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  • Specimen of the Week 330: The taxidermy koala – The language of natural history

    By Jack Ashby, on 16 February 2018

    With generic terms like mankind and Homo sapiens (“wise man”), people of all genders are well aware that it is the masculine that has dominated the vocabulary of humanity. Not so in the animal kingdom.

    Across UCL Culture we are celebrating the centenary of some women first getting the vote in the UK in a number of different ways. In the run up to International Women’s Day, here on the blog our Specimens of the Week will be exploring themes like women in natural history, female specimens, and – in this case – the language of natural history. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

    Koalas are one of many Australian mammals that are named after a female attribute. Phascolarctos means "pouched bear". LDUCZ-Z65

    Koalas are one of many Australian mammals that are named after a characteristic that only females have. Their scientific name Phascolarctos means “pouched bear”. LDUCZ-Z65

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    Egyptian Languages: Explained

    By Louise Bascombe, on 23 January 2018

    In our collection, we have representations of texts in all the major Egyptian languages.

    What, more than one? Yes! From ancient Egypt to historical Egypt to modern Egypt, there were many different scripts and languages used…

    Hieroglyphs:

    Limestone stela hieroglyph fragments with words from hymns (UC14583)

    Limestone stela fragments with words from hymns (UC14583)

     

    The script that is most recognisably Ancient Egyptian®. One of the oldest scripts used by the ancient Egyptians – and the script with the most longevity – its origins can be seen very early on in Egypt’s history, starting out life as single or small groups of signs that represented entire concepts or specific sounds. Already in the Early Dynastic Period (3100-2686BC), these signs were beginning to become standardised and by the 3rd Dynasty (2686-2613BC) were used in a wide range of contexts. They were, however, especially associated with religious texts, as it was believed that the beauty and monumental nature of hieroglyphs indicated that they were the ‘words of the gods’ (medu-netjer) and intended to be read by them.

     

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    True and False Animals

    By Mark Carnall, on 10 January 2014

    When the language of biology meets common parlance there’s often a lot of confusion. Biological nomenclature (often called the scientific name, we are Homo sapiens sapiens* for example)  is by and large controlled using strict rules, format and notations but there aren’t quite so strict rules when it comes to the common names of animals or groups of animals. Some animals we refer to by their taxonomic name, for example; Tyrannosaurus rex, Hippopotamus, Octopus** and Bison. For other animals however, their common, useful to most people and widely understood names create all kinds of problems for the pedantic as I’ve written about before when is comes to sea stars vs starfish. My colleague Jack Ashby wrote about when it comes to seals and sea lions. Consider also that a musk ox is a goat-antelope, horseshoe crabs aren’t crabs at all and the Grant Museum favourite: flying lemurs aren’t and don’t.

    The idea of ‘true’ and ‘false’ animals can also be misleading and a lot of pub discussions/arguments/bets come from animals which aren’t what they are often called or even named. How do some animals end up as the ‘true’ and ‘false’ versions of their group. Let’s have a look at some ‘true’ animals and see how the philosophical concepts of truth has ended up in our zoological lexicons.
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