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rhinoceros-beetle-micro-ct-scan_38570_1.jpgStill image taken from a micro-CT of the rhinoceros beetle, Oryctes boas.

 

 

Thomas J. Simonsen

Department of Life Sciences, the Natural History Museum

 

Friday 7 March 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

Computer-aided X-ray tomography (CT scanning) has been around as a medical, industrial and scientific tool since the early 1980s. However, it was only after the arrival of scanners with sufficient resolution power (micro-CT) in the early 2000s that the technology was used in the study of non-vertebrate animals. After the first study presenting micro-CT scanning results from insects in 2002, the technology has become a state-of-the-art tool for studies into insect comparative morphology and palaeontology (in particular involving amber fossils). On the other hand, micro-CT scanning has been criticised for not yielding the same resolution as histology, nor having the same ability to distinguish between different types of tissue, partly due to low natural contrast in soft tissue and cuticle. Nevertheless, micro-CT scanning has the advantage of being much faster than traditional methods such as histology, thus allowing for much larger samples to be examined. Furthermore, the method is largely non-destructive and thus ideal for studying rare and valuable specimens. Here I will give a short introduction to micro-CT scanning in entomology and illustrate the technology's uses (and limitations) in the study of insect, focused on forensics entomology, developmental biology and taxonomy/virtual dissections.

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.htm

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Farewell to William Blake's God, Atlas, Cyclops, Medusa, Spaceman and Scientist.

statue-heads.jpg
The faces of the Earth Hall: Atlas, Scientist, Spaceman, Medusa, William Blake's God, and Cyclops (left to right, top to bottom). They're leaving the galleries on 9 March after 18 years at the Museum.

 

On Sunday 9 March, we say a final goodbye to our avenue of statues that welcomes all visitors into the Earth Hall at the Museum's Exhibition Road entrance.

 

statues-globe-1500.jpg

Our avenue of statues in the Earth Hall is soon to pass into Museum mythology.

 

These six statues, representing visions of Earth's past, present and future, have dominated the Earth Hall's atrium since it opened in 1996. They have been photographed countless times as guardians of the dramatic Earth globe escalator which takes visitors and staff on a cosmic journey to the upper floor galleries, including the newly-opened Volcanoes and Earthquakes.

 

It's the end of an era for Earth as we know it at the Museum. But, don't worry, the statues are making way for an exciting new display to be announced later in the year... watch this space.

 

'They are made of fibre glass with interior metal frameworks,' says Trista Quenzer, the Museum's Display and Conservation Manager. 'And I remember they were designed by Neil Potter, an external architect. Like all good architectural concepts, the design started as a sketch on the back of an envelope.'

 

An auction of the statues has just taken place for Museum staff, who will no doubt be making plans for their removal and new homes over the next few days. Front porch? Back garden? Spare bedroom? Gigantic hallway?

 

statue-spaceman.jpg

Ground control recalls Major Tom. Bye, bye Spaceman.

 

There has also been another significant recent change to the Earth Hall experience ('scuse the pun). No longer will we be lured up the Earth globe escalator to the riffs and spacey vibes of Jimi Hendrix's Third Stone From the Sun track off the classic album, Are You Experienced.

 

It has echoed out into the hall from the globe since the time the statues first arrived. And now it has been replaced with an ambient composition to complement the new light shows emanating from the globe. These were introduced for the opening of the Volcanoes and Earthquakes gallery.

 

The instrumental soundtrack created by the Museum's media technician, Lee Quinn, has been warmly welcomed by visitors and staff who had outgrown the retro rockout. For those of us who might want to re-live those fond memories, there's always a download of Jimi's original.

 

Visions of Earth closes from 10 March to 2 April for the final statue removal.

 

Check our website for news of this and other gallery updates.

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I spent my formative years living by the beach, so the idea of being able to swim unhindered by lungs that need air to absorb oxygen was a fantastical one. Yes, I daydreamed about being a mermaid.

 

And, a few years ago, I discovered that mermaids were more than just an object of my imagination, or of myth and fairytale: they were real. Well, at least they were in the form of compound constructions for curiosity cabinets and travelling sideshows...

 

There are two types of 'mermaids' in natural history: the monkey fish and the 'jenny haniver':

 

As the name suggests, the monkey fish is comprised of the head and torso of a monkey and the tail of a fish, often with additional papier-mâché elements plus wood and wire for structure and support. The jenny haniver is constructed from a guitar fish (part of the Rhinobatidae family of rays) and has been fashioned since at least the 16th century, initially in the image of the lethal basilisk before (by way of dragon, devil and angel) taking on a more human form and being presented as a mermaid.

 

mermaid-montage-2-700.jpg

The mermaid of myth and legend, as depicted by painter John William Waterhouse (left), and mermaids of "reality", aka monkey fish, belonging to the British Museum (top right, © The Trustees of the British Museum) and the Horniman Museum (bottom right).

 

 

Ollie Crimmen, the Museum's fish curator, who also has a bit of a soft spot for mermaids, says it's a shame we don't have a monkey fish at the Museum, but was keen to discuss with me the two jenny hanivers held in our stores:

I think when people look at these things with modern eyes they think "how can people believe it?"

 

[But, in centuries past] when somebody went over the horizon in a ship they were more out of touch than astronauts are today. When they came back, if they came back, there was a huge expectation: "you must have seen something fantastic, you must have brought something back". There was a pressure to have seen marvellous things. It might sound mad to us, but it was the sheer pressure of the expectation of what you've seen once you'd gone over the horizon.

 

And those who had not been on the journey, who had not seen fantastic, foreign things, were willing to believe whatever was presented to them as fact. For how could they know any different without having ever seen it in the flesh themselves? Remember my mention in a previous blog about the 'legless bird of paradise'?

 

On the other hand, nature does come up with some very real, very strange creatures. Consider the platypus: when it was discovered in the 18th century many scientists had difficulty believing that its mix of reptilian and mammalian features could be genuine.

 

The Museum has one quite big jenny haniver which measures 54cm in height, and another 'more quaint, smaller one' that's much older, Ollie says. He's not sure of their origin, but suggests that Museum scientist Peter Dance 'maybe had a go' at making one.

 

The suggestion is not completely off the mark. In his book Animal Fakes and Frauds, Dance describes buying a jenny haniver in London's Soho around the 1960s or 70s. Perhaps this is the specimen now in our collection.

When I first began gathering material for this book, I found that jenny hanivers were still being made. I bought one in London. According to the proprietor of the shop in Soho, whence I obtained it, it was said to have come from the Gulf of Mexico. It was, he said, a very good selling line, and I know it did not take him long to sell the others he had.

 

jenny haniver double.jpg

The Museum's large jenny haniver specimen, front (left) and back (right). It measures 54cm tall and 29cm across.


 

There is no definitive answer as to where the name jenny haniver originates, although many cite 'Anvers' (the French name for Antwerp), as a source, as it was on the coasts of Belgium and Holland that these mermaids were said to have been caught.

 

Dance's book also includes a passage from Australian ichthyologist Gilbert P Whitley describing how jenny hanivers are made:

...[by] taking a small dead ray, curling its side fins over its back, and twisting its tail into any required position, a piece of string is tied round the head behind the jaws to form a neck and the ray is dried in the sun. During the subsequent shrinkage, the jaws project to form a snout and a hitherto concealed arch of cartilage protrudes so as to resemble folded arms. The nostrils, situated a little above the jaws, are transformed into a pair of eyes, the olfactory laminae resembling eyelashes. The result of this simple process, preserved with a coat of varnish and perhaps ornamented with a few dabs of paint, is a jenny haniver, well calculated to excite wonder in anyone interested in marine curios.

 

What is presented as the face of the jenny haniver  is actually the underside of the guitar fish. The ray's real eyes (located on its upperside) are sometimes obscured by curled pectoral fins. Ollie says:

Some people think it's dark, but it's a part of cultural history, of natural history.

 

jenny-haniver-fromthe-deep-exhibition-400-500.jpg

Another jenny haniver specimen, which featured in the Museum's 2010 exhibition, The Deep.

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Mark Spencer

Department of Life Sciences, NHM

 

Wednesday 5 March 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

The Isles of Scilly are a small archipelago of islands off the coast of Cornwall in SW Britain. Over the last few years I have led several teams of volunteers and, more recently, staff members on expeditions to collect material to enhance our UK collections. In 2013 this culminated in a cross-departmental project in partnership with the NHM’s Nature Live team and the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. In this talk I will explore ideas around how field collecting can be linked to our public engagement activities as well as identify why the Isles of Scilly are a collections-based research worthy destination. And show some pretty pictures….

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Friday 28 Feb, 4.30pm, Neil Chalmers Seminar Room

 

Livestreamed on http://www.youtube.com/user/SciFriSeminars

 

 

Chemosynthesis-based communities through time: a 3.2 billion year history

 

Cris Little, University of Leeds

 

At the beginning of this seminar I will briefly review the ecology of modern chemosynthetic communities at hydrothermal vents, hydrocarbon (‘cold’) seeps and sunken dead whales (whale-falls) touching on biogeography and discussing evolutionary issues, including molecular divergence estimates for several major taxonomic groups.

 

little1.jpg

 

Then I will turn to the fossil record of these communities, which for vents goes back 3.25 billion years. I will show that vent and seep fossil assemblages have changed in taxonomic structure during the Phanerozoic, from brachiopod dominated communities in the Palaeozoic and early Mesozoic to mollusc (bivalve and gastropod) dominated communities from the later Mesozoic onwards. Some of the ecologically dominant taxa that have chemosymbiotic bacteria (e.g. vesicomyid clams and bathymodiolin mussels) are relative newcomers to vent and seep environments and were preceded by other, now extinct, bivalves that may (or may not) also have had symbionts.

 

Whale-fall communities from the Miocene are similar in structure to modern examples in the so-called sulfophilic stage, but older Oligocene and latest Eocene whale-fall communities lack some of the typical molluscs. This may be related to the small size of whales in their early evolutionary history. Prior to the Eocene whale-fall-like communities may have existed on sunken marine reptiles (e.g. turtles, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs), or even large fish carcasses.

 

 

About SciFri

 

SciFri is a cross-departmental science seminar series and social event run by the NHM Science Forum, held the last Friday of each month. The 45 minute talks are intended to be informal, contemporary, inter-disciplinary and cover a range of fields including the latest research, curation, science policy, publishing, media, fieldwork and science methods. If you have ideas for future speakers from any of these areas please contact the seminar organiser Adrian Glover, Life Sciences Department.

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Author: Aline Leclercq

Date: 28/02/14

 

This is my first time in Antarctica, and since I have been here, each day is more surprising than the day before. After two weeks of getting to know the new lifestyle and the objectives of the paper conservation work, I went last week for an evening walk. Two friends from Scott Base working for Antarctica New Zealand came with me. We were enjoying the sun and the weather, still warm at the end of the summer (already -15 ⁰C). Walking here means being well covered especially because of the wind and the temperature, but the landscape and the silence around are very special.

Image 1 (Small).JPG

The cross at the top of Observation Hill last Friday

 

We went up Observation Hill, between Scott Base and McMurdo Station, where a cross was erected in 1913 in memory of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his party who died on their return from the South Pole the previous year. Because of the difficulty of the path to the top, and the surrounding landscape, reaching the top and arriving at the cross was a very moving experience for me … I realised the danger and the exceptional lives of these men, who came to Antarctica more than a century ago.

 

Image2 (Small).JPG

My bench at work with artefacts in conservation treatment

 

After having spent my first week on the conservation of artefacts that represent their quotidian life in the Antarctic in Scott's Discovery Hut—their food, their tools, their clothes, etc.—and getting to the cross, I had a completely different feeling about these artefacts and realised in a very concrete manner the exceptional qualities of these men. Top view, top memories …

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world.gif

 

 

Emiel van Loon

University of Amsterdam

 

Friday 28 February 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

Species distribution modelling (SDM) is increasingly applied to answer all sorts of ecological questions. Implicitly, the
SDM literature suggests that the question of interest together with the available data prescribe the appropriate methods for data analysis. In contrast with this suggestion, it can be argued that a range of questions concerning the distribution of a species is usually interesting, while the available species occurrence and environmental data cannot easily be changed. Hence it may be effective to establish which questions may be answered by the available data as a first research step. The number of species records is one of the most important factors limiting the research questions and methods that are applicable. For that reason this presentation will focus on the relation between the number of available species records and the potential to answer different research questions.

 

First a hierarchy is proposed to organise research questions that differ in nature and complexity, and to cast different research questions in a model comparison framework. Using this framework, research questions of different complexity are translated into SDMs. Through different simulation examples, the effect of the number of occurrence data on the possibilities to identify SDMs with different numbers of predictor variables as well as on predictive performance are shown. Next, it is shown that with increasing scarcity of species records, either the information requirement as dictated by the research questions has to decrease or more prior knowledge about the species-environment or geographical relations have to be specified. The presentation concludes with a preliminary overview of research questions on species distributions and the matching levels of occurrence records that are required to obtain an adequate answer.

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.htm

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In the bad old days, biologists from places like the Museum would just go to a country, collect and then bring everything home. This was great for building our collections, but bad for the country involved. It didn’t help build up capacity in-country for biological inventory and understanding at all; many of the places the early explorers went were only just beginning to develop academic communities of their own. Things are different now though – and for the better.

IMG_7282_resized.jpgMy colleague Asunción Cano and his some of his students at the meeting of the Peruvian Botanical Society – academic life is certainly vibrant in Perú!

 

The Convention on Biological Diversity that was negotiated by the world’s governments in 1992 and subsequently ratified by most countries has meant, among other things, that permission to collect in countries not your own must be sought from the relevant authorities. This might seem like a bit of a pain – but what it does is gets you in contact with local scientists and tends to lead to some great collaborations! In Peru we have our research and collecting permits for both of our projects from the Dirección Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre of the Ministerio de Agricultura y de Rienda (Ministry of Agriculture and Water). The process is very straightforward; it involves a project plan, a list of people involved, and a promise to leave half the collected material in Peru. Sensible.

 

DNA permits - a different beast

 

For much of our work, however, we want to use DNA sequence data to look at evolutionary relationships for both the plants and the insects. This means we need a different and additional permit – a permit for use of genetic resources. All DNA has been identified as 'genetic resource' regardless of use. In a way this has created a huge problem for evolutionary biologists like us. Our use of DNA data has been equated with the plant samples kept in gene banks. So genetic resources permits can be notoriously difficult to negotiate and obtain.

 

We submitted our application of the DNA extraction from all Solanaceae and all insects associated with them in early December of last year, made some corrections based on observations from the people in the Ministry, and to my amazement and total surprise we were granted permission to extract DNA from specimens of Solanaceae and their associated insects we collect in Peru for evolutionary analysis! I signed a contract with the Ministry affirming each other’s rights and responsibilities in Lima, then headed for the mountains to join the team.

 

We really appreciate the efforts our colleagues at the Museo in Lima have made to help guide all these permissions through the system, and the efforts our colleagues at the Ministry have made to allow the genetic resources permit to be granted. I am really excited about the future collaborations we will have, and the new data and hypotheses we can generate. Doing all the permissions the right way has taken time, but I feel it has us all on a good solid, collaborative base for developing the research in the future.

 

Off into the field

 

The next day off I went to join the rest of the team – Erica, Mindy, Dan and Paul had gone to Canta the same day I had to stay in Lima to sign the genetic resources contract – so I followed by public transport, always exciting in Peru.

 

The car I got a seat in was old, bottomed out at every bump in the dirt road, and had a completely cracked windscreen. I might know why… the road from Lima to Canta was being repaired and widened in a number of places so there were lots of stops – at one of them several men were up the side of the hill pushing rocks down with sticks – no dynamite here, just manpower!

 

IMG_7312_resized.jpgI suspect the windscreen has taken a few knocks along the way … our driver and the one from the car in front discussing the delays.

 

IMG_7309_resized.jpgIf you squint you can see the tiny men on the slope – they are pushing the slope down with sticks, levering rocks out so the roll down the hill in clouds of dust…

 

The driver of our 'colectivo' got a bit impatient, and zoomed through – despite rocks skittering down the slope. Not great. But we made it to Canta, I found the team, whose day had been Solanum-filled and wonderful. I can’t wait to go out tomorrow!!

 

IMG_7318_resized.jpgErica (with Dan’s hands) sorting some of the day’s catch – it’s looking good!

 

 

Posted on behalf of Sandy Knapp, Museum botanist on a research and collecting trip to Peru.

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Those people over fifty in the UK will remember the tremendous change to the landscape in many areas of the country as a result of the death of more than 25 million Elm trees from Dutch Elm Disease. 

 

There are fears now that we may see the same loss for Ash from Ash Dieback and Mark Spencer has been representing the NHM in government-organised stakeholder forums and summits as part of the UK response to this invasive alien disease.

 

Ash Dieback was first seen in the UK in early 2012 in imported nursery trees and in late 2012 in the wider environment in the east of England.  It's a disease caused by the fungal pathogen commonly known as chalara (Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus) that has had significant impacts on Ash trees across Europe over the past twenty years.

 

2013 saw significant development of policy, disease monitoring and raising public awareness and involvement. The UK Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) convened a Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce (chaired by Professor Christopher Gilligan, an NHM Trustee) as part of the response to the outbreak of Ash dieback. The taskforce report recommended better prediction, monitoring and other measures to control the problem. One of the recommendations was for a UK Plant Health Risk Register which was launched on the 21 January 2014.

 

As a consequence of his work on plant health and the Risk Register in particular, Mark Spencer has been asked to contribute to a Defra-funded consultation on ‘Major drivers of emerging risks in plant health, in particular concerning native broad leaved trees in the UK’.

 

The Forestry Commission has been active in promoting public awareness and reporting of Chalara through its own website and receives data through web and smartphone tools such as Ashtag. NHM has been developing wider public participation with partner organisations through the OPAL Tree Health Survey that enables members of the public and schools to identify trees and tree health problems such as Ash Dieback with guides and Apps and to submit results as part of scientific research.

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Author: Stefanie White

Date: 26/02/14

 

 

 

Returning to visit Scott's Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans was an incredibly rewarding experience. The sun was especially bright that day making our view from the helicopter ride from Scott Base sensational.  Upon arriving we found Adelie penguins and seals playing in the shore break. Entering the hut is a magical experience where one steps back into the time of the historic explorers.  As we walked around the hut I noticed several objects that our previous winter team (which I was part of) conserved and had been returned to their place in the hut by the recent summer team.

 

The stories associated with artefacts play a major role in their interpretation, historical significance, value and conservation treatment and upon seeing the artefacts we conserved, I felt a personal connection and a new story that I associate with those artefacts. I was reminded of all the conversations, the deliberations, the analyses and the treatments that we carried out last year. I remember the excitement in the lab, when Stefan conserved Clissold's cooking pot, which now takes prime place in the kitchen area of the hut.

LM Clissold's pot (Small).JPG

Clissold's pot, conserved by Stefan, returns to its central position in the kitchen area of the hut

 

The Finnesko boots, which I spent so many hours reshaping and rediscovering now hang at the Hut's entrance.

Conserved Finneskoes in Scott's Terra Nova hut (Large) (Small).jpg

Finnesko boots hang beside the entrance to the hut

 

Not only did Marie conserve an enamel dish uncovering the residue of caramelized sugar on its edges, but also convinced our chef to recreate a Scott style rhubarb pie in a similar dish at Scott Base, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. That enamel dish now sits on the wardroom table in the officer's area in the hut.

The conserved enamel dish on the officers table (Large) (Small).jpg

The conserved enamel dish on the wardroom table in the officers area of the hut

 

I look forward to the stories that I may associate to the artefacts I conserve this year!

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There are just hours to go to submit your most spectacular and creative visions of wildlife caught on camera to the 50th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. It closes at 12.00 GMT on Thursday 27 February. So enter now.

 

This year's competition saw a simpler set of subject and photographic categories introduced as well as new awards. So far there have been tens of thousands of entries from around the world, with a lot of interest in the new TIMElapse and portfolio adult categories as well as the WILD-I category for young smartphone photographers.

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Magic mushrooms by Agorastos Papatsanis. Agorastos spotted these two parasol mushrooms growing in woodland in Greece's Grevena region. 'Nature is the true designer,' he says of his fairytale shot, taken with double exposure, in-camera.

 

Here are some words of advice from the WPY team for last-minute entrants:

 

'We want to see outstanding shots of any species, like these three 2013 award winning images pictured here. Photographs that depict the familiar to the less well known, the widespread to the endangered, the charismatic to the overlooked, and the urban to the wild.

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Grand raven by Chris Aydlett. This is a perfect example of a familiar subject presented in an original, dramatic way. Using the strong midday light, Chris created the shot in black and white, to give the scene impact and boost the metallic gloss of the raven's plumage.

'Our competition judges, as ever, are looking for fresh, creative images that reveal the diversity, majesty and beauty of life on Earth. As well as those that highlight the fragility of the natural world.

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Feast of the ancient mariner by Brian Skerry. Brian's vivid underwater shot shows the elusive leatherback turtle feasting on a free-floating colony of  tiny tunicates (sea squirts). It's a rare portrait of an incredible surivor.

'It doesn't matter where you take your shot. It could be in a garden or car park, underwater or in a remote corner of our planet. Just take a closer look and share your vision with us, wherever you are. There's still time. And good luck!'

 

The first round of the judging for the 50th competition entries starts on 10 March.

 

Find out about the competition's adult categories and young categories before you enter the competition.

 

Visit the WPY 2013 exhibition

 

Follow the WPY blog to get behind the scenes with winning photographers and judges

 

Stay connected with WPY on Facebook and Twitter

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I received an email recently from one of my contacts in the Museum's library which simply said: 'Zoe Hughes has a doorstop with an interesting story'.

 

Intrigued, I fired off an email to fossil invertebrates (Brachiopods and Cephalopods) curator Zoe and made a date to meet her to talk about the doorstop. But we would soon discover that this was just the beginning of the story.

 

The item in question was a very heavy iron cast of a brachiopod, Spirifer striata, that had been found in the roof of a cave in Derbyshire by fossil collector William Gilbertson. From there the fossil came into the possession of Edmund Garwood, a professor of geology and mineralogy. The fossil was then cast in iron by a member of the Slade School of Art, part of University College London.

 

Before we go any further, let me briefly explain what a brachiopod is, because I didn't know before Zoe told me. A brachiopod is a sea-dwelling creature. Most anchor themselves to the ocean floor with a worm-like pedicle (or 'arm foot'; literally brachio = arm and poda = foot). Some cement themselves to stones and shells, others have spines which anchor them and some just rest on the ocean floor. Originally thought to be part of the mollusc family which includes mussels and clams, it was later discovered that brachiopods were their own phylum (the taxonomic rank below kingdom and above class). On the outside, brachiopoda resemble bivalve molluscs in that they're comprised of two shells (also known as valves), but inside, they're orientated top to bottom instead of left to right, and feed in a different way. Brachiopods are one of the oldest animals found in the fossil record, and were most abundant in the Paleozoic era, around 250-500 million years ago. There are 30,000 species of brachiopods described, but only around 385 of those occur today.

 

Now, back to the story. Upon the death of Professor Garwood in 1949, the cast iron brachiopod was given to Helen Muir-Wood, who had carried out post-graduate research on Palaeozoic brachiopod faunas with Garwood at University College London. Muir-Wood worked at the Museum (then the British Museum of Natural History) from 1922 until she retired from her role as curator of the Brachiopoda in 1961. She was the first woman to reach the rank of Deputy Keeper of Palaeontology at the Museum, and (as far as we know) the first to use the brachiopod cast as a doorstop. When she retired, she took the cast home with her to Findon, from where it was recovered after her death in 1968 by brachiopod curator Ellis Owen.

 

Owen was the custodian of the brachiopod cast until his retirement in 1983, at which time he passed it to Howard Brunton (another curator of the Brachiopoda) who wrote the label that sits in the box in which the cast is housed today, where it comes under the remit of Zoe Hughes.

 

brachiopod cast twin 700.jpg

The cast iron brachiopod, formerly used as a doorstop.

 

 

And that brings the story back to the present day. At least it did at the point I first began writing this blog. But then a few days later I received a rather excited email from Zoe.

I've just found the actual specimen the cast was taken from! I never imagined that I would, as there's no specimen info with it. It was just a lucky find. I happened to open the particular drawer it was in on a tour this morning!

But that wasn't all, she said.

The brachiopod is part of the Davidson collection, which is a very important historical collection. Thomas Davidson wrote a series of monographs charting British brachiopods. And even more excitingly, this brachiopod is figured in one of the monographs. Plus we have Davidson's original notebooks with the initial notes and drawings he created to write the final monographs.

brachiopod fossil twin 700.jpg

The original brachiopod fossil from which the cast was made.

 

 

It really was an extraordinary and serendipitous find, which has added a new chapter to the 'doorstop with an interesting story'.

 

Both specimens - the original fossil and the cast - have now been officially registered in the Museum's digital database in recognition of their scientific, and artistic, merit (specimen number NHMUK PI B 321, to be precise), and housed together in our vast collection. It marks a satisfying conclusion to a tale that spans several generations of scientists and more than 120 years of Museum history.

 

sketch and book twin 700.jpg

Thomas Davidson's sketches of the brachiopod fossil (left), and the illustrations that appeared in his book The Monography of British fossil Brachiopoda (right).

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Our last day in the field was one our Ore Curator, Helena Toman, was particulary looking forward to. We had finished visiting the fossil sites and today we would spend having a look around an active mine and collecting samples for the Museum's collections.

 

Helena tells us more about it...

 

Before we delve into the world of ores, it’s probably best to clarify what an ore actually is! An ore is any naturally-occurring mineral or assemblage of minerals from which economically important constituents, particularly metals, can be extracted. The field of economic geology focuses on ore deposit formation, ore mineral exploration and the successful extraction and processing of an ore. I like to think of economic geology as occupying one of those crucial interfaces between science and society and so one of the challenges as the Ore Collections Curator is to make the science accessible to society.

 

Over the past couple of months, you’ve taken part in our adventure to the geological treasure trove that is Morocco. After sieving for Cretaceous sharks teeth; excavating extinct volcanoes for mantle xenoliths and exploring for minerals we reach the final field stop of this incredible journey, the cobalt-nickel arsenide ore bodies of Bou-Azzer.

 

First view of Bou-Azzer mineBlog.jpg

On the road into Bou-Azzer mine.

 

Bou-AzzerBlog.jpg

Looking over the mine.

 

Located in the central Anti-Atlas Mountain range within a very old (788 ± 9 Ma, Gahlan et al., 2006) ophiolite – a section of the ancient sea floor that has been obducted onto land - Bou-Azzer is presently the only mining district in the world to produce cobalt as a primary commodity from arsenide ores (USGS, 2011).  As cobalt is usually extracted as a by-product, mineralisation at Bou-Azzer is unusual and therefore scientifically interesting. Put bluntly, we’d be mad not to visit and collect!

 

One thing that you can safely predict is that most mining operations are located in very remote and difficult-to-access locations. Bou-Azzer is no exception. After a long, bumpy, but visually stunning car ride we were warmly welcomed by mine employees who introduced the group to the geology and mining history of the district. Then, after a much needed sugary mint tea, the moment had arrived. The moment I had been waiting for – access to the ore pile! We drove up. The midday sun beat down on the mass pile of rocks before us.

 

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Looking through the discarded material next to the mine.

 

Dull silvers highlighted the primary cobalt mineralisation of Bou-Azzer: skutterudite (CoAs); safflorite (CoAs2); loellingite (FeAs); nickeline (NiAs) and rammelsbergite (NiAs2) while pale pinks and rich purples drew attention to the secondary mineral, erythrite (Co3[AsO4]2.8H2O) (Ahmed et al., 2009). I have to admit, as ores go, they rarely get ‘prettier’.

 

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Some of the samples we collected at the mine.

 

While I could have stayed for days, our schedule was very tight and it wasn’t long before we needed to leave; it really was a case of ‘all hands on deck!’ Decision making (often against the clock) is part of a curator’s in-field skill set, so only samples that best provided an understanding of the mineralogy, mineral assemblages, mineral textures and mineralisation styles present at Bou-Azzer, made it into the suite.

 

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Primary cobalt ore.

 

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Primary cobalt ore.

 

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Secondary erythrite.

 

This suite (of 30 hand samples) was collected with two purposes in mind:

 

     1) collection enhancement of the existing Natural History Museum ore collection

     2) to serve as material for research initiatives investigating cobalt as a ‘critical element’

 

As someone whose scientific interest area is economic geology, visiting Bou-Azzer was the cherry on top of the cake – or, as we are dealing with all things Moroccan, the mint in my tea. Describe the fieldtrip in one word? Ore-some.

 

If you would like to find out more about ores, the Museum ore collection and our research, please see our ores group webpages, or you can follow up with the references below.

 

 

Thank you to Helena for telling us more about the ores and what we collected.

 

I was particularly excited about going to the mine as we were trying to find some pink minerals, and pink is my favourite colour. Some of the specimens looked wonderful sparkling in the sun and it was great that we were able to collect so many new samples for the ore collections.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Morocco, seeing something new every day and you can learn so much more in the field than reading a book or paper about the area. For me, it was great to learn from the mineralogists on the trip and find out more about what they do and also learn from more senior members of staff (I think we all enjoyed learning from each other and getting to know each other better).

 

Being able to visit sites I have heard so much about such as the Kem Kem and Goulmima was fantastic. And knowing that finding the fossils (and mineral specimens) during our trip helped to enhance the Museum collections is a great feeling. I am hoping to return to Morocco later in the year to present some results at a conference of specimens we collected during our trip.

 

References

 

Ahmad, A.H., Arai, Shoji, and Ikenne, Moha, 2009, Mineralogy and paragenesis of the Co-Ni arsenide ores of Bou Azzer, Anti-Atlas, Morocco: Economic Geology, v. 104, no. 2, March–April, p. 249–266.

USGS, 2011, Minerals Yearbook: Morocco and Western Sahara (Advanced Release), p. 30.1 – 30.9.

Gahlan, H., Arai, S., Ahmed, A.H., Ishida, Y., Abdel-Aziz, Y.M., and Rahimi, A., 2006, Origin of magnetite veins in serpentinite from the Late Proterozoic Bou-Azzer ophiolite, Anti-Atlas, Morocco: An implication for mobility of iron during serpentinization: Journal of African Earth Sciences, v. 46, p.318–330.

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This week we have 28 new book additions covering Zoology, General Natural History, Earth Sciences, Ornithology, Entomology and Botany. Download the PDF attached to the bottom of this blog to view this week's list.


If you wish to view these or any other items, please contact the library to arrange an appointment library@nhm.ac.uk or 020 7942 5460

 

The Library catalogue is available online and more information about the Library & Archives collections can be found via our website

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Before leaving London I was given a shopping list of field items to obtain in Peru prior to the arrival of the rest of the team. This makes a lot of sense, as things like plastic sheeting, pots, Styrofoam ice coolboxes and string are a lot cheaper here than in the UK and we save on bulk as well. So I was on a mission…

 

First though, we had another morning in the herbarium – checking on potato distributions after our visit to CIP on Friday where the scientists shared potato distribution data with us, we needed to check to be sure there weren’t collections they needed lurking in the cupboards of the herbarium. And there were! Many of the herbarium specimens that represent unique collecting points were not in the data set – we will now share this back with the scientists at CIP and everyone wins!

 

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Mindy, Tiina and our colleague Reinhard Simon in front of the spectactular CIP logo.

 

While working away at the database the floor suddenly did a lurch, the cabinets rattled and Johanny, who works with us doing data entry, ran for the door. It was a small earth tremor – not even big enough to register on the US Geological Survey’s earthquake map (they only map those over 2.5 on the Richter scale), but the Peruvian authorities registered it as 4.0 on the scale and with an epicentre just N of Lima but causing no damage. We hadn’t even felt the much bigger event (5.7 on the Richter scale) earlier on in the week the epicentre was far to the south – the internet went off, so we reckon that was the cause! Peru is at the edge of the subducting Pacific plate, and so earthquakes and tremors are common occurrences – it is good to have these little ones, it lessens the probability of a major catastrophic event I guess. I will definitely be visiting the newly-refurbished volcanoes and earthquakes gallery back in South Kensington with a new appreciation!

 

It was open day at the museum and the staff all had rows of specimens on display and both students and staff members alike were out talking with gusto to the many members of the public who came for the day. It was sunny and nice and everyone was having a great time! Museums really depend on the public visiting and open days like this are so important for letting visitors catch a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.

 

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The botany display...

 

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Here's the way to the reptiles and amphibians!!

 

Noontime came and a friend and colleague, Emilio Perales from the Agrarian University (near CIP), came to help me with the shopping. The Central Market in Lima is not the safest place to be as a foreign woman alone, anyway, shopping is better as a group activity! Off we went into the heart of colonial Lima...

 

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The central part of Lima still has many old colonial churches and buildings... this one is the Iglesia San Martin (I think)...

 

The market itself is not a building or an area along the street – it covers several city blocks and is composed of shops selling anything you can imagine… Specialism is highly developed and there are tiny shops selling only plastic containers, others selling only paper products, still others with only coolboxes and yet more with only plastic sheeting and rubber bands. The whole area heaves with people – Saturday afternoon might not have been the best time to do this particular task!

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Proper shopping involves going to several stalls and bargaining for the best deal for the best product – this is a highly interactive sport. Getting receipts for purchases can also be a challenge – seems strange to be asking for a receipt for something that cost two and half Peruvian soles (the equivalent of 50 pence) – but it is necessary to justify expenditure.

 

Finally, laden with two coolboxes, many metres of plastic sheeting, a large roll of fabric, several hundred plastic pots and a huge plastic storage box, we had a freshly squeezed orange juice in the fruit section of the inside market – my favourite part of any of these local markets. Beautiful…you just can’t beat it!

 

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Maize in Peru is called choclo and has huge grains - it is served boiled or roasted and is delicious!

 

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Native (the cracked open green ones in the right hand side are lucuma) and imported (pomegranates) fruits all side by side for sale in hundreds of competing stalls - it is grape season in coastal Peru and many varieties are grown...

 

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The duck aisle right down from the fruits...

 

Shopping done we caught a taxi back to the museum to put our haul ready for the field on Tuesday. It took us ten minutes to get into the tiny car; it was like a puzzle getting all that stuff (plus us!) into the small space. Everything got put away, and now there are just a few more tiny bits and pieces (like a mobile phone I can use in Peru!) to get before we go… we await the rest of the team with anticipation...