Why not apply for our £2000 Bill Pettit fund?

NatSCA is pleased to invite applications to this year’s Bill Pettit Memorial Award. Up to £2,000 of grant money, is available to NatSCA members this year to support projects including the conservation, access and use of natural science collections.

If you’re not a member, just join us then submit your application!

(c) Richard Ross, Museum National D'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France 1982 2-1

(c) Richard Ross, Museum National D’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France 1982 2-1

Charles Arthur William ‘Bill’ Pettit (1937-2009) started his career with the National Institute of Oceanography but moved to the Manchester Museum in 1975 to become Assistant Keeper of Zoology. In his time at Manchester, Bill worked tirelessly for the collections and was instrumental in projects such as FENSCORE as well as numerous publications. It is in recognition of his commitment to natural science collections that we would like to offer this annual award.

Each project will be considered on its own merits by the NatSCA committee and the committee’s decision, including not awarding any money that year, will be final. To apply please put together a 700 word project proposal, which must include:

• The name, contact details and status (e.g. charity, individual, local authority) of the applicant
• The project title and proposed outcomes and benefits
• How the project supports conservation, or access to and use of Natural Science collections
• Detailed costs
• Accurate timescale (including any work undertaken so far and the project end date)
• Details of other funding/match funding already secured for the project

Grants will be considered on an annual basis in January.

Deadline for 2017 applications: Friday 17th November

Successful applicants are required to produce a report/article on their project for publication in either NatSCA Notes & Comments or the Journal of Natural Science Collections before payment.

Applications are open to NatSCA individual or institutional members only.

Please contact David Gelsthorpe (david.gelsthorpe@manchester.ac.uk, 0161 3061601) for further information or to submit a grant application.

Caring for your Bones – No Calcium or Exercise Required!

In our modern, health-conscious society, just about everyone knows that properly caring for one’s own bones involves adequate ingestion of certain nutrients (calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K) and maintaining bone mineral density through exercise – or so the common wisdom goes, anyway. What about caring for someone else’s bones, however? When that “someone else” turns out to be vertebrate animals whose bones have wound up in a museum collection, the answer involves neither mineral supplements nor resistance training exercises, although saliva might come into the picture (more about this below)!

I learned all about the basics of curating an osteological collection at the NatSCA event entitled ‘Bone Collections: Using, Conserving and Understanding Osteology in Museums’, held at the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge on September 8, 2015. The day involved a workshop focused on cleaning bone specimens, talks touching on osteology from both biological and museological perspectives, and a series of posters presenting various case studies concerning the treatment of skeletal material (ranging in nature from modern to sub-fossil and fossil) that required cleaning and repair.

Workshop participants busily trying out various techniques for cleaning osteological specimens that had just been demonstrated on the monitors seen overhead.

Workshop participants busily trying out various techniques for cleaning osteological specimens

At the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN), where I am employed as a research assistant and collections manager, we have an extensive osteological collection that was established through the collaboration of the museum’s vertebrate zoology staff and the researchers who operated the now defunct Zooarchaeology Identification Centre (ZIC). Use of our osteological comparative material has declined greatly since ZIC ceased to operate in 1996, and relatively few zooarchaeologists working in Canada are aware of our holdings, which is a shame as the osteology collection represents a great national resource that would benefit archaeological research in the country. I am setting out to change this situation.

Having a research background in zooarchaeology – something I have in common with Kathlyn Stewart, head of the CMN Palaeobiology Section – I would love to see the rebirth of an active zooarchaeology programme at the museum. Kathy and I are joining forces to foster growth of the osteology collection in several directions, including expanding the number of specimens to include taxa that are currently underrepresented, increasing knowledge of the collection as a comparative research tool in the archaeological community, and developing CMN-based zooarchaeological research projects.

The Bone Day in Cambridge was therefore the perfect opportunity for me to gain hands-on experience in the care and maintenance of osteological collections.  I spent many years working with osteological collections as a research aid, but I have had little experience in curating such collections. Supported in part through a generous NatSCA bursary, I was able to attend the workshop and conference, affording me the occasion to investigate several topics in greater depth with osteology experts and fellow museum workers. Most important for my goals was learning about techniques for the care of bone and the preparation of skeletal specimens from carcasses.

The skull of a babirusa, and Indonesian wild pig, used in the workshop to test cleaning methods.

The skull of a babirusa, and Indonesian wild pig, used in the workshop to test cleaning methods.

The babirusa skull after a cursory cleaning using brushes, smoke sponge, swabs dipped in Synperonic A7, and yes, even some spit.

The babirusa skull after a cursory cleaning using brushes, smoke sponge, swabs dipped in Synperonic A7, and yes, even some spit.

The day began for me with the morning bone cleaning workshop, where we were introduced to some of the safest and most effective ways of removing deposits that accumulate on the surface of bone specimens, ranging from dust and dirt to bone grease and adipocere (a waxy substance that develops from fats such as bone grease under certain conditions). Gentle brushing and vacuuming, combined with the use of products such as smoke sponge and Groom/Stick natural rubber, remove a significant amount of particulate matter from the surface of bone. For stubborn accumulations, especially those involving bone grease, ethanol solutions and surfactants such as Synperonic A7 (an alcohol ethoxylate) work wonders. Surprisingly, saliva is also an effective cleaning agent, the enzymes in human spit serving quite well to loosen up agglomerations of dust and oil!

The afternoon talks, which included an overview of the importance of osteological collections for archaeological work as well as a discussion concerning an enzyme-based method for skeletonising carcasses, were particularly relevant for me with regard to resurrecting zooarcheological research at the CMN. I believe that several of the presenters from the conference’s slate of lecturers, as well as the leaders of the workshops, are considering submitting blog posts about their contributions to the osteology event, so I will refrain from providing any additional details here. Rather, I will encourage you to stay tuned for future entries concerning the care of bone.

I learned a great deal during the NatSCA Bone Day and made several fruitful contacts with NatSCA members, making it well worth the time and effort of “crossing the pond” from Canada to the UK. I certainly look forward to continuing my association with NatSCA into the future.  Many thanks to the organisation for sponsoring the osteology event and kindly providing support for my attendance, and I hope that I will be able to work with NatSCA to hold a similar ‘bone day’ here in North America sometime soon—I know it would be well received!

Scott Rufalo, Canadian Museum of Nature

Bill Pettit Memorial Fund: Discovery Collections Project

The Bill Pettit Memorial Award was set up a few years ago by NatSCA to support projects including the conservation, access, and use of natural science collections. One of the recent projects we have been able to help with was the curation of some amazing specimens from the voyage of the Discovery. Hear more about the project from Tammy below.

David Gelsthorpe

20150128_114015

In early 2013 we set about organising the task to begin with the curation of the largest, most recent and least organised of the three collections – that of the ECOMAR collection. The start of the ECOMAR project coincided with commissioning of the new UK Royal Research Ship James Cook officially named by the Princess Royal on 6 February 2007. The first ECOMAR cruise departed from Southampton on 13 July 2007. The ECOMAR project was designed to investigate the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone area which lies approximately mid-way between Iceland and the Azores. Four super stations were defined (two north of the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone and two to the south), all had the same bottom depth (2500m) and were revisited during voyages by the R.R.S. James Cook and the R.R.S. Discovery during the years 2007–2010 to replicate sampling, time-series investigations and flux studies.

The Discovery Collections have no full-time curatorial post and we rely on the goodwill and interest of students and other volunteers (including scientific visitors and work experience volunteers) to help with cataloguing, labelling, respiriting, and general curatorial jobs. The samples, though incredibly valuable should be considered at risk. I look after the collections in as much that I manage the visitors to the collections, host students, and manage public enquiries, visits and displays of the specimens. I am also a taxonomist employed to conduct research, describing new species and studying the ecology of the deep-sea benthic fauna. I was employed for four years to work on the ECOMAR program to describe the ecology of the scavenging fauna of the area. I therefore had a particular interest in the curation of this collection.

We employed Amanda Serpell-Stevens, to work on this project, but we had funds for only 8 weeks of her time. Thus the project was reduced from cataloguing the three large collections to just one. When Amanda’s contract ended there was still much reshelving and reordering of the material to be carried out which was carried out on an ad hoc basis by myself, a retired member of staff, Mike Thurston, and Amanda who returned on a voluntary basis to continue work on the project.

20150128_113759

The project began by working shelf by shelf to curate and to catalogue (in paper record) what was held including location and size of each jar, and to change containers for those specimens that were in plastic containers or inappropriate sized jars. The preservative was also replaced in most of the jars and a new label produced for each specimen, as many were poorly labelled. This curation and cataloguing process took the majority of the 8 weeks, with just enough time remaining to enter the data into Excel.

With the availability of a digital catalogue the task of reorganising the lots into taxonomic order was greatly eased. This meant adjustment of shelf heights to incorporate the various sizes of tubs and jars (some of the lots are 20 litre tubs full of holothurian specimens of a single species), and removing all the specimens in turn, which were then replaced first by taxonomic order then by station order using Excel to sort the data. The spreadsheet was updated with the new locations of the specimens as we progressed. The final part of the process involved cross referencing the specimens with the newly published papers and updating the names where they had changed (on both the specimen labels and in the spreadsheet).

There were numerous new species described during the ECOMAR project, which meant further problems in allocating the correct new name to specimens in the collections variously named as e.g. Peniagone sp. nov ‘pink’. While holotypes have been registered in the NHM, London, the rest of the material needs updating to current knowledge, a process which is often neglected, despite it being referenced in the many new publications resulting from the project.

It is very satisfying to have the ECOMAR collection properly curated and to know that I can locate any specimen needed easily. In total we curated, relabelled and catalogued a total of 1300 lots comprised of 1148 smaller jars, 88 tubs (between 5 and 20 litres) and 64 loan specimens. We plan to publish a detailed analysis of this work for the NatSCA journal, including a list of available species, and will make the catalogue available online when time and funding allow. In the meantime interested parties can contact Tammy Horton (tammy.horton@noc.ac.uk) for a copy.

Dr Tammy Horton
Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems
National Oceanography Centre,
Waterfront Campus,
European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH
UK

Do you want to train to be Natural Science Curator?

Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Skills for the Future’

Natural History & Social History Training Opportunities

Support from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Skills for the Future’ programme and Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA) has created opportunities for four individuals to train in curatorial skills with a partnership of regional museums and heritage sites.

We are looking for people who are passionate and enthusiastic about Natural History/Sciences or Social History. These traineeships are available to anyone who might not have qualifications in the subject area, or are not from museum background, or are wanting a career change.

  • ·         One Natural History traineeship based at The Manchester Museum The University of Manchester
  • ·         One Natural History traineeship based at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre
  • ·         One Natural Science  traineeship based at Thinktank Science Museum, Birmingham Museum Trust
  • ·         One Social History traineeship based at The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry

Full information and application forms can be found within the job packs

Please follow link   www.bmag.org.uk/about/vacancies

Closing date is: 20 March 2013 at 10.00 AM   Proposed dates for interviews: W/C 14 April 2014
If you have any enquiries about these traineeship opportunities, please contact Paulette Francis-Green Project Manager by email projmangctrainee@aol.co.uk

Bill Pettit Memorial Project – Conservation of historic Taxidermy

Ann Ainsworth (Colchester and Ipswich Museums)

Hannah Clarke (Freelance Conservator)

Ipswich Museum has an important historic collection which dates back to its opening in 1847. A recognised strength of the natural history collection is the historically important Victorian and Edwardian taxidermy of animals from across the globe.

The taxidermy collection is stored in an old building which used to be an old coach depot and later a garage. The space had become very dusty and dirty and a significant mould problem had developed.

one

We followed a very simple methodology of light dusting with soft brushes using a vacuum containing a HEPA filter. This was followed by swabbing with an alcohol/water solution to remove the mould and kill the spores. Where possible specimens were covered or wrapped in polythene to act as a protective cover to protect from dust, provide an external surface for mould to grow on, and to prevent pest damage which is also a potential problem within the stores.

two

The variety of conservation problems, meant that many different treatment processes needed to be used by Hannah. Some of the processes included dry cleaning, wet cleaning, re-adhering, colour matching, re-inserting feathers, removing old varnish with solvents, mitring, sealing with brown gum tape, and applying and buffing wax. New panels of glass and sections of beading had to be sourced and cut to size.

The top panel of the pike case had warped and bowed, as the glass side panels had been broken previously. There were no structural supports on the front inside edges of the case either, meaning that the top of the case was unsupported from the front. The existing beadings on the rear inside edges were not secure, and the metal tacks used to hold the mitred sections of wood in place were very loose. New beading was sourced to match as close to the original as possible and was then colour matched and held in place using new tacks.

Cygnet before conservation

Cygnet before conservation

Cygnet after conservation

Cygnet after conservation

The Bill Pettit Memorial funding went towards payment for the freelance Conservator in terms of time and travel expenses and the purchase of replacement glass and beading for the cases where broken or damaged.

It was agreed that conserved cases would not be returned to store until the planned repair work had been successfully completed. As many of the conserved cases as possible were put on public display in the museum galleries. This has enabled part of the collection not normally seen by visitors to be on display. It has also helped to present a strong message of the Museum Services’ wish to improve the condition of specimens and its storage facilities and helped to raise the profile of the project.

Spicer platypus case after conservation

Spicer platypus case after conservation

 

Bill Pettit Memorial Award 2013

I’m pleased to announce that NatSCA is calling for applications for the 2013 Bill Pettit Memorial Award. Any questions let me know.

Here’s last year’s project:

Margaret Gatty’s algal herbarium in St Andrews

In February 2013, NatSCA kindly granted me the Bill Pettit Memorial Award in order to assess and describe the algal herbarium of Margaret Gatty in the St Andrews University Herbarium.

Detail of: Chorda filum (Linnaeus) Stackhouse. Collected in Filey (Yorkshire. UK), August 1871. MG0079 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Detail of: Chorda filum (Linnaeus) Stackhouse. Collected in Filey (Yorkshire.
UK), August 1871. MG0079 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Margaret Gatty (1809-1873) started collecting seaweeds in 1848 when she spent some months convalescing at Hastings. She built up a large herbarium of her own collections, supplemented by local and foreign specimens sent to her by phycologists such as William Henry Harvey, Catherine Cutler and Jacob Georg Agardh. Margaret Gatty and her daughter Horatia carefully organized the herbarium in albums, following Harvey’s taxonomical insights. In 1863, Margaret Gatty published a two-volume book on British seaweeds.

The bulk of Margaret Gatty’s herbarium was donated to the Gatty Marine Laboratory in St Andrews in April 1907, by her daughter Horatia Eden. The collection was initially kept at the Gatty Marine Laboratory, which was named after its benefactor Charles Henry Gatty (1836-1903), a distant cousin of Margaret Gatty’s husband, the reverend Alfred Gatty. The collection was later incorporated in the St Andrews University Herbarium (STA) and moved to the Department of Botany. The STA collections are currently housed at the St Andrews Botanic Garden.

Detail of: Bellotia eriophorum Harvey. Collected by F. von Mueller, Phillip Island (Australia). MG0053 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Detail of: Bellotia eriophorum Harvey. Collected by F. von Mueller, Phillip
Island (Australia). MG0053 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Margaret Gatty’s herbarium was curated by Dr Helen Blackler (1902-1981), who started working in St Andrews in 1947. Dr Blackler published several short notes regarding the collection, but a comprehensive description of the whole collection was never made. My assessment of the collection started by locating and counting specimens and plates in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, which were retrieved from many different shelves and cabinets in the St Andrews Herbarium.

More than 8,825 specimens and 500 plates belonging to the Margaret Gatty herbarium have now been found in STA. Some 4,250 specimens in the collection are still mounted in the original albums, approximately 2,975 specimens were kept in folders or in unsorted stacks or packages. Around 1,600 specimens were taken out of the original albums and were mounted by Dr Blackler on herbarium sheets.

The collection shows a great deal of variation: some specimens are very nicely preserved, other specimens are in poor condition. Some specimens specify the collector, taxon name, collection date and location, whereas other specimens have no associated data at all. In her notes, Dr Blackler suggested that at least 500 specimens in the collection should be designated as type material. Although the full taxonomic scope of the collection has not yet been assessed, it is apparent that the collection contains several type specimens.

Following the retrieval and assessment of specimens, the STA collections were reorganised to allow the specimens in the Margaret Gatty herbarium to be stored together. Further curation is ongoing and includes numbering and databasing of selected specimens.

Detailed results of my findings will be described in a forthcoming paper in NatSCA News. I would like to thank NatSCA for providing this fantastic opportunity to promote and safeguard a very interesting and important historical collection.

Dr Heleen Plaisier, St Andrews University (Visiting Scholar, School of Biology)

Margaret Gatty’s algal herbarium in St Andrews

In February 2013, NatSCA kindly granted me the Bill Pettit Memorial Award in order to assess and describe the algal herbarium of Margaret Gatty in the St Andrews University Herbarium.

Detail of: Chorda filum (Linnaeus) Stackhouse. Collected in Filey (Yorkshire. UK), August 1871. MG0079 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Detail of: Chorda filum (Linnaeus) Stackhouse. Collected in Filey (Yorkshire.
UK), August 1871. MG0079 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Margaret Gatty (1809-1873) started collecting seaweeds in 1848 when she spent some months convalescing at Hastings. She built up a large herbarium of her own collections, supplemented by local and foreign specimens sent to her by phycologists such as William Henry Harvey, Catherine Cutler and Jacob Georg Agardh. Margaret Gatty and her daughter Horatia carefully organized the herbarium in albums, following Harvey’s taxonomical insights. In 1863, Margaret Gatty published a two-volume book on British seaweeds.

The bulk of Margaret Gatty’s herbarium was donated to the Gatty Marine Laboratory in St Andrews in April 1907, by her daughter Horatia Eden. The collection was initially kept at the Gatty Marine Laboratory, which was named after its benefactor Charles Henry Gatty (1836-1903), a distant cousin of Margaret Gatty’s husband, the reverend Alfred Gatty. The collection was later incorporated in the St Andrews University Herbarium (STA) and moved to the Department of Botany. The STA collections are currently housed at the St Andrews Botanic Garden.

Detail of: Bellotia eriophorum Harvey. Collected by F. von Mueller, Phillip Island (Australia). MG0053 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Detail of: Bellotia eriophorum Harvey. Collected by F. von Mueller, Phillip
Island (Australia). MG0053 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Margaret Gatty’s herbarium was curated by Dr Helen Blackler (1902-1981), who started working in St Andrews in 1947. Dr Blackler published several short notes regarding the collection, but a comprehensive description of the whole collection was never made. My assessment of the collection started by locating and counting specimens and plates in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, which were retrieved from many different shelves and cabinets in the St Andrews Herbarium.

More than 8,825 specimens and 500 plates belonging to the Margaret Gatty herbarium have now been found in STA. Some 4,250 specimens in the collection are still mounted in the original albums, approximately 2,975 specimens were kept in folders or in unsorted stacks or packages. Around 1,600 specimens were taken out of the original albums and were mounted by Dr Blackler on herbarium sheets.

The collection shows a great deal of variation: some specimens are very nicely preserved, other specimens are in poor condition. Some specimens specify the collector, taxon name, collection date and location, whereas other specimens have no associated data at all. In her notes, Dr Blackler suggested that at least 500 specimens in the collection should be designated as type material. Although the full taxonomic scope of the collection has not yet been assessed, it is apparent that the collection contains several type specimens.

Following the retrieval and assessment of specimens, the STA collections were reorganised to allow the specimens in the Margaret Gatty herbarium to be stored together. Further curation is ongoing and includes numbering and databasing of selected specimens.

Detailed results of my findings will be described in a forthcoming paper in NatSCA News. I would like to thank NatSCA for providing this fantastic opportunity to promote and safeguard a very interesting and important historical collection.

Dr Heleen Plaisier, St Andrews University (Visiting Scholar, School of Biology)