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  • Happy 130th Quagga Day – Maybe more extinct than we thought

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 August 2013

    130 years ago today, 12th August 1883, the last ever quagga died.

    As custodians of one of the only quagga skeletons in existence, we consider it our responsibility to commemorate the tragic passing of this, the least stripy of the zebras.

    Given that we have marked quagga day annually, what can I tell you that regulars wont already know? Potentially, quite a lot – things that I’ve only found out today as I write. Before I get to that, for those who don’t come pre-quagga’ed:

    • Quaggas were a South African Zebra with a stripy front end and a brown back end.
    • Quagga skeletons are “the rarest skeletons in the world [1].
    • They were driven to extinction due to farmers killing them to stop them grazing the land they wanted for their livestock; and for their unusual pelts.
    • The last individual died in a zoo in Amsterdam, probably years after all of her wild relatives

    This is our quagga:

    Image of the Grant Museum Quagga skeleton

    The Grant Museum quagga

    (more…)

    Riding on the crest of a ware

    By Rachael Sparks, on 6 August 2013

    Felixstowe Crested WareI’m quite partial to memorabilia, and I have a passionate interest in the life and work of Flinders Petrie, not just because he’s a an impressively beardy archaeologist and legend, but also because for some years now I’ve been responsible for looking after his collection of Palestinian antiquities at the UCL Institute of Archaeology Collections. So I was quite chuffed when I did a search on Ebay a few years ago, and came across this inspiring item. (more…)

    When Ain’t An Anaconda An Anaconda?

    By Mark Carnall, on 3 January 2013

    Image of the Grant Museum 'Anaconda skeleton'Apologies for the use of the awful contraction ‘ain’t’ but the International Standards for Science Communication (ISSC) demand awful alliteration at almost all opportunities.

    If you are reading this post then it is possible that you know of the Grant Museum and if you’ve visited then you’ve no doubt been impressed by our rather lovely articulated anaconda skeleton pictured here on the left. It’s a beautiful skeleton that grabs the attention and brings to mind questions like “How many ribs?” and “Who had the job of putting together what is surely one of the world’s most difficult jigsaws?”. It’s one of the specimens we list in our top ten objects you must see on a fleeting visit, it features in Kingdom in A Cabinet our guide to the Grant Museum and an image of this specimen was chosen for our postcard selection (available now from the Grant Museum).

    Also, it umm, isn’t actually an anaconda… (more…)

    I found this… Mexican Plateau Horned Lizard

    By Naomi Asantewa-Sechereh, on 17 October 2012

    I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

    Mexican Plateau Horned LizardMexican Plateau Horned Lizard

    Part of my role involves looking after the adoption scheme, which means that I get to research the specimens in order to prepare their adoption certificates. Just today I used some of my adoption knowledge when a visitor asked about the pink fairy armadillo.

    I enjoy the opportunity this gives to learn more about each specimen, especially when I come across the most bizarre facts that I could never have imagined. Take the Mexican Plateau Horned Lizard, it may appear cute and feeble, but it has the ability to squirt foul-tasting blood from its eyes forcing its canine and feline predators to drop it. Facts like these are guaranteed to make it into an adoption certificate!

    I found this…. Beaver stick

    By Dean W Veall, on 16 October 2012

    I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

    Beaver StickBEAVER STICK! At the back of one of our cupboards I found this botanical specimen and it immediately caught my interest. Why a piece of wood in a zoological collection? Closer inspection revealed it was  covered in long thin bite marks and been chewed to points at both ends. There was only one conclusion, BEAVER STICK! But which species of beaver had carved this wood? Was it the Eurasian or the American beaver? Having only been here for about a month I was keen to prove myself, so I was determined to find out the species of beaver had made this. There are two ways to find this out; identify the species of tree the specimen came from and work out if the range of the tree overlaps with either species of beaver. Or, use some of our beaver skull specimens and identify the teeth marks and match it to the species.

    Well that was the plan. (more…)

    I found this… whale barnacles

    By Mark Carnall, on 12 October 2012

    I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…


    This specimen was in a box labelled ‘misc’- the kind of box that all curators fear. The old label was hard to read and it wasn’t immediately obvious what it was. I had to resort to some old school comparative anatomy and deduction to identify it much like the scenario with this mysterious specimen.

    (more…)

    I found this… great white shark

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 11 October 2012

    I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

    The great white shark jaws

    The great white shark jaws in the current exhibition 'I found this...'People often ask where our specimens came from. The truth for some of the oldest objects is we don’t know. However, whoever first acquired this specimen left clues.

    During my Ph.D on sharks I learnt that large species attack using the front right, or front left of the jaw. This specimen has empty pits where two teeth are missing from this primary biting location. The teeth either side are intact, showing the damage was caused by something thin: fishing line. The damage is isolated to the top jaw, suggesting the shark tried to get away by diving rather than rolling.

    It is sad to think of how this animal died. (more…)

    I found this… dinosaur footprint

    By Simon J Jackson, on 10 October 2012

    I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

    The dinosaur footprint

    Dinosaur Footprint As I worked my way through documenting numerous specimens in the stores, I was pleased to come upon this specimen, one of three plaster casts of dinosaur footprints from the Isle of Wight Francis Mussett Collection. Having completed a Ph.D. in dinosaur footprint formation, it was a great opportunity for me to apply my expertise to the specimens. Firstly, by comparing the specimen to other footprints in the literature, and ones I have studied, I was able to ascertain that the animal that made this footprint was probably a flesh eating or carnivorous dinosaur — note the three long slender digits pointing forward with pointed terminations. By using a well-known relationship between footprint length and hip height, I was able to ascertain that the dinosaur would have been approximately 1 m high at the hip, and therefore about 3 to 4 m in length. The web-like structure between two of the toe imprints was probably formed from sediment being squeezed between the toes as the foot impacted upon the sediment. Thus the original ‘mould’ of the foot may have been slightly modified by the movement of the sediment, which means our interpretation of the animal’s size and type needs to be treated with some caution.

    I found this…

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 October 2012

    As Manager of the Grant Museum I’m lucky because I get to work with what many people in the business would say is the best collection in London*, but also a team of very interesting staff. We have a window in the schedule of exhibitions in the Museum, so I decided to put these two bits of luck together and asked each member to select one object that they have made a discovery about to display.

    Grant Museum pigeon holes

    The pigeon holes that once were

    Previous visitors to the Museum will remember that by the door there was a row of pigeon holes from when the room was a library. When we moved in 18 months ago we were quite excited about these and the opportunities we thought they offered. In the main we thought we’d offer them up as one of the many spaces we have for exhibitions co-curated with academic researchers here at UCL (remember Art by Animals and Buried on Campus?). When there were no exhibitions on we could do something ourselves, like animal alphabets, or actually fill them with pigeons. (more…)