NatSCA Digital Digest


What a month we’ve had! The Conference at Cambridge on the 20th to 21st April was a roaring success. Over 100 museum delegates gathered together beneath the mantle of a Finback whale skeleton, to swap notes and revive old connections. Many heated exchanges were had over issues ranging from fungi to frocked wolves. No museum-based conference is complete without a tour of the stores – big thanks once again to the Zoology Museum for having us. We got a sneak-preview of the new gallery space too and, while I can’t post pictures of that, I can tell you that you have to go and see it when they open. Highlights for me included an elephant from Sri Lanka with links to Stanley Kubrik, and a Diorama of a beach with added surprises for future conservators.


Tinamou egg collected by Charles Darwin, at the Zoology Museum, Cambridge

You shall hear more tales from the conference over the coming weeks, as the speakers bring us their prose. In the meantime, let’s talk job vacancies!


The Oxford Museum of Natural History are looking for four Collection Move Project Assistants. All the information can be found here – act quickly though: you have until the 8th to submit your application!

The Horniman Museum are seeking a full-time Digital Assistant. If that sounds like you, apply here. The deadline isn’t until the 15th but I’d hurry anyway (half-tempted to apply for it myself).

The University Museum of Bergen are looking for two Conservators for a fixed-term 2 year project. For more details of the job and to apply, click here.

Events and Workshops

Come to the Grant Museum on the 20th May for Under the Skin: Taxidermy Lates, with Jazmine Miles-Long. The event is free but booking is required as there are limited places available.

There are still places available for this Year’s Tetrapod Zoology Convention (#Tetzoocon). It’s a must-see for anyone interested in tetrapods, speculative zoology, critical appraisals of cryptozoological claims, or issues of prehistoric life reconstruction. This year’s speakers will include, among others, Beth Windle discussing all things Thylacine. You can find out more here.

In the News

It was unfortunate that the international March for Science the day after the NatSCA Conference. I did see a few of you there though, which was fantastic – well done for pushing past the aching joints to strive for evidence-based policy.

Good news: the Lousiana University collection of six million fish specimens, which were threatened with destruction last month, have had a last-minute reprieve. You can read more about this story here.


That’s all for now folks and I wish all of you a great Star Wars Day. I shall be celebrating with bad punnery by watching the Wookiee Hole cave cam. May the 4th be with you!

NatSCA Digital Digest



Welcome to the August 2016 edition of the NatSCA Digital Digest: an oasis of calm in a raging tempest of olympics, Trump, brexit, austerity, and celebrity deaths.

News from the Blogospbere

Hannah Cornish has been writing about the often-overlooked gems of the museum collection: the slides. You can read it here.


Image courtesy of the Oxford University Museum of Natural history

So Pokémon Go happened last month: the Smartphone game that has been an unintended boon for the museum world. Several curators have weighed in on the phenomenon; here is Jack Ashby’s take on it.
News from Nature

The organisation which used to call itself “Nature First” has just demonstrated why that name was no good. In a shock announcement last week, Natural England seems to be favouring the lives of human-reared pheasants over the lives of the wild buzzard. We have watched buzzard numbers slowly recover over the past thirty years, it would be dreadful to see all that progress lost now – and even worse if the hunters mistake other struggling raptors (the Hen Harrier, e.g.) for a buzzard. Here is the RSPB’s response.
News from the Museums

I’ve been doing some travelling lately. I visited the Natural History Museum in Doncaster. It’s a small but delightful museum which has struggled through some hard times, as so many have, but makes the most of what it has. Its collections are benefitting greatly from having a specialist curator right now – long may it continue.

A little closer to home: I visited the Natural History Museum’s new Colour and Vision exhibition, which is beautiful despite not mentioning the Tuatara anywhere. The exhibition looks at the evolution of the eye throughout nature and the beautiful ways in which nature tries to catch the visual attention of others. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend it.


A montage of Trilobite sensory organs


I am delighted to announce that Deputy Keeper of the Horniman Museum, co-blogger, and good friend Emma Louise Nicholls is engaged to be married! I wish her and her fiance every happiness for the future.

NatSCA Digital Digest


May the force of nature be with you! Welcome to another Digital Digest, everybody. It seems people really took home the message of last year’s conference and so the social media enthusiasm for this year’s NatSCA conference was immense – thank you to everybody who tweeted, shared, pinned, and otherwise spread the message of Noticing Nature.


The conference also fell on a designated digest day, so rather than halve our resources to deliver a digest to an already overwhelmed readership, we thought we’d bring you a bumper installment this month instead. Vicky Purewal has recently touched upon the topic of our conference. Write-ups from our bursary recipients will be posted here, and talk write-ups will be published in Notes & Comments and in the next issue of the Journal of Natural Science Collections, due out at the end of this year.

Next year’s NatSCA conference will be held in Cambridge, so start planning your accommodation now, folks! You don’t want to miss this one.


Next, I’d like to congratulate both of my fellow NatSCA bloggers on their recent news:

Rachel Jennings, congratulations on joining the committee as our newest Editor. Rachel will be taking on the task of crafting our yearly journal into a thing of beauty. You’ve all seen what she’s done with our Facebook page and this blog, so I’m sure you’ll all agree that she’ll do a terrific job of this too.

Emma-Louise Nicholls, congratulations on becoming the Deputy Keeper at the Horniman Museum. Those of you who have been around a while will know that the former occupant of this position was our very own Paolo Viscardi.

Gina Allnatt has just started at Doncaster Museum this week as their new Natural History Curatorial Assistant, and we’re all really looking forward to learning more about this charming museum.


NatSCA will be holding a seminar on Natural Science Collections and the Law on 15th June 2016 at the University of Bristol. Booking is open now! See here for details:

Next month on the 1st of June, PubSci will be hearing from guest speaker Katrina Van Grouw on the marriage between art and the life sciences. Katrina is author of the Unfeathered Bird and has an exciting new book in the pipeline. She may even show us some sneak previews if we’re lucky. Do come along if you can, it’s going to be great.

And Finally

Finally, a belated happy 90th birthday to David Attenborough, who first graced our screens in 1952 and is still going to this day! I’m sure I speak for us all when I say that his natural history documentaries have been an inspiration and a delight.

NatSCA Digital Digest

Welcome to the February installment of our new monthly format of the NatSCA Digital Digest. This will give your lovely blog editors much more time to write about cool stuff between digests, which can only be a good thing – right?
You’d better get applying for Paolo‘s old job at the Horniman. Deadline is the 17th February!
Conferences and Workshops
It is the 14th Coleopterist Day at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History this Saturday. Do come along if you can, it’s free and no sign up is required.
Early word from the world of Darren and John suggests a likely November date for Tetzoocon 2016. If you haven’t been to a Tetzoocon yet, do go – they’re great fun with lots of informative speakers including several NatSCA members.
News from the Museums
The Grant Museum is hosting a Valentine’s event this year – do check it out – it looks like it’s going to be lots of fun.
I went to visit the new Anthropology exhibition at the Natural History Museum, London at the end of last week. Those of you who visited the old one will notice some differences: Gone are the spinning skull casts worn smooth like the statue of a church Saint. Gone is the disproportionate emphasis on genus Homo and the appearance of agriculture. Instead what you have is a walk-through gallery outlining the entire hominid line, featuring footprints, skeletons, and tools – including a rather impressively preserved 420,000 year-old wooden spear. Beside each of the better-preserved skulls sits a fetching artist’s reconstruction of the individual. The cases are right up-to-date with specimens found as recently as last year. Sure the handling specimens will wear smooth and the taxonomy will need revising in another 30 years but, for now, it’s a beautiful place to visit and I can’t wait to see what they’re doing to the dinosaur gallery.
A tree full of hominids
If you missed Mark Carnall’s BBC Radio 4 talk about underwhelming fossil fish, fear not: you can catch it all on Inside Science. We are reminded in segments like these that the fossil record is no trophy room and nature will keep many specimens that we might otherwise throw back.
We often hear from London and Oxford Museums but today I have a small treat for you: did you know that the Doncaster Museum has a hybrid quagga foal? Neither did I until last month. You can read about it here. I suspect we’re going to be hearing a lot more from the Doncaster Museum in the near future – more on that story later.

NatSCA Digital Digest

There is a temporary Curatorial Assistant position going in Sheffield. For more details about the spec, see here.
Be sure to check the NatSCA jobs board regularly, we don’t want you to miss out.
A new exhibition on the Bates specimens has just opened up at the Oxford Museum of Natural History, put together by our very own Gina Allnatt. You can read more about the exhibition here and of course visit the new display in the top hall of the museum.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology are commissioning a new  wall of birds – the wall will feature over 260 species painted to scale and I for one will definitely need to go and see it!
Cool stuff on the Internet
You may know him from his phylogenetic silhouette site Phylopic. If you’re really ancient, you’ll know him from a great site called the Dinosauricon. Now T. M. Keesey has embarked on a new Palaeocene comic, which looks fantastic and you can read it here.
The people from Palaeocast are working on a virtual natural history museum. It will be a way for people to access digitised resources like never before. It’s early stages yet but do check it out.
Papers and Blogs about Papers
Chris Stringer raises some issues with exactly where Homo naledi sits on the hominid family tree in this piece for eLife.

NatSCA Digital Digest


(Image by Ton Rulkens, in public domain)

Good morning all, I’m recently back from volunteering on the Orchid Observers project, working on determining the effect of climate change on the UK’s orchid species. I’m going to talk about that in a bit more detail later but let’s see what’s been happening this week:

In the News

The Natural History Museum, London, will be reprising its Human origins permanent exhibition next month. Anyone who remembers the old exhibition in the upper gallery and then attended the temporary One Million Years exhibition will know that much of the research of the last decade was missing from the old one. This relaunch comes as welcome news to many.


Speaking of Welcome news, the Wellcome Collection will soon be launching its exhibition on Tibet’s Lukhang Palace. One may not ordinarily think of cultural structures as coming under the remit of Natural History but it’s amazing how much geology there is in stone work, not to mention all the nature-inspired tapestries and decorations, andthe animal-skin boats used to reach the palace.

11-year-old nature enthusiast Zach has just finished a year of daily nature blogging. Check out the fruits of his impressive work here.


News from NatSCA

Don’t forget that the final entries for a Bill Pettit Memorial Award grant are due in on the 12th December 2015 – get submitting here.


From the Blogosphere

Oxford’s Mark Carnall has written a must-read piece in the wake of the Museums Association conference on the role of the Subject Specialist. You can find it here.

If your local museum is up to something interesting, do get in touch.

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) 2015

NatSCA Digital Digest

Hello and welcome to an SVP conference-themed edition of the NatSCA blog. Before we get started, I’d like to introduce you to two very special lion cubs: These two are from the species Panthera leo spelaea, the now-extinct cave lion. They are at least 10 000 years old and they look like they died yesterday. Here’s a link to Brian Switek’s story of the find.

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) conference this year was an avalanche of information, not only for those who attended but for those of us following the live tweets too! I won’t be able to recount the entire thing and you’re probably best off taking a look at the Storify but I’ll mention a few of the highlights for me.

There were non-avian dinosaurs with blue eggs, as well as research on the basal condition of archosaur parenting based on extant bird and croc behaviour.

Bob Bakker presented a view of Dimetrodon as a “Permian bear”: an opportunistic feeder, pulling burrowing animals out of their tunnels by the face some days – while shark-wrestling and taking chunks out of other Dimetrodon the next. I look forward to further studies of these claims but it’s great to see pre-mesozoic behaviour getting an airing.

Nanotyrannus lancensis has been sunk by Dr. Thomas Carr as a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex. For many this will not be ground-breaking news and there are still questions surrounding its outsized forelimbs that need addressing. Carr compared it to Jane, the Burpee’s spectacular sub-adult specimen and saw clear transitional features from sleek juvenile to hefty adult. Here’s the press release from the SVP.

Paul Sereno gave a frustrating talk on the poor swimming abilities of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus which, given its recently revised body plan, left people wondering what exactly Spinosaurus did well. This could not have come at a worse time for our dear old sailed theropod, as a recent review – published in the PeerJ – of the material associated with Spinosaurus has reattributed much of it to a separate genus of spinosaurid, Sigilmassasaurus. While we wait for Ibrahim et al’s much-anticipated monograh, here’s a recap of the story so far by Mark Witton.

Traces of weening behaviour may hold clues as to the cause of mammoth extinction. By studying nitrogen isotopes in the tips of mammoth tusks, Michael Cherney of the University of Michigan discovered that calves were coming off their mother’s milk younger and younger leading up to their extinction. Shortened weaning can be caused by the stresses of over-hunting in modern elephants and points to over-hunting by our ancestors as the probably cause of their demise. This, combined with John Alroy’s work on the Australian megafauna extinction – also pointing to the spread of humans as primary cause – made this year’s SVP an awkward time to be an human.

Next year’s SVP will be held in Salt Lake City, I can’t wait to hear what this year’s “zomg $8 beer” brigade make of that one (dry town, folks. Dry. town).

Finally, don’t forget to book your Tetzoocon tickets – it is right around the corner!

Sam Barnett, NatSCA Blog Editor