Museums & Collections Blog
  •  
  •  
  • Categories

  •  
  • Tags

  •  
  • Archives

  • 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 333: The Coal Ball Slides

    By Tannis Davidson, on 9 March 2018

    D.M.S. Watson Coal ball slide

    D.M.S. Watson Coal ball slide

    In celebration of International Women’s Day and the 100 year anniversary of the first women having the right to vote in the UK, the Grant Museum is highlighting specimens in the collection related to women in natural history as well as showcasing female specimens and exploring topics such as gender in zoology.

    As part of UCL vote 100, this week’s Specimen of the Week blog focuses UCL alumna Marie Stopes – campaigner of women’s rights and pioneer of family planning. She is widely known for her controversial and influential book Married Love (1918) – a sex manual for women which popularised the taboo subject of birth control and for establishing (with her second husband Humphrey Verdon Roe) Britain’s first birth control clinic in 1921.

    Stopes’ first passion, however, was science and the Grant Museum is home to a group of specimens associated with Marie Stopes’ significant palaeobotany career… (more…)

    Doris Mackinnon: Investigating the microscopic

    By Hannah Cornish, on 8 March 2018

    Today is International Women’s Day, this year it is 100 years since the first group of women got the right to vote in the UK, and UCL is celebrating with a programme of events and exhibitions called Vote 100. What better time to share a story from the Grant Museum about one of the pioneering female academics who worked at UCL. I took this opportunity to investigate the woman behind one part of our collection. High on the balcony in the Grant Museum are a pair of ever so slightly dusty microscope slide cabinets containing around 400 slides. Each cabinet bears a little brass plaque that reads –

    The Doris Livingston Mackinnon Collection of Protozoa

    University College London

    Who was Doris Mackinnon, and why is her collection here? Protozoa are not animals, so they are an unusual inclusion in a zoology museum. It was all a bit of a mystery until I started digging into it, here’s what I found out.

    Photograph of Doris Mackinnon in her lab © University of Dundee Archive Services

    Photograph of Doris Mackinnon in her lab © University of Dundee Archive Services

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 322: The Primordial Skull

    By Tannis Davidson, on 22 December 2017

    Season’s greetings! As presents appear under Christmas trees, the anticipation and excitement grows as recipients wonder what treasures lie wrapped among the dropping needles. In the spirit of mystery giving, this week’s Specimen of the Week is one to puzzle over in curiosity: what could it be? It is already unwrapped, stripped down, revealing all. However, even when seen, it is not obvious what it is… (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 302: Gideon Mantell’s Iguanodon bones

    By Hannah Cornish, on 28 July 2017

    The specimen this week might be small, but it’s pretty important in the history of natural history. These two little pieces of fossil bone are from the collection of the early 19th century surgeon and palaeontologist Gideon Mantell. Specimen of the week is…

    Iguanodon Bones from Gideon Mantell's collection LDUCG-X1606

    Iguanodon Bones from Gideon Mantell’s collection LDUCG-X1606

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 291: Leech Embryo Models

    By Tannis Davidson, on 12 May 2017

    Back in January, this blog featured a set of 36 wax models which were chosen by UCL Museum Studies students as a research project for their Collections Curatorship course. At that time, the models were a complete mystery. They were unidentified, undocumented and unaccessioned.

    I’m thrilled to report that we now have answers! Due to the brilliant efforts of students Nina Davies, Clare Drinkell and Alice Tofts the wax models are no longer a mystery. Here they are (again) – this week’s Specimens of the Week are the…

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 286: The Notebook Models

    By Tannis Davidson, on 7 April 2017

    Practical Zoology Notebook

    Student Notebook 1911

    As is often the case, it is difficult to choose a single specimen to highlight in this blog. The Grant Museum has 68,000 specimens and each one has a story to tell. Sometimes the stories are connected and link specimens together in unexpected ways, which is why this week’s focus is on a quartet of specimens, rather than one.

    At first glance the four specimens may not appear to have much in common. One is a glass jellyfish, two are wax models of different parasitic worms and the other no longer exists. What they do share is a common history of use, artistic beauty and legacy. This week’s Specimens of the Week are…
    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 250: Model of a crayfish embryo

    By Tannis Davidson, on 29 July 2016

    In honour of the 250th Specimen of the Week, as well as the new wax model display in the Museum, it seemed fitting to choose a show-stopper of a specimen which is so fabulously bizarre that you might describe it as being out of this world.

    This odd ball regularly puzzles the onlooker as to its identity and often reminds folk of a certain ‘perfect organism’ whose ‘structural perfection is matched only by its hostility’ *.

     

    The wait is over, science fiction fans. This week, we pay tribute to the most magnificent, perfectly evolved predator to scare us from the silver screen… (more…)

    Happy 79th Thylacine Day: What they knew in 1896

    By Jack Ashby, on 7 September 2015

    79 years ago today , on the night of 7th of September 1936, the last known thylacine died of exposure, locked out of the indoor part of its enclosure in a Tasmanian zoo. This followed a government-sponsored cull based on pressure from the farming lobby, who incorrectly blamed the thylacine for the failure of the sheep industry. Happy Thylacine Day.

    Thylacine as depicted in Wood's Illustrated History (1872?). Engraved by W. Coleman, after Robert Kretschmer (1865)

    Thylacine as depicted in J.G. Wood’s The Illustrated Natural History (1872?). Engraved by W. Coleman, after Robert Kretschmer (1865)

    Here at the Grant Museum, as holders of a significant collection of specimens, we like to commemorate Thylacine Day. Here you can read how we have commemorated previous Thylacine Days – including the story of their extinction, and how it’s being echoed today in the UK’s unscientific badger cull (which restarted last Friday).

    I recently bought book from 1894* – A Handbook to the Marsupialia and Monotremata – a species by species account of what was then known about those groups by Richard Lydekker. Lydekker was a significant figure at the Natural History Museum, London, and incidentally was born about 100m from us here at UCL. Here is what he had to say about thylacines: (more…)