Venus Comb Murex (Murex pecten)The mollusc collection at the Museum is formidable, estimated to comprise in excess of 100,000 lots, collected by several notable amateur shell collectors over the last 200 years. Unfortunately, until quite recently, this collection was in a fairly disorganised state. Parts have been catalogued on paper in the past 40 years, but a much larger part was stored away in drawers and boxes, with some unopened for decades…

Spiny dye-murex (Bolinus brandaris)
Spiny dye-murex (Bolinus brandaris)

Over the past ten years, the majority of these extra collections have been sorted into family level; that is, grouped by family classification but not further divided into genus and species.

To take this organisation further, the entire mollusc collection is now being properly curated and the details recorded on an electronic database so that researchers can find and access the material more easily.

Over the past three months, ten hard-working volunteers have given up their time every Monday to help with the current (very
time consuming) stage in the process. Working mainly on marine gastropods, the volunteers first remove the shells from their original boxes or bags and re-package them using modern museum storage materials.

An unsorted drawer...
An unsorted drawer…

The species names are checked against an online database and updated where necessary. The volunteers then organise each family alphabetically by genus and within genus by species. The final stage in the process is to record the details of each specimen onto an online database and to label the newly-packaged shells. That’s a lot of work.

...and a newly-sorted drawer
…and a newly-sorted drawer

Thanks to their enthusiasm and great team work, our volunteers have sorted, checked and curated over 8,000 lots of shells and reorganised them into more than 250 drawers. Around 3,500 specimens have been added to the database since March, taking the total number of lots in the mollusc database to nearly 20,000.

Only another 80,000 to go!

Carolyn Lewis, Palaeobiology Technician

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