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  • Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: December 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 19 December 2014

    Underwhelming Christmas of the yearGod rest ye merry fossil fish

    You’ll never be displayed

    For the selection criteria of specimens

    Isn’t biased in your way

    To save us all from excitement

    You’re here to save the day

    O drawers of underwhelming fossil fish

    Underwhelming fossil fish

    O drawers o-hof underwhelming fossil fish.

    It’s that time of the year when people of all walks of life come together to celebrate the passing of 12 months of underwhelming fossil fish and look forward to the next 12, hoping the fossils stay quietly unassuming, not too bombastic or boisterous and altogether middling-at-best. This year was particularly unexciting one for fossil fish with many stoically maintaining a state of fossiliferous.

    (more…)

    On the search for the Scaly-tailed possum: Wet and Wildlife

    By Jack Ashby, on 11 December 2014

    A scaly-tailed possum caught on a camera trap in AWC's Artesian Range. (C) Australian Wildlife Conservancy,

    A scaly-tailed possum caught on a camera trap
    in AWC’s Artesian Range.
    (C) Australian Wildlife Conservancy,

    Over the past few years I have been spending my spare time in a remote area of the Kimberley, on the northwest corner of Australia, helping a conservation NGO – the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) – to do ecological fieldwork. AWC are Australia’s largest private owner of land for conservation, and their mission is to manage it based on scientific research. In the northwest their big long-term projects involve determining the effects of cattle and different fire management practices on tropical savannah ecosystems. And in my most recent two trips I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the detection of super-scarce species in extremely remote pockets of rainforest and monsoonal woodland.

    A few years ago AWC acquired an amazing patch of the Kimberley called Artesian Range – monsoonal savannah criss-crossed with sandstone ranges, gorges of vine-thickets and rainforest pockets. I remember going through the first set of remote camera trap images that came back from Artestian in 2011 and being amazed at the species that were being detected.

    An endemic Kimberley rock rat being re-released

    An endemic Kimberley rock rat being re-released

    The haven from extinction

    It seems that Artesian Range is the only place in mainland Australia not to have suffered any mammal extinctions since European colonisation. A community of amazing endemics has clung on – scaly-tailed possums, golden-backed tree rats, monjons, golden bandicoots and Kimberley rock rats. When I was analyzing those camera trap images in 2011 I was a couple of hundred kilometres south of Artesian, on AWC Northwest’s main home sanctuary, Mornington. Artesian Range is in one of the least accessible parts of Australia, requiring a combination of propeller-plane, serious 4WD and helicopter to get to. As amazing as it was to see these species on the screen, I instantly knew I had to go and see them in the flesh. For me, the scaly-tailed possum had become the holy grail.
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    Dismantling Reg the Rhino in Ten Easy Steps

    By Jack Ashby, on 27 November 2014

    On 10th November the Grant Museum team took on the giant task of dismantling the largest specimen in the Museum – our huge (hornless) one-horned rhino skeleton. This is one of the first steps in our massive conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons (click the link to read more about it and how you can support it).

    In this previous post I described the the history of this specimen and what conservation work will be done to this invaluable specimen. We also set a Twitter competition to #NameTheRhino – he shall now be known as Reg. Full details about that at the bottom.

    How to take apart a complicated massive skeleton, in ten easy steps.

    This was all coordinated by skeleton conservator Nigel Larkin.

    1)  Label every bone and photograph everything so Nigel knows where to put them when Reg gets rebuilt.

    2) Set up a time-lapse camera to record the whole thing:

    (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: November 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 26 November 2014

    It’s that time of year, reindeer who are different are being bullied by their peers, Jack Frost is biting noses again, Saturday morning TV is back to back toy adverts with the odd cartoon in between, Sainsbury’s remind us exactly why our ancestors fought and died in the Great War and Z list celebrities are turning lights on in high streets up and down the land. Yes of course, it’s November, a month so average they named it only once. But do you know what’s even less average than the month of November? It’s only UNDERWHELMING FOSSIL FISH OF THE MONTH, our monthly foray into the uninspiring world of forgotten fossil fish whose heyday, if they even had one, is long past. These fossiliferous fish now remain largely unused in museum stores and this blog series is a monthly window into their esoteric and marginal at best world.

    Last months’ fossil fish proved too underwhelming for many leading to a number of network executives to hint that a third series of underwhelming fossil fish may not be forthcoming. To recompense and please the execs, I’m bringing out the big guns. I’ve chosen a pretty exciting fossil fish for November. We will get that third season fanatic fossil fish fans.

    (more…)

    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…)

    A stuffed Hippopotamus of 1829 at large at UCL

    By Mark Carnall, on 12 November 2014

    Hippo at large at UCL

    Hippo at large at UCL, a poorly photoshopped one too which is a much rarer subspecies. Artist’s reconstruction (also available for palaeontological reconstructions)

    Part of my job at the Grant Museum is to document and inventory the collection we have here. With over 68,000 specimens (a modest collection when it comes to natural history) this is no small task given that creating a catalogue of the collection only began some 70 years into the collection’s history and the attempt to document the collection to current museum standards only began in the 1990s. A lot of the frustration is that the collection was very much a teaching and research collection for most of it’s life and the core data about the who’s, what’s, where’s, and why’s – information that is invaluable to make the most of the collection today – was inconsistently recorded if at all.

    Recently, whilst looking through our paper archive excavating information for a scientific research request, I found a fantastic document, a summary of all the benefactions in kind made to UCL between 1828 and 1914, right from when the University was first founded. I thought I’d struck gold finding this itemised list of objects and specimens benefacted to UCL and perhaps this would hold some key information about who gave what to UCL, some of which ended up in the Grant Museum. What was shocking however was how much seems to have… ahem… been mislaid  between then and now. Not just the odd bones or shell here and there but whole stuffed hippos and more…

    (more…)

    Name our Rhino on the Run

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 November 2014

    The rhino in the Grant Museum - what's his name?

    The rhino in the Grant Museum – what’s his name?

    The largest single specimen in the Museum – our (hornless) Indian one-horned rhino – is about to go on holiday. He is going away for some serious conservation work. You might call it health tourism.

    The rhino entered the Museum as an un-mounted skeleton in 1910-11 when the University of London Loan Collection was disbanded. The Museum then paid £14 to have him, the seal, the bear and “a zebra” (possibly the quagga) mounted onto iron frames. Since then, the rhino has been on open display in the Museum, and the iron is slowly corroding.

    This year, as part of a major project called Bone Idols: Preserving our Iconic Skeletons, 39 of our largest specimens are undergoing conservation treatment. Some need intensive cleaning to remove the damaging pollutants and particulates that have built up over up to 180 years on open display; some also need repairs to certain body parts. Some, like the rhino and quagga, need to be totally disassembled, cleaned, and then repositioned on new skeleton-friendly metal frames, with all his joints correctly matching up.

    All of this work will allow us to safe-guard our irreplaceable collection for the long-term future and continue to use it every day for teaching, research and public engagement.

    There are two exciting opportunities coming up as a result… (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: October 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 October 2014

    October has been a bumper month for not-so-underwhelming-fossil-fish with show off species Microbrachius dicki making headlines early this month for inventing penetrative sex (although of course you and I know that this hyberbolic reporting conflates the ever so slight nudging of oldest evidence of internal fertilisation in our branch of the tree of life with the invention of sex but, hey, at least it got reported). However, it does mean that in order to keep the fossil fish hype-ometer at a steady level we’re going to have to go really underwhelming in this month’s exploration of underwhelming fossil fish to even it out.

    I think I’ve done it though. Be prepared for the dullest underwhelming fossil fish of the month ever. It’s less exciting than this image of the reverse of 2013’s Loganellia scotica. Yes, it’s duller than the fossil most notable for its similarity to a pavement slab. I’d recommend painting a wall and watching the paint dry after reading this because you’ll need something to get your heart racing again.

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    Specimen of the Week: Week 157 (an exciting rediscovery?)

    By Mark Carnall, on 13 October 2014

    Scary MonkeySegueing nicely on from Jack’s evolution of life on land specimens of the week last week, we’re sticking to specimens in our ‘MEET THE ANCESTORS’ case. This week’s specimen is a rather lovely fossil and whilst undertaking a bit of research for this blog post I uncovered a rather twisty turny series of clues that point to this specimen being a ‘type specimen‘.

    Type specimens are important specimens in biological classification that are the specimens which exemplify the characteristics of a new species of organism. In theory, together these specimens are the physical representations of the current understanding of the diversity of life on earth and accordingly are very important specimens in museums. It’s not 100% clear if this fossil is the type specimen hence all the cautious maybes, possibles and potentiallys but you can judge that for yourselves below. So with no further ado, this week’s specimen of the week is…

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    Celebrating Marvellous Maps!

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 9 October 2014

    Marvellous Maps Poster

    Marvellous Maps Poster

    Whenever I’m giving an introduction to the UCL Geology Collections there is one part of the collection that is pretty much guaranteed to get even the least engaged, non-geological undergrad at their 9am lecture on a Monday interested…our maps. There’s something about stopping what you are doing and exploring a map that just seems to interest people. Perhaps it’s the fact that with most maps the more you look the more you see; the more time you spend looking the more you are rewarded.

    The 13th – 19th October is International Earth Sciences Week, and Friday 17th is Geological Map Day, so with this in mind UCL Earth Sciences and UCL Museums invite you to a very special pop-up event…

    Marvellous Maps’ will be hosted in the Rock Room on Friday 17th October by UCL Earth Sciences, between 1 – 5pm.

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