Private Bone/Taxidermy Collection: The Good, The Bad and The Illegal

This article is re-posted from the Adventures in Natural History Illustration blog by natural history illustrator Beth Windle.

This blog has taken a while to write. It’s a complicated subject that can be hard to condense into a simple blog post. However, I feel that it is now necessary to write about it due to growing, worrying, illegal, and unethical trends that are resurfacing due to a private natural history collection resurgence in recent years. Aside from this, I am aware of the positive aspects of private collections and therefore I do not want to come across as too preachy or completely ridicule those with private collections who work extremely hard to promote conservation and education. But I feel that some things now need to be said, as well as how these new problems need to be fixed with realistic solutions. Continue reading

Request for Poster Submissions for Bone Collections Conference

Bone Collections: Using, conserving and understanding osteology in museums.

Tuesday, 8th September 2015
University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

NatSCA invites you to submit abstracts for short, informal poster presentations to be held at the NatSCA Bone Collections day on the 8th September at the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge.

The day will include both a workshop on in-depth case studies of bone cleaning, re-articulation, conservation and restoration as well as presentations on bone identification and preparation, covering a wide variety of museum osteology topics.

Spaces are still available for both workshop and talks. The full programme and booking are available here.

Working with, understanding, using, maintaining and conserving bone collections is a large and complex topic. If you have experience and would like to submit a poster, please follow the guidelines below.

We hope that this poster session will facilitate skills-sharing and friendly discussion among participants, as well as providing an opportunity to exchange tips and tricks. Poster presentations are an ideal format for student projects, case studies, innovative ideas, and tried and tested techniques, as well as research related to this topic.

Abstracts must be submitted by 14th August, 2015. All submissions will be acknowledged within a few days. The posters will be on view throughout the day, with an organised time period for authors to discuss posters with conference attendees. Please ensure posters are no larger than A2 (420 x 594mm).

All abstracts will be printed and made available to attendees, and all posters will be made available on the NatSCA blog in pdf format.

Abstract submission:

  • List all authors: surname first, followed by first and middle names or initials. Separate authors’ names with semicolons
  • List authors’ institutions and addresses
  • Include the title in boldface
  • Abstract

Please send your abstracts and any queries to:

Natalie Jones

nj273@cam.ac.uk
T 07786 023709

or

Vicky Purewal

E vjpurewal@gmail.com
T 07917533411

Bringing the Dead Back to Life, with Paolo Viscardi

Paolo at the Museum of Comparative Anatomy, Paris

Last week saw the first PubSci talk by NatSCA Chair Paolo Viscardi since we moved venues to the King’s Arms near London Bridge. The subject, Bringing the Dead to Life, is less a Frankenstein manual and more of a description of his role as Deputy Keeper of Natural History at the Horniman Museum and Gardens. He works with dead things every day and he does so for the public’s benefit, because these collections are yours: both yours as a national collective, and yours as an individual if you want to do something with them.1

A large part of the reason we have these amazing collections is due to massive amount of world exploration by wealthy industrialists, tradesmen, and philanthropists. Frederick John Horniman was a tea trader, and collected all sorts of things in his travels. The stuff he brought back captured the public imagination because it introduced them to international cultures they would otherwise have no idea about. We take global information for granted today because we all have access to internet resources in our pockets, so it is hard for us to grasp how unusual it must have been for people in 1948 to see frescoes from Ceylon temples for the first time.

One of the fun side effects of this close encounter with the unusual is that oftentimes people preparing the specimens from overseas were only going by descriptions, and were not at all familiar with the species they were working on. A great example of this is the iconic Horniman Walrus, who was overfilled until he was wrinkle-free – in the style of a seal. There is an exhibit at the Grant Museum of Zoology at the moment discussing this phenomenon and featuring a lovely Stubbs painting of a kangaroo that resembles a giant mouse. Knowing how meticulous Stubbs was about his animal anatomy, one has to believe that this is exactly how he understood them to look and is not in any way an accident of the proportions.

The topic of proportions and measurement brings me on to a study done by Paolo et al. in 2010, looking at the variation in measurements taken of a section of owl bone, so naturally the paper was titled How long is a piece of Strix. Comparative measurement is a fundamental part of species identification, so naturally one would assume a consensus of readings taken by professionals. The results were somewhat different: when working alone, the measurements were accurate. When working as part of a team, the measurements strayed, and the more people collaborating, the greater the disparity between measurements.

As a science communicator both at the museum and through his blog, Paolo has had the opportunity to work on some interesting projects: he has advised BBC television series such as our patron Ben Garrod‘s Secrets of Bones and he has been interviewed for The One Show to explain why cats get stuck up trees (they can’t rotate their ankles). This allowed Paolo to introduce the viewing audience to the Margay (Leopardus wiedii): a cat that can rotate its ankles. He has shared his love of osteology with 13-year-old fellow-blogger Jake McGowan-Lowe, which led to Jake publishing a book on the subject! To promote a recent Horniman exhibition on extreme animal adaptations, Paolo was subjected to the harshest elements in nature, which earned him the title ‘Extreme Curator’, and his very own Lego action figure.

Margay

Margay. By Clément Bardot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Where next for Paolo’s science communication? You’ll have to ask him at the next PubSci with Professor Ian Barnes. If you’re a fan of pleistocene megafauna (and, let’s face it, who isn’t), I wouldn’t miss it.

Sam Barnett, NatSCA Blog Editor

1. Depending on what it is you want to do with them and how run-ragged the museum staff are.

Jake’s Bones: A Review

By Roberto Portela Miguez

When I was asked to review a book written by a twelve year old, I was slightly uncomfortable with the idea, as I thought that I would have to repress my usual critical and negative self and be gentle and considerate with the effort that this young nature enthusiast has put into such work. Needless to say, I did not want to come across as patronising either.

However, all my silly tribulations dissipated once I tucked into the book, and I actually found the publication not just faultless but truly enjoyable.

Jake McGowan-Lowe’s work is illustrated with beautiful photography and contains a wealth of knowledge and sound advice.

The new book by Jake McGowan-Lowe called Jake's Bones. (C) Paolo Viscardi

The new book by Jake McGowan-Lowe     called Jake’s Bones. (C) Paolo Viscardi

 

Each chapter has images of specimens from Jake’s very own skeletal collection, which ranges from the common British species to more exotic ones like armadillos and leopards. From the first pages one cannot fail to realise that this work was produced by someone with considerable first-hand experience on the topic. Maybe it was the picture of the more than two hundred skulls decorating his bedroom that gave away that the natural world is not just a pass-time for Jake, but something he is genuinely passionate about.

For each of the species included in the book, we are given details of some of the most significant skeletal adaptations and in specimens where a pathology is visible, Jake provides a well-founded interpretation.

The author does not shy away from using technical names for the different skeletal elements, but do not fear, because if you missed that lesson at school, there is a helpful glossary at the end. It is refreshing to see that Jake uses confidently and comfortably the relevant academic terminology. I was thrilled with this aspect of the editing and hold this as a triumph against those exhibition consultants that underestimate the level of knowledge of museum visitors and keep vanishing academic language from our galleries. You may now picture me taking my hat off to Jake for going boldly where museums used to go.

There is no osteological-related material that this studious naturalist cannot write about. From the basic “what is a bone?” to the more advanced ageing of animals from their bones, Jake displays an astonishing degree of knowledge on everything he presents.

The chapters that pleased me the most were the ones on tips for collectors, your bone collection and golden rules. It is easy to be awed by the natural beauty of the objects and their stories, but Jake wisely reminds all that there are a few important things to consider before we start accumulating our very own skeletal collection. Collection management, Health and safety and legislation are covered in these chapters and the author’s style makes it fun to read, so there is no excuse for accidents or incidents.

This is a great piece of work which I would recommend to anybody of any age and have no doubt that this will not be the last we will hear from such a talented science communicator.