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  • Grant Museum starts major project to preserve rarest skeleton in the world

    By Jack Ashby, on 24 November 2014

    This infant chimpanzee  skeleton will be conserved  as part of  Bone Idols

    This infant chimpanzee skeleton
    will be conserved as part of Bone Idols

    Something very exciting has started here at the Grant. We are undertaking a major project to protect 39 of our rarest and most significant skeletons, some which have been on display in the Museum for 180 years. To help achieve this, we launching our first ever public fundraising campaign – aiming to raise £15,000 to support the costs of this crucial work.

    Preserving the rarest skeleton in the world

    The specimens include the rarest skeleton in the world: the extinct quagga – an unusual half-striped zebra from South Africa. It is the only mounted quagga skeleton in the UK, and no more than seven quagga skeletons survive globally. The project involves completely dismantling and chemically cleaning the irreplaceable skeleton, and then remounting it on a new skeleton-friendly frame in a more anatomically correct position. The work is intended to secure the long-term preservation of the specimens.

    Protecting the uncollectable

    The quagga will be the focus and most involved element of Bone Idols: Protecting our iconic skeletons, a major project of conservation across the Museum’s displays. Interventions will range from deep cleaning bones, repairing damaged elements and re-casing specimens through to remounting huge skeletons. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 120

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 27 January 2014

    At the Grant Museum we like any excuse to talk about animals and the Chinese New Year always provides an easy subject matter. The list of animals used in the Chinese calendar is on a 12 year rotation cycle. There are tigers, dragons and snakes… I however was born in the year of the, err, rooster. Yay. This year is an animal that has helped to win wars, boost the Olympics event programme and transport both goods and people. However, I think it’s close cousin, in the same genus, but classified as a different species, is a more interesting subject. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    The time to live life is now

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 7 November 2013

    As both of my parents worked in travel I guess whether you fall down in the camp of nature or on the side of nurture, eitherway I was probably destined to be a traveller myself. Although I was a late developer in this area, only travelling alone for the first time once at university, I have since clocked up 49 countries and have back of the envelope plans for well over fifty more. As a zoologist and conservationist seeing the natural world first hand is indescribable, though my background also makes me only too aware of the rapidity with which the planet is changing. I don’t just mean animals and the environment, people themselves are changing as well. It is not an uncommon site in Kenya to see Masai tribesmen in the bush wearing traditional red blankets and sandles, and herding goats whilst chatting away on their Nokia. But I feel privileged to have seen them and witnessed their lives and cultures even in this transitional state. In a few years they’ll be wearing GAP t.shirts and Nike trainers, tearing around the bush on quad bikes*. There is simply nothing like seeing mountain gorillas in the wild, being woken up in your sleeping bag by a giraffe munching leaves outside your tent, or being caught in the middle of a capuchin monkey turf war in the Amazon rainforest. (more…)

    The best natural history specimen in the world (did not get thrown on a fire)

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 September 2013

    Last week I saw something that had never occurred to me might be possible to see. Through the years I have learned a lot about this object – I knew where it was, I knew where it came from and I certainly know its place in the pantheon of the history of natural history. We even have a cast of it in the Grant Museum.

    If you had asked me what the best natural history object in the UK was, most days I would tell you it was this one. I had just assumed that seeing it wasn’t something that ever happened, even for people who run university zoology museums.

    The Grant Museum team an a sperm whale jaw at the OUMNH (they're closed for roof repairs)Last Wednesday the staff of the Grant Museum went on an expedition to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH), which is closed for roof repairs until 2014. On a visit to the zoology section a cupboard was opened before us, it was filled with skulls, dried fish and a couple of boxes. As the history of this cupboard was explained – it was Tradescant’s Museum – the oldest in the country – it suddenly dawned on me what was in those boxes. And that we were going to see it.

    We were going to see the only soft tissue of a dodo anywhere in the world. (more…)

    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…)

    Model Translations: The B roll

    By Mark Carnall, on 12 December 2012

    My colleague Nick Booth has already introduced the Octagon Gallery that hopefully a lot of UCL staff and students have noticed on their way from one side of campus to another. In addition to the ‘big egg’ a number of objects from the Grant Museum can be seen on display (including another big egg, a model of an elephant bird egg) but as with most exhibitions there were a lot of objects that for one reason or another didn’t make the cut.

    A number of months ago one of the Mellon Fellow curators of the Model Translation exhibition, Antony Hudek, came by the museum and asked if we would loan one of our Blaschka glass models to the exhibition. I mustered my best impression of a dodgy second-hand car salesman and informed him that if it was models he wanted, we’ve got hundreds. We then spent the rest of the afternoon going through the model collections at the Grant Museum. Originally there were 30 or so objects on the long list which had to be whittled down for the exhibition. Here’s some of the objects that didn’t end up in the exhibition. (more…)

    Happy 129th Quagga Day – A new specimen?

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 August 2012

    129 years ago today, 12th August 1883, the last quagga died. extinction in South Africa 1883 Plate CCCXVII in von Schreber, Die Saugethiere in Abildungen Nach der Natur (Erlangen, 1840-1855)

    Since I was employed at the Grant Museum I have been looking for ways to celebrate what we call “Quagga Day”. Last year on the blog I described the lack of publicity that quaggas get and I heartily recommend you read what I said.

    Also read it if you want to know more about what quaggas were, beyond the fact that they were a not-very-stripy-zebra. We never tire of telling people that we have the rarest skeleton in the world in the Grant Museum – and it is our quagga – but regular readers would probably tire of us explaining what they were and what we think about them.

    This year we can celebrate in almost two ways:
    1) Our quagga skeleton now has it’s very own website where you can learn all about it.

    Almost 2) I thought I had discoverd a new specimen of quagga (which would rock the zoological world to its very core), but later discovered I hadn’t. Here’s what happened…

    (more…)

    Happy? Quagga Day!

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 August 2011

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

    A Quagga

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

    And so here I celebrate what we at the Grant Museum, if no-one else, call “Quagga Day”.

    How rare it is that the date of the demise of the last individual of a species is known – such opportunities for commemoration should not be missed.

    The quagga is no stranger to our blog – this is the third time we’ve written about it since the site was created in January. It is our most blogged about specimen. This is because it is the rarest skeleton in the world (though read our Curator Mark’s post about that claim). The Grant Museum houses one of only seven skeletons in existence. (more…)

    Say Hello To My Little Friends

    By Mark Carnall, on 1 August 2011

    Image of the new models of Quagga, Dodo and Thylacine in the Grant Museum

    These three specimens are the latest addition to the Grant Museum collection. Before the museum moved, model maker Tom Payne came into the museum and asked if there were any models he could make for the museum.  After some discussion we decided that we’d like to have little life models made of three of our highlight specimens, the quagga, thylacine and dodo. We reference these three specimens a lot but unfortunately, to the untrained eye the skeletons look much like a horse, a dog and a box (now two boxes) of bones.  In particular the quagga and thylacine have interesting fur colouration so we wanted to display this and quagga and thylacine skins are in rather short supply these days. (more…)

    The Rarest Skeleton in the World?

    By Mark Carnall, on 7 March 2011

    Biggest, smallest, fastest, slowest, bravest, first, last and most venomous. It is not uncommon to come across animal specimens in natural history museums labelled according to their extreme qualities. Regardless of what Freud might have to say about this seeming obsession, drawing attention to the extremes of nature helps to capture the attention of visitors as well as create spectacle around specimens which are otherwise common. Unlike most other kinds of museums natural history museums tend to display the same kind of stuff. You’re almost guaranteed to see the exoskeleton of a Japanese spider crab, the skull and antlers of a giant deer, a taxidermy echidna and a cast of Archaeopteryx in every single natural history museum. Not only do these specimens helpfully illustrate the wonderful diversity of life but they also demonstrate extremes. The largest arthropod (well, largest leg span), largest antlers, weirdest mammal and ‘first’ bird. For example, the Grant Museum displays one of only seven Quagga skeletons known in the world, earning it the impressive title of rarest skeleton in the world. However, I’ve always had doubts about this claim which I hope to explore more with this post. (more…)