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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for October, 2012

I found this… Mexican Plateau Horned Lizard

Naomi Asantewa-Sechereh17 October 2012

I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

Mexican Plateau Horned LizardMexican Plateau Horned Lizard

Part of my role involves looking after the adoption scheme, which means that I get to research the specimens in order to prepare their adoption certificates. Just today I used some of my adoption knowledge when a visitor asked about the pink fairy armadillo.

I enjoy the opportunity this gives to learn more about each specimen, especially when I come across the most bizarre facts that I could never have imagined. Take the Mexican Plateau Horned Lizard, it may appear cute and feeble, but it has the ability to squirt foul-tasting blood from its eyes forcing its canine and feline predators to drop it. Facts like these are guaranteed to make it into an adoption certificate!

I found this…. Beaver stick

Dean W Veall16 October 2012

I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

Beaver StickBEAVER STICK! At the back of one of our cupboards I found this botanical specimen and it immediately caught my interest. Why a piece of wood in a zoological collection? Closer inspection revealed it was  covered in long thin bite marks and been chewed to points at both ends. There was only one conclusion, BEAVER STICK! But which species of beaver had carved this wood? Was it the Eurasian or the American beaver? Having only been here for about a month I was keen to prove myself, so I was determined to find out the species of beaver had made this. There are two ways to find this out; identify the species of tree the specimen came from and work out if the range of the tree overlaps with either species of beaver. Or, use some of our beaver skull specimens and identify the teeth marks and match it to the species.

Well that was the plan. (more…)

Exchanging Knowledge through the Cultural Heritage Fellowship programme

Edmund Connolly15 October 2012

guest blogger: Tonya Nelson (Petrie Museum Manager)

This year UCL Museums and Public Engagement entered into an exciting partnership with the British Council to develop and deliver a Fellowship programme for museum professionals from the Middle East and North Africa on the topic of community engagement.  While in the UK museums are increasingly creating platforms for their communities to advise and consult on the use of collections, create exhibitions and host their own programmes in museum spaces, little of this type of participation occurs in museums in the Middle East or North Africa.  Eight Fellows coming from Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Algeria, Palestine, and Lebanon were selected for the programme and attended an intensive 2 week training programme in the UK.  However, the idea behind the Fellowship programme is not simply to teach the Fellows about community engagement practices in the UK.  The Fellowship also seeks to share knowledge and ideas.  The hope is that the UK museums supporting the Fellowship will learn about the practices of museums in other countries, build relationships with museum practitioners and institutions abroad and develop a better understanding of how they might serve Middle East/North African communities living in their communities.  To that end, I will write a series of blogs this year profiling the Fellows and the innovative work that they are doing in their home institutions.  In this blog, I will profile the work of Fellows Carla Mardini from Lebanon and Tamara Musha’sha’ from Palestine.


Specimen of the Week: Week Fifty-Three

Emma-Louise Nicholls15 October 2012

Scary MonkeyAfter the excitement of the blogs of the last two weeks (I found them exciting), I thought this week I should tone it down a bit and write about an animal that is considered a little more run of the mill, and less out of the ordinary. Then I thought, stuff that for a silly idea, I’m going to present to you the most exciting object I have in my field of view from the front desk, which is where I was at the time. By pure coincidence, it just so happens to also be one of my top five specimens out of all 68,000 currently held at the Museum, which I think is introduction enough, and so- this week’s  Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

I found this… whale barnacles

Mark Carnall12 October 2012

I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

This specimen was in a box labelled ‘misc’- the kind of box that all curators fear. The old label was hard to read and it wasn’t immediately obvious what it was. I had to resort to some old school comparative anatomy and deduction to identify it much like the scenario with this mysterious specimen.


I found this… great white shark

Emma-Louise Nicholls11 October 2012

I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

The great white shark jaws

The great white shark jaws in the current exhibition 'I found this...'People often ask where our specimens came from. The truth for some of the oldest objects is we don’t know. However, whoever first acquired this specimen left clues.

During my Ph.D on sharks I learnt that large species attack using the front right, or front left of the jaw. This specimen has empty pits where two teeth are missing from this primary biting location. The teeth either side are intact, showing the damage was caused by something thin: fishing line. The damage is isolated to the top jaw, suggesting the shark tried to get away by diving rather than rolling.

It is sad to think of how this animal died. (more…)

Ian Hislop and the Galton Head Spanner

Subhadra Das10 October 2012

Ian Hislop and the Galton Head SpannerAt the risk of sounding celebrity obsessed; one of our objects was on the telly last night!

A head spanner originally used by the Galton Laboratory and now part of the UCL Galton collection appeared in ‘Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip’ on BBC2. The second in a 3-part self-described ‘emotional history of Britain’ focussed on how the Victorians embraced the stiff upper lip as an empire building tool. Used to take accurate measurements of human skulls, this head spanner, and others like it, contributed to the colonial project of keeping colonials… well, colonial.

As someone who has relinquished an Indian passport to take on the mantle of Britishness[1]*there are lots of issues I could talk about here, but I’m also a museum curator and so enjoy getting het up about very little things rather than massive philosophical and social issues.

So, I thought I would 1) write and let you know that you can catch-up with the series on the BBC iPlayer And 2) give you an insight into the practical, professional and ethical aspects of lending an object for filming a documentary.

It went a little something like this:

I found this… dinosaur footprint

Simon J Jackson10 October 2012

I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

The dinosaur footprint

Dinosaur Footprint As I worked my way through documenting numerous specimens in the stores, I was pleased to come upon this specimen, one of three plaster casts of dinosaur footprints from the Isle of Wight Francis Mussett Collection. Having completed a Ph.D. in dinosaur footprint formation, it was a great opportunity for me to apply my expertise to the specimens. Firstly, by comparing the specimen to other footprints in the literature, and ones I have studied, I was able to ascertain that the animal that made this footprint was probably a flesh eating or carnivorous dinosaur — note the three long slender digits pointing forward with pointed terminations. By using a well-known relationship between footprint length and hip height, I was able to ascertain that the dinosaur would have been approximately 1 m high at the hip, and therefore about 3 to 4 m in length. The web-like structure between two of the toe imprints was probably formed from sediment being squeezed between the toes as the foot impacted upon the sediment. Thus the original ‘mould’ of the foot may have been slightly modified by the movement of the sediment, which means our interpretation of the animal’s size and type needs to be treated with some caution.

I found this…

Jack Ashby9 October 2012

As Manager of the Grant Museum I’m lucky because I get to work with what many people in the business would say is the best collection in London*, but also a team of very interesting staff. We have a window in the schedule of exhibitions in the Museum, so I decided to put these two bits of luck together and asked each member to select one object that they have made a discovery about to display.

Grant Museum pigeon holes

The pigeon holes that once were

Previous visitors to the Museum will remember that by the door there was a row of pigeon holes from when the room was a library. When we moved in 18 months ago we were quite excited about these and the opportunities we thought they offered. In the main we thought we’d offer them up as one of the many spaces we have for exhibitions co-curated with academic researchers here at UCL (remember Art by Animals and Buried on Campus?). When there were no exhibitions on we could do something ourselves, like animal alphabets, or actually fill them with pigeons. (more…)

Specimen of the Week: One Year Anniversary!

Emma-Louise Nicholls8 October 2012

Scary MonkeyThere was a variety of pun-tastic ideas and directions of literary genius that I could have gone in with this first anniversary blog. Closest to the word anniversary is Anniceris which is a type of grasshopper. Pretty cool, but not extraordinary. There is of course the ANNUALaria, which is a genus of mollusc. But we don’t have one. So that’s rubbish. I could have been etymological- the word annual comes from the Latin Annus meaning yearly, but I feel that is uncomfortably close to the word anus, of which we had enough references last week. A change in direction led me to search for species that included the word blog, and subsequently learnt of the existence of Blogiascopora. However it was a biological fail for the search engine as Blogiascopora is a fungus which therefore couldn’t be used for the blog as a) we are a museum of ZOOlogy and b) we (subsequently) don’t have one. So giving up on this idea I decided to choose simply the most elegant, sophisticate, admired and respected specimen in the Museum. This Week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)