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  • Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: March 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 March 2014

    I’ve sectioned the otoliths of 2014 and determined that it is March and there’s just enough time for this month’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month.

    For those of you new to the series, all of which can be found in this link, here’s how I’d introduce the TV series, walking slowly through a museum storeroom, gesticulating wildly and oddly emphasizing words (in caps below) in the way that you only see in science documentaries.

    “Join me, MarK CArnall as I eXplore the aMazing WOrld of fossil fish. IN this SERIES we look at the AMAZING, comPLEX worLd of the unsung, unINspiring fossil fIsh that FILL the storeROOMs of the WORLD’s aMazing museums. We’ll look at the WEIrd, the WONderful and the aMazing fossil fish to dRive up the wOrld’s gLObal fishteracy. ONE fossil fish at a time.”

    CUT TO SHOT OF MARK PEERING AT A FOSSIL FISH THEN LOOKING OFF TO THE HORIZON.

    I’ve got a real doozy of a fish for you this month. Prepare to be disappointed. Steel yourself for disdain. Turn that apathy up to 11. (more…)

    Underwhelming fossil fish of the month: February 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 28 February 2014

    It’s often said that seasons come and seasons go but fossil fish are forever*. However, sadly this isn’t as robust as it is commonly believed. Fossil fish, like Hollywood stars and small children need attention and that’s what this entire series is about, turning the spotlight on the nearly-made-its, the also-rans and the generally undistinctive. The mediocre, normal shaped and average sized. The fossil fish consigned to museum drawers and storerooms, their ‘heyday’ 100-odd years ago, consisting of a dry description in an obscure journal by a palaeontologist. Shed no tears for them for they are but rock. They shall go on to the end. You can find them in France, you can find them under the seas and oceans. You can find them on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets,  in the hills; they shall never surrender. Here is yet another, especially underwhelming fossil fish of the month.
    (more…)

    Collecting: Knowledge in Motion

    By Mark Carnall, on 7 February 2014

    Guest post by Claire Dwyer one of the curators of the current Octagon Gallery exhibition, Collecting: Knowledge in Motion.

    What do crocodile skin handbags, ‘Agatha Christie’s picnic basket’, an overstuffed Bosc’s monitor lizard, a fourteenth century Jewish prayer book and a cabinet of keys have in common? All can be found in the latest exhibition in the Octagon Gallery, which opened on January 21st 2014. Collecting: Knowledge in Motion is the outcome of a collaboration by a group of UCL academics who responded to a call to curate an exhibition which reflected the theme of ‘movement’. As one of the academics who curated the exhibition in this guest blog post I offer some personal reflections. Other members of the team will offer their own comments in subsequent posts.

    (more…)

    Underwhelming fossil fish of the month: January 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 January 2014

    It’s the first underwhelming fossil fish of the month for 2014 and in order to usher in the new year I’ve picked a particularly unspecial fossil fish for your eyes only. If you want to be underwhelmed even more then all the UFFoTM posts can be found under this handy tag. First up though, what does this look like to you?

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-BFvhevMmi1Q/TPr116uuHQI/AAAAAAAAAOI/wg6S_ZMH444/s1600/rorschach-test-dog.jpg

    A pretty butterfly?

    Wow. Well from your response I can tell you have some serious psychological issues that need dealing with. The above image isn’t actually a fossilised Rorschach inkblot (named after the comic book character with the same name in the Watchmen). The keen eyed amongst you will have spotted that it’s actually this month’s fossil fish of the ahem month albeit digitally tweaked. You know you’re in for a treat when the most interesting aspect of it is that it resembles an amorphous splodge and tenuously at that. Read on in the vain hope that it gets better than this. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: December 2013

    By Mark Carnall, on 19 December 2013

    Twas the night before ChristmasUnderwhelming Christmas of the year

    When all through the Grant Museum

    Not a creature was stirring

    Because it was a zoology museum and all the animals had stirred their last a long time ago

    Doubly so for fossil fish.

    It has long been assumed that Christmas is a very mammalian celebration. 2013 years ago Santa invented Coca-Cola and ever since humans have been celebrating by writing each other cards, giving each other presents and eating too many Twiglets. However, there’s compelling evidence that Christmas has its origins deep in the geological past. (Christmas) puddingstones date back to the Pleistocene. Christmas Island is over 100 million years old. Christmas trees evolved back in the Carboniferous. Christmas songs celebrate Rocking around the Christmas Tree. Surely it’s no coincidence that many fossil fish are composed of rock today. It’s entirely possible (plausible is a stretch) that the-yet-unfossilised fossil fish celebrated Christmas in Devonian seas and possibly even further back.

    However, the origins of Christmas in the fossil record have been poorly studied. More research is needed to confirm a non-mammalian origin of Christmas hypothesis. Until then, let’s take a cold hard festive stare at yet another Underwhelming Fossil Fish from the Grant Museum’s collections. This month I’ve got nothing particularly special lined up for you. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: November 2013

    By Mark Carnall, on 22 November 2013

    How are the cockles of your heart? In need of some warmth? Here’s the latest Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month (all the others are here). Eagle-ray eyed readers won’t be able to read this with both eyes because eagle-rays have monocular vision. Eagle eyed readers will have no doubt spotted a slight change. As this is the 13th month of uninspiring amorphous rocks resembling, organisms which were formerly fish, I’ve added a date after the blog title because Akheilos forbid you get confused between ‘seasons’ denying yourself the available UFFotM goodness.

    To kick off season 2, I’ve prepared nothing special. Fossil fish don’t discriminate between or celebrate such arbitrary occasions, it is in their honour that we maintain that composure. Prepare to lose five minutes of your life. No returns or resales. (more…)

    From the vollies: Loose ends and key information

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 October 2013

    This is a guest blog from one of the Grant Museum’s volunteers, Geoffrey Waller. Geoffrey has been volunteering for the Museum for a number of years undertaking the diligent collections care work that helps us to function as a museum and make the most of our collections here. Recently, Geoffrey has been going through one of our many series of card indices cross-referencing information with our current catalogue, enriching  data we have about our specimens which make them significantly more useful for teaching and research. Here are some of the highlights.

    For the last 18 months I have been working on a long-term cataloguing project at the Grant Museum. The project has involved sorting a large collection of some 1500 hand-written record cards into appropriate categories and numerical order. Each card (known technically as an MDA card*) bears the specimen’s accession number – the unique identifying number given to specimens on the Grant Museum collections database. It is therefore possible to cross-check the specimen data on the MDA card with the data already held on the database.

    Image of examples of MDA cards from the Grant Museum of Zoology UCL

    Three of the 1500 MDA cards now added to the collection catalogue.

    Mining the Data

    During this cross-checking, I could add any new information recorded on the MDA cards to the existing database entries, making it available to anyone accessing the records. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of The Month: October

    By Mark Carnall, on 29 October 2013

    12 MONTH UNDERWHELMING FOSSIL FISH OF THE MONTH BLOWOUT! We made it! Back in November last year we launched this series with the lofty ambition of increasing the global fossil fishteracy one fossil fish at a time. Shirley, it’s no coincidence that since this series started fossil fish have been making the news headlines for all the wrong reasons in the case of Megalodongate, as nobody is calling it, and for all the right reasons with Entelognathus primordialis maybe, possibly, unlocking the origins of jaws (not Jaws) as we know and love them today.  We’re confident in claiming that this series alone propelled fossil fish stories into the limelight, leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home. There’s no other explanation.

    There’s no cause for complacency though. This post marks the twelfth entry in the series, a calendar’s worth, but there’s a while to go until we reach enough for a Top Trumps deck or come anywhere close to unearthing the full mediocrity of the drawers and drawers worth of Underwhelming Fossil Fish we have here at the Grant Museum. So it’s with no aplomb we soldier on with October’s particularly uninspiring fossil fish.

    (more…)

    Museums Showoff: Celebrating the mundane

    By Mark Carnall, on 18 October 2013

    Earlier this week I was lucky(?) enough to have a spot on the excellent Museum Mile Museums Showoff special as part of the Bloomsbury Festival. For those of you who don’t know, Museums Showoff is a series of informal open-mic events where museum professionals have nine minutes to show off amazing discoveries, their research or just to vent steam to an audience of museum workers and museum goers. My nine minutes were about the 99% of objects that form museum collections but you won’t see on display. They fill drawers, cupboards, rooms and whole warehouses. But why do we have all this stuff? Who is it for? In my skit on Tuesday I only had nine minutes but I thought I’d take the time to expand on the 99% and the problem of too much stuff (particularly in natural history museums) and what we can do with it.
    (more…)

    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…)