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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


The mysteries of the Egyptian hairstyles

By Edmund Connolly, on 3 June 2013

Collection Correspondent: Monika Zgoda

Please note this post contains images of human remains.

The allure of the Ancient Egypt, scented with the air of mystery has been enchanting generations, and while more and more of its secrets are now being discovered, it seems some of its riddles are still waiting to be solved. One of such is right here at Petrie, and although sadly it is not the Sphinx (we wish!), its beauty and whimsical charm are of equal quality.
While the use of make up and cosmetics in the Ancient Egypt has been widely covered, and we are now familiar with the various aspects of it – from the religious and spiritual connotations to its more  practical uses – there is still some mystery regarding the cosmetic equipment used.

UC71153, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

UC71153, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology


Specimen of the Week: Week Seventy-Nine

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 15 April 2013

I feel that we know each other well enough now for me to get personal. I am going to share a story about my sister. Today, she is flying back from the Sahara desert where she has just completed the Marathon des Sables; widely acclaimed to be the ‘Toughest Footrace on Earth’. It consists of no less than six marathons in six consecutive days, up mountains, over sand dunes, and across the desert, all whilst carrying a 10 kg pack. In tribute to what must be the singly most impressive thing anyone I know has ever achieved, I’m going to dedicate this week’s specimen to her and tell you about another type of bird that has the ability to run huge distances in the African desert. This species can reach up to 70 kilometres per hour and has such incredible stamina that it can maintain a speed of 50 kilometres per hour for over 30 minutes at a time. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Spring Invocation 1: Birds

By Edmund Connolly, on 28 March 2013

Given that we are enduring a slightly tepid spring, I figured it’d be nice to pretend we are in the middle of the whirl of new life, joy and bouncing lambs that spring promises to bring. In this series of 5 blogs I am going to attempt to dust the cobwebs off my English degree[1] and evoke sounds, smells, tastes, touch and sights of what spring should be, mixed with an Ancient Egyptian garnish, just because, right now, the thought of 25+ degrees is the only thing keeping me from embracing this eternal winter and bunkering down to a Game of Thrones type existence.


Chaffinch, courtesy of: www.rspb.org.uk

Chaffinch, courtesy of: www.rspb.org.uk


Specimen of the Week: Week Seventy-Six

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 25 March 2013

Scary MonkeyOkay okay so this coming Sunday it will have officially been two months since the Chinese New Year. However, as part of my ongoing quest to become a god, I have chosen to give myself the ability to bend man’s two most treacherous enemies to my will; time, and money. Ergo, I can write a blog about the animal that is the focus of this year’s Chinese New Year, despite it officially having been on the 31st January, and when today is the 25th March. So there. The animal group chosen by the Chinese calendar is a broad one so I have narrowed it down to one species. My favourite species. Well what better way is there to choose? It is my favourite for good reason after all. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Introducing Book Worm… Mammals of Africa: A Review

By Jack Ashby, on 7 March 2013

Book Worm - that's Grant and a lugworm

Book Worm – that’s Grant and a lugworm

We’ve tried a few things with our blog here, but so far book reviews haven’t been much of a feature. That may be about to change with our new predictably punned “Book Worm” feature, and to begin with I’m going for one that really is a bit of an event in zoological publishing – Mammals of Africa, published this month by Bloomsbury, and edited by the legendary Jonathan Kingdon (who also beautifully illustrates the series), David and Merridith Happold, Thomas Butyinksi, Michael Hoffman and Jan Kalina.

My very favourite book to leaf through, because of my own zoological leanings, is Mammals of Australia (Van Dyck and Strahan, 2008). There is something deeply satisfying in completeness, and this book gives detailed and comprehensive information about every single known species of mammal in Australia. Australia is very big, and so is that book. It weighs more than 6kg. Now imagine putting together such a project for Africa, which dwarves Australia in size and variety of biotic zones. It’s a continent more rich in species of rodent than Australia is in species of mammals (and that is to say a lot).

Mammals of Africa, therefore, is comprised of six 6kg volumes, each tackling one sixth of the continent’s diversity, extensively covering all 1116 extant known species. This is probably why such an undertaking has never been undertaken before. (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 3 December 2012

Scary MonkeyEver since I was a little girl (how many stories start with that sentence?) I have had an obsession with Explorers- polar explorers like Scott, Shackleton, and Franklin- the man who ate his boots, and explorers of warmer climes such as Dr David Livingstone (who I’ve met the great granddaughter of- oh yes) and Col Percy Fawcett who vanished in the Amazon on his quest to find the lost city of Z. If I had been born 100 years earlier I daydream it is my name you’d be reading in Museum exhibition labels. Excited was I therefore, when I learned the story of the specimen that I am about to introduce to you. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Forty-Four

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 13 August 2012

Scary Monkey: Week Forty-ThreeAnyone who has seen our recent exhibition It Came from the Stores would now know that past curators have accessioned some pretty strange stuff in to a museum whose banner quite clearly reads ‘zoology’. Maybe with this thought in mind, I was asked recently why we have hominid material in a zoology museum. The definition of zoology is ‘the scientific study of the behaviour, structure, physiology, classification, and distribution of animals’ and animal is described as ‘a living organism which feeds on organic matter, typically having specialized sense organs and nervous system and able to respond rapidly to stimuli’. The un-ticked box for ‘responds rapidly to stimuli’ on my medical would clearly indicate that I am therefore not an animal. However, most? other humans are and so yes, hominids do belong in a museum of zoology. One such specimen in the collection particularly struck me this week, metaphorically speaking, as it lacks enough limb bones to lash out, and I discovered that behind those empty eye sockets is a really interesting history. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Happy 129th Quagga Day – A new specimen?

By Jack Ashby, on 12 August 2012

129 years ago today, 12th August 1883, the last quagga died. extinction in South Africa 1883 Plate CCCXVII in von Schreber, Die Saugethiere in Abildungen Nach der Natur (Erlangen, 1840-1855)

Since I was employed at the Grant Museum I have been looking for ways to celebrate what we call “Quagga Day”. Last year on the blog I described the lack of publicity that quaggas get and I heartily recommend you read what I said.

Also read it if you want to know more about what quaggas were, beyond the fact that they were a not-very-stripy-zebra. We never tire of telling people that we have the rarest skeleton in the world in the Grant Museum – and it is our quagga – but regular readers would probably tire of us explaining what they were and what we think about them.

This year we can celebrate in almost two ways:
1) Our quagga skeleton now has it’s very own website where you can learn all about it.

Almost 2) I thought I had discoverd a new specimen of quagga (which would rock the zoological world to its very core), but later discovered I hadn’t. Here’s what happened…


Specimen of the Week: Week Thirty-Nine

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 9 July 2012

Scary Monkey: Week Thirty-NineOn occasion we get people phoning us at the Grant Museum of Zoology to ask what kind of museum we are. To some, a sarcastic response may spring to mind in a witty yet placating explanation of the word ‘zoology’, but on closer inspection of the question, one realises that what they are actually asking, is what kind of zoological things we have here. I explain that we are an apple pie of fluid specimens with a generous helping of skeleton flavoured ice-cream, topped with just a sprinkle of taxidermy hundreds and thousands (as in the small chocolatey things, we don’t actually have hundreds and thousands of taxidermy specimens). Taxidermy specimens provide an excellent foray into history and the local zoological knowledge at the time of the ‘stuffing’. I have seen many a specimen in which the taxidermist clearly had no idea of what the animal his/her current empty skin project was supposed to look like. But they form a part of history in themselves. And for ‘good’ taxidermy, they at the very least, provide an aesthetic exhibit. So I’d like to introduce you to one. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Thirty-Four

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 4 June 2012

Scary Monkey: Week Thirty-FourYou’ve just finished work. You’re tired. Achy. You want to go home. Then comes the inevitable issue ‘what shall we have for dinner’? You want dinner, you’re looking forward to dinner, you know you’ll enjoy dinner, but you just don’t have the energy to think about it; ‘What ingredients do we have’, ‘What will the supermarket be undoubtedly sold out of at this late hour’ (if you have a long commute like me.) Everyone likes to be in control, but just sometimes, it feels nice for someone else to say ‘let’s have this’, and the decision’s done, you can go back to checking your eyelids for holes on the train. In a similar vein, I thought that this week, maybe it would be nice for someone else to help me decide what the Specimen of the Week should be. ARKive (http://www.arkive.org) heroically stepped up and said they’d get their followers to vote for their favourite. EXCELLENT!! So, by VERY popular demand, here is this week’s Specimen of the Week, as chosen by the wonderful public. It is… (more…)