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  • Specimen of the Week 243 – Dolphin Foetus

    By Rachel H Bray, on 10 June 2016

    1. Unpredictable as usual

    The Grant Museum is a haven for the unexpected. As is often the case with the collection (at least, for me anyway), just when you’re expecting to see an animal that you feel fairly au fait with… the museum presents you with specimens that are: dissected, bisected, exploded, stained, crammed with others in a jar or injected with alizarin. So as a case in point, here is the rinsed skeleton of a dolphin foetus.

    LDUCZ-Z3092 - Dolphin Foetus Image

    LDUCZ-Z3092 – Dolphin Foetus

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 181

    By Tannis Davidson, on 30 March 2015

    Scary-Monkey-Week-NineAt the Grant Museum we have nearly 68,000 specimens – and each, in its own way, has a story to tell. Some are historical specimens dating back to the earliest days of the Museum such as Professor Grant’s thylacine skeleton  and the popular walrus penis bone.

    Others tell more modern tales of use in the collection for teaching (SOTW 178), undergoing conservation work (Return of the Rhino), or being featured in exhibitions (SOTW 180).

    This week’s Specimen of the Week has several stories to tell and as such,  I’ve always thought it one of the most interesting specimens in the collection.  It is… (more…)

    A stuffed Hippopotamus of 1829 at large at UCL

    By Mark Carnall, on 12 November 2014

    Hippo at large at UCL

    Hippo at large at UCL, a poorly photoshopped one too which is a much rarer subspecies. Artist’s reconstruction (also available for palaeontological reconstructions)

    Part of my job at the Grant Museum is to document and inventory the collection we have here. With over 68,000 specimens (a modest collection when it comes to natural history) this is no small task given that creating a catalogue of the collection only began some 70 years into the collection’s history and the attempt to document the collection to current museum standards only began in the 1990s. A lot of the frustration is that the collection was very much a teaching and research collection for most of it’s life and the core data about the who’s, what’s, where’s, and why’s – information that is invaluable to make the most of the collection today – was inconsistently recorded if at all.

    Recently, whilst looking through our paper archive excavating information for a scientific research request, I found a fantastic document, a summary of all the benefactions in kind made to UCL between 1828 and 1914, right from when the University was first founded. I thought I’d struck gold finding this itemised list of objects and specimens benefacted to UCL and perhaps this would hold some key information about who gave what to UCL, some of which ended up in the Grant Museum. What was shocking however was how much seems to have… ahem… been mislaid  between then and now. Not just the odd bones or shell here and there but whole stuffed hippos and more…

    (more…)

    First day with the sponges

    By Eleanor Morgan, on 1 October 2014

    Close up of Venus' flower basket glass sponge. LDUCZ-B39

    Close up of Venus’ flower basket glass sponge. LDUCZ-B39

    Today I begin an artist-in-residency position at the Grant Museum of Zoology, funded by The Leverhulme Trust. I’ll be working with the Museum’s collection of deep-sea sponges, focusing in particular on their calcareous and glass sponges. These extraordinary animals (not plants, as the Museum’s founder Robert Grant discovered back in the nineteenth century) are composed of calcium carbonate and silica – limestone and glass.

    I will be spending the next ten months here studying the sponge collection with the aim of creating art from the same materials that the sponges use to build themselves. (more…)

    What do all of our Curators have in Common? On the Origin of Our Specimens

    By Jack Ashby, on 15 May 2014

    Over the past few months we have been investigating what we can learn about where our specimens came from by researching the history of the Museum’s thirteen previous Curators. This “On the Origin of Our Specimens” series has uncovered much about our collections and the people that have worked here over the past 187 years. In this final post in the series I’m going to share some of the unexpected threads that kept reappearing through this time.

    In answer to the question “What do all of our Curators have in common?” one thing that leaps out is a consistent failure to usefully identify which specimens they actually added to the collection. Professional documentation standards are a relatively new invention, and they have only recently been applied to our collection, mostly since we became a “proper museum” and not just a teaching collection and research repository.

    Besides that, there are four topics that keep reappearing through time… (more…)

    On the Origin of Our Specimens: The Minchin Years

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 6 March 2014

    ‘The Thirteen’

    The collection of specimens, known since 1997 as the Grant Museum of Zoology, was started in 1827 by Robert E. Grant. Grant was the first professor of zoology at UCL when it opened, then called the University of London, and he stayed in post until his death in 1874. The collections have seen a total of 13 academics in the lineage of collections care throughout the 187 year history of the Grant Museum, from Robert E. Grant himself, through to our current Curator Mark Carnall.

    Both Grant and many of his successors have expanded the collections according to their own interests, which makes for a fascinating historical account of the development of the Museums’ collections. This mini-series will look at each of The Thirteen in turn, starting with Grant himself, and giving examples where possible, of specimens that can be traced back to their time at UCL. Previous editions can be found here.

    Number Five: Edward Alfred Minchin (1899-1906) (more…)

    On the Origin of Our Specimens: The Grant Years

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 4 February 2014

    ‘The Twelve’

    The collection of specimens, known since 1997 as the Grant Museum of Zoology, was started in 1827 by Robert E. Grant. Grant was the first professor of zoology at UCL when it opened, then called the University of London, and he stayed in post until his death in 1874. The collections have seen a total of 13 academics in the lineage of collections care throughout the 187 year history of the Grant Museum, from Robert E. Grant himself, through to our current Curator Mark Carnall. In 1948, the role of chair and collections care evolved into separate lineages. The chair of zoology remained as such, but a role more dedicated to the care of the natural history specimens emerged as the first professional curator was employed, a title that was passed down through to the current post in charge of collections care. Both Grant and many of his successors have expanded the collections according to their own interests, which makes for a fascinating historical account of the development of the Museums’ collections.

    However, although the Museum now adheres to strict policies regarding our specimens, ‘back in the day’ the rules regarding such things as paperwork were a little more… lax. As such, although many specimens have been added by eminent academics such as Robert E. Grant, E. Ray Lankester, W. F. R. Weldon and D. M. S Watson (after who UCL’s science library is named), in many cases we simply don’t know which specimens they are. On one hand it is highly frustrating, but on the other hand, it makes it thrice as exciting when we come across one that can be directly attributed to one of the earlier members of ‘The Thirteen’.

    Over the next 13 weeks, this blog series will give a brief introduction to each of the 13 curators in the history of the Grant Museum. Each week a different curator will be looked at, in chronological order, and illustrated (where possible) with some of the specimens that can be traced back to each of them in the collections. So, let us start at the beginning with the big man himself…

    (more…)