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  • Archive for September, 2013

    Happy 77th Thylacine Day: Culls Against Science

    By Jack Ashby, on 7 September 2013

    7th September is an incredibly important day in Australia. I’m not talking about the general election. It’s the day, in 1936, that the last known thylacine died of exposure, locked out of its cage in a zoo in Hobart. In Australia, this is marked by National Threatened Species Day. In the Grant Museum, it’s Thylacine Day.

    Thylacine at ZSL

    Thylacine: A species that was alive within living memory

    Thylacines – the half stripy wolf-shaped marsupials – are a regular feature on this blog because we have a pretty amazing collection of them. Two years ago today I made the point that their deliberate extinction at the hands of a cull promoted by the farming lobby was being echoed by a proposed badger cull here in the UK. In this past month those proposals have become reality, and I’m returning to the story today. (more…)

    Petrie Menagerie: The Aviary and Insect House

    By Edmund Connolly, on 6 September 2013

    And so we arise from the submerged depths to soar into the Egyptian firmament on the wings of their birds and beetles. Aviaries were a very early element of the menagerie and zoological garden, and were very accessible to Petrie’s peers.

    Petrie’s Menagerie #6: The Aviary and Insect House

    There are numerous iconic bird images in the Egyptian corpus: the hawk, ibis[1], and vulture being some of the most common. I will focus on the latter, considering their potential relation to Empire and Colonialism, so prevalent in the 19th century mind.

    I’m generally apathetic towards insect houses, however, the insect we are looking at today is perhaps one of the most versatile and widely used animals of our entire menagerie. Scarab beetles (Scarabaeus sacer) is a good example of a rather common place animal, the dung beetle, being revered and represented in more mystical ways due to its prevalence in Egyptian mythology.

    The Object:

    Scurrying back to my more specialist material I present this stele featuring a bloke (perhaps a priest) in Roman garb burning incense on an altar before Isis and Anubis (two gods associated, among other manifestations, with the afterlife).

    A roman stele with the scarab at the top

    A roman stele with the scarab at the top


    Making time for Predynastic Egypt

    By Debbie J Challis, on 5 September 2013

    Predynastic pottery in gallery of Petrie Museum

    Predynastic pottery in gallery of Petrie Museum

    Written by Alice Stevenson

    Flinders Petrie was good with numbers. He liked nothing better than to measure, calculate and plan. These were the skills that allowed Petrie in 1899 to create the first detailed timeline for the period just before the First Dynasty of Egypt.

    He did this by comparing assemblages of hundreds of Predynastic pottery vessels unearthed by his teams in prehistoric cemeteries of Upper Egypt. Many of these beautiful pots are on display in the Petrie Museum. The Petrie Museum also holds in its archives his Sequence Dating slips, each of which records the different types of pottery that were found in individual tombs. (more…)

    Europe’s First Kangaroo and the Grant Museum: Save our Stubbs

    By Jack Ashby, on 4 September 2013

    James Cook’s landing in Australia in 1770 changed the political, social and natural world. With regards to the latter, the animals the expedition discovered, described and exported have had profound effects on people’s experience and understanding of zoology.

    Whilst I believe that the descriptions of Cook’s party’s early encounters with kangaroos were ridiculous, it was these encounters that began Europe’s relationship with Australasian wildlife.

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs; oil on panel, signed and dated 1772. Private collection courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs; oil on panel, signed and dated 1772. Private collection courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures

    A few marsupials in the Americas (opossums) were already known by this point, but a whole continent with entire ecosystems based around them, and including 6 foot kangaroos questions the very nature of mammals. What else could be left unknown? American opossums, with their pouches, would have been interesting discoveries among scientific communities, but they must have been nothing compared to the sensation of the kangaroo in the eyes of the public. (more…)

    Flinders Petrie: An Adventure in Transcription

    By Rachael Sparks, on 3 September 2013

    What could be nicer than to spend your day off measuring things with a stick?

    What could be nicer than to spend your day off measuring things with a stick?

    Flinders Petrie began his autobiography by warning that “The affairs of a private person are seldom pertinent to the interests of others” [1]Fortunately for both us and his publisher this proved no impediment, and Petrie went on to write about himself, his thoughts and his life’s work at great length.

    Petrie was a prolific writer, both in the public and private arena, and we are not short of material to help us learn about his life. But not everything he wrote was wordy. I’d like to introduce you today to a more unexpected side of his penmanship: his personal appointment diaries. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Ninety-Nine

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 2 September 2013

    Scary MonkeyThis is it- the runner up in the top ten specimens at the Grant Museum, and one blog away from the big 1-0-0! In the run up to the 100th blog I have brought you the top ten specimens at the Grant Museum, as voted for by…. me. I employed strict criteria with which to segregate the top ten from the other 67,990 specimens that we have in our care…

    1) It must not be on permanent display, giving you a little behind-the-scenes magic, if you will, as the specimen will then go on display for the week of which it has been named ‘Specimen’. Oh yes. That’s almost as good as our exhibition It Came From The Stores. Almost.

    2) It must have at some point in the past made me say ‘woooo’ out loud (given my childlike disposition for expressing wonderment at the world at large, this is not necessarily a hard qualification for the specimen to achieve)

    3) I must know (at least in a vague sort of a way) what species the specimen is, as SotW is researched and written within a strict one hour time frame.

    With that in mind, the runner up at Number Two, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    The meteoric origins of Egypt’s first ironwork

    By Edmund Connolly, on 1 September 2013

    by guest blogger: Isadora Fontaine

    Deep in the Predynastic galleries of the Petrie Museum, there is something truly out of this world.
    In the cabinet containing jewellery and beads from a tomb in Gerzeh, a site about 70km from Cairo, there are three iron beads. They may not look like much, they are small, blackened and corroded and placed among more colourful artefacts, but these are no ordinary beads…they are made from a meteorite. At over 5,000 years old, they are the oldest man made iron objects in history.

    meteorite metal!

    meteorite metal!

    Professor Thilo Rehren from UCL made the discovery that proved the extraterrestrial origins of the iron beads, which are not made from pure iron but an iron-nickel alloy. This natural alloy is common in meteorites but the research team needed further proof.  By scanning the beads with gamma rays and neutron beams, Thilo and his research team discovered unusually high amounts of cobalt, germanium and phosphorus. This was the proof that the metal really did originate in space, as these trace elements are found in higher concentrations in meteoric iron than in iron ore.
    The beads also show the earliest examples of blacksmithing: instead being carved or drilled like other beads, the iron was heated before being hammered and rolled into shape, then cooled extremely slowly to prevent the metal from cracking.