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  • Specimen of the Week 350: The Plastic Fantastics

    By Tannis Davidson, on 6 July 2018

    Four fantastic plastic moulds Australosomus merlei: Clockwise from top left: LDUCZ-V1685, LDUCZ-V1696, LDUCZ-1697, LDUCZ-V1698

    Four moulds of Australosomus merlei: Clockwise from top left: LDUCZ-V1685, LDUCZ-V1696, LDUCZ-1697, LDUCZ-V1698

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is a celebration of diversity, fashion and fabulousness. It pays tribute to all the specimens who have suffered discrimination or denied equal status for not being considered ‘real’ specimens. Yes, I’m referring to the casts and particularly the moulds in natural history collections which are too seldom given pride of place on museum display shelves despite contributing an incalculable value in the transmission of scientific ideas and knowledge.

    Casts in natural history museums are often considered second-class museum specimens; their primary function to exemplify the original specimen for comparative purposes. The moulds which produce the casts are arguably even lower down the ladder of regard – transitional objects used in the creation of offspring specimens (casts) and rarely displayed or considered accessionable objects in their own right.

    Apart from their value as conduits of reproduction, moulds are also a resource illustrating both innovation in technique and the fashions of their time. Without further ado, this week’s Specimen of the Week salutes… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 345: The Pikermi Casts

    By Tannis Davidson, on 1 June 2018

    LDUCZ-Z3259 Amphimachariodus giganteus

    LDUCZ-Z3259 Amphimachariodus giganteus

    Back in January, this blog featured four specimens nicknamed ‘the fancy casts’ which were chosen by UCL Museum Studies students as a research project for their Collections Curatorship course. The casts are of extinct species of horse and sabre-toothed cat which lived in the Miocene – Pliocene epochs around 23-3 million years ago. These four casts are unique in the Grant Museum because they are beautifully detailed, hand-painted and mounted upon bespoke ceramic bases.

    I’m pleased to report that the students discovered that the fancy casts are indeed rather special. Thanks to the brilliant efforts of Kayleigh Anstiss, Anna Fowler, Pamela Maldonado Rivera, Rachael Rogers and Hollie Withers, these casts are no longer such a mystery. Here they are again, this week’s newly titled Specimens of the Week are… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 327: The Fancy Casts

    By Tannis Davidson, on 26 January 2018

    It’s that time of year when a very lucky specimen gets the research equivalent of the red-carpet treatment. Each January, students in UCL’s Collection Curatorship class (as part of their MA in Museum Studies) choose objects from across UCL’s collections to research in a practical project to introduce them to the core skills of a curator: to understand objects and how to research them.

    Last year’s natural history group successfully cracked the mystery of the wax models and were able to not only identify them in their own right (as a developmental series of the freshwater leech Hemiclepsis marginata) but also revealed their place in the history of embryology as a rare surviving series made to illustrate Charles Otis Whitman’s 19th century pioneering work on cell lineage.

    This year, the specimens chosen from the Grant Museum are a set of four beautifully-made painted plaster and ceramic casts which are unique in the Museum… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 239: Bohemian fossil amphibian cast

    By Tannis Davidson, on 13 May 2016

    LDUCZ-W385 with overlay of illustration

    LDUCZ-W385 Cochleosaurus sp. with overlay of original illustration from Fauna der Gaskohle und der Kalksteine der Permformation Bohmens 1879-1901

    Try to imagine life 310 million years ago. It is the Carboniferous period – a time when the Earth experienced its highest levels of atmospheric oxygen leading to the growth of vast forests which would eventually be laid down and become the coal beds characteristic of this period.

    Primitive amphibians were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates including the Temnospondyls which were mostly semi-aquatic and typically larger than most modern amphibians. Superificially, most resembled crocodiles with broad, flat heads and had scales, claws and bony body plates.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week celebrates these early amphibians with a lovely example cast from the famous fossil gas-coal of the Czech Republic… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 232: Holzmaden Fossil Fish

    By Tannis Davidson, on 25 March 2016

    LDUCZ-V610a Dapedium pholidotum

    LDUCZ-V610a Dapedium pholidotum

    There are quite a few posts on this blog regarding not-so-lovely fossil fish, which might possibly lead one to believe that the Grant Museum’s collection does not include fossil fish specimens of outstanding beauty. This is, however, definitely not the case. The Museum has many finely detailed, historically interesting, painstakingly prepared fossil fish – specimens that would, in fact, be described as anything but underwhelming.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is …

     

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    Specimen of the Week 205: The Plesiosaur

    By Tannis Davidson, on 14 September 2015

    LDUCZ-X227 Thalassiodracon hawkinsi  Copyright UCL Photo by Colin Dunn of Scriptura

    LDUCZ-X227 Thalassiodracon hawkinsi (C)UCL. Photo by Colin Dunn of Scriptura

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is one of the largest single objects in the Grant Museum, but it is one which is often overlooked. Tucked away along the wall behind the large elephant skull, many who visit the Museum miss it as they are drawn to the illuminated cave which is the Micrarium. The warm glow of over 2300 backlit microscope slides attracts the eye, but also diverts attention from the dim end-of-corridor/rope-barrier/back-entrance-to-the-office area which is home to the specimen of which I speak.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

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    Specimen of the Week 191 : Rhamphorhynchus wing cast

    By Tannis Davidson, on 8 June 2015

    LDUCZ-X842 Rhamphorhynchus wing cast

    LDUCZ-X842 Rhamphorhynchus wing cast

    One of my favourite pastimes is to do a bit of research – on just about anything. I enjoy investigative work and the process of discovery.  Luckily, the nature of my work at the Grant Museum ensures that there are plenty of opportunities to do museum-detective work. It could be a case of matching up an archival record with an unaccessioned specimen or figuring out a valid taxonomic name for a mysterious beast in a jar.

    It is both a burden and a blessing to work with historic collections which have varying degrees of documentary information: while it would be preferable to have more/most/all information about an object, gaps in the data allow for additional research and new discoveries.

    Recently I was doing some research on another Grant Museum Rhamphorhynchus specimen and one thing led to another…and another…and another. It turns out that there is a lot of history behind this week’s SOTW – and although it is ‘only’ a plaster cast – it is part of a famous lineage of one of the most famous fossil finds!

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)