Playing with Wire: The Conservation of a Wallaby Skeleton

Written by Caitlin Jenkins, MSc Conservation Practice student, Cardiff University and volunteer at National Museum Cardiff.

While volunteering with natural history conservator Julian Carter at National Museum Cardiff, I was given the opportunity to work on a wallaby skeleton. This was the first skeleton of any kind I had conserved. Although it initially appeared to be in relatively good condition, there were lots of small areas needing attention that made it a surprisingly complicated job.

A bony jigsaw…

The first step was to remove dirt that had built up on the bones over the years. This was cleaned away using cotton swabs and small interdental brushes dipped in a sodium bicarbonate solution; care was taken to not over-wet the bones as this can damage them.

One of the main conservation tasks was to re-wire a portion of ribcage that was hanging loose and distorting the alignment of the left side. In keeping with the pre-existing work, this required me to stabilise the free end of each rib using a single piece of wire twisted at intervals. This provided support and appropriate spacing of the bones. I had previously made jewellery using a similar technique, so my experience came in handy during the fiddliest parts!

Beginning the ribcage wiring

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Virtual Fieldwork during Lockdown – Part 2

Travelling to Socotra with the British and Liverpool Museums Expedition (1898/99).

This is part two of a blog written by John-James Wilson, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, World Museum, National Museums Liverpool. See Part One here.

The journey continues…

Homhil proved a “successful and delightful sojourn, adding largely to both the flora and fauna [collected]”. The camp, surrounded by the iconic Dragon’s Blood Trees (see them yourself here), had an ideal climate, 26°C during the day, 18°C at night.

Sketch of the cucumber tree of Socotra by J. R. Wellsted, another unusual endemic tree, made during an earlier expedition to Socotra. The sketch is part of the Royle collection at LIV herbarium, World Museum. © National Museums Liverpool (World Museum).

Ten days later, after difficulties agreeing the onward route, the party retraced their steps to the Hadibu Plain. Turning southwards they pitched tents at Elhe and spent two days preparing fresh camels. On the second day, Forbes forgot to put one of his gaiters on and suffered a severe sunburn on his leg (having my own prominent sunburn scar, this is another field experience I can empathise with). While back on the plain, Ogilvie-Grant collected the endemic – Socotra Grosbeak, Socotra Starling, and Socotra Warbler – amongst other animals.

Socotra Grosbeak – Rhynchostruthus socotranus Sclater and Hartlaub, 1881 [accession number: 31.12.1900.164a] (top); Socotra Starling – Onychognathus fratus (Sclater and Hartlaub, 1881) [accession number: 31.12.1900.160e] (middle); and Socotra Warbler – Incana incana (Slater and Hartlaub, 1881) [accession number: 31.12.1900.175m] (bottom). © National Museums Liverpool (World Museum).

The party resumed their trek into the mountains, reaching an elevation with stunning sea views. They remained at Adho Dimellus (also spelt Adhoh di-Melhoh), the “roof of Sokotra”, until February 17th. Fieldwork often fuels friendships and an evening was spent entertaining an Austrian expedition party Forbes had met earlier in Aden.

Photograph of the camp at Adho Dimellus (H. O. Forbes from The Natural History of Sokotra and Abd-el-Kuri). Public Domain.

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Virtual Fieldwork during Lockdown – Part 1

Travelling to Socotra with the British and Liverpool Museums Expedition (1898/99).

By John-James Wilson, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, World Museum, National Museums Liverpool

I’m one of the many field biologists whose fieldwork has been cancelled due to the coronavirus lockdown. It’s a tiny price to pay to get this unprecedented global pandemic under control but it’s hard not to dream about the tropical adventures that could have been. Fortunately for natural history curators, re-living the fieldwork of our predecessors while exploring (from home) the collections we look after, can go some way to satiate the travel bug.

The Socotra Archipelago (also spelt Soqotra or Sokotra) probably doesn’t feature in many people’s lockdown travel dreams. The archipelago is politically part of Yemen, a country tragically suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis as the result of ongoing civil war. However, in 1898, Socotra was firmly on the bucket list of Henry Ogg Forbes, Director and ornithologist at the Liverpool Museums (now World Museum, National Museums Liverpool).

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NatSCA Digital Digest – May

Compiled by Glenn Roadley, Curator (Natural Science), The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Welcome to the May edition of NatSCA Digital Digest!

A note from the Blog editor:

As you know, Digital Digest is our monthly blog series featuring the latest on what’s new in the natural history sector. We normally feature the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. With the onset of the lockdown, we can’t go anywhere physically, but perhaps now more than ever, there is still heaps of stuff out there to keep you entertained.

It’s month two of lockdown, but the sector has continued to produce an incredible stream of digital engagement activities for visitors and colleagues alike, and is showing no signs of slowing down. Here’s a selection of resources and activities from across the museum web:

Where Can I ‘Visit’?

A number of museums have been conducting virtual tours of their collections and recording interviews with staff members to maintain a link to the public while closed. Birmingham Museums Trust have posted a look behind the scenes with their Natural Sciences Curator, Lukas Large. The Natural History Museum have created a hub full of tours, resources and activities to inspire and engage during lockdown.

What Can I do?

The Field Studies Council has created a list of resources and ideas for staying in touch with nature while in lockdown. With most of us confined to houses and gardens, why not get more acquainted with the natural history you can find there? I’m thinking of building a moth trap…

And in a move to advocate what NOT to do, Plantlife are promoting #NoMowMay – a citizen science project to encourage people to leave their mowers in the shed and join an national count of the resulting wildflowers.


What can I Read?

You really don’t need anything more than Rebecca Machin’s #AnimalAcrostics to get you through the day, but if for some reason that isn’t enough for you, we have two fab conservation stories on our NatSCA blog. Written by Lu Allington-Jones, Senior Conservator & Chelsea McKibbin, Conservator, at the Natural History Museum, London, our latest blog explains the process of conserving a celebrity specimen – the 1,341 year-old slice of Giant Sequoia that stands on the second-floor balcony of the Hintze Hall. A blog by our very own Paolo Viscardi, ‘Resurrection 101’, gives a step-by-step guide to rehydrating a desiccated frog specimen – the before and after photos are incredible and reveal the technique to be actual witchcraft, probably.

Before You Go…

If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Similarly, if you have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, we welcome new blog articles so please drop Jen an email if you have anything you would like to submit.

Stay safe and keep well.

Giant Sequoia at the Natural History Museum

Written by Lu Allington-Jones, Senior Conservator & Chelsea McKibbin, Conservator, at the Natural History Museum, London.

In 2016 a team undertook conservation of the slice of giant sequoia tree which is on display in Hintze Hall of the Natural History Museum in London. Following condition mapping, the treatment involved dry cleaning, removal of the old varnish with solvent gel and applying a fresh coat of varnish. A time-lapse video was taken of the whole process, which spanned 12 weeks, and can be viewed at the end of this post.

Figure 1. The stages of treatment

The Specimen

The giant sequoia (from Kings Canyon National Park, California, USA) was felled in 1891 at the age of 1,341 years. It had been 101 m tall and just over 5 m in diameter. Two sections were cut for display. The bottom and slightly larger one was sent to the AMNH while the top section was split into 12 pieces: one central disc and 11 radial segments to enable shipping to the UK. They arrived at the South Kensington site in April 1893.

Figure 2. The tree when it was felled

The giant sequoia section went on display the following year, in one of the bays of the central hall. It was moved in 1902 to stand against the wall dividing the north and central halls, and again in 1971 to its current location on the second-floor balcony.

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Resurrection 101

Written by Paolo Viscardi, Curator of Zoology, National Museum of Ireland – Natural History

Anyone who has to deal with fluid collections, without the support of a natural history conservator, probably has nightmares about cracked jar lids and desiccated specimens. But would you sleep more easily if I told you that it’s possible to get a transformation like this using a straightforward and inexpensive method?

Frog_before-after

Here’s my account of how I resurrected this dehydrated specimen using stuff you probably have sitting in your museum cupboards or that you can buy for less than £20. It’s worth noting that the technique will not always work and if you plan to use it on a specimen that may have useful DNA to contribute, you should take a sample before rehydrating, since it is likely to reduce the quantity and quality of DNA you can extract.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – April

Compiled by Lily Nadine Wilks, Intern at Museum Development Yorkshire.

Welcome to the April edition of NatSCA Digital Digest!

A note from the Blog editor:

As you know, Digital Digest is our monthly blog series featuring the latest on what’s new in the natural history sector. We normally feature the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. With the onset of the lockdown, we can’t go anywhere physically, but perhaps now more than ever, there is still heaps of stuff out there to keep you entertained. I would like to welcome Lily to the Digital Digest team, who had the tough job of compiling her first ever Digest in our first month of lockdown! Many thanks and well done for all of your suggestions.

In this strange and unusual time more and more of us are looking online for fun things to do, read and watch. I have compiled some of my favourites:

Where Can I ‘Visit’?

If you are like me and are missing going out to museums and seeing physical exhibitions, the Smithsonian – National Museum of Natural History have the next best thing with a range of virtual tours through their permanent, current and past exhibits. There are plenty to choose from to keep you entertained.

Chester Zoo did two wonderful live virtual tours of some of their animals throughout the day on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. They are still up and if you didn’t catch them first time round they are definitely worth watching. My favourites are the adorable Red Pandas and the curious Meerkats. Find them all on YouTube here.

What Can I do?

The Natural History Society of Northumbria have issued the North East Bee Hunt to get help recording bee species across the North East. It comes with a handy identification guide, this is something I will be trying in my garden and on my daily outdoor exercise.

If you don’t have time to watch but are able to listen, I have enjoyed the Ologies series with Alie Ward, a comedic science podcast on all things ‘Ology’. I enjoyed Plumology (feathers) featuring Dr. Alison Shultz, the Ornithology curator at the Natural History Museum of LA.

I enjoy a good bit of competition and the University of Cambridge Museum of Zoology have created Open Your Window Bingo! You can get points for looking out your window and spotting Butterflies, Birds, Plants and Extras.

Good Reads?

I enjoyed reading the Late bloomer: the exquisite craft of Mary Delany blog from the British Museum, beautiful visuals accompany a story about Mary Delany who at 72 began producing floral collages. It is mind-blowing that the images are not painted but are paper collages.

April Fools came around once more and I thought the National Trust is definitely my favourite this year. Rangers on Brownsea Island are helping squirrels find their nuts.

As another bit of light relief, Laura Bailey has been sharing the adventures of Moley on Twitter. Moley is a stone seal. I have to agree with Moley on this one.

Before You Go…

If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Similarly, if you have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, we welcome new blog articles so please drop Jen an email if you have anything you would like to submit.

Stay safe and keep well.