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Museums & Collections Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


The Day of Archaeology returns

RachaelSparks1 July 2012

The marking I intended to do ....

The marking I intended to do ….

Last Friday was the second ever Day of Archaeology, a chance for archaeologists all round the world to answer that tricky question – ‘so what is it you actually do?’ It offers a brief and fleeting glimpse into the wild and wacky world we live in. My own description of a day in the Institute of Archaeology Collections may be found here. I had intended to spend the day quietly marking in my office, but as usual things did not go entirely to plan.

The best thing about this event is you get a chance to spy on your colleagues, which for me means checking out how untidy their desks are and what their storage units look like. But for those of you who have broader interests, here’s my favourite selections from the museological musings out there. (more…)

The Grant Museum’s first birthday

JackAshby15 March 2012

The Grant Museum, technically, is about 185 years old, but one year ago today we opened the doors to our newest manifestation, in the Rockefeller Building’s former medical library; one of the grandest spaces at UCL. Here are some highlights from our first year.

The year in numbers
12884 visitors during normal opening hours
11010 participants in our events
6901 objects accessioned
3121 university students in museum classes
1719 school and FE students in museum classes
96 blog posts
22 specimens of the week
9 journal articles and book chapters published by staff
11 objects acquired
4 co-curated exhibitions
2 floods
Half a dodo went on display (really several bits of several dodos.) (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Eighteen

Emma-LouiseNicholls13 February 2012

Scary Monkey: Week EighteenWhilst breaking my back hauling around panels of thick glass this week, I had just enough puff left in me to utter a ‘wow’ when I saw the specimen I subsequently chose for this week’s blog, for the first time. Although I have worked at the Grant Museum for quite some time everyday brings new discoveries. Beautiful and grotesque all at the same time, this week’s specimen of the week is: (more…)

Get a Grip: A Hands on History of Hands

JackAshby9 February 2012

Following the success of How to Get a Head: A Hands on History of Skulls, Curator Mark and I put together a second “Hands on History” tackling the evolution of all things at the end of arms – hands, paws, hooves, wings, fins, flippers.

Piling the tables with limbs from koalas, badgers, frogs, turtles, platypuses, rabbits and more we worked through the story of where arms come from, and what we can learn from the strange lumps and bumps that different species have on their limbs. For example, rabbits have a massive projection out of the the back of their ulnas (the olecranon process) – we asked people to work out what it’s for. As with most things sticking out of bones, it’s a very big muscle attachment site for the rabbit tricep – they need strong muscles for bounding. Another leporine (rabbity) characteristic is that the two bones of the lower arm (radius and ulna) are nearly completely fused together. We asked why…
It means that rabbits can’t twist their wrists like we can (pronation and supination) – again because they need strong solid arms for bouncing – they don’t want their hands to face anyway but downwards and forwards.

The ever-wonderful UCL Events Blog did an impartial review of the event. It begins…

The UCL Grant Museum of Zoology is currently running its ‘Humanimals’ series, where it explores the relationships between ourselves and other animals.

Last week (2 February), I went along for A Hands On History of Hands; a whistlestop tour of the evolution of hands and forelimbs through the ages, stopping to look at some of the interesting examples along the way.

The guides on our tour were zoologist Jack Ashby and palaeontologist Mark Carnall, with a little help from Stan, the resident (replica) skeleton.

The Grant Museum was founded as a teaching collection, and it seems that the current crop of curators are keen to continue this legacy. This is the second night like this that they have run, and for a modern museum it seems to a pretty radical idea; not only can enthusiasts visit and explore the museum after hours, but we are actually given the chance to interact with some of the exhibits.

Read the whole thing here.

Please let us know if you have suggestions for other “Hands on History” event topics.

Specimen of the Week: Week Seventeen

Emma-LouiseNicholls6 February 2012

Scary Monkey: Week SeventeenA week ago, the Grant Museum had a special family activities day called ‘Humanimals’, part of our exciting, and ongoing, Humanimals season which is investigating the influence that humans and animals have on each other. Our activities gave our visitors hands-on fun with furry, scaly, and boney specimens. One of the activities was a table covered in a jumble of bones from a real skeleton not too dissimilar to ours. The cunning idea behind the slyly educational activity was for our visitors to re-build the skeleton. We had our replica human skeleton standing next to the table for anatomical inspiration. It was so popular that it inspired this week’s specimen. The specimen of the week therefore is: (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Fifteen

Emma-LouiseNicholls23 January 2012

Scary Monkey: Week FourteenWe have discovered a wide range of animal groups thus far in our specimen of the week journey. Now I feel it is time for something big, furry and ferocious. The thing I like the most about these animals is that whilst they are clever, speedy, voracious, and formidable, they tend to prefer to just turn up and throw their weight around in order to get what they want. It’s not that they don’t have the skills, they just prefer not to use them. The specimen of the week this week is: (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Thirteen

Emma-LouiseNicholls9 January 2012

Scary Monkey: Week ThirteenFor Christmas, besides a cuddly vulture with bright pink feet and a fantastic variety of different species of chocolate boxes, more than one family member demonstrated how well they know me as I received not one, but two copies of Frozen Planet- hoorah! I am now debating whether to swap one for something else or put two tvs side-by-side and see if I can watch it in stereo? Eitherway, inspired by this fantastic series (coincidentally mentioned in fact in a recent blog about the validity of such documentaries), this week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Ten

Emma-LouiseNicholls19 December 2011

Scary MonkeyFreshly back from abroad (got in last night), and not just a little jet-lagged, I bring to you on this quite frankly-freezing-compared-to-Mexico morning a mammalian specimen of the week that was inspired by the beautiful jungles through which I have been trotting for the last two weeks. I hope you are already trying to guess what it is based upon the two surreptitious pieces of information I have just given you; geographical location and habitat. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Nine

Emma-LouiseNicholls12 December 2011

Scary MonkeyWell now my dedicated and trusted readers (I choose to believe that you exist in this format), I am currently in sunny Mexico trampling across Mayan and Aztec ruins, filling my brain with more knowledge than its natural capacity, and hopefully chasing a spider monkey troop or two.


I do not want you to feel as though I have abandoned you in a capricious bout of neglect and so I have found a most genius way to make you feel as though you are still with me. Our specimen of the week is a Mexican species and I promise that if I should be lucky enough to see one, I will take a snapshot for you and post it here upon my return for your much sought approval. This week’s specimen of the week is: (more…)

Should we clone extinct animals?

JackAshby8 December 2011

Gone for Good display…is the latest question we are asking on our iPad displays. So far many living species have been cloned, for various reasons (just to see if we can and replacing lost pets being two of them. Resurrecting extinct species in this way has also been attempted, with very limited success. The question is, are they gone for good?

The technology may soon exist to clone recently extinct animals using DNA from museum specimens, but usable and complete DNA sequences are hard to find. Should we try and bring back animals that humans have driven to extinction? What would you do with a handful of cloned individuals? Would the money be better spent on animals we still have? (more…)