NatSCA Digital Digest – January

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first Digital Digest of 2018. We have lots of news, conferences, and jobs to keep you entertained for the rest of the ‘working week’. Read on…

What Should I Read?

Palaeontologists have made public the discovery of a new giant bat found in New Zealand, and the media has gone mad for it. Its scientific name (Vulcanops jennyworthyae) was chosen to commemorate the Roman god of fire (specifically including that of volcanoes, making him rather relevant to New Zealand), as well as the hotel in the village in which it was found (also named after Vulcan – that is the Roman god, not Spock’s home planet), and the scientist who found the first fossils; Jenny Worthy.

If you’d like to know all about the Chair of the Geological Curators’ Group, Matthew Parkes, then a perusal of the new blog Six questions for a geological curator would be a good place to start.

The third blog article I’d like to recommend actually came out mid December but it has a lot of interesting points that are important for those working with natural history collections to consider, and so is worth another mention; Four ways natural history museums skew reality.

Continue reading

Making the Most of a Move

Making the Most of a Move: Geological Curators’ Group Conference, Day Two

We like to share the goodies in the field of natural history, so in the first ever cross-over of its kind, Part I (comprising Day One) of this blog can be found over on the Geological Curator’s Group website. No need to take the time to google it, let me give you a hand over there.

Night Early Morning at the Museum

The only thing that beats going to a natural history museum is visiting it when you’re not meant to be. The trump card of such a visit, is when you’re allowed to go to parts of the collections, not normally accessible to the general public. After a day in the lecture theatre, the 35+ members of the “Making the Most of a Move” conference assembled the following morning outside the Natural History gallery of the National Museum of Ireland, in order to tick off every one of the above, on the Museum Treats Bingo Card*.

Continue reading

NatSCA Digital Digest – May


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. Continue reading

NatSCA Digital Digest

Greater one horned rhino (C) E-L Nicholls

Greater one horned rhino (C) E-L Nicholls

Jobs and Traineeships

Post Doctoral Research Assistant- Origin of Land Plants, at the Natural History Museum. Applications for this externally funded two year project close on 7th December 2015.

Education Assistant; Bookings Administrator and Family Programming Officer, at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The position is for 3 years and deadline for applications is 12pm on 16th December.

Events and Exhibitions

Call for papers for the April 2016 conference Objectively Speaking at the British Museum. The conference is set to explore four main themes:

  1. How can museums connect collections with classroom and academic teaching?
  2. How can objects facilitate creative teaching practice?
  3. What is the impact and opportunity of digital technology for object based teaching?

The deadline for proposals is 12pm on 15th January 2016.

A day conference on 11th December called Conservation Matters in Wales – ‘Conservators in Action’ is taking place at the National Museum Wales, in Cardiff. It will include presentations, short tours, and drinks in the pub afterwards (optional!)

Around the Web

Got literary inspiration to find or time to kill? Check out 100 Best Museum and Curator Blogs.

Rachel Petts graces the PalaeoManchester blog with beautiful sharks teeth (I’m not biased) (that might be a lie) as she introduces us to a collection of Eocene Chondrichthyan fossils, found in the UK, and recently donated to Manchester Museum. Hooray!

NatSCA Digital Digest


Jobs and Traineeships

Norfolk Museums Service is offering six 12-month paid traineeships, including one post in natural history. The closing date for applications is 3 January 2016. See here for details.

Curatorial Assistant, Anthropology Audit: Natural History Museum (NHM), London. Six-month collections-based role. Applications close 7 December 2015.

Documentation Officer (job share): Horniman Museum & Gardens, London. 19 hours/week. Applications close 14 December 2015.

Events and Exhibitions

Introduction to Diptera Families. Oxford University Museum of Natural History. A two-day workshop on the ecology and identification of flies.

Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed. Manchester Museum. An exhibition showing how modern science can help explain the ancient practice of animal mummification. Open now until 17 April 2016.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015. Natural History Museum, London. As always, this is a stunningly beautiful exhibition, and well worth seeing. If you can’t make it to London, you can also see it on tour at other museums around the UK.

Collected and Possessed. Horniman Museum & Gardens, London. An exhibition by artist Mark Fairnington, inspired by the collections of the Horniman, NHM, and Wellcome Collection. Open now, until 24 January 2016.

Around the Web

A WNPR podcast looking behind the glass of the taxidermy dioramas the the Peabody Museum.

Who’s digitising what? The New York Times guide to online natural science collections.

In pursuit of plants: The Marianne North Gallery at Kew.

Funny Bones

I wanted to be an Archaeologist when I was 11, and this was certainly down to a fascination with the bones of animals. My inspiration from a very young age came from the wonderful series of ‘Funny Bones’ books by Allan and Janet Ahlberg. The skeletons certainly made me think about how the bones of humans and animals (admittedly not 100% accurate) moved together. I trace my later interest to the many books on dinosaurs and prehistoric life that I assiduously read in my school library. Fast forward 20 years and as an intern at Auckland War Memorial Museum in 2012, I was allowed to ‘have a go’ at preparing some native birds for skeletonisation by de-fleshing them. At Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum, I worked on a small project to re-house some Moa bones whose storage and provenance needed to be updated. However, I wasn’t aware of the methods to clean and maintain bone and re-mount skeletal collections in museums.

I was therefore pleased when NatSCA and conservators from the Cambridge Museum of Zoology put together an amazing conference and workshop called ‘Bone Collections: using, conserving and understanding osteology in museums’. Depending on your area of interest, you could attend for some or all of the talks, or take part in a bone cleaning workshop hosted by Bethany Palumbo, Conservator at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and Vicky Singleton and Natalie Jones of Cambridge University Museums. By taking part, I was able to gain some practical hands on experience of handling and observing bones in collections, and using a variety of dry and wet cleaning methods that are recommended as safe to use, easy to apply, and non-invasive.

Bone cleaning in progress (Image: Anthony Roach)

Bone cleaning in progress (Image: Anthony Roach)

Bethany began by outlining the structure and composition of bone and the impact that light, humidity, and temperature can have on bone if not properly cared for. Bone can become bleached through exposure to light. The surface of bones can crack if they become too hot or suffer mould damage if left in cold, damp conditions. Bethany explained that the bone itself can also cause problems, such as with the secretion of natural fats and oils, which are acidic and can ooze out of specimens long after they have been cleaned and erected for display. This can lead to acid burn. Mechanical damage of bones can also occur, where wire is excessively tight in articulated specimens, or fatty acids react with copper wire and pins to cause Verdigris.

Vicky Singleton,  Conservator at Cambridge University Museums  pictured demonstrating dry cleaning methods (Image: Anthony Roach)

Vicky Singleton, Conservator at Cambridge University Museums pictured demonstrating dry cleaning methods (Image: Anthony Roach)

Vicky Singleton and Natalie Jones then systematically went through the various methods for dry and wet cleaning of bones. The methods for dry cleaning include using a vacuum and brush, smoke sponge, a ‘groom stick’ made of natural rubber, and air. These methods are less time consuming, less invasive, and more cost effective than wet methods. I was able to choose specimens from a box of assorted bones, and see the impact of the methods for myself. I could see the difference literally first hand on the digits of a primate hand, using the various dry methods. I then used the wet methods on a collection of horse vertebrae. The wet methods made a dramatic difference to the surface of the bone. These include using solvents such as de-ionised water, ethanol, and white spirit, enzymes, and detergents (e.g. Synperonic A7). I was amazed by the impact of white spirit on greasy bones, where water made little or no impact. The clear favourite to remove dirt in general was actually something I hadn’t ever considered: human saliva, which is full of enzymes. Human saliva! Who knew?

Bones shown partially cleaned by various solvents including water, ethanol and white spirit, as part of the wet cleaning methods (Image: Anthony Roach)

Bones shown partially cleaned by various solvents including water, ethanol and white spirit, as part of the wet cleaning methods (Image: Anthony Roach)

The talks were equally excellent, such as the session by Paolo Viscardi on the uses of skeletal reference collections at Sheffield University, which consists of over 1800 specimens, organised in a useful way for teaching and research. Jack Ashby’s #BoneIdols talk about the successful crowdsourcing project to protect some of the Grant Museum’s most scientifically important and rare specimens was also inspiring. The quagga, for instance, has became something of a celebrity in its own right through a very successful marketing campaign where visitors could see the conservation, re-mounting, and re-storage of the specimen. Interest was also maintained through press releases and blogs about the Quagga and the use of technology used in museums. Jan Freedman’s ‘Game of Bones’ talk on the methods for preparing animals for skeletonisation and using bone collections was also memorable.

Anthony Roach, Natural History Museum (NHM)

NatSCA Digital Digest



Save the date! The 2016 NatSCA Conference & AGM will be held 21 – 22 April 2016 in Derby, at the Silk Mill and Derby Museum & Art Gallery. A call for papers and more details will follow. We look forward to seeing you there!


Museum Manager, Great North Museum: Hancock. A great opportunity to manage the Hancock and its wonderful Natural Science collections. Applications close 12 November 2015.

Assistant Curator, National Museums Scotland. Two six-month posts in Natural Sciences, one working with the bird collections, the other with mammals and wet specimens. Applications close 16 November 2015.

Vertebrate Palaeontologist, Qatar Museum, Doha. A full-time, permanent position in sunny Qatar! Applications close 30 November 2015.


26 November 2015: A talk about the #naturedata pilot system at the Natural History Museum (NHM), London. Flett Lecture Theatre, 2.30pm.

1 – 2 December 2015: Geological Curator’s Group (GCG) AGM. The full programme is now available online, and there is still time to book.

Around the Web

The National Guard had to be called in to airlift a baby Pentaceratops excavated by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

The Londonist went behind the scenes at the Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL.

Historic series of museum specimens have helped to solve the puzzle of the evolution of the sparrow’s bill.

A new species of bat has been discovered in the collections of the NHM, where it has resided in a jar since 1983. A relatively short shelf-life by museum standards!