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  • Archive for October, 2017

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month October 2017

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 October 2017

    One stormy October night many years ago now, I was working late at the Grant Museum of Zoology on my own. The only sound in the museum was the pattering of rain on the windows and the occasional rumble of thunder in the skies above UCL. Engrossed in writing the latest underwhelming fossil fish of the month blog post, I heard the front door of the museum open and the slap of wet footsteps across the floor of the museum to the office. Expecting it to be a colleague who had forgotten something or a security guard checking up on who was in the building. I turned in my seat to see who was coming just at the footsteps stopped. “Hello?” I asked. No response. I got up to see who had come in to find the museum empty. Slightly bemused, I checked the front door of the museum. Still locked. There was also no sign of wet footprints on the floor. Just then a crack of lightning very nearby caused all the lights in the museum to temporarily flicker and almost some soiling of underwear. “It’s nothing”, I told myself trying to calm down and went back to my desk. What was there when I got back sent a chill down my spine and caused the hair on my neck to stand on end. There, sat on my desk, was none other than… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 314: the Asian water monitor hatchling

    By Will J Richard, on 27 October 2017

    Hello folks! Will Richard here choosing another specimen for you. And this blog I’ve gone for a good all-rounder. A lizard that seems to be the second best at almost everything it does. The reptile equivalent of “and Garfunkel”…

    LDUCZ-X116 Asian water monitor

    LDUCZ-X116 Asian water monitor

    (more…)

    Racism, eugenics and the domestication of humans

    By Subhadra Das, on 25 October 2017

    The Grant Museum’s current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition with the UCL researchers who helped put it together.

    In December 1863, the scientist Francis Galton presented a paper to the Ethnological Society entitled ‘The Domestication of Animals’. In it, he outlined six characteristics necessary for an animal to be domesticated

    1. Hardiness: the ability to survive despite human neglect.
    2. Fondness for Man…notwithstanding occasional hard usage and frequent neglect.
    3. Desire of comfort…a motive which strongly attached certain animals to human habitation.
    4. Usefulness to Man.
    5. Breeding freely.
    6. Easy to tend…by which large numbers of them can be controlled by a few herdsmen…Gregariousness is such a quality.

    It is worth noting that this paper was presented not to an audience of scientists who study animal behaviour but to ethnologists –  that is, scientists who study the difference between different groups of people – and that Galton’s main objective in outlining these traits was to demonstrate that domestication happened because certain species of animals were, by their inherent nature, domesticable.

    Francis Galton and his albino Pekingese dog Wee-Ling, whose skull features in the exhibition. Wee Ling was the product of research into pedigree breeding by fellow eugenicist Karl Pearson.

    Francis Galton and his albino Pekingese dog Wee-Ling, whose skull features in the exhibition. Wee Ling was the product of research into pedigree breeding by fellow eugenicist Karl Pearson.

    Where a particular species does not have the traits to be brought under human control, he said, less civilised human societies, such as the reindeer herders of Lapland, are forced to live their lives to accommodate the animals in order to benefit from them. Galton gives examples from all over the world of how what he called the “rude races” had successfully brought animals under their control as pets, sacred animals and in zoos. In other words, it is easy to domesticate animals — even ‘savages’ can do it. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 313: The Newt Microscope Slides

    By Hannah Cornish, on 20 October 2017

    This week, lucky blog readers, not only do we have our usual Grant Museum Specimen of the Week, we have a super-special guest star. From the Grant Museum Micrarium and the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons come…

    Newt slide from the Grant Museum Micrarium

    Newt slide from the Grant Museum Micrarium

    (more…)

    The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits

    By Jack Ashby, on 18 October 2017

    Our current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition with the UCL researchers who helped put it together.

    Guest post by Dr Alan Bates (UCL Pathology)

    How did Mary Toft – a peasant from Godalming in Surrey – convince some of the eighteenth century’s leading medical men that she was giving birth to rabbits?

    Mary Toft, a copy of a portrait made in 1727 as Mary languished in Bridewell prison, while lawyers considered whether rabbit breeding was actually a crime. (C) Wellcome Library, London

    Mary Toft, a copy of a portrait made in 1727 as Mary languished in Bridewell prison, while lawyers considered whether rabbit breeding was actually a crime.
    (C) Wellcome Library, London

    Fake news out of Surrey

    The story first appeared in 1726, when a London journal reported that Mary had given birth to a creature ‘resembling’ a rabbit, but with its heart and lungs outside its body. In the following days, four more dead rabbits appeared. They were blamed on the theory of maternal impressions – that a child resembled whatever the mother was thinking of at the time of conception. Obviously, a good woman should be thinking about her partner at this key moment, but a child’s resemblance to some other man of her acquaintance might (perhaps conveniently for all concerned) be accounted for by a wandering imagination. Mary had supposedly seen rabbits hunted while she was pregnant, miscarried, and since then had had bunnies on the brain. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 312: Hundreds of frogs’ legs

    By Jack Ashby, on 13 October 2017

    We have recently opened out biggest ever exhibition: The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The boring beasts that changed the world. It tells the stories of the mundane creatures in our everyday lives that have shaped our society, our science, our planet and even our own biology. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Don’t take my word for it though: it topped Time Out’s list of the best exhibitions in London this autumn*.

    Hundreds of frogs legs, arranged into lefts and rights. LDUCZ-W270 and LDUCZ-W271

    Hundreds of frogs legs, arranged into lefts and rights. LDUCZ-W270 and LDUCZ-W271

    We didn’t struggle too much with the issue of what counts as an “Ordinary Animal” – they are the species we find on our streets, in our labs, on our laps and on our plates. The ones that are really a commonplace part of human society and human culture (and we had to take the main geographic focus as our own European perspective). The vast majority are domesticated, but others have become Ordinary simply because of the way we consider them. There was one species that did cause me trouble, and it’s this week’s Specimen of the Week: (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 311: Banded Snails

    By Nadine Gabriel, on 6 October 2017


    Hello everyone, it’s Nadine Gabriel again. My specimen of the week is a bit of an unusual one because there are 26 of them and they’re alive! This tank of banded snails features in our new exhibition, the Museum of Ordinary Animals. Banded snails were used in 20th century genetic studies as a key model for natural selection. For the next few months, I’ll be known as the “keeper of the snails” and I would like to introduce you to these marvellous molluscs.

    snail_tank_1

    Banded snails in their tank

    (more…)

    Repairing our Inner Seals

    By Louise Bascombe, on 3 October 2017

    Firstly, I would like to apologise to those readers who think that this blog will be about the type of seals who like to eat fish. It is, in fact, about the seal created by a layer of tape, which protects conserved papyri from external forces. I’m not really sorry, however, because this blog is all about the importance and means by which we protect and save objects, some nearly 4000 years old, for both the present and the future.

    Papyrus with brittle paper tapes falling off

    This poor exposed seal….

    (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month September 2017

    By Mark Carnall, on 2 October 2017

    Welcome to this month’s EXCLUSIVE September 2017 underwhelming fossil fish of the month, your one stop shop for monthly underwhelming fish fossils delivered direct to your eyeballs in exchange for only the most precious resource you have, your time. Always ticking away. Always edging towards oblivion.

    This month we’ve got a real spectacle lined up for you. This fossil fish was a SUPER MEGA PREDATOR that struck fear into the hearts of animals that saw it. This fossil fish is so impressive, it has inspired generations of artists, toy manufacturers, video game developers and the people who make stamps, minters? Stampers? Those people anyway. These fossils often form the core of museum displays and make for the most memorable visits…..

    NOT!

    That’s right we’re bringing back the 90’s positive setup followed by an obnoxious NOT. This fossil is almost the complete opposite of exciting, in fact the least underwhelming aspect of it is how it looks and it looks like this. (more…)