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The world’s rarest skeleton rides again… on four legs

Jack Ashby28 July 2015

Using cutting-edge technology, the world’s rarest skeleton – a South African extinct zebra called a quagga – has regained its missing hind limb.

The quagga's missing fourth leg has been replicated through 3D printing.

The quagga’s missing fourth leg has been replicated through 3D printing.

After a brilliant year of fundraising and conservation work, we are nearing the end of a major project to restore 39 of our largest and most significant skeletons to their former glory. The main focus of the project, named Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons, has been our quagga – which is one of only seven quagga skeletons to survive globally. The Guardian gave the project a particularly positve write-up (read the comments if you want to see some of the more unexpected outcomes of media relations. *blushes*).

The last living quagga died in 1883, having been hunted to extinction by farmers and skin-collectors. The Grant Museum specimen is the only one on display in the UK but the skeleton was incomplete – the right shoulder blade and one of its legs has long been missing, probably since World War II.

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Specimen of the Week: Week 186

Tannis Davidson4 May 2015

Scary-Monkey-Week-NineSometimes a specimen can tell you a little. Sometimes it can tell you a lot. There has been much written on this blog about the perils and pitfalls of museum documentation. Sometimes there is no information with a specimen – no accession record, no acquisition information, no species name and (occasionally) no specimen. Objects get lost and misplaced. Historical records are incomplete or indecipherable. Specimen labels become separated from their object.

Alternatively, some specimens may have (dare I say it) too much information which may include multiple numbers, several differing records, erroneous taxonomic information or questionable identifications.

Caring for a collection entails many things but first and foremost is to identify the collection itself – through all possible means including the consolidation of any (and all) associated information. When luck prevails, one may find a scrap (literally) of information which ties it all together – a word or two which allows a specimen to be given a name, a record, a life!

Recently while going through the bird drawers, I came across an unaccessioned skull and mandible together with its associated information (unclear object number, outdated taxonomic name) including a  small piece of paper with two words: “El Turco”. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…
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The world’s rarest skeleton returns to the Grant Museum

Jack Ashby1 May 2015

Can you spot the difference between these two photos?

The quagga before conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581

The quagga before conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581

The quagga  after conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581. Courtesy of Nigel Larkin

The quagga after conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581. Courtesy of Nigel Larkin

They both depict the world’s rarest skeleton – that of the quagga, an extinct not very stripy kind of zebra – the UK’s only articulated quagga lives here at the Grant. There are only six (or possibly five) other skeletons in existence. The top picture was taken in February, on the day that she left the Museum to undergo major treatment for the ills that resulted from over a hundred years of grime and questionable mounting. The second was taken on Tuesday, when she returned to us. The quagga (and our rhino) were the biggest single tasks for our massive conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our iconic skeletons, working to save 39 of our biggest and most significant specimens for the long term future.

Hopefully you’ve spotted eveything that specialist bone preparator Nigel Larkin has done to prolong the “shelf life” of the quagga… (more…)

Specimen of the Week : Week 178

Tannis Davidson10 March 2015

Scary-Monkey-Week-Nine Happy almost springtime! Longer days and brighter skies herald the coming of the change of season. This year the official start of Spring will be marked by a total solar eclipse on March 20 (get your eclipse glasses ready). When the sun re-emerges from behind the moon, both man and beast can rejoice in the return of the light and the promise of rejuvenation.

Here at the Museum, it is also time to clean the shelves, tidy the office, refresh the displays and present a brand-new exhibition. From 16 March to 27 June join us for Stange Creatures: The art of unknown animals and explore the world of animal representation.

While springtime has many different meanings and associations, including representative animals, one animal is perhaps most symbolic of this time of year. In honour of this most springy of selections, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week 175

Tannis Davidson18 February 2015

Scary-Monkey-Week-Nine Less than two weeks ago, the first batch of newly-conserved skeletons from our Bone Idols project returned to the Grant Museum after their completed restoration work.

Reg the Rhino -the largest skeleton in the Museum – was treated in this group and has now been remounted in fine form back on his plinth.

Homecoming celebrations continued with the unpacking of several smaller primate skeletons such as the juvenile orang-utan, one of the chimpanzees, and this week’s Specimen of the Week… (more…)

The Return of the Rhino: Conserving our biggest skeleton

Jack Ashby10 February 2015

In November, we announced that Reg the (hornless) Indian one-horned rhino skeleton was being dismantled and taken away for an extreme make-over (read Dismantling Reg the Rhino in Ten Easy Steps). Now he has returned in much better shape (specifically, rhino-shaped), prepared for a long and prosperous future in the Museum.

The rhino after treatment. We hope you'lll agree he is much more rhino shaped.

The rhino after treatment. We hope you’lll agree he is much more rhino shaped.

Reg, a Bone Idol

The rhino was among the first specimens included in our huge conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons, which will secure the long-term future of 39 of our biggest, rarest and most significant specimens. Some will be cleaned of 180 years of particulate pollutants, some will be repaired, some have new cases built, and some, like the rhino, will be completely remounted.

What was wrong with the rhino?

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Specimen of the Week: Week 165

Jack Ashby8 December 2014

Scary MonkeyWhen Specimen of the Week first arose from its fossil ancestors in the Early Blogocene, the niche it originally occupied was to shed light on the darkest corners of our stored collections.

Over time, there has been some descent with modification. Specimen of the Week maintains its ancestral characters and still has the ability to show the world what museums have in their drawers; but it has also acquired some new adaptations where something amazing is revealed about well-known specimens. Some suspect sexual selection is at work.

This week, a new mutation has arisen. Instead of lifting the lid on stories from the stores, this Specimen of the Week will shed light on glimpses of horror in a specimen’s database records. Time will tell whether this adaptation will become fixed in the Specimen of the Week population.

This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Dismantling Reg the Rhino in Ten Easy Steps

Jack Ashby27 November 2014

On 10th November the Grant Museum team took on the giant task of dismantling the largest specimen in the Museum – our huge (hornless) one-horned rhino skeleton. This is one of the first steps in our massive conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons (click the link to read more about it and how you can support it).

In this previous post I described the the history of this specimen and what conservation work will be done to this invaluable specimen. We also set a Twitter competition to #NameTheRhino – he shall now be known as Reg. Full details about that at the bottom.

How to take apart a complicated massive skeleton, in ten easy steps.

This was all coordinated by skeleton conservator Nigel Larkin.

1)  Label every bone and photograph everything so Nigel knows where to put them when Reg gets rebuilt.

2) Set up a time-lapse camera to record the whole thing:

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Grant Museum starts major project to preserve rarest skeleton in the world

Jack Ashby24 November 2014

This infant chimpanzee  skeleton will be conserved  as part of  Bone Idols

This infant chimpanzee skeleton
will be conserved as part of Bone Idols

Something very exciting has started here at the Grant. We are undertaking a major project to protect 39 of our rarest and most significant skeletons, some which have been on display in the Museum for 180 years. To help achieve this, we launching our first ever public fundraising campaign – aiming to raise £15,000 to support the costs of this crucial work.

Preserving the rarest skeleton in the world

The specimens include the rarest skeleton in the world: the extinct quagga – an unusual half-striped zebra from South Africa. It is the only mounted quagga skeleton in the UK, and no more than seven quagga skeletons survive globally. The project involves completely dismantling and chemically cleaning the irreplaceable skeleton, and then remounting it on a new skeleton-friendly frame in a more anatomically correct position. The work is intended to secure the long-term preservation of the specimens.

Protecting the uncollectable

The quagga will be the focus and most involved element of Bone Idols: Protecting our iconic skeletons, a major project of conservation across the Museum’s displays. Interventions will range from deep cleaning bones, repairing damaged elements and re-casing specimens through to remounting huge skeletons. (more…)

Name our Rhino on the Run

Jack Ashby6 November 2014

The rhino in the Grant Museum - what's his name?

The rhino in the Grant Museum – what’s his name?

The largest single specimen in the Museum – our (hornless) Indian one-horned rhino – is about to go on holiday. He is going away for some serious conservation work. You might call it health tourism.

The rhino entered the Museum as an un-mounted skeleton in 1910-11 when the University of London Loan Collection was disbanded. The Museum then paid £14 to have him, the seal, the bear and “a zebra” (possibly the quagga) mounted onto iron frames. Since then, the rhino has been on open display in the Museum, and the iron is slowly corroding.

This year, as part of a major project called Bone Idols: Preserving our Iconic Skeletons, 39 of our largest specimens are undergoing conservation treatment. Some need intensive cleaning to remove the damaging pollutants and particulates that have built up over up to 180 years on open display; some also need repairs to certain body parts. Some, like the rhino and quagga, need to be totally disassembled, cleaned, and then repositioned on new skeleton-friendly metal frames, with all his joints correctly matching up.

All of this work will allow us to safe-guard our irreplaceable collection for the long-term future and continue to use it every day for teaching, research and public engagement.

There are two exciting opportunities coming up as a result… (more…)