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  • Happy 132nd Quagga Day! It’s been a good year for quaggas

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 August 2015

    extinction in South Africa 1883 Plate CCCXVII in von Schreber, Die Saugethiere in Abildungen Nach der Natur (Erlangen, 1840-1855)

    A Quagga

    132 years ago today, 12th August 1883, the last quagga died, alone in her cage at Amsterdam Zoo.

    The celebration/commeration of Quagga Day has become annual fixture at the Grant Museum, as we are one of only six or seven institutions worldwide to care for a quagga skeleton.

    As such, we have written a lot about quaggas on this blog, and I won’t go into detail explaining what a quagga is, but for the uninitiated quaggas were a not very stripy kind of zebra that were hunted to extinction in their native South Africa for their unusual skins and as they competed with livestock for grazing grass.

    Quaggas, we argue, are the rarest skeleton in the world, and we see our role at the Grant Museum as being global quagga champions.

    For the first time in perhaps 132 years, I’m pleased to annouce that 2015 has been a very good year for quaggas.

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 200: The dodo

    By Jack Ashby, on 10 August 2015

    Grant Museum dodo bones

    Grant Museum dodo bones LDUCZ-Y105

    200 weeks ago the Specimen of the Week was born, and here we are 198 specimens* later. For this auspicious occasion, I thought I should highlight one of the most important specimens in the Museum, both for historic reasons, and because it one of the things that visitors regularly ask about.

    Indeed, we know it is one of the most popular objects as it scores the highest in our “filth left on the glass by visitors scale”. We agree with our visitors’ assessment, and have included it in our Top Ten Objects trail.

    Possibly ranking as our most blogged about species, it’s about time that this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    The world’s rarest skeleton rides again… on four legs

    By Jack Ashby, on 28 July 2015

    Using cutting-edge technology, the world’s rarest skeleton – a South African extinct zebra called a quagga – has regained its missing hind limb.

    The quagga's missing fourth leg has been replicated through 3D printing.

    The quagga’s missing fourth leg has been replicated through 3D printing.

    After a brilliant year of fundraising and conservation work, we are nearing the end of a major project to restore 39 of our largest and most significant skeletons to their former glory. The main focus of the project, named Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons, has been our quagga – which is one of only seven quagga skeletons to survive globally. The Guardian gave the project a particularly positve write-up (read the comments if you want to see some of the more unexpected outcomes of media relations. *blushes*).

    The last living quagga died in 1883, having been hunted to extinction by farmers and skin-collectors. The Grant Museum specimen is the only one on display in the UK but the skeleton was incomplete – the right shoulder blade and one of its legs has long been missing, probably since World War II.

    (more…)

    Some favourite PanoptiCam views

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 10 June 2015

    Several months ago saw the launch of the Panopticam Project, a joint UCL Centre for Digital HumanitiesUCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Bentham Project and UCL Museums project.

    The Panopticam (see what we did there?) involved the installation of a webcam on top of the auto-icons box to give us a Bentham eyed view of the world. The camera takes a photo every 5 seconds (shown whenever the red light flashes on the camera) which updates the photo on the website here. At the end of each day all the photos are joined together to form a time-lapse recording of the days events, which are made available on YouTube, check out this one from 6 minutes in to see UCL Dance Soc is action. Finally every hour (at 1 minute past) the view is tweeted by @Panopticam.

    It’s been going for about 3 months now, and recently the project blog decided to show some choice images from the project so far – http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/panopticam/2015/06/02/some-choice-views-from-bentham/. I thought I’d follow suit and share some of my favourites with you too.

    Enjoy!

    UCL PACE Marketing Manager Meg and I hard at work.

    UCL PACE Marketing Manager Meg Dobson and I hard at work.

    PanoptiCam4

    Student engagement.

    (more…)

    The Return of the Rhino: Conserving our biggest skeleton

    By Jack Ashby, on 10 February 2015

    In November, we announced that Reg the (hornless) Indian one-horned rhino skeleton was being dismantled and taken away for an extreme make-over (read Dismantling Reg the Rhino in Ten Easy Steps). Now he has returned in much better shape (specifically, rhino-shaped), prepared for a long and prosperous future in the Museum.

    The rhino after treatment. We hope you'lll agree he is much more rhino shaped.

    The rhino after treatment. We hope you’lll agree he is much more rhino shaped.

    Reg, a Bone Idol

    The rhino was among the first specimens included in our huge conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons, which will secure the long-term future of 39 of our biggest, rarest and most significant specimens. Some will be cleaned of 180 years of particulate pollutants, some will be repaired, some have new cases built, and some, like the rhino, will be completely remounted.

    What was wrong with the rhino?

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 170

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 January 2015

    Scary MonkeyA well known technique in making things desirable is to make them appear unattainable. You want it because you’ve been told you can’t have it. This week I’m employing this strategy to make you fall in love with a specimen. Obviously you can’t have any of our specimens as we’re an accredited museum avowed to care for our collections responsibly, which more or less rules out giving them to the public.

    Not only can you not have this week’s Specimen of the Week, you can’t even see it, and there isn’t much more unattainable than that. This isn’t because it’s invisible to the naked eye (though it is small), it’s because it isn’t here.

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

    The Top Ten Grant Museum Blogs of 2014

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 January 2015

    Happy New Year!

    At this time of year, as well as looking forward to the exciting things we hope to do in the coming year, it is customary to look back at the past one. On Twitter over the past week I’ve been tweeting the best of 2014’s blog – the Top Ten most viewed Grant Museum posts of last year. Looking back, it’s certain that we’ve had a top year in terms of blogging, with 136 posts from Team Grant, and over 100,000 page views across the UCL Museums blog. But what were the best posts?

    I’ve announced those ranking at 10 to 2 in the charts, and exclusively revealing here that the most popular post of 2014 is… (more…)

    Darwin (or) Bust opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 February 2014

    Charles Darwin would be 205 today. Happy birthday to him. To mark the occasion our Darwin (or) Bust exhibition opens today, showing Darwin as you are unlikely to have seen him before. Darwins have been created out of ants, light, crochet, DNA, his own writings, chocolate and other unusual media, all imagined and made by members of UCL’s Institute of Making.

    The Museum’s historic plaster bust of Darwin was moved from UCL’s Darwin Building when our collection was relocated in 2011. The remaining inhabitants of the Darwin Building were sorry to lose him, and so asked the Institute of Making to help them make a new one, from 3D laser scanning. We already had the 3D data as our very own Mona Hess had scanned him for her PhD on scanning in museums, and an idea blossomed…

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum's Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum’s Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    Rather than just print off a new Darwin bust for the departments of Structural and Molecular Biology and Genetics, Evolution and Environment in the Darwin Building, we all decided to see what happened if we tapped the minds around us at UCL; asking the members of the Institute of Making how they would reinterpret the 3D data to make a new Darwin for the 21st Century. This multi-venue exhibition is the result. A previous post explains the origins of the exhibition more fully.

    The project somewhat snowballed. (more…)

    The Top Ten Grant Museum Blogs of 2013

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 January 2014

    Happy New Year!
    As well as looking forward to the exciting things we hope to do in the coming year, it is customary to look back at the past one. On Twitter over the past week I’ve been tweeting the best of 2013’s blog – the Top Ten most viewed Grant Museum posts of last year.

    I’ve announced those ranking at 10 to 2 in the charts, and exclusively revealing here that the most popular post of 2013 is…

    Will a museum studies degree help you get a job in a museum?

    Perhaps suggesting that there are many people interested in the incredibly amazing careers in museums, yet are aware of the fact that finding a way in is easier said than done.

    The Top Ten in full: (more…)

    Natural history under the hammer

    By Mark Carnall, on 4 December 2013

    Recently there have been a spate of high profile auctions of natural history specimens raising many issues about ownership, the value we should or shouldn’t put on natural history and the relationship between professional scientists, museums, amateurs and private collectors. My colleague Jack Ashby wrote about the recent dodo bones that were auctioned. Colleagues Dave Hone and Mark Graham give a balanced view of the recent sale of a Diplodocus skeleton over at the Guardian. The ‘duelling dinosaurs’ fossil was estimated to reach $9 million at auction in New York and last year the controversial proposed sale of an allegedly illicitly smuggled Tarbosaurus skeleton caused much debate.

    I thought I’d add my thoughts on the subject here, in particular about the relationship between collectors, museums and ethics. (more…)