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As part of my job I often work with other curators and museum professionals. Part of having such a good network of colleagues is that we can learn from each other (us 'experts' don't know everything!).


Back in January (27th - 31st), I had the pleasure of the assistance of Alex Peaker who is a palaeontologist at Dinosaur Isle Museum on the Isle of Wight. Alex wanted to come to the Palaeontology Section to see how we document our specimens and deal with research visitors.

 

Here Alex tells us a bit about his job at Dinosaur Isle Museum and what he got up to during the week...

AlexPeakerCrop.jpgAlex Peaker ready to start his week with us at the Natural History Museum.


Dinosaur Isle is a museum that promotes the wealth of geology and palaeontology that can be found on the Isle of Wight. It displays a particularly fantastic collection of local dinosaur finds.

 

In a normal day's work I mostly deal with curation of the collection, spending much of my time documenting specimens into our electronic database, working with associated documentation, assisting with any enquiries, and facilitating research on our specimens.

 

Last year I had the fantastic opportunity to work for the museum with the Isle of Wight Destination Management Organisation, BBC, and 20th Century Fox, teaming together to work on promotion for the recently-released film Walking with Dinosaurs - the 3d movie. The result saw the creation of the Dinosaur Island augmented reality app, which has been a fantastic success in promoting the movie, the island, and our dinosaurs.

 

Recently I was given the chance to spend a week working at the Natural History Museum, which was greatly appreciated; the time that I spent there was absolutely amazing. The reason for the trip was to further my ability in curation, to work with people who have a wealth of experience in the area and to see how our practices compare to that of a national museum.

 

I spent the week working with Emma Bernard in the Fossil Fish Section, looking at:

  • documentation procedure
  • digitisation of the collection onto the Museum database (KE EMu)
  • general museum standards and policies
  • interpretation and outreach
  • display and storage of specimens

 

It was great to be able to work with such an amazing collection, and often with fossils that I have only seen in books. Virtually every drawer I opened seemed to have either a type fossil (the single specimen designated by an author to formally describe a new species), or something with an interesting history (e.g. donated by Sir Richard Owen). My personal favourites were a large Brychaetus (prehistoric bony fish) skull from the Isle of Sheppey, and a particularly large megalodon tooth (everybody loves a big shark, but even for megalodon this one was a real beast).

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Large Brychaetus skull (NHMUK PV P 3893), found from the Isle of Sheppey, UK.

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Megalodon tooth (NHMUK PV P 14534), found in Virgina, USA.


I was also given a chance to visit the Cephalopod and Brachiopod Section with Zoe Hughes, which was very interesting. I was shown some fantastic fossils including an amazing squid showing preservation of all of its soft tissue, and was even privileged enough to have a viewing of the 'Royal Brachiopod' (a fossil collected by Darwin on the Falklands that is often used as an example to royal visitors).

 

Thankfully the procedures set up at the Museum are very similar to those that I would work by at Dinosaur Isle but with some differences, most of which seem to derive from the size of the collections and slightly different collection policies (apart from a few comparative pieces, our collection holds exclusively Isle of Wight fossils whereas the Museum collects specimens from all over the world).

 

I learnt a lot in a week at the Museum with much of my newly-gained experience already having been a help at Dinosaur Isle. It was great to work with a fantastic group of people who were incredibly helpful and showed me a lot of great things.

I would like to thank the South East Museum Development Programme for the funding and making this opportunity possible.

 

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Alex photographing shark fin spines we brought back from Morocco.

 

Thanks very much to Alex for all his help during the week. He helped to document a lot of the specimens we collected whilst in Morocco and locate several specimens connected with our upcoming Sir Arthur Smith Woodward Symposium. I also learnt from Alex by discussing how he carries tasks out at Dinosaur Isle.

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Over the weekend as you may have noticed if you follow my Twitter feeds (@NHM_Brachiopoda and @NHM_Cephalopoda) I have been on the Isle of Wight. We arrived on a very wet afternoon on Friday 8 November.

 

The main reason for our trip was to participate in the Dinosaur Isle Museum's "Blast from the Past" event which gathers local collectors, universities and museums together to talk to the public about palaeontology, fossil collecting and metal detecting.

 

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Me with our display of cephalopods.


Me and my collegues - Dr Martin Munt, Dr Lorna Steel, Dr Christine Stullu-Derrien, Dr Ria Mitchell and Zuzanna Wawrzyniak - had a stall showing the diversity of fossil cephalopods through time and the plant and arthropod fauna of the Rhynie Chert. Lots of people came to talk to us, asking questions about the specimens and bringing their own fossils for us to identify.

 

On Monday Christine came back to the Museum as she's very busy at the moment but the rest of us stayed on the Isle of Wight to do some fieldwork. We wrapped up warm with lots of layers and waterproofs and braved the weather on Yaverland beach near Sandown. I found some dinosaur ribs and a fish vertebra.


When we went up to Dinosaur Isle that is close by for lunch, we realised our waterproofs had failed and we were all utterly soaked so instead of going back out into the dire weather we were invited to visit the Isle of Wight off-site store to have a look at their collections.

 

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Our group on Yaverland beach getting rather wet and windswept.

 

Alex Peaker and Martin New of Dinosaur Isle showed us lots of wonderful fossil plants, dinosaurs and invertebrates while Lorna took the opportuinty to have a look at their fossil crocodiles.

 

On Tuesday the weather was much better and we took a trip to a Pleistocene mammal locality on the east of the island called Saltmead Beach, which is near Newton. Luckily the military firing test zone was not in action that day as we had to cross it in order to get to the beach. After a long walk across a water-logged field and down the beach we finally made it to the site. Lots of bone fragments were found, most likely from bison. These will be passed along to our fossil mammal curator.

 

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Left: Lorna and Zuza looking for Pleistocene bones.

Right: The beach at Saltmead near Newtown.

 

 

After lunch we visited an Eocene site known as the insect limestone. Here there were pieces of the limestone strewn on the beach which you can then break open with a hammer. If you are lucky you may find insects such as ants and beetles or even fossil plant remains. In our case, Zuzanna was the lucky one as she found a lovely beetle that our arthropod curator was very excited to recieve for the collection.

 

Insect limestone.jpg

Left: Ria breaking up the limestone. Centre: Looking carefully for tiny insects.

Right: The insect limestone.

 

When we got back to the house Zuzanna started the process of removing the salt from the bison bones we had found. She did this by soaking them in tap water overnight to draw the salt out. In the process, however, a small shore crab emerged from one of the bones! We put it in a tupperware tub (with no lid) with some seaweed from the bone and sea water from the sample bag. In the morning on the way back to the ferry we released him in a suitable pebbly location with seaweed.

 

crab.jpg

Left: The crab we rescued
Right: I'm about to release him!

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On Friday 27 September the Museum will be holding Science Uncovered, part of the Europe-wide Researchers' Night.

 

Science Uncovered involves almost all the Museum's staff and volunteers talking to visitors about their job, recent research or their favourite specimens. If that isn't enough to tempt you, how about joining one of the Museum tours, or having a drink with a scientist to talk about their work, and maybe ending the night dancing under Dippy's tail with a DJ?

 

An evening with the fossil fish

 

On the night our team will be out in force...

 

Dr Zerina Johnanson will be talking about her work on fish specimens from the London Clay. These are beautifully three-dimensional specimens, which Zerina and her colleagues have been CT-scanning to reveal their internal structures so come along on to see inside these amazing fossils.

 

Chie Heath, one of our many fantastic volunteers, will be talking about the TLC she gives specimens (otherwise known as reboxing), which she carries out on the fossil fish collection.

 

fossil-fish-img1.jpg

Picture of the Holotype of Percostoma angustum, a bony fish from the London Clay of the Isle of Sheppey.

 

Do you know who Sir Arthur Smith Woodward is? Mike Smith, another member of our fantastic volunteer team will be talking about our upcoming symposium to celebrate Woodward's contributions to the palaeontology world, specifically involving fossil fish. Woodward joined the Museum when he was only 18 in 1892, and spent his entire career here.

 

fossil-fish-img2-woodward.jpgA rather serious looking Sir Arthur Smith Woodward.

 

Myself, Research Associate David Ward and volunteer David Baines will be talking about our experiences of fieldwork - why we went to Woodeaton Quarry to collect samples (see my last blog entry), the processes involved in sieving and acid-preparing specimens, and what we have found so far. Woodeaton has proved to be a great site and so far we have found an early dinosaur tooth, a very early mammal tooth, bits of crocodile and lots of microfossils.

 

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One of our many Woodeaton samples being washed before we check for fossils.

 

PhD student Joe Keating from the University of Bristol will have several fossil fish specimens on show, and will be talking about the wide diversity of fish and how they evolved over time. You may have seen Joe at a past Nature Live event.

 

fossil-fish-img4-nature-live.jpg

Joe Keating during his last Nature Live talk.

 

We will also have Dr Martha Richter talking about her work on fossil fish and Research Associate Sally Young talking about fossil eels.

 

There will be a member of the fossil fish team on a table in Marine Reptile Way (where all the Ichthyosaurs are displayed on the wall). So why not come along and say hi! It is a free event with lots to see and do. If you are unable to attehnd, keep up-to-date by following us on Twitter (@NHM_FossilFish) or follow the hashtag #SU2013 for updates across the whole Museum.

 

I'm now off to pack for my next fieldwork trip to Morocco! Keep checking back to hear all about it!

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am lucky enough to participate in collection enhancing fieldwork. One place I have been to several times over the last year is Woodeaton Quarry near Oxford.

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A small part of the quarry

 

The quarry is disused and is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) as it contains one of the best exposures of upper Bathonian (about 160-million-year-old) rocks in the UK. Because of this the site is of great palaeontological interest. The rocks represent a marine or marginal marine environment.

 

Many different fossils have been found there in the past, including shark teeth, brachiopods and dinosaurs! Over the next few years the quarry is due to be filled in, but part of the Bathonian rocks will remain exposed. Therefore it is important we take samples of the different rock layers and try to understand the geology better.

 

A team of Museum scientists and curators went to the quarry over a period of a couple of months to take lots of pictures, determine the geology and how each rock level changes, and to plan for a week long expedition to recover lots of fossils.

woodeaton3.JPG

Myself and Museum scientist Steve Stukins, having a closer look at the rock.

 

In June this year our team went to the quarry for a week to collect bulk samples (large bags of rock and sediment) to bring back to the Museum, sieve, wash away all the rock and have a closer look for fossils. Most of the fossils are tiny and need to be looked at under a microscope.

 

We had people from different disciplines looking for microfossils, pollen, small vertebrates and invertebrates. Unfortunately, on this occasion we did not find any large vertebrates but we certainly have lots of small and microscopic fossils!

woodeatonvan1.JPG

Myself and PhD student Simon Wills loading the van full of bulk samples

 

The infomation we find out will be given to Natural England so they can make infomation boards about the site. Several scientists connected with the Museum will publish results to help others in understanding this time period better. The fossils we find will form an important part of our palaeontology collections for scientists to use in the future and maybe if we are lucky we might even find a new species!

 

As the bulk samples are processed and we start identifying what we have recovered I will write another post to update everyone on our findings.

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With our satellite dish at the ready, the sun shining and half a dozen Museum scientists raring to go, last weekend's Nature Live events went down a storm!

Camera action.JPG

 

Linking back to the studio from the harbour in Lyme Regis, we brought the annual Fossil Festival to South Kensington. For visitors who were unable to visit the south coast in person, we revealed why Lyme Regis is THE place to go fossil hunting and showed our audiences some of the weird and wonderful specimens that can be found there.

 

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Museum curator Zoe Hughes reveals an Ammonite, found in the local area.

 

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Does this count as Big Pond dipping?

 

Sunday's events brought us up to date with the organisms that call our seashore home. I was out first thing trying my luck with my bucket and net. I think I was the oldest 'rock-pooler' on the beach!  Unfortunately, I didn't manage to find very much, except for lots of seaweed ... but this proved to be far more interesting than I had first thought!

 

Museum scientist Lucy Robinson explained that there are many different species of seaweed to be found along our coastline, varying in colour, shape and size. She also explained the various ways seaweeds and their extracts can be used - in toothpaste, ice-cream, fertilizer and cosmetics (to name but a few).

 

And of course, some types of seaweed can be eaten - such as sea lettuce. Lucy and I decided to give it a go ... our conclusion, it's very salty and a bit crunchy (but I think that may have been sand!)  To find out more about seaweed and how to identify them, visit our Big Seaweed Search pages.

 

Its all about the icecream.JPG

Yum!

 

Lyme Regis is a great place to visit at any time of the year. If you're interested in fossil hunting, look out for the many guided walks that are on offer throughout the year, giving you the opportunity to explore the beaches with a local palaeontologist who knows what to look out for and who can tell you more about the fossils that are found there.

 

And if you'd like to experience the Fossil Festival for yourselves, put this date in your diaries: Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 May 2014. If this year is anything to go by, it will be another great weekend!

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It was our first day at the festival proper yesterday, and the weather was great!

 

We had a day of great interactions with local primary schools. Scientists from the Museum brought along a massive cast of a baryonyx skull, and visitors were invited to take a closer look at some microscopic life through one of our amazing scanning electron microscopes (SEM).

 

photo 1(1).JPG

Cast of the skull of Baryonyx, a Cretaceous dinosaur with huge claws for hooking fish 


Other great exhibitors included:

 

  • The Buckland Club, who invited the public to help excavate a model plesiosaur
  • Rock Watch, running creative plasticine fossil workshops
  • The University of Plymouth, who measured visitors' strides to work out which dinosaur they are most like
  • a great collaborative artwork of the Jurassic coast, led by artist Darrell Wakelam

 

photo 2(1).JPGThe fine art of fossil excavation

 

Here's hoping for some good weather this bank holiday weekend! More news from the learning team soon.

 

Posted on behalf of Emily, Ben and Jade from the Museum's learning team.

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The Museum learning engagement team's first day at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival ended yesterday and it was an epic day!

 

We were up at 6.30 to start at 8 yesterday at Thomas Hardye School, where five schools from the Dorset area participated in earth science related activities throughout the day. The team have been helping students investigate a dinosaur dig and identify what they uncover.


photo.JPG

Jade assists a willing group of fossil hunters

 

Other activities included creating meteor impact craters and extracting copper from malachite using electricity!

 

photo 1.JPG

Extracting copper from the mineral malachite

 

Scientists from the Museum brought lots of amazing specimens for the 450 students, including tektites, formed from sand rapidly heated by meteorite impacts and ejected to form these beautiful tear drops shapes.

 

photo 2.JPGA tektite (on the left) formed when sand is rapidly heated by a meteorite impact, with a pound coin for scale.

 

Other highlights included the biodiversity team's activity, where students identified bugs and other arthropods, contributing to important citizen science data. There was also a great stand featuring Thomas Hardye's very own Fossil Club, who were busy inspiring fellow students to get into fossils.

 

We finished packing up, headed to Lyme Regis to set up for the festival on the water front and today's primary school day, (and finished off with some well earned fish and chips!)

 

The festival runs from today until Sunday 5 May so if you're in the area come and join us and many other exhibitors for more earth science fun!

 

Posted on behalf of Emily, Ben and Jade from the Museum's learning team.

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Yesterday, we went to a secondary school in Dorchester. We set up our stand along with several others from the Museum, local fossil groups and the school's fossil club. At our stand we were giving students a brief explanation of taxonomy (how you classify all living things), specifically cephalopods.

 

We explained the difference between three major groups of cephalopod: ammonites, belemnites and nautiloids. The belemnite phragmacone we found yesterday proved to be very useful in explaining how a belemnite dealt with buoyancy control. The children enjoyed examining the recent nautilus we had with us to locate the hole for the siphuncle.

 

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Zuzanna Wawrzyniak and Emma Bernard with our taxonomy stand (Zoe Hughes as photographer)

 

After the school event we returned to Lyme Regis to help set up the tent for the main event: the Fossil Festival. Our main earth science table is set up, with specimens for the public to handle starting today. We constructed the Baryonyx skull and helped David Ward set up his shark sieving activity.

 

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Nearly finished setting up in the tent (with the Baryonyx spine and skull on the left)

 

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David Ward setting up the shark sieving (to find fossil teeth, etc).

 

Today is the primary school day and we have been told approximately 600 children willl be visiting - wish us luck and we will report back soon!

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The specimens are packed and tomorrow the first Museum staff will make our way down to Lyme Regis for the fossil festival (3-5 May). We have a nice selection of ammonites, brachiopods, fish, sharks, and a replica dinosaur skull of a Baryonyx and its claw to show people different types of fossils which can be found on the Jurassic Coast. We do seem to have a lot of things to take...

 

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Emma Bernard (left) and Zoe Hughes (right).

 

This first group is Martin Munt, Zuzanna Wawrzyniak, Zoe Hughes and me, Emma Bernard. We will be heading out to do some fieldwork on Wednesday (Hopefully we’ll find lots of ammonites!), though we haven’t yet quite decided where we will head to, it might be weather dependant, so hope for sunshine.

 

Thursday will take us to a school event in Dorchester where we will be talking about the wonders of cephalopod taxonomy. Over the weekend it is the festival and the Museum will be represented by many staff and lots of fun activities including sieving for sharks teeth, learning all about the wonders of the Rhynie Chert (which is 407 million years old) and gold panning. There is also an opportunity for people to bring along any fossils of their own for identification.

 

The festival is important as Lyme Regis is at the heart of the Jurassic Coast and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

For more information about Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, visit their website.

 

Zoe and I will be posting updates all week here on our blog. Stay tuned!

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Phew, it's been a busy few weeks at the Museum!  With snow outside and schools on holiday, everyone was keen to visit the Museum and to mark the Easter holidays we decided to programme some suitably festive Nature Live events ... my favourite being Eggs-tinct! If you weren't able to see it in person, here are a few highlights:

 

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No egg event at the Museum is complete without reference to dinosaurs and Museum curator Lorna Steel brought along this beauty! A REAL dinosaur egg!

 

Equally, no egg event would be complete without the largest egg in the world ...

 

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No, this isn't some clever perspective, camera trickery - this really is the size of the largest kind of egg in the world (with Lorna's average sized hand above). This one belongs to an extinct Elephant Bird, a species that once lived in Madagascar. These birds were huge - at 3 m tall they were far larger than today's Ostriches - and consequently laid very, very big eggs. EGGs-traordinary!

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Season's greetings! As is tradition, here I am again at the last minute with my top ten Museum gifts for this year. There are still a couple of days before last orders for guaranteed Christmas Day delivery (that's on 18 December for most products heading to UK mainland addresses, 16 December for unframed prints).

 

So, if like me you’re nowhere near prepared for Christmas, rest assured that you’re not alone, and hopefully my favourite festive gifts can provide a glimmer of inspiration. Here goes:

 

10. Cuddly roaring T.rex http://www.nhm.ac.uk/resources/buy-online/blog/trex.jpg

 

It may not be our most accurate dinosaur toy (our models are approved for accuracy by our own palaeontologists). But, its huge feet, soft fur and novelty roar make it perfect for your prehistoric toy menagerie. No good playroom is complete without one. Lots of adults buy them too – apparently we’re all big softies at heart.

 

Give it a cuddle

 

 

9. Art of Audubon prints http://www.nhm.ac.uk/resources/buy-online/blog/art.jpg

 

Before we reproduced one of our own copies of the most valuable book ever (Audubon's The Birds of America fetched $7.9m at auction), it was very hard to come by a decent quality print of the amazing illustrations from Audubon’s masterpiece. Now, for a fraction of the auction price, you can own 16 reproduction prints from the book. Sorry, I mean give them away as a gift, of course…

 

Snap them up in our shop

 

 

8. Elephant poo-in-a-boxhttp://www.nhm.ac.uk/resources/buy-online/blog/poo.jpg

 

How could I not address the elephant in the room? It’s the controversial present that your secret Santa recipient will never forget. Elephants living in UK zoos and safari parks kindly donate their (odourless) poo for this product. And, though proceeds help support elephant conservation - I’m sure the elephants won’t be offended if the product isn’t for you – after all, they have a thick skin.

 

All poo gifts

 

 

7. Human skull mug http://www.nhm.ac.uk/resources/buy-online/blog/mug.jpg

 

What’s not to love? With a touch of goth chic, an artsy design and using an illustration from the Museum’s own natural history art collections, this mug is special. And, there’s more where that came from – watch out for other cool gifts that take inspiration from the Museum's vast collections. It's a gift that could either be received with delight, or a mild sense of foreboding -  truly versatile.

 

Buy the mug

 

6. Dinosaur colouring book http://www.nhm.ac.uk/resources/buy-online/blog/dino-book.jpg

 

Scientists are only just beginning to work out the colour of dinosaurs. Before they make any more progress, take advantage and daub the dinos in the hue of your choice, in our fun new colouring book. All facts within have been approved by our palaeontologists. Just add paint…

 

Read all about it

 

 

 

 

5. Shoal of fish tea tray http://www.nhm.ac.uk/resources/buy-online/blog/tray.jpg

 

Watch the facial expressions on your coffee morning guests when they see this. The colourful critters decorating this fish tea tray are (modified) glass perch. Scientists dissolve their muscles using an enzyme, then dye the remaining cartilage blue and make the bone go red to help study them. Little did they know the interesting kitchenware gifts they would spawn in the process...

 

Pick up the tray

 

 

4. Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 pocket diaryhttp://www.nhm.ac.uk/resources/buy-online/blog/diary.jpg

 

Tough, hardback cover... Fits into almost any bag, pocket or purse... Irresistibly cute baby orang-utan on the cover.... Strewn with beautiful pics from Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibitions... It’s the fail-safe gift that will delight any nature-loving recipient, from youngster to pensioner.

 

Get diarised

 

 

 

 

 

3. Pocket microscope http://www.nhm.ac.uk/resources/buy-online/blog/scope.jpg

 

On closer inspection, this is probably the perfect stocking filler for curious youngsters. The microscopes are ideal for examining everyday household stuff – hairs, ants, food crumbs – for revealing their finer details. Could your little one be the next Alexander Fleming or Rosalind Franklin? Put a microscope in their mitts and find out. A great, educational toy, and lots of fun too.

 

Take a closer look

 

 

2. Fluff-up print on demandhttp://www.nhm.ac.uk/resources/buy-online/blog/fluff-up.jpg

 

One of my favourites from this year’s print range is this eye-popping black and white portrait, Fluff-up by John E Marriott. It’s such a striking image that it never fails to make people stop and look. We’re really pleased with the quality of the prints and, for the right person, this one would make a sensational gift.

 

Buy it online

Browse all our prints

 

 

 

1. Portfolio 22 http://www.nhm.ac.uk/resources/buy-online/blog/portfolio.jpg

 

Seen our latest edition of Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year? If not, shame on you. Either way - you can enjoy all 100 photos in this fantastic book. It’s another versatile gift that would please pretty much anyone. From landscapes to dramatic and sometimes humourous animal portraits, photojournalism and abstract views of the natural world, there’s an amazing array of images to keep eyes entertained well into 2013.

 

Snap up Portfolio 22

 

I hope you enjoyed my selections. For more gift ideas, check out our festive shopping guide or pop along to our shop to browse the full range of gifts available online. Merry Christmas!

 

Matt, online shop editor

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Paul Barrett is the 2011 recipient of the Bicentenary Medal of the Linnean Society, an organisation that promotes all branches of natural history, including botany and zoology.

 

Paul does research on dinosaurs but is also heavily involved in working with public audiences through exhibitions, media and other routes.

 

Barrett.jpg

 

The medal is awarded annually in recognition of work done by a biologist under the age of 40 years, and it was first awarded in 1978 on the 200th anniversary of the death of Carl Linnaeus. The award was presented at the Linnean Society anniversary meeting in Burlington House, London, in May.

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You only have to browse through the Fossils and rocks forum to see how many of the suspected fossils put on there turn out to be something completely different! Fossil eggs, bones, turtles, ferns, footprints, you name it, natural rock and mineral processes can mimic it. We call these natural rock and mineral specimens that resemble or are mistaken for fossils "pseudofossils". This post doesn't seek to go through the most common look-a-likes, but if you google "pseudofossil" you will find many excellent guides out there.

 

This post is just some of my personal favourites from the last year. Fun and amazingly co-incidental pseudofossils are one of my favourite parts of my job in Earth Sciences identification.

 

2010-2444 mineral thought to be fossil bird head 003.jpg

"Fossil bird head"

 

It's got everything - neck, beak, even an eye. But this shape is created by the growth of a mineral upon the rock surface.

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"Fossil shark"

 

This shark shape, silhouetted in white against the dark background, would have me swimming for my life if I saw the silhouette peaking out of the sea. But it is just a chance area of cleaner white Chalk against a backdrop of Chalk discoloured by dirt and moss.

2010-2360 Fossi fish.jpg

"Fossil fish"

 

I can see what they mean, it looks like a guppy with a long flowing tail and fin. But this is a type of the rock flint known as banded flint. Banded flints form a series of roughly parallel lines such as this, which can create all sorts of misleading shapes. The cause is still not fully understood but the movement of water and silica through the flint is thought to be involved.

 

The rock flint can mimic any kind of fossil you can think of - bones, eggs, whole heads and bodies, you name it. Look out for a blog all about the wonders of flint coming soon!

 

2011-0058 dinosaur head pseudofossil 001.jpg"Fossil dinosaur head"

 

If this were a dinosaur, I can even see what kind it would be - one of the duck-billed hadrosaurs I reckon. Sadly, this is just the shape of the lump of rock, that had probably been exaggerated by weathering.

 

 

While writing this I've realised that these pseudofossils do have something in common after all. They all demonstrates one of the key things to appreciate when looking for fossils: don't look for the overall shape of an animal. This is because the soft parts of animals like muscle and skin only fossilise very rarely and in unusual conditions. You can assume you won't come across soft part preservation without knowing what to look for and where to look. To find fossils, look for the hard parts such as bones and shells, and bear in mind these are most often broken, mixed up and/or isolated.

 

Although we can say what these aren't, the hardest question to answer is, so why did the rock or mineral form or weather into exactly that shape? There are millions of rocks out there and so even if such coincidental resemblences are rare, there will still be plenty of pseudofossils. And of course those are the rocks that are going to catch your eye and get picked up.

 

So what should you look for? This page on our website has some good information and links for fossil hunting advice. And of course we will be happy to see whatever you find, whether rock, mineral or uncannily-vegetable-shaped-rock on the rock and Fossil forum here.

 

Happy fossil - and pseudofossil - hunting!

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Back by popular demand are my personal top 10 museum gifts for Christmas 2010. I actually hadn't been feeling all that Christmassy until a colleague declared all of their shopping done, wrapped and ready under their Christmas tree. Not a shred of tinsel has been near my house. I'm not even sure we 'do' tinsel in the East End of London.

 

Anyway if, like me, you still have yet to make a dent in your gift shopping and Christmas preparation, then I hope this will provide some inspiration.


Also, check our website for info about shopping at the Museum, or take part in festive events and activities. Here's my list of favourites.


 

10. Cuddly meerkat toy - £20

 

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You might have noticed something of a meerkat fixation in the UK of late. We have been rather inundated with requests for meerkat toys, gifts, books... So we responded by introducing this lovely chap.

 

Do not try to resist its charms – it’s just too cute and cuddly to ignore. It’s also rather realistic, I think.

 

Give the meerkat a cuddle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Grow a sunflower in elephant poo - £5

 

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Surprisingly, this 'elephant poo in a box' is completely odourless. According to the (biodegradable) box, elephants produce 'about one tonne of dung every week'. That's quite a lot. Roughly equivalent in weight to 15 online shop editors. Some of that poo, collected from UK zoos and safari parks, ends up in this box.

 

Proceeds from sales of the elephant poo-in-a-box go to elephant conservation charities. So do your bit by giving someone you love some poo for Christmas.

 

Elephant poo in our online shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Giant T.rex soft toy - £1021.74

 

Has that special person in your life got all the other cuddly dinosaur toys? Do you also have rather a lot of disposable income?

 

If the answer to these questions is 'yes', then this is the cuddly dinosaur toy for you. It measures over 2m tall.

 

Notable, I thought. Imagine the fun.

 

Be astonished by the Giant T.rex in the shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Bird brooches - £40

 

bird-brooch-red-blue.jpgApparently these are gorgeous. I am told by female colleagues that they would definitely please the special lady in your life.

 

There are 4 different styles to choose from, and they are all hand-painted. There isn't much stock though, so hurry!

 

See all 4 bird brooches

 

 

 

 

 

6. Wildlife Photographer of the Year hardback diary - £9.99

 

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This is a really nice gift for nature lovers. Being a bit of a photo enthusiast myself I love the crisp, full-page pics that seem to pop out of the glossy pages.

 

It also has captions, which make interesting reading. Lovely. And it's made by our friends in Natural History Museum Publishing.

 

Have a look at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year diary in the shop

 

 

 

 


5. Pink, articulated Stegosaurus model - £10

 

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It may not be the newest dinosaur model in our collection, and it definitely isn't a T.rex, but this Stegosaurus model is my personal favourite, and comes highly recommended as a Christmas gift for kids.

 

It takes prime position on my desk, clambering up some natural history books, and is frequently admired by office visitors ('Look but do not touch').

 

View the pink Stegosaurus in the shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Dinosaur art set for kids - £12

 

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I used to like colouring things in when I was very young. This gorgeous dinosaur art set is ideal for little ones just beginning to discover their inner David Hockney.

 

Chunky felt-tip pens, colouring pencils, oil pastels, sharpener, eraser, 6 scary dinosaur pics to colour in... What's not to love?

 

Check out the Dinosaur art set in the shop

 

 

 

 


3. Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011 calendar

 

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This lovely calendar is from the current incarnation of Wildlife Photographer of the Year - sponsored by Veolia Environnement (French accent, please). I love the tarsier on the front. If it were not completely irresponsible, I'd probably look into importing one to keep as a pet. There are lots of other amazing images for the other months, too.

 

I also chose this because, if you're a bit stuck for a gift, it's pretty much ideal for anyone.

 

Give a Wildlife Photographer of the Year calendar to someone special

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Pteranodon kite

 

 

 

Is it a bird? Is it a plane (and so on)? What a brilliant invention the Pteranodon kite is. Perfect for dinosaur addicts and ideal for the blustery climes of the UK.

 

We tried one out near the Museum and it's incredibly light so it sails in the breeze like a dream. It also made my colleagues very jealous. That earns the kite second place.

 

 

 

 

Buy a Pteranodon kite in our online shop

 

 

 

 

 

 


1. Prints on demand - from £15

 

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We recently started working with a new prints supplier. The quality and range of images is fantastic and there are more options than ever for customising them. This one, Paris life by Laurent Geslin, is my favourite.

 

See if you can choose a favourite (it's tough).

 

Visit our prints on demand shop

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Who doesn't love a good dinosaur event?!  Triceratops, T-Rex, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus....the list goes on.  But have you ever heard of Scelidosaurus, the topic of our event last Sunday??

 

I certainly hadn't until I met Palaeontology Curator Tim Ewin.  Scelidosaurus was the first whole dinosaur ever to be discovered (before that, only parts of dinosaurs had been found, and no-one had discovered any skulls)....and what's more, it was found right here in England, along the coast at Lyme Regis.

 

 

Scelidosaurus wasn't a massive dinosaur, diplodocus and the like were all ALOT bigger, but it had some fantastic armour plating which may have helped protect it from predators but also may have acted as a form of display, to deter opponents or attract a mate.

 

 

But what's so special about the Scelidosaur remains in Lyme Regis (which are continually being discovered as the cliffs slowly erode) is their quality.  The fossils have been brilliantly preserved and scientists are able to study the bodies of these animals in great detail, including their skin which remarkably has also been fossilised.  

 

 

So next time you're talking about your favourite dinosaur, spare a thought for the often (and wrongly) forgotten Scelidosaurus.  The first whole dinosaur ever to be discovered, found right here on our fair isle and with fossilised skin too - you don't get much better than that!

 

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Scelidosaurus is the dinosaur at the bottom of the picture.  Megalosaurus is at the top.