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You could say that this month's post is written in the spirit of January detoxes and body cleanses and all that healthy, New Year resolution-y stuff. It is also, I should mention in advance, not a post for the faint-hearted, so if you are of a nervous or squeamish disposition, you should probably look away now.

 

You could say that this month's specimen is the most intimate and personal one I've ever written about. It is, I believe, unique in our collection as being the only specimen donated by a member of staff having been sourced from his own body.

 

I'll let the protagonist - former Museum Science Educator and current Discovery and Learning Officer at ZSL London Zoo, Theo Blossom, take up the tale:

It was May 2012, 7.30 in the morning. My alarm had gone off in my university campus dorm room, where I was studying for my Masters in Conservation Science. I got up out of bed, and I started to walk across my room. Two steps across the floor, I felt something… something between my legs, something dangling... So I put my hand down my underwear, and I felt something coming out of my… well, my bum! At this point I began to feel a little alarmed.

 

I started to pull at it tentatively. Whatever it was kept coming and coming and coming. It was a bit traumatic, but  finally, "it" came out. All nine inches of it! I held it up in front of my face, in disbelief - and then - it gave its last wiggle of life! That was when I began to freak out.

 

What Theo had just bravely removed from his own behind was (it would later be confirmed) a roundworm, Ascaris lumbricoides. He named it Judas and put it in a flatmate's (n.b. 'special thanks to Izzy') Tupperware container.

 

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An example of the human roundworm, Ascaris lumbricoides, (however, not 'Judas'). This species can grow up to ~40 cm (16 inches).

 

A visit to the campus doctor confirmed the aforementioned species type and also allayed some of Theo's fears about this strange creature that had been living in his body.

(The campus doctor) was a very well-spoken old boy who was probably, quite frankly, bored of handing out condoms. So when I slapped down Izzy's Tupperware box in front of him he became quite animated. Thumbing through a rather tatty book of potions he said: "Mebendazole, that will kill them. That is, if you want to kill them? It seems a shame. This little fella has probably been providing you a service - I presume you're fit and healthy with no allergies?"

 

It's all about the idea of "ecosystem services", Theo in turn explained to me. That is, the benefit that human species gain from resources and processes supplied by ecosystems. In this case, exposure to parasites (roundworm) keeps our immune system active and therefore better able to cope with other foreign bodies, from everyday pollen to more harmful bacteria.

I've since worked out that this little dude was inside me for two years. I didn't know. He caused me no problems. Coincidently or not, I have no allergies. The reality is our bodies are riddled with living organisms which are there all the time but do us no harm whatsoever. In fact, they benefit us in many ways.

 

After learning all this, I began to feel a bit bad. This little guy has been part of a marvellous little ecosystem that was boosting my immune system, and I'd just ended the party.

 

But Judas - who is actually female, not male - lives on, in body, and, technically, in spirit, in the Museum's specimen collection. After speaking to a Museum expert in parasitic worms to find out more about Ascaris lumbricoides, Theo was encouraged to donate his find (or should that be harvest?) to live on in perpetuity behind the scenes of the Darwin Centre, among our more than half a million other parasitic worm specimens.

 

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Theo revisiting his roundworm, affectionately known as Judas, in the Museum's Darwin Centre this week.

It's a dream come true for anyone into natural history to have their name recorded in the scientific scriptures of the Natural History Museum, alongside the likes of Charles Darwin. I just didn't think it would be quite like this!

 

My great, great grandchildren, can, if they wish, in years from now, walk into the Museum and request to see Judas in all her glory. My great grandchild will ask my granddaughter: "Mummy, can we go and see great Granddad's worm?" And from beyond the grave, that will be a proud moment for me.

 

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'To see "Ex Homo sapiens (Theo Blossom)" written on a specimen jar at the Natural History Museum is pretty awesome!' Theo said, adding: 'She looked a bit smaller than I remember, though.'

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Maybe it was too much cheese and wine... over the festive break I had dream about a potential blog topic: detailing the different designs used by the Museum on wax seal stamps over the years.

 

Of course, when I woke up and my dreamy head cleared, I realised that in all likelihood the Museum never used wax seals.

 

The invention of the automatic envelope folding machine in the 1840s, followed by self-gumming machines in the 1860s, meant that by the time the Museum opened in its current location in 1881 wax seal use was well on the wane.

 

But just to be sure, when I returned to the office this week, I got in touch with our trusty archivist and asked if she could double-check for me. The reply was an 'I don't think so', but with a consolatory 'we do have various ink stamps that were used at different times'.

 

That's better than nothing, I thought, so off I went to have a look. Inside a box marked "Historical Objects & Memorabilia" was a manilla envelope containing 17 ink stamps from different eras and different departments.

 

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The 17 stamps (above) ranged from the complimentary ('From the Directors Room', etc) to the functional ('Rothschild bequest 1938' and various departmental libraries) to the celebratory ('Centenary 1881-1981').

 

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The designs above included initials, crowns and crests, as well as more contemporary logos.

 

In a second, smaller, envelope marked "Hand stamp for Museum documents c1880" was another example. But when I tried this one out, something struck me immediately - the intricate coat of arms I could see in reverse, was showing no detail in its positive impression. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the design was recessed, rather than raised. That could only mean one thing: this old stamp was not for ink, but for wax!

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The wax seal stamp features a lion and unicorn holding a crowned crest. In the top two corners it says "British Museum" and along the bottom "(Natural History)". Suspected Latin on the ribbon under the coat of arms is illegible.

 

And so it seems, sometimes dreams really do come true (well, sort of). Here's to a happy 2015!

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