Happy New Year to all our Specimen of the Week readers, Dean Veall here. After spending much of the last part of 2017 falling down a cat gif/video/meme hole for our event Cats Broke the Internet for The Museum of Ordinary Animals exhibition event programme I have decided to go wild with my specimen choice. Specimen of the Week is…..
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. This week we investigate some of the Ordinary Animals on loan from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.
Ask anyone about ancient Egypt and standard responses generally include pyramids, mummies, Tutankhamun, and sometimes (if you’re lucky) animals. Ancient Egyptians were keen observers of their natural environment and are well-known for representing all manner of flora and fauna in their artistic works. Gods and goddesses were also associated with particular animals and their behaviour: for example, the jackal god Anubis guarded the cemeteries of the dead, just as real jackals roamed the desert edge. What is perhaps less well-known is how ancient Egyptians considered the ‘ordinary animals’ who lived side-by-side with them in the Nile Valley. Egyptians utilised a wide variety of wild animals and some of these were domesticated, some kept as pets, and others were considered as vermin – just as they are today.
Throughout my career in museum zoology I have detected (and contributed to) a certain snobbery when it comes to some species of animal. It seems that as far as museum displays are concerned, not all animal specimens were created equally. Our new exhibition – opening today – seeks to address this.
The Museum of Ordinary Animals tells the story of the boring beasts that have changed the world: the mundane creatures in our daily lives, including dogs, pigeons, cats, cows, chickens and mice. These animals are rarely represented in natural history museum displays. They are not special enough. Do we even need to go to a museum to see animals that we can find on our plates, on our laps and on our streets? People would rather see dinosaurs, dodos and giant whales.
Nevertheless, this exhibition puts these everyday species front and centre. It investigates some of the profound impacts they have had on humanity and the natural world, how they were created, and the extraordinary things we have learned from them. (more…)
Australia is widely considered to be the extinction capital of the world. In the 230 years since European invasion, 29 of its 315 native land mammals have been driven to extinction, and by far the majority of those that do currently survive have suffered significant (and in many cases almost total) declines – they are now only found in a fraction of their former habitats.
This is all very depressing, but as I write this I am undertaking fieldwork in a remote area of central South Australia, volunteering for an organisation who are trying to make things better. This week’s Specimen of the Week is one of the species they protect. (more…)
Dean Veall here. Whether it’s our late openings, comedy cabaret Animal Showoff, improvised opera, audio cinemas or film nights our events programme aims to entertain, inspire and surprise audiences. Last Wednesday we worked with researchers from UCL and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) to present an event that gave audiences a unique insight into cutting edge research on the evolution of cat anatomy and movement. In Wild Cats Uncovered we took members of the public behind the scenes into the dissection room to discover more about one of the natural world’s fastest predators.