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Museums & Collections Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for June, 2011

Firing cannons at birds

JackAshby30 June 2011

Natural history has always been a field largely populated by amateurs. This is one of its biggest strengths. Without the passion and interest of millions of people worldwide it would be very hard to get anything done – both politically and financially. And by referring to people as amateurs I’m certainly not suggesting that they can’t also be experts.

Ringing a bar-tailed godwit

Ringing a bar-tailed godwit

Hard-core natural historians regularly fall into one of three groups – birders, mammal-tickers and herpos (those obsessed with reptiles and amphibians). A common trend among them (though not true of all members of each group) is the desire to “tick off” as many species as they can, and create a nice long list of everything they have seen. (more…)

In the Shadow of the Pyramids: Exhibition Sneak Preview

Debbie JChallis21 June 2011

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

I have just returned from Copenhagen where I was work-shadowing my colleague Tine Bagh at the NY Carlsberg Glyptotek on an Erasmus grant while she is working on the exhibition In the Shadow of the Pyramids.  Tine’s work studying the excavation records of objects in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek for The Petrie Project is the research underpinning The Shadow of the Pyramids exhibition, opening in November 2011.

Palm leaf column capital.

Palm leaf column capital from Palace of Apries, Memphis.

The exhibition will be situated in one of the temporary exhibition galleries in a skylit long thin room. Opposite the entrance will be a large photograph of Flinders Petrie, roughly contemporary to the time he was working at Memphis, and information about him, his wife Hilda and his archaeological methods. Pylon shaped display cases will divide the room into sections for each excavation site. The objects will be placed in those cases with a contemporary image of the site on the wall within each section. Tine wants the audience to feel that they come to Egypt and find these objects with Petrie.

The sites are mainly in the Fayuum and include Meydum, Naqada, Lahun, Sedment, Hawara, Abydos and Tarkhan. The area at the end of the exhibition concentrates on Memphis and will display the sphinx paw,  fragment of a beard, reliefs from the Ptah temple (one of which I saw being conserved), stele of Amon-Min and the palm column capital from Apries’ Palace. The smaller room at the back of the exhibition will display smaller objects, giving evidence of craft production and the factories at Memphis, as well as glass production from Amarna and a pottery wheel. The exhibition finishes with a section on sequence dating with examples of pre-dynastic ceramics from the Danish National Museum.

Tina showed me how each case was drawn out with the positioning of the objects in the case all to the exact dimensions. We discussed how Petrie spoke about objects as being ‘nice and handy’ for a museum and who, even when he was excavating, thought about what objects could go to what collections. We then went and looked at the space for the exhibition  and the objects currently on display in the main museum and those in the store-rooms.

Tine at work in her office

Tine at work in her office

Many of the antiquities in the Glyptotek were bought by Carl Jacobsen and his advisers at auction. The difference with the objects for In the Shadow of the Pyramids is that they were excavated by Flinders Petrie and thus have an archaeological and personal context.  There is much more to say, but this exhibition will shed new light on Petrie’s work and his relationship with sponsors, such as the Ny Glyptothek, as well as putting the sense of archaeological discovery back into the museum.

In the Shadow of the Pyramids opens at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen on 11.11 2011 and runs until 25.03 2012.

Cows and cremation – fighting fire with fire

JackAshby20 June 2011

In my last post I begun to talk about the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s ecologists that I have joined for a month in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. It’s the dry season here and while most of the land isn’t underwater the annual ecological trapping survey is underway.

This involves trapping small mammals, lizards, snakes and frogs and doing bird and vegetation surveys to assess what lives in various different habitats here. A couple of major investigations are underway – the purpose isn’t just to create a list of residents. About half of the reserve has had cattle removed from it (because of seemingly bizarre land-leasing laws this conservation NGO is technically required to run their wildlife sanctuary as a cattle station), and one question is to ask what impact that has on the ecology. It’s easy to predict that the many small mammals that rely on grass seed would be affected by these massive grazers, and this is what the data are suggesting. (more…)

An itch I cannot scratch

Emma-LouiseNicholls14 June 2011

Adoption posterWhen I started my job at the Grant Museum of Zoology one of my roles was to sort out the adoption scheme that, due to an eight month period of closure, needed some… attention.

Now as anyone who knows me personally will attest, when I do a job, I like to do it well. During my A-Levels I was the first person in my particular recruitment batch to achieve all five gold stars at McDonalds. By quite some weeks. This work ethic definitely applies to a job I actually care about. However there is one not at all subtle difference- at McDonalds I didn’t have an arch nemesis thwarting my every attempt to achieve my goals. Unlike at the Grant Museum…



Starfish or Sea Star?

MarkCarnall10 June 2011

Last week a visitor asked whether starfish should be called starfish or sea stars. At the Grant Museum our asteroideans are labeled as starfish. Apparently, the confusing name is causing children and adults to identify starfish as fish rather than as echinoderms. Every now and then we get similar enquiries from visitors and students that arise when scientific pedantry meets commonly used names. For another example see our colleague from the Horniman Museum, Paolo Viscardi, clarify for once and for all that Apes are Monkeys, so deal with it.

A label from the Grant Museum that says that flying lemures are not lemurs and cannot fly

Pandora’s Boxes

RachaelSparks7 June 2011









Field archaeologists are experts in recycling – give us a random selection of old bits of string, nails, cardboard or whatever and we’ll transform them into some terribly useful bit of kit that costs next to nothing. Or failing that, a spectacular costume for the end-of-dig fancy dress party. My personal highlight was the year I morphed into Princess Leia, accompanied by R2D2 (the dig vacuum cleaner with a few judicious additions. I had to make the noises myself).

But the most common and recognisable piece of recycling would have to be the small finds boxes. Objects come in all shapes and sizes, so there is always a scramble in field work to find the perfect container to keep that bone pin from breaking as it makes its route from registrar to photographer to illustrator. Then comes the moment when objects need to be shipped abroad, and another scramble is on to find packing materials to keep everything safe in transit.


666: Better when you know your devils

Emma-LouiseNicholls6 June 2011

Just after 6am this morning, on the 6th day of the 6th month, I received a panicked phone call from the security guard on night-watch at the museum. Evidently ‘strange noises’ had been coming from behind the locked doors and he had gone to check it out. Here is his statement… (more…)

Journey to find and save the world’s rarest primates

Lottie EDavis1 June 2011

The ‘Journey to find and save the world’s rarest primates’ event provided an opportunity for people from all backgrounds to come together and celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity, as well as the International Year of Forests. Organised by gibbonologist Helen Chatterjee, UCL Genetics, Evolution and the Environment, the evening sought to raise the profile of the Hainan gibbon, the world’s rarest primate. The Save the Gibbons website provides details on the problem and ways which we can all help. (more…)