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  • Why natural history museums are important. Specimen of the Week 278: The British Antarctic Survey Limpets

    By Jack Ashby, on 10 February 2017

    There is much more to a natural history museum than meets the eye, and that’s mostly because relatively tiny proportions of their collections are on display. At the Grant Museum of Zoology we are lucky enough to have about 12% of our collection on display. That’s because we have a lot of tiny things in the Micrarium and our collection is relatively small, with 68,000 objects. While we REALLY like to cram as much in our cases as is sensible, these percentages are not realistic for many museums, whose collections run into the millions.

    Limpets from South Georgia. LDUCZ-P878 Nacella concinna

    Limpets from South Georgia. LDUCZ-P879 Nacella concinna

    The vast majority of specimens in natural history museums, ours included, were not intended for display, and that includes this week’s Specimen of the Week… (more…)

    The Most Amazing Fossil Fish Ever Discovered*

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 January 2017

    Welcome to the most amazing fossil fish ever discovered of the month. For those of you who don’t know it, which is nobody because everyone reads this blog, MAFFED is a monthly blog about everyone’s favourite fossil fish. We only focus on the best fossil fish here, which everyone is always talking about. It’s kind of a big thing if you’ve never read it. This series is most definitely nothing to do with underwhelming fossil fish of the month which nobody reads anyway**. This month we’ve got the best fossil fish ever discovered. I know, I know I say that every month but this time it is really true.

    I hope you’re strapped into your seat because this is going to be one hell of a journey! You won’t need to read ANYTHING ELSE EVER AGAIN. (more…)

    Underwhelming fossil fish of the Month December 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 December 2016

    2016 was the most overwhelmingly underwhelming year of the last twelve months.

    But it wasn’t the only thing that disappointed in month by month instalments. Yes, of course I’m talking about the Grant Museum of Zoology’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month blog series. The monthly foray into the drawers and drawers of underwhelming fossil fishes at the Grant Museum brings you the finest worst selection of least best fossil fish. We ask the tough questions such as why are these fossils here? Which way around is this one supposed to go and what does this label say. This is the blunt edge of science right here.

    Of course, I’ve got an especially unspecial fossil fish to round off the year. Vast expense was spared to bring you just another underwhelming fossil fish to mark one step closer to your inevitable end. First up though, it’s END OF YEAR ROUND-UP FILLER CONTENT. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month November 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 November 2016

    These are troubling times. Troubling and worrying times. Hope is an endangered species. You can feel it can’t you? Spin the wheel of woe, the only consolation possible is that you guessed correctly what destroyed the privileged civilisation as we know it. Was it climate in the end? Was it hatred? Was it intolerance? It doesn’t matter now of course. You’ll realise then what you suspect now, childish notions of justice winning out in the end were just that. There is no beacon of light on the horizon. In fact, the future is so pitch black in its nothingness that the next step could be the one into the abyss and you wouldn’t even know. So look to the horizon now, it’s petrifying isn’t it?

    Petrification is also the process by which some organic matter exposed to minerals over a long period is turned into fossils. Welcome to this month’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month our monthly foray into the Grant Museum’s underwhelming fossil fish collection on a monthly basis. Month. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month October 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 October 2016

    Today, Monday the 31st of October 2016, is a very special day and I can’t believe we’ve managed to co-ordinate October’s Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month, a monthly foray into the Grant Museum’s vast collection of underwhelming fish fossils, to go out on the exact date.

    Exactly, precisely on this day 419.2 million years ago, give or take 3 million years, the Devonian Period began marking the beginning of the Age of Fishes.

    Since the Devonian Period, fish have been the most dominant group of vertebrates on the planet, accounting for about half of all described vertebrate species today. Controversially, mammals have tried to claim that the key events in their evolutionary history warrant their own ages, however, the legitimacy of the alleged ‘Age of Reptiles‘ and so-called ‘Age of Mammals‘ are not officially recognised outside of human communities. Today, we are still very much in the Age of Fishes and in order to celebrate such a key date, in typical UFFotM style, we’ve not really gone for anything special at all actually. This month’s fossil fish is of Devonian age, but aside from just being a coincidence, as I’ve just demonstrated, technically we are all of Devonian age.

    Take some time out of your Age of Fishes, #DevonianDay celebrations and have a look at this underwhelming fossil fish. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month September 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 29 September 2016

    The ides of October are almost upon us which means many things. One of the least noteworthy things it means, however, is that it’s time for another underwhelming fossil fish of the month. In this confusingly titled series, we look at an underwhelming fossil fish from the Grant Museum of Zoology collection every month. Unlike the plastic dinosaur casts and errr more plastic dinosaurs casts, these poor fossil fish, which fill the drawers of museum collections, rarely make it into displays and exhibitions. If they do, like this recently spotted specimen on display at Scarborough’s Rotunda Museum, there’s not much to say about them beyond ‘Fish’. Or is there? (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: August 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 August 2016

    August is typically the month that people occupy themselves with science until the sports season begins again in the autumn. In fact the word summer comes from the Proto-Germanic sumur which roughly translates as ‘the season in which we do not occupy ourselves with sports but instead spend a lot of time doing science’* So with so many people doing science this summer, and who aren’t engaged in sport or watching or thinking about sport, I’m hoping that we can fulfil the mission of this blog post series. The humble mission of this monthly blog series featuring underwhelming fossil fish from the Grant Museum collection is:

    all I’m asking you to do is look at it, observe it, take some time to ponder upon it and perhaps tell a friend about it. Together we’ll increase the global fossil fishteracy one fossil fish at a time.

    Regular readers of this series will know that this isn’t sell-out science. There’s no record breakers here. All we have is a rather dull fossil fish to contemplate. Will we learn something? Probably not. Will it pass the time? Depends how fast you read I guess. So without further ado, loosen your belt of expectation and let’s see this month’s fragmented fossil fish. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: July 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 28 July 2016

    Welcome to the 44th underwhelming fossil fish of the month! I did some calculations and that’s 3.6666666666667 years of underwhelming fossil fish. Lesser websites would call that a cause for celebration but for UFFotM, we don’t let such astonishing milestones get in the way of a dry and boring examination of a fossil fish from the Grant Museum of Zoology’s collections.

    As you probably undoubtedly know, London Art Week was earlier this month and the Victoria and Albert Museum won the 2016 ArtFund Museum of Year Award so this month’s underwhelming fossil fish is brought to you in the style of a “gallery-based celebration of pre-contemporary art” in solidarity with our colleagues across the Arts sector and in the hope of an award too.

    (more…)

    Magic Lantern Slides and Historypin

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 12 July 2016

    This is a guest post by Bethany Gugliemino, a Museum Studies MA Student carrying out her placement with the UCL Teaching and Research Collections.

    Hello! In my last post, I told you a bit about my work with UCL’s magic lantern slide collection and shared some of my favourite slides. Today, I want to show you where you can see more of this collection and even help us identify some of the more mysterious content.

    As I’ve been cataloguing the slide collection over the last few months, I’ve created a separate list of slides that show an identifiable (or potentially identifiable) location somewhere on earth. This is a shorter list than you might think, since so many of the slides are lecture notes, graphs, and diagrams of scientific equipment. Working with this list, I’ve begun uploading images of these slides to the website Historypin. This site allows users to upload historic images and pin them to a specific location and to create collections and tours of different subjects.

    You can see UCL’s collection of images on Historypin here. Zoom in or out on the map on the left and adjust the date range to filter the slides that appear in the gallery on the right.

    UCL’s slide collection on Historypin

    UCL’s slide collection on Historypin

    So far, there are images ranging from Alexander Graham Bell’s family home in Canada to officers inspecting a wireless radio installation in St. Petersburg. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: June 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 June 2016

    It has been a month. That is for sure. But I tell you who won’t be worrying about their future, or screaming into a brown paper bag, or asking if anyone competent is actually in charge of anything at a time when that kind of thing seems very important. Underwhelming fossil fish in museum drawers that’s who.

    That’s right, we’re back with our monthly series, taking time away from the chaotic world to look at and if you’re feeling sassy perhaps shrug a shoulder or two at an underwhelming fossil fish from the Grant Museum of Zoology’s collections. The worst a fossil fish has to look forward to is nothing as fossil fish cannot contemplate anything. They are made of stone. Those lucky fishy fossily fellows.

    This month’s fossil fish, out of pure chance, is from John o’ Groats. John o’ Groats used to be a man but it is now a village in Scotland. John o’ Groats currently lies on Britain’s northeastern tip and is famous for being one end of the longest trip you could take between two British settlements, the other end being Land’s End in Cornwall. This fossil was once a complete fish but sadly the taphonomic processes have ‘made it great again’ meaning it is now fragmented, no longer whole and far less interesting for it too, fortunately for us.

    This month we’ve got overlabelling highlighting historical less-than-best practice in museum labelling which I know is at the forefront of all of our minds at the moment. Let’s have a look shall we?

    (more…)