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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for March, 2012

Flinders Petrie: His Life and Work in an Hour

Debbie J Challis29 March 2012

How do you do an overview of one of the most famous archaeologists responsible for 60 years of ground breaking techniques in Egypt, Palestine and Britain for a general audience in an hour? Well, last night’s The Man Who Discovered Egypt at 9pm on BBC4 did it pretty well. Of course, you can quibble and point out all the great things Petrie did, the people he knew, the sites he worked at etc etc, but it is difficult to get a documentary about Flinders Petrie, ‘a Victorian Brit of whom I’d [the Guardian critic] never heard’, right for the larger audience of television.

I will admit to having a vested interest in this documentary as a small section of it was filmed at the Petrie Museum and Institute of Archaeology, and obviously myself and the other colleagues involved in helping with photographs, information and more, want to see it succeed. Despite the title, which would annoy me if I was Egyptian, as a documentary explaining Petrie for the non-expert it did succeed.  It helped that the presenter was Chris Naunton, director of the Egypt Exploration Society and an archaeologist himself, who explained Petrie’s interests and discoveries with enthusiasm. The locations in Egypt and Palestine helped too and the cinematography was impressive. It was great to see Petrie’s work in Palestine given almost equal billing with his work in Egypt.

The range of experts involved also conveyed the scale of Petrie’s work; from our very own Stephen Quirke and Rachael Sparks to the Palestine Exploration Fund to the Quftis Omar and Ali to curators at the Cairo Museum and Rockefeller Museum and archaeologists in the field at some of Petrie’s sites.  The documentary did not shy away from Petrie’s eugenic thinking or the differences between him and his wife Hilda with younger archaeologists towards the end of their working lives. Overall it was a rounded picture of Petrie, the man and archaeologist.

And Petrie would so have an iPad if he worked in Egypt today and would have created an iMeasure app!

The documentary will be repeated over the next week but is also available to view on BBC iPlayer here.

Specimen of the Week: Week Twenty-Four

Emma-Louise Nicholls26 March 2012

Scary Monkey WeekI am currently in Egypt trying really hard, though probably failing, to see an Egyptian vulture. Why? Look at this, you’ve got to love this face. It’s yellow for starters, and has a mega cool feather hair-do for seconds. Brilliant. I decided of course to write this week’s blog on an Egyptian specimen but it seems we are somewhat sadly lacking in that area so my specimen is a tenuous link at best. In the meantime, this week’s specimen is of a species that was found in Egypt, though is now regionally extinct in northern Africa. It was also found in Europe once upon a time, which may surprise you. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Magic numbers

Rachael Sparks19 March 2012

Marking each object with its accession number

Marking objects with accession numbers

There is a legend that when every object in a collection has been given a unique accession number, its curators will be freed of the shackles of performance indicators and documentation plans and finally achieve a state of nirvana. There’s lots of self-help guidance out there, of course (deep breathing exercises optional) to help us achieve this goal, including information on how and when to number objects. The sensible way, according to the Collections Link’s subject factsheet, is to give objects a running number, or, if you must, a number representing the accession year and then a running number. So surely that’s what everybody does, right? Wrong! (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Twenty-Three

Emma-Louise Nicholls19 March 2012

Scary Monkey Week Twenty-ThreeIt was the edge of the Amazon rainforest, and I was working at a sanctuary for injured animals. In the dead of night, the entire room lit up as lightening streaked across the sky and thunder boomed down the corridor. In the morning we discovered that a rescued ocelot had escaped from its enclosure and gone on a rampage, killing several birds and seriously wounding a monkey nicknamed Lucia.

The nearest vet was a six hour drive away. With serious gashes all over her tiny body, the manager and I rushed her to the nearest hospital and literally begged the staff for help. We went through three doctors before we found one who would perform surgery. As Lucia’s screaming quietened and her eyes began to close, the doctor started to carefully stitch up her wounds. Although she should now by rights be called Scarface, she healed and recovered. Although a free ranging monkey, Lucia is now a regular visitor to the sanctuary. In her honour, this week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

The Grant Museum’s first birthday

Jack Ashby15 March 2012

The Grant Museum, technically, is about 185 years old, but one year ago today we opened the doors to our newest manifestation, in the Rockefeller Building’s former medical library; one of the grandest spaces at UCL. Here are some highlights from our first year.

The year in numbers
12884 visitors during normal opening hours
11010 participants in our events
6901 objects accessioned
3121 university students in museum classes
1719 school and FE students in museum classes
96 blog posts
22 specimens of the week
9 journal articles and book chapters published by staff
11 objects acquired
4 co-curated exhibitions
2 floods
Half a dodo went on display (really several bits of several dodos.) (more…)

Fire at the Grant Museum (not really)

Emma-Louise Nicholls14 March 2012

The Grant Museum of ZoologyPartly because I love my job, and partly because my train is so darn unreliable, I get to the museum early. This morning was no different but as I snaked my way through the underground tunnels something was far from usual. My nose was suddenly filled with a disconcerting smell… smoke. A thin wisp of dark grey smoke was emanating from behind the museum doors. I flew up the stairs two at a time, shoved my key into the lock and wrenched opened the door. Coughing, I wrapped my scarf over my                                                                                              mouth and nose and went in. (more…)

Kangaroos cooked up by Cook / Strange Creatures

Jack Ashby13 March 2012

Seeing is believing, right? I’ve often looked at historic animal paintings and wondered “how come artists back in the day couldn’t draw animals?”. We’ve all seen images of animals that are extremely inaccurate, and our recent “Strange Creatures” event had works from UCL Art Museum pop-up in the Grant which included a poorly represented lion, simply because the artist had never seen one. This lack of first-hand inspiration is one reason that the paintings are unrealistic; artists were relying on written accounts by those who had seen the critters.

UCL Art Museum EDC 4766 Anonymous (Dutch, late 17th Century), Lion in a Landscape, late 17th century Red chalk on paper

A late 17th Century Dutch representation of a lion from UCL Art Museum. The opportunity to study lions from life in 17th-century Northern Europe was rare. Lions were kept at the Doge’s Palace in Venice and appear in Jacopo Bellini’s (1400–70/1) sketchbooks, but most Northern artists had to depend upon the accounts of other eye-witnesses.

But reading these descriptions, another massive source of error is that those eye-witnesses are slaves to prior knowledge. When coming across new forms, unlike anything they’d seen before, many attempted to fit models of animals they already knew on top of what they saw. This is perfectly understandable, but in the end often unhelpful. It’s an interesting example of the brain over-riding the visual system and seeing what it thinks it should see.

I’m reading Captain Cook’s account of his first voyage to the South Seas, on the Endeavour, which includes the first descriptions of kangaroos that he came across when he landed on the east coast of Australia, and he was particularly guilty of this: (more…)

Win an adoption with our birthday quiz

Emma-Louise Nicholls13 March 2012

New entrance to the Grant Museum of ZoologyRemember that horrifically dark period of your life when the Grant Museum was closed and you were inconsolable for eight long and agonising months? It was a year ago this week that the Museum reopened its doors in University Street to crowds cheering, clapping and weeping tears of joy.

The new location has many exciting elements including walls that allow for specimen cramming (one of our favourite activities), a balcony which means four great ape skeletons can stare down on you from above, and most of all- you can now find the Museum without enlisting military personal armed with the latest GPS equipment and satellite communication devices.

Stan the skeleton ready to partyTo celebrate the completion of our first year in this snazzy new site, we are holding a week long extravaganza in which you are all most warmly invited. We have devised an animal-tastic trail for all ages to follow around the museum, solving clues to locate specimens and form an anagram. Oh the genius of it all. Solve the anagram for a chance to win the prize of a specimen adoption. Oh yes my friend- life could be THAT good.

Come and sign our birthday card and test your knowledge on our trail for the chance to become a specimen foster parent. Running all this week, 1pm-5pm, for all ages and for freeeeeeeeeeeeee!!


Mice People: Cultures of Science

Jack Ashby12 March 2012

lab guinea pig

(This isn’t a mouse, or Gail Davies)

Last week, as part of this term’s Humanimals Season, we ran an event where Gail Davies, a kind of polymathic geographer working at the intersection of science and medicine, ethnography, bioethics, history, sociology and geography, was in conversation with former geneticist Steve Cross (now Head of Public Engagement at UCL). They chatted through Gail’s research on the culture of the scientists who work with lab mice, and the history of the field that everybody knows exists, but few know much about.

Clare Ryan from UCL Communications wrote up the evening for the UCL Events Blog. She begins…

Mice People: Cultures of Science

By Clare S Ryan, on 9 March 2012

Gail Davies (UCL Geography) travels around the world looking at laboratory mice, and the scientists who study them. To find out why a geographer would be spending her life doing this, I went to hear her in conversation with Steve Cross – Head of UCL’s Public Engagement Unit (and a closet geneticist) – at the event Mice People: Cultures of Science organised as part of the Humanimals season at the UCL Grant Museum of Zoology. (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Twenty-Two

Emma-Louise Nicholls12 March 2012

Scary Monkey: Week Twenty-TwoI want you to guess a location. If I say ‘marsupial’, you say…
Survey says…
‘Eh ehhhh’.
Modern marsupials are in fact also found in both North and South America. North America has only acquired one modern species but South America has plenty. To celebrate this exciting fact of the day, the specimen of the week this week is… (more…)