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  • Buried on Campus has opened

    By Jack Ashby, on 24 April 2012

    Excavation in the QuadTwo years ago rumours spread quickly around UCL that builders working in the Main Quad on Gower Street had discovered human bones while they were digging an access trench. Lots of human bones. As would be expected, theories abound as to what the story behind such a discovery might be.

    The police were immediately involved, and they consulted UCL’s own expert forensic anatomist, Dr Wendy Birch, and established that no foul play had taken place, and the remains were not of police interest. Since then, Dr Birch and her colleagues have been researching the remains and trying to piece together (often literally – many of the bones were highly fragmented) what they are and why they were buried.

    This is the topic of the Grant Museum’s new exhibition, Buried on Campus, co-curated by Wendy Birch and forensic anthropologist Christine King, our immediate Rockefeller Building neighbours in the UCL Anatomy Lab. (more…)

    Kangaroos cooked up by Cook / Strange Creatures

    By Jack Ashby, on 13 March 2012

    Seeing is believing, right? I’ve often looked at historic animal paintings and wondered “how come artists back in the day couldn’t draw animals?”. We’ve all seen images of animals that are extremely inaccurate, and our recent “Strange Creatures” event had works from UCL Art Museum pop-up in the Grant which included a poorly represented lion, simply because the artist had never seen one. This lack of first-hand inspiration is one reason that the paintings are unrealistic; artists were relying on written accounts by those who had seen the critters.

    UCL Art Museum EDC 4766 Anonymous (Dutch, late 17th Century), Lion in a Landscape, late 17th century Red chalk on paper

    A late 17th Century Dutch representation of a lion from UCL Art Museum. The opportunity to study lions from life in 17th-century Northern Europe was rare. Lions were kept at the Doge’s Palace in Venice and appear in Jacopo Bellini’s (1400–70/1) sketchbooks, but most Northern artists had to depend upon the accounts of other eye-witnesses.

    But reading these descriptions, another massive source of error is that those eye-witnesses are slaves to prior knowledge. When coming across new forms, unlike anything they’d seen before, many attempted to fit models of animals they already knew on top of what they saw. This is perfectly understandable, but in the end often unhelpful. It’s an interesting example of the brain over-riding the visual system and seeing what it thinks it should see.

    I’m reading Captain Cook’s account of his first voyage to the South Seas, on the Endeavour, which includes the first descriptions of kangaroos that he came across when he landed on the east coast of Australia, and he was particularly guilty of this: (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Seventeen

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 6 February 2012

    Scary Monkey: Week SeventeenA week ago, the Grant Museum had a special family activities day called ‘Humanimals’, part of our exciting, and ongoing, Humanimals season which is investigating the influence that humans and animals have on each other. Our activities gave our visitors hands-on fun with furry, scaly, and boney specimens. One of the activities was a table covered in a jumble of bones from a real skeleton not too dissimilar to ours. The cunning idea behind the slyly educational activity was for our visitors to re-build the skeleton. We had our replica human skeleton standing next to the table for anatomical inspiration. It was so popular that it inspired this week’s specimen. The specimen of the week therefore is: (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Ten

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 19 December 2011

    Scary MonkeyFreshly back from abroad (got in last night), and not just a little jet-lagged, I bring to you on this quite frankly-freezing-compared-to-Mexico morning a mammalian specimen of the week that was inspired by the beautiful jungles through which I have been trotting for the last two weeks. I hope you are already trying to guess what it is based upon the two surreptitious pieces of information I have just given you; geographical location and habitat. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

    Fake-umentary? BBC and Frozen World

    By Mark Carnall, on 15 December 2011

    Another quick post, many of you may have seen the news coverage about a sequence showing polar bear cubs in the BBC’s excellent Frozen Planet documentary that was filmed in a zoo, not in the wild. The footage has been called out as being misleading and the authenticity of some snow has also been called into question. It’s hard to pick out whether this is grabbing media attention because the Beeb has its fair share of enemies in the press or whether viewers are genuinely outraged. The BBC has posted this video showing BBC bosses defending the sequence. The Telegraph has this to say about it, posted here for balance. (more…)

    Ecology or exploitation?

    By Jack Ashby, on 15 December 2011

    Ecology or exploitation?Is ecotourism an answer to local environmental and biodiversity conservation?

    That’s the latest question on our iPads for the QRator project. Have you ever done any ecotourism? How did it feel – was there an element of exploitation or did you feel it was doing good? (more…)

    Conservation in China? It’s hard to be hopeful

    By Jack Ashby, on 14 December 2011

    Last night I went to one of the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) excellent Wildlife Conservation Series. It was a series of short talks from conservation scientists working in China, under the heading “Conservation in China: Unique Challenges or Global Lessons?

    Simply mentioning conservation and China in the same breath regularly causes people with an interest in the environment to raise their hackles. China is a land of staggering numbers; 1.3 billion people; 10 million square kilometres (and yet one of the highest population densities of any country); and only 23 Hainan gibbons. In a place where national parks are managed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Construction, the human population is a huge sink for traded wildlife, however rare (for pets, food and Traditional Chinese Medicines) and with natural resources under so much stress from development, how can wildlife be expected to survive? Last night we were told that in the Great Leap Forward 10% of the country’s trees were felled in a month. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Nine

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 12 December 2011

    Scary MonkeyWell now my dedicated and trusted readers (I choose to believe that you exist in this format), I am currently in sunny Mexico trampling across Mayan and Aztec ruins, filling my brain with more knowledge than its natural capacity, and hopefully chasing a spider monkey troop or two.

     

    I do not want you to feel as though I have abandoned you in a capricious bout of neglect and so I have found a most genius way to make you feel as though you are still with me. Our specimen of the week is a Mexican species and I promise that if I should be lucky enough to see one, I will take a snapshot for you and post it here upon my return for your much sought approval. This week’s specimen of the week is: (more…)

    Why I like cryptozoologists – an UnConventional view

    By Jack Ashby, on 17 November 2011

    Big Foot crossing I am very fond of cryptozoologists. I’m not one myself, but I think they are great. I spent Saturday at the Fortean Times’ annual symposium, UnConvention 2011. This is a weekend of talks about all things paranormal, organised by the magazine Fortean Times (The World of Strange Phenomena), but cryptozoology is the reason I went. Well, the reason I went is because two dear friends of the Grant Museum were speaking and I rarely get to see them. One is Richard Freeman, Zoological Director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology (the world’s largest professional cryptozoological organisation) and the other is Brian Regal, an academic historian of science interested in the relationship between science and pseudo-science and the history of Big Foot.

    Cryptozoology, for those who don’t know, is the study of hidden animals, or cryptids. The bread and butter of it is animals unknown to science like yetis, sasquatch and Nessie; but also includes animals that are considered extinct, like thylacines; and animals beyond their normal ranges, like big cats on Dartmoor. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Four!

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 7 November 2011

    Scary MonkeyWelcome to the 100th UCL Museums and Collections blog post!!! What an honour! I shall definitely be sharing a wine with scary monkey (see left) later on and he says he gives you all permission to leave work early for the momentous occasion. When you first start writing a weekly blog you suddenly become very aware of time and more to the point, how quickly it whips by! Already it is week four of the new specimen of the week blog. Someone pointed out yesterday it was only seven weeks until the new year. Frightening!

     

    Anywho, this week I have decided to choose one of my most favourite animals to tell you about. It is one of the largest species of the group to which it belongs and famous for its weird appearance. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)