Naturalis’ New Hall of Evolution

Written by Becky Desjardins, Senior Preparateur, Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

In 2019 Naturalis opened a new building with eight permanent exhibit halls. We are happy to announce that we have opened the ninth hall, Evolution. The exhibit designer, Marijke Besselink, told me that the concept for the hall was developed after she heard how visitors reacted to a stone that was in the former Naturalis prehistory exhibit. This stone came from Greenland and dates to 3.76 billion years ago. In this rock you can see layers that indicate the presence of oxygen that might have been produced by single celled organisms. It is one of the earliest signs of life on earth. One of the museum educators told Marijke how in the old exhibit, visitors were astonished that the rock was so old, and would touch it with awe. Now this centerpiece is in the front centre of the dark blue exhibit, and when a visitor touches the stone, it starts up a light and sound interaction which connects to other vitrines around the exhibit. This gives the visitor a feeling of connection, that everything on Earth is intertwined: we are all related.

© Henk Caspers

Around the stone we can find fossils from the Burgess Shale, a Canadian formation that includes more than 500-million-year-old ancestors of most modern animals. Marijke wanted to make it clear to the public what the animals preserved as fossils looked like as to the casual observer these small fossils sometimes look like a dark grey smudge! Projections help the fossil organisms manifest out of their slate beds and move across the vitrine and into an aquarium filled with creatures from the so-called Cambrian explosion. The aquarium, made with the Pepper’s Ghost technique, is one of the highlights of the hall. Besides being very cool looking, visitors see how these prehistoric animals moved, and see how similar they are to modern animals.

The other vitrines in the hall are different examples of organisms adapting to their environment, designed to show the visitor how evolution occurs. Marijke’s favourite display is the study skins of five Galapagos finches, where the different beak and body sizes show adaptation related to the different and variable island climates. For example, a finch with a large bill can eat seeds found on the ground of a forest, but those with a smaller bill can eat seeds from a cactus in a drier environment. Of course, Charles Darwin gets a mention here as well!

© Henk Caspers

Along the wall of the exhibit there is a mounted giraffe head, this is an example of random genetic mutation. The text encourages visitors to consider if having such a long neck is an advantage or a hindrance. A display about the shells of land snails shows how they become paler in colour in urban areas: the lighter colour reflecting more heat. A large display on the back of the hall shows how dinosaur evolution occurred and the changes as a result of two large extinction events: The Permian-Triassic the Cretaceous-Paleogene.

© Henk Caspers

There are also a few games, one where the player tries to match DNA and another where the player slides their arm in a box and can see an “x-ray” of their bones. The player then turns a dial at the top of the box and can see how their bones would look as they were differently evolved. How does your radius look as a fossil fish?

© Henk Caspers

My personal favourite vitrine is filled with a mounted chimpanzee and bananas. This vitrine reminds viewers that chimps are not our ancestors, but our cousins. We share 99% of our DNA with them, however, we also share 50% of the same DNA with a banana. We are related to a banana! This insight, that we are all connected, guides visitors to the idea that we need to take care of each other and everything in the natural world, because not treating the natural world well is equivalent to not taking care of ourselves.

This is truly an elegant and interesting exhibit hall, and Marijke and her team deserve lots of credit. If you are around Leiden, please stop by and visit! You too can see how your hand would look as a Tiktaalik flipper.

NatSCA Digital Digest – January 2023

Compiled by Claire Dean, Project Curator, Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery.

Welcome to the January edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences, and training opportunities. We are keen to hear from you if you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest, please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Sector News

The NatSCA annual conference and AGM will be held at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th April 2023. The focus this year is So how do we actually do all this? Hopeful futures and turning theory into practice for big issues in natural history collections.

We are looking for 20-minute presentations, 5-minute lightning talks, and posters. Work can be presented in-person or digitally. All the details you need are here. The deadline for submission is 5pm GMT Monday 30th January.

Abstract submissions are also now open for SPNHC 2023. The 38th Annual Meeting of The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections is being held in San Francisco, California 28 May – 2 June 2023. Full details here.

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Ostracod Odessey – Broadcasting the Brady Collection

Written by Dan Gordon, Keeper of Biology, The Great North Museum: Hancock.

The Great North Museum : Hancock is home to many remarkable collections, but one of the most important is perhaps one of the most unfamiliar to our visitors. The Brady collection of Ostracods.

Ostracods, sometimes called Seed Shrimp, are distinctive Class of crustaceans. A shell of two intricately textured valves almost entirely envelopes their shrimp-like bodies, with just a small opening for a cluster of rapidly moving legs to poke out. As their common name suggests, most species are very small, mostly invisible to human eye, but they’re ubiquitous, busily going about their lives wherever there is permanent or temporary water, from the poles to the tropics. Some swarm the world’s oceans in vast planktonic shoals, while others live in the still, dark pools of caves, in garden ponds or even puddles.

They’re poorly known outside of academic communities, which is a real shame, because despite being fascinating creatures in their own right, they have important roles in many aquatic ecosystems, and significantly, they’re commonly encountered in the fossil record, which means that they are particularly important indicator fossils. In addition, the chemical make-up of their distinctive shells tells us about ocean acidity and temperature, which can tell us about ocean warming and climate change.

The collection was the work of George Stewardson Brady, a local man, born in Gateshead in 1832, and one of the people who pioneered the study of these animals at a time when they were relatively poorly understood.  Housed in a row of cabinets, the Brady collection is made up of nearly 3000 microscope slides with up to 100 Ostracods on each. These specimens were collected all over the world, many of them by well-known expeditions such as the HMS Challenger expeditions in the 1870s. It contains many Types, and provides a valuable resource for the study of these animals today.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – December 2022

Compiled by Milo Phillips, Assistant Curator of Entomology for National Museums Scotland.

Welcome to the December edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences, and training opportunities. We are keen to hear from you if you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest, please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Sector News

Catch up: Museum Action for Climate Empowerment Webinars

The most recent webinar from the Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO) is now available to watch online if you were unable to make it to the live webinar in November. Henry McGhie or Curating Tomorrow, and NEMO Policy Officer Elizabeth Wilde dig into sustainability insights for the sector, key ways that museums can meaningfully contribute to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and explores a new guide for how museums can measure and report greenhouse gas emissions. All previous webinars can also be found over on the NEMO YouTube channel.

Link to latest webinar: https://www.ne-mo.org/training/nemo-webinars.html

Link to NEMO YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@nemo-networkofeuropeanmuse7452

Registration Open for Field Studied Council January Courses

You can now register for upcoming natural history courses hosted by the Field Studies Council. January workshops include: an introduction to bee conservation, an exploration of botanical folklore, and courses on marine mammal and marine invertebrate biology and ecology. Many are hosted online with FSC Virtual, and costs vary.

Link to upcoming courses: https://www.field-studies-council.org/courses-and-experiences/natural-history-courses/

NatSCA Lunchtime Chats

The new lunchtime chats are for members only and run on the last Thursday of every month.

This series is supposed to be informal; no fancy equipment is needed; it will be put out over the NatSCA Zoom platform and there is no fixed format. There will be shaky walks through stores by mobile, demos, plain pieces to camera or traditional PowerPoints if that’s the best way to share images and info. For those who want to take part please email training@natsca.org to put forward your idea; if a stable internet connection for what you want to achieve is tricky, we can put up a pre-recorded video and then speakers can jump in at the end for the discussion.

Bring your sandwiches and a cuppa and we hope to see you on the day! All members will have received a link to join via Zoom (the same link works for all sessions) – if you haven’t, get in touch with membership@natsca.org

Where to Visit

Deck the Dinos

The Natural History Museum is getting festive! Drop by before January 3rd 2023 to see their T-Rex dressed up for the holidays in probably one of the largest Christmas jumpers we’ve ever seen.

Link to T-Rex article: https://blooloop.com/museum/news/natural-history-museum-t-rex-christmas-jumper/

Register for Alfred Russel Wallace’s Birthday Symposium

Oxford University Museum of Natural History will be celebrating the 200th birthday of Alfred Russel Wallace with a symposium exploring his contributions to science. The event is on January 9th and will be held both online and in person. Registration is now open, with details of timings and locations on their website.

Link to OUMNH event page: https://talks.ox.ac.uk/talks/id/0cd00bc2-2a47-49d3-a297-da1e96bff7be/

What to Read

A new species of extinct lizard has been described from the collection at the Natural History Museum. Read about how a 200-million-year-old fossil is changing our understanding of how modern lizards and other reptiles evolved.

Link: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2022/december/gloucestershire-fossil-suggests-modern-lizards-could-have-triassic-origins.html

A new book from Samuel Alberti, director of collections at National Museums Scotland explores how science museums can use their power to foster a greater sense of collaboration and community through sparking curiosity and boosting scientific literacy.

Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-03795-1

Forest & Bird announced their Bird of the Year winner for 2022. Bird of the Year is a nationwide campaign to raise awareness for endangered birds throughout Aotearoa, with spirited and often hilarious efforts by all to promote various birds as the favourite. The Pīwauwau Rock Wren, New Zealand’s only true alpine bird, is this year’s champion! Read more about the Pīwauwau and 2022’s so-called ‘underbirds’ on their website.

Link: https://www.birdoftheyear.org.nz/

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.

Museo Giovanni Capellini – Wunderkammer or Modern Museum?

Written by Michela Contessi, Conservator, Museum University Network, Collezione di Geologia “Museo Giovanni Capellini”, Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna.

The Geological Collection “Museo Giovanni Capellini” is part of the University Museum Network in Bologna (SMA – Sistema Museale di Ateneo). The museum is in an 18th-century building and includes a core of 16th-century geological and paleontological collections dating back to one of the oldest natural history museums in the world, created by Ulisse Aldrovandi in 1556. Most of the two million specimens now hosted in the museum though, were acquired by Professor Giovanni Capellini (1833-1922), holder of the first chair of geology established in Italy and rector of the University of Bologna. The museum holds important (both historically and scientifically) collections of rocks, fossils and documents from all around the world (Europe, Africa, North and South America), including the 1909 cast of Diplodocus carnegii, which is a popular touristic attraction in Bologna.

Facade of The Geological Collection "Museo Giovanni Capellini"
Figure 1 – Museum facade. © @Sistema Museale di Ateneo – University of Bologna

However, and here comes the problem…

After Capellini’s death in 1922 little was done for the museum, in the early 1960s, when the new-born Institute of Geology and Paleontology was built, the museum building was literally cut in half and the collections crowded into half the original space.

Figure 2 – Museum plan in 1911, shown in red is the current available space.
Figure 2 – Museum plan in 1911, shown in red is the current available space. © @Sistema Museale di Ateneo – University of Bologna

Structural issues arose due to this move, and the museum was closed to the public for almost 30 years. After a major renovation, funded for the ninth centenary anniversary of the University in 1988, the museum was given a new lighting and heating system, reopened to the public and it welcomes several thousand visitors a year since then. The building is now solid (as an old 500-year-old lady can be), but again nothing has been done since, and what looked like a good compromise in the eighties is now obsolete.

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