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  • 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…

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    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.

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    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: November 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 26 November 2014

    It’s that time of year, reindeer who are different are being bullied by their peers, Jack Frost is biting noses again, Saturday morning TV is back to back toy adverts with the odd cartoon in between, Sainsbury’s remind us exactly why our ancestors fought and died in the Great War and Z list celebrities are turning lights on in high streets up and down the land. Yes of course, it’s November, a month so average they named it only once. But do you know what’s even less average than the month of November? It’s only UNDERWHELMING FOSSIL FISH OF THE MONTH, our monthly foray into the uninspiring world of forgotten fossil fish whose heyday, if they even had one, is long past. These fossiliferous fish now remain largely unused in museum stores and this blog series is a monthly window into their esoteric and marginal at best world.

    Last months’ fossil fish proved too underwhelming for many leading to a number of network executives to hint that a third series of underwhelming fossil fish may not be forthcoming. To recompense and please the execs, I’m bringing out the big guns. I’ve chosen a pretty exciting fossil fish for November. We will get that third season fanatic fossil fish fans.

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    Specimen of the Week: Week 156 (The Evolution of Life on Land)

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 October 2014

    Scary MonkeyIt’s the third birthday of the Specimen of the Week blogs, so this one is a special one, tackling one of the biggest events in global history (no exaggeration). It’s also the start of winter term at UCL, and that means that Grant Museum returns to doing the very thing our collections were first put together for – spending the day teaching students about life.

    This term every week we have a palaeobiology class where the students learn about vertebrate life from the beginning – looking at each group in turn as they evolve in the fossil record. That has inspired my choice of specimen this week.

    As an Australian mammal nerd, it’s often tempting to think that nothing interesting happened between the appearance of multi-cellular life a little over 500 million years ago, and 200 million years ago when the first platypus-ish things appeared*. However, sometimes it’s important to think about where it all began: the fishy animals without which there would be no you, no me, no internet cats, and no platypuses.

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

    Specimen of the Week: Week 140

    By Mark Carnall, on 16 June 2014

    Specimen of the Week: Week ThreeIt’s the 140th specimen of the week! That’s nearly three years of weekly Grant Museum specimen goodness! In order to celebrate this sort of milestone, and following on from Stacy’s worm theme, this week’s specimen is (probably) the oldest specimen in the Grant Museum. With a little further ado, representing deep time and a group of animals that despite their name aren’t particularly sexy, bordering on underwhelming (that’s the other blog series- Ed.). This week’s specimen of the week is…

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    Specimen of the Week: Week 122

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 10 February 2014

    It’s Valentine’s Day this week! I don’t subscribe to the modern idea that Valentine’s Day is a commercial farce designed to make you pay three times the price for one ‘romantic dinner’ out and 20 times the normal price for a rose of a specific colour. Well ok those are true, but Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to comprise either. Personally, I am REALLY hoping that this year someone loves me enough to get me membership to the British Arachnological Society for V-Day (link supplied in case you’re sufficiently moved, as it isn’t looking likely otherwise). But I’m not too sad as here at the Grant Museum I am surrounded by love. Such as in my choice of super lovey specimen this week! This Week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Fossils, climate change and the future of life on Earth

    By Dean W Veall, on 21 November 2013

    Each year we celebrate the birth of the man who was the first Professor to teach evolution in an English university, the man who gave an astonishing 200 lectures a year and the man who lent his name to the Museum, Robert Edmond Grant. November 11th saw the 220th year since his birth and in honour we held our 17th Annual Grant Lecture on Tuesday, with dinosaurs, climate change and the future of life on our planet, it was one not to miss but in case you did here are the highlights.

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    The best natural history specimen in the world (did not get thrown on a fire)

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 September 2013

    Last week I saw something that had never occurred to me might be possible to see. Through the years I have learned a lot about this object – I knew where it was, I knew where it came from and I certainly know its place in the pantheon of the history of natural history. We even have a cast of it in the Grant Museum.

    If you had asked me what the best natural history object in the UK was, most days I would tell you it was this one. I had just assumed that seeing it wasn’t something that ever happened, even for people who run university zoology museums.

    The Grant Museum team an a sperm whale jaw at the OUMNH (they're closed for roof repairs)Last Wednesday the staff of the Grant Museum went on an expedition to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH), which is closed for roof repairs until 2014. On a visit to the zoology section a cupboard was opened before us, it was filled with skulls, dried fish and a couple of boxes. As the history of this cupboard was explained – it was Tradescant’s Museum – the oldest in the country – it suddenly dawned on me what was in those boxes. And that we were going to see it.

    We were going to see the only soft tissue of a dodo anywhere in the world. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Eighty-Seven

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 10 June 2013

    As with most people, I have a number of different passions. Be it, palaeontology/zoology, or films, or board games, or buying new socks, I enjoy a great many things and dedicate a serious amount of time to each. Most time of course goes to palaeontology/zoology, in so much as I am in fact paid to do that for a living (WAHOOOO). But sometimes I feel as though I may have been neglecting an area and get the urge to go back to the roots of a hobby and give it a little TLC. When I think back to the roots of palaeontology, being the single most continuous love in my life, I remember writing an essay ‘back in the day’ on a particular fossil animal, of which we have a fantastic reconstruction in the Museum. It sits nonchalantly and unassuming in a corner but when you hear a little about it, I think you’ll get the urge to make a special journey. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    In spod we trust

    By Jack Ashby, on 25 November 2011

    Today I would like to celebrate the spod. There are a couple of definitions for this term relating to over-users of online chat-rooms, but the spods I’m referring to here are those that Urban Dictionary defines as:

    “A derogatory term used to indicate someone with one of the following:
    1) A penchant for academic study, above and beyond the call of duty
    2) Higher than average intellectual capabilities
    See also swot, nerd, geek.
    “You’ve already done your history homework? Dude, you’re a spod!”
    “I hate that kid, he’s a bit of a spod!”

    My aim is to dispel these derogatory connotations and praise them for their gumption, rejection of the norm and dedication to something that is important. I use here terms like geek and nerd to which I attach no negatives – and have to a great extent be “reclaimed” by people like myself, who do belong in these categories. Geek-chic is cool these days, as we all know, but I’m not actually talking about the fashion for being a geek-wannabe. Just dressing like what you think a geek dresses like doesn’t make you a geek. (more…)