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

NatSCA Digital Digest


Conferences and Workshops

Last weekend a number of people attended our workshop. We’re looking forward to hearing from any of those who attended so do please get in touch if you’d like to send us a write-up. On a related subject, there is a very good write-up of the previous NatSCA workshop, on all things osteological, here.

Coming up on the 15th October 2015, we’re really excited about the Identification of Natural Materials workshop – it’s going to be great!

We are just over a month away from the Tetrapod Zoology Conference, held at the London Wetland Centre on the 15th November 2015. There will be numerous NatSCA members there so do come and say hi.



Glass Delusions at the Grant Museum is the new display by resident artist Eleanor Morgan, which explores the natural world through the medium of glass. There are a lot of associated activities, such as last week’s screening of 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea (which I missed :(). Do check it out.
News from the Journals

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past two months, you’ve probably heard the name Homo naledi before. This is the new and well-represented member of the human genus that was recently found during the Rising Star expedition. A brain about the size of a gorilla’s but who hints at ritual burial, it’s all very cool but it gets better: in a rare departure, the second and third papers on this specimen follow hotly on the heels of the first. There is one specifically focussing on the hand of H. naledi and another dedicated to the foot. Having seen casts of the hands and feet at the Natural History Museum’s Science Uncovered event, there’s certainly plenty to write about.


News from the Blogosphere

It’s Mark week this week it seems. We have two blog posts to share with you: the first is some heartfelt venting by Oxford’s Mark Carnall on his personal blog on the over-use of certain Natural history tropes. Here’s the link.

The second is an artistic representation of a topic that was raised at SVPCA this year: Apatosaurine neck fighting by Mark Witton. Here’s the story.

NatSCA Digital Digest


Conferences and Workshops

It’s conference season folks and I’ve been listening to the live feed of the Michigan State University Digital Archaeology Institute. This week they’re looking at how map-related frameworks can help you explain your data visually. There is a step-by-step guide as well as downloadable resources and great advice available at the #msudai tag.

Next week in Portsmouth we’ll have Flugsaurier 2015, the place to be if you love pterosaurs. I am trying to get there myself but, if you go, it would be great to have a chat with you about it. There’s going to be some great new stuff coming out of it. Watch that space.

Immediately after that we have SVPCA of course – this year in neighbouring Southampton. the two conferences are so close in space and time that they’re sharing a field trip between them! I can’t make it to SVPCA but get in touch if you’d like to write a review for us about it.


Good news for the California condor: their mortality rate has fallen from 37% in 2000 to an all-time low of 5.4% thanks to the efforts of conservationists. The main threats to condor survival are power lines and lead content in their diets. Aversion therapy has taught the condor to steer well clear of the power lines. You can read all about it here.

It’s take-over day – when the social media accounts of major institutions are taken over by young people. We’re looking forward to seeing what they do with them, it’s going to be a great learning experience for us all.

News from the Blogosphere

The Geological Society have launched a photography competition that is right up the GCG‘s alley. To enter, send in a picture of one of Britain and Ireland’s top 100 geosites. For the list and how to enter, click here. There’s a lot of beautiful landmarks that didn’t make the cut.

Highlights from the Papers

Dave Hone and colleagues have published on a beautiful specimen of Rhamphorhynchus – complete with soft tissue and possibly-associated coprolite. You can read the paper here.