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Fossil Fish blog

4 Posts tagged with the fossil_fish tag

During school holidays the Museum offers a small number of work experience placements for students to spend a week finding out more about working at the Museum. This can vary from helping with the Sensational Butterflies exhibition to helping researchers or curators like myself behind the scenes.


During the February half term this year I had two excellent students who came and helped me for the week in the Fossil Fish Section. Below James and Derek tell us what they got up to during the week here.


James Appleby


Getting a work experience placement at the Natural History Museum was great, to get another was a dream come true. However, this time rather than look for damage in the jaws of fossil fish (as I did in a previous placement), Derek and I worked on finding type specimens (those which represent a certain species) to be photographed. These specimens were discovered by Arthur Smith Woodward, a fossil fish specialist who was the focus of the Woodward150 symposium at the Museum on 21 May.


Of course, considering these were holotypes and very old we had to take extra care of them and make sure we did not damage them.


As well as some curatorial work, we also had a chance to help out in the Pleistocene (2.5 million years to 11,000 years) Fossil Mammal Collections, as well as have a look at some of the strange animals found in the Cephalopod (Squid, octopus, ammonites etc.) and Brachiopod Sections (and work out what a Brachiopod is, which I now know is a marine invertebrate with two shells which look different to each other, but both are symmetrical).


James and Derek.jpg

Derek Oakly (L) and James Appleby (R) looking for type specimens described by Woodward in the Fossil Fish Section.



Dr. Zerina Johanson, a fossil fish researcher, showed us the fish that she has been working on. What were especially interesting were the exceptionally well preserved fossils from the Gogo Formation in Western Australia.


By the Thursday we had finished the work on Woodward’s fossils, so watched a Nature Live talk about fossil fish by Joe Keating in the afternoon.


The work experience at the Natural history Museum was great as it showed me what it is like to be a curator and what sorts of things we have behind the scenes. (James Appleby)


Derek Oakley


I was given the opportunity to work alongside James at the Natural History Museum for a week. Our main focus was to help contribute to the Woodward150 symposium on 21 May. We were able to go through his many fossilised fish specimens and notes that are not seen by normal members of the public, and it was great!


Alongside this we was able to experience different areas and collections behind the scenes, including a tour of the Brachiopod Collection. We also helped in the Fossil Mammal Section and gained a deeper understanding to some of the research that is conducted here. We were also able to help contribute to a Nature Live event, where we collected the many fossils to be shown and discussed with the public.


It was a fantastic experience at the Natural History Museum and although it was only one week, it will still be one that I am unlikely to forget in the future. (Derek Oakley)


Get involved


I would like to thank James and Derek for all their hard work during the week and I am sure they will go on to do great things in the future.


If you are interested in doing a work experience week with the Museum, have a look at our website. Places are limited and generally oversubscribed, but it will be a very worthwhile and rewarding experience.


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.



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.



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!


Hi everyone,


Thanks for visiting my blog! My name is Emma Bernard and I am a Curator of Palaeobiology. I've worked in the Museum for nearly two years now, working in many sections including fossil mammals, but I am now based in the Fossil Fish Section.


My job involves looking after all the fossil fish and sharks in the Museum - around 80,000 specimens ranging from the Ordovician Period (about 485 million years ago) to the Pleistocene (about 12,000 years ago), which have been collected from all over the world.


We have lots of historically important specimens, many with interesting stories, some that were part of the founding collections of the Museum, and others which just look a bit odd. In further posts I will give more details about some of these amazing collections.

You can also follow the collections on Twitter @NHM_FossilFish and #FossilFriday, which is becoming more popular.



Me with a Fossil Mammal display I curated at the Munich Show in 2012.

I hope to give you an insight into the wide variety of day-to-day projects and jobs I undertake in the Museum, and what life is really like as curator.


Part of my job involves looking after and providing information to visiting researchers, and answering enquiries which come in about the collection. I facilitate loans, assist with exhibitions, participate in collection-enhancing fieldwork and public events, such as the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival. I also do a lot of work in documenting the collection, so people know exactly what we have and from where.




On fieldwork on the Isle of Skye, looking for Jurassic fossils.


Keep checking back to find out more about fossil fish and what I get up to!