimen in family and school handling activities. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it hadn’t already been featured in this blog series either.

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

    Specimen of the Week 196 : A Real Fossil Pterosaur

    By Tannis Davidson, on 13 July 2015

    LDUCZ-X1093 Rhamphorhynchus muensteri fossil

    LDUCZ-X1093 Rhamphorhynchus muensteri fossil

    In my last post, I wrote about our ‘Zittel wing’ pterosaur cast and mentioned that I was doing a bit of research on another Grant Museum Rhamphorhynchus specimen. Pterosaurs were flying reptiles from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous Period. They were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight. While I admit to being biased toward our palaeontology collections, this second Rhamphorhynchus is a very special specimen – definitely one of the unsung highlights of the Museum. It’s rare, has a fascinating (if enigmatic) history and is a wonderful example of positive re-identification.  Why it hasn’t been given the full SOTW treatment I. Just. Don’t. Know. Without further ado, this week’s Specimen of the Week is…



    Specimen of the Week 191 : Rhamphorhynchus wing cast

    By Tannis Davidson, on 8 June 2015

    LDUCZ-X842 Rhamphorhynchus wing cast

    LDUCZ-X842 Rhamphorhynchus wing cast

    One of my favourite pastimes is to do a bit of research – on just about anything.  I enjoy investigative work and the process of discovery.  Luckily, the nature of my work at the Grant Museum ensures that there are plenty of opportunities to do museum-detective work.  It could be a case of matching up an archival record with an unaccessioned specimen or figuring out a valid taxonomic name for a mysterious beast in a jar.

    It is both a burden and a blessing to work with historic collections which have varying degrees of documentary information: while it would be preferable to have more/most/all information about an object, gaps in the data allow for additional research and new discoveries.

    Recently I was doing some research on another Grant Museum Rhamphorhynchus specimen and one thing led to another…and another…and another.  It turns out that there is a lot of history behind this week’s SOTW – and although it is ‘only’ a plaster cast – it is part of a famous lineage of one of the most famous fossil finds!

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

    Specimen of the Week 190: The Platypus Tooth

    By Jack Ashby, on 1 June 2015

    A slide showing a fragment of platypus tooth from the Grant Museum Micrarium

    A slide showing a fragment of
    platypus tooth from the
    Grant Museum Micrarium

    I have to admit that when I first encountered this object I didn’t recognise what it was until I read the label, which is scratched into the glass slide that houses it. I don’t feel too bad about that as it is essentially microscopic, and very few people have ever seen one of these specimens. It is among the very smallest objects in the Museum.

    Unsurprisingly then, it is on display in the Micrarium – our place for tiny things. This beautiful back-lit cave showcases over 2000 of the 20,000 microscope slides in our care – it broke the mould for how museums display their slide collections.

    I first wrote about the species featured on this slide in my first ever Specimen of the Week, but that was taxidermy – a real A-Lister compared to the miniscule, obscure fragment I have selected here. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…


    Specimen of the Week: Week 171

    By Mark Carnall, on 19 January 2015

    Scary MonkeyThis week’s Specimen of the Week is one of those animals that is easier to talk about in terms of what it isn’t rather than what it is. In a previous blog post I’ve written about the fun with naming and language that happens when common names meet scientific classifications and how we end up with eels which aren’t eels, crabs which aren’t crabs and the brilliantly named flying lemurs which don’t fly and aren’t lemurs.

    When it comes to fossil organisms there’s often even more fun to be had as it’s very rare that fossil groups are given common names so we end up having to refer to them by what living animals they aren’t or nearly are. This week’s specimen of the week is one of those organisms, I’ll do my best to try to explain what it is below.

    This week’s specimen of the week is…


    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: December 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 19 December 2014

    Underwhelming Christmas of the yearGod rest ye merry fossil fish

    You’ll never be displayed

    For the selection criteria of specimens

    Isn’t biased in your way

    To save us all from excitement

    You’re here to save the day

    O drawers of underwhelming fossil fish

    Underwhelming fossil fish

    O drawers o-hof underwhelming fossil fish.

    It’s that time of the year when people of all walks of life come together to celebrate the passing of 12 months of underwhelming fossil fish and look forward to the next 12, hoping the fossils stay quietly unassuming, not too bombastic or boisterous and altogether middling-at-best. This year was particularly unexciting one for fossil fish with many stoically maintaining a state of fossiliferous.