Shortly after blogging my response to the ‘legends’ around the head of archaeologist Flinders Petrie, artist Michal BarOr has used these legends, the head itself and Petrie’s ideas about measuring heads , skulls and faces for race ategorising in a work for the display New Sensations. New Sensations is part of Frieze Art Week and on display in Victoria House on Bloomsbury Square until tomorrow. (more…)
Archive for October, 2013
My colleague Jack Ashby alluded to the Natural History Bingo Card in a recent blog post so I thought I’d take the time to present it to the wide world! Natural history museums are funny places. Despite the millions of species of animals and the enormous variation within species between broods, sexes, life stage, populations and seasonal variations you’d expect that you could visit every natural history museum in the World (finances allowing) and never see the same thing twice. You might think that, but the truth is many natural history museums have the same stuff on display whether you’re at the Grant Museum, the Natural History Museum London or in Paris, New York, Prague or Plymouth.
In fact, some specimens are so common, you can go around a natural history museum with this handy NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM BINGO* and nine times out of ten you’ll have seen most of these specimens before you get to the gift shop. So what gives?
This week’s Specimen of the Week required more than the normal hour of research and writing (don’t tell the boss). Strange given it is about a species a substantial amount of the global population will have heard of. And yet on this particular area of this species, our knowledge is lacking. It is surprising how little we sometimes know about things that otherwise seem so familiar to us. The first draft of this blog resembled a taxonomic mess of proposed but unsubstantiated scientific names and both limited and shaky evidence supporting both sides of an academic argument over, whether this animal actually exists. What do I mean? Read on armchair explorer, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)
Look at that face. In that smile there is excitement and thrill of my nephew handling an earthworm for the first time and every time I see that shot it brings a smile to my face. Because of that encounter with an annelid he may one day become a scientist and change the way we think of the world, or he may not (he currently aspires to be a builder, a postman and hot favourite is Mike the Knight). What is evidently clear from that one photo is a genuine connection with the natural world, a connection that will lead to, among other things I would hope, a love and an appreciation of nature that will stay with him for life.
According to a report compiled by naturalist Stephen Moss for the National Trust, Natural Childhood (2012) children and young people spend 2.5 hours a day watching television, 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen for 11-15 year olds and 20 hours a week online. That description of how children and young people spend their time today accurately describes how I spend my grown-up time but was not a characteristic of my youth. (more…)
In a recent article for the journal Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Sara Perry and I explored the myths around the fact that the head of archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) is a specimen in the collections of the Royal College of Surgeons. We tried to understand the context in which Petrie donated his head to science – his eugenic ideas, his focus on the face, his pedagogical collecting and curation practices – and along the way confronted many of the legends that have grown up around Petrie’s head. One of the most famous, that Hilda Petrie brought back her husband’s head in a hat box from Jerusalem after World War Two, was repeated in the recent BBC4 television documentary The Man Who Discovered Egypt. In fact, letters in the Petrie Museum archive illustrate that that ‘romantic’ legend is just not true (romantic arguably as it has some parallels with wives such as Mary Shelley retaining their loved one’s body parts).
Second only to the legends about how it got to England are the stories about who has seen Petrie’s head, many of which are true, some of which we chronicled in the article. Petrie’s head became a talking point for archaeologists in ‘the know’ until the publication of Margaret Drower’s 1985 biography which explicitly states where Petrie’s head is. I have not seen Petrie’s head and have no desire to do so while it is locked away in its current state (fully fleshed) in a cupboard. Personally I feel that to gain access just for the sake of seeing the head and saying that I have seen it would be merely titillating and serve no real educational or research purpose for myself or anyone else. (more…)
On September 18th, UCL Museums and Collections participated in a worldwide event on Twitter: Ask a Curator day. The plan was to have a handful of curators on call to deal with questions as they flooded in from a curious public. The reality was that we didn’t have many queries sent directly to our feed, so we went out into the Twittersphere to seek out interesting questions to answer. As Keeper of the Institute of Archaeology Collections, I spent an hour manning the virtual desk, and found it an interesting experience. (more…)
Good gracious it is week 104. Those with good maths skills and a knowledge of how many weeks there are in an average Earth year would conclude that this is therefore the two year anniversary of the Specimen of the Week blog. PARTY. To celebrate, I elected to be allowed to write about a species within the most exciting, dynamic, elite group of animals known to man. (Only the fifth SotW to be on this group, out of 104. I think that’s very restrained). This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)
Do you having any burning desires to have something explained by someone on the inside? This blog series is a How To Guide for the museological musings of a Museum Assistant. This edition will explain in detail…
How To: Be a Bad Zoologist
Put on your Dr Alan Grant hat and find your best palaeontological hammer and chisel. Go to some remote location rarely visited and poorly studied. Find a perfectly preserved fossil specimen that is a missing link, hugely important to mankind and that will in one rocky lump, answer a million questions that have been burning amongst the scientific community for decades. Dust it off, polish it up, put it on your mantlepiece, and don’t mention it to a soul. Or you could flog it to another private collector, just so long as it never sees the light of day, or the inquisitive eye of an expert. (more…)