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  • Specimen of the Week 286: The Notebook Models

    By Tannis Davidson, on 7 April 2017

    Practical Zoology Notebook

    Student Notebook 1911

    As is often the case, it is difficult to choose a single specimen to highlight in this blog. The Grant Museum has 68,000 specimens and each one has a story to tell. Sometimes the stories are connected and link specimens together in unexpected ways, which is why this week’s focus is on a quartet of specimens, rather than one.

    At first glance the four specimens may not appear to have much in common. One is a glass jellyfish, two are wax models of different parasitic worms and the other no longer exists. What they do share is a common history of use, artistic beauty and legacy. This week’s Specimens of the Week are…
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    Specimen of the Week 275: Mystery wax models

    By Tannis Davidson, on 20 January 2017

    In a radical departure from tradition, this week’s blog will focus on what we don’t know about a specimen, rather than what we do know. The reason being is that the specimen in question is rather mysterious.  All of the usual pieces of information which can help identify a specimen are lacking  – no number, no entry in the accession records, no associated documentation and no taxonomic information.

    A perfect candidate for some major research which is why it was ‘auctioned’ as a mystery object to this year’s students taking part in the Collection Curatorship class as part of their MA in Museum Studies at UCL.  The aim of this course is to introduce students to the core skills of a curator : to understand objects and how to research them.  Luckily for us, the ‘natural history’ group chose this specimen and are about to flex their collective research muscles in order to help identify this specimen…

    Grant Museum of Zoology Mystery wax models

    Grant Museum of Zoology Mystery wax models

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    Specimen of the Week 258 : Pteraspis models

    By Tannis Davidson, on 23 September 2016

    LDUCZ-V733d Pteraspis sp.

    LDUCZ-V733d Pteraspis sp.

    In a few days time the autumn term at UCL begins along with the many classes and practicals which take place in the Grant Museum.  In the first term of last year, the Grant Museum held 28 specimen-based practicals using 770 specimens.  Over 1300 UCL students from various departments attended these practicals as part of their course work.

    To celebrate the return of the autumn term, here’s a specimen which will be used several times in the next few months in the ever-popular Vertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution.  This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 244: The historic wax flatworm

    By Tannis Davidson, on 17 June 2016

    LDUCZ-D44 Fasciola hepatica

    LDUCZ-D44 Fasciola hepatica

    Since its inception in 1828, the Grant Museum of Zoology collections have always been used for teaching.  This continues in the present day and the Museum welcomes students from across UCL for a wide variety of specimen-based practicals, course work and research projects.

    Today we maintain detailed lists of specimens which are used in classes but I’ve often wondered what the early object-based teaching practicals looked like and which specimens were used.

    Fortunately, the Museum has some relevant archives which have identified an extraordinary specimen that had been used in teaching at UCL 130 years ago.  It is not only one of the oldest specimens in the collection, but also one of the most beautiful.

    Take a journey back in time with this week’s Specimen of the Week…

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    Conserving a thermopile in UCL Science and Engineering Collections

    By Emilia L Kingham, on 24 March 2016

    Thermopile, Physio-062

    Thermopile, Physio-062

    My name is Dae Young Yoo and I am the MSc. Conservation student placement with UCL Museums and Collections.  One of my objects that I have been assigned to research and conserve is a thermopile from the Physiology Department.

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    The Mystery of the Giant Golden Mole Skull

    By Elizabeth K Pursey, on 16 February 2016

    A mystery skull in bag – ready to identify. LDUCZ-Z850

    A mystery skull in bag – ready to identify. LDUCZ-Z850

    Crawling blindly through tunnels under layers of dead leaves in the coastal forests of South Africa lives the giant golden mole. Most people don’t know it is there, and neither did I until I was presented with the skull of one this October. As this species lives exclusively in a tiny region on the Eastern Cape – most people have definitely never seen one! Who would have guessed that identifying this skull would be the start of my newfound love for these unlikely animals. (more…)

    UCL students identify mystery specimens in the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 2 February 2016

    Mystery specimen displayHave you ever seen something in a museum and suspect that the curators have got it wrong? If so, I hope you haven’t been too shy to let the museum know. Speaking for the Grant Musuem at least, we love it when visitors add to our knowledge of the collection, and we don’t ask for “expert” credentials before hearing an opinion. Indeed, a 11 year boy spotted that a specimen labelled “marine iguana” was in fact a tuatara (a lizard-shaped reptile from New Zealand (that is in fact not a lizard)). And couple of years back, a visitor noticed that our famous anaconda skeleton was in fact an African rock python. Some museums might be embarrassed by the idea that some of their objects have been mis-identified, but not us.

    In fact every year we give our UCL bioscience students the chance to challenge our identification as part of the fantastic “Vertebrate Life and Evolution” module. We have just created a display of “mystery specimens” identified by these students.

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    The Robert Noel Collection of Life and Death Masks – what we know now.

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 15 January 2016

    Cast of a murderer - Noel-34 - Irmscher. Photo courtesy of Alan Taylor.

    Cast of a murderer – Noel Head 34 – Irmscher.

    The Robert Noel Collection of Life and Death Masks consists of 37 plaster casts made in Germany in the 19th Century. As the name suggests the plaster casts were taken of both the living and the dead, and were collected by Robert Noel (a distant relation of Ada Lovelace) to show the ‘truth’ of phrenology, which simply put was the study of the lumps and bumps in people skulls in the belief that this gave insight into a person’s character. In this blog I aim to tell the story of the collection (as we know it now) and gather links to the various blogs, videos, articles that are available online. Enjoy!

    When I started working at UCL 4-ish years ago we knew almost nothing about the Robert Noel Collection of Life and Death Masks. In its life at UCL it had been on display in the Galton Eugenics Laboratory, the Slade School of Fine Art and (reportedly) at one point it’s been fished out of a skip. Now, thanks to the work of a number of UCL students, we know so much more – the names of the people represented in the collection, what Noel thought of them and the background to Noel himself. They have also been properly conserved and looked after, so they will survive for another 150 years or so. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 191 : Rhamphorhynchus wing cast

    By Tannis Davidson, on 8 June 2015

    LDUCZ-X842 Rhamphorhynchus wing cast

    LDUCZ-X842 Rhamphorhynchus wing cast

    One of my favourite pastimes is to do a bit of research – on just about anything.  I enjoy investigative work and the process of discovery.  Luckily, the nature of my work at the Grant Museum ensures that there are plenty of opportunities to do museum-detective work.  It could be a case of matching up an archival record with an unaccessioned specimen or figuring out a valid taxonomic name for a mysterious beast in a jar.

    It is both a burden and a blessing to work with historic collections which have varying degrees of documentary information: while it would be preferable to have more/most/all information about an object, gaps in the data allow for additional research and new discoveries.

    Recently I was doing some research on another Grant Museum Rhamphorhynchus specimen and one thing led to another…and another…and another.  It turns out that there is a lot of history behind this week’s SOTW – and although it is ‘only’ a plaster cast – it is part of a famous lineage of one of the most famous fossil finds!

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

    Specimen of the Week : Week 178

    By Tannis Davidson, on 10 March 2015

    Scary-Monkey-Week-Nine Happy almost springtime! Longer days and brighter skies herald the coming of the change of season.  This year the official start of Spring will be marked by a total solar eclipse on March 20 (get your eclipse glasses ready). When the sun re-emerges from behind the moon, both man and beast can rejoice in the return of the light and the promise of rejuvenation.

    Here at the Museum, it is also time to clean the shelves, tidy the office, refresh the displays and present a brand-new exhibition.  From 16 March to 27 June join us for Stange Creatures: The art of unknown animals and explore the world of animal representation.

    While springtime has many different meanings and associations, including representative animals, one animal is perhaps most symbolic of this time of year.  In honour of this most springy of selections, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)