Geoblitzing the minerals

Aphodius sphacelatus

Like most museums, the Leeds Museum Service has far more specimens than they can possibly show in their public displays. Much of their huge collection is carefully stored in their Discovery Centre, waiting to be used. Trouble is, if you don’t have an expert on the team, how do you know which specimens are particularly rare or precious, which ones are important for researchers, which ones are ideal for people to handle..? Indeed which ones are really no use to anyone anymore?! The Leeds curatorial team decided to carry out a ‘Geoblitz’, inviting specialists in all the different branches of geology to go through storage trays specimen by specimen, telling them about the highlights (and occasionally the lowlights) in the collection. The project has been generously funded by the John Ellerman Foundation, and will also include a programme of activities and exhibitions to start making use of the best specimens. You can follow their progress on their blog.

Monica and Neil hard at work in the collections
Monica and Neil hard at work in the collections

I was delighted to be invited to be a visiting expert, looking at the mineral collection, and I’ve just come back from three days working through literally thousands of specimens. It was great to see how many had information about the places where they were found, some even saying which level or vein they came from in the mine or quarry. Nearly all those mines and quarries are now closed, and most are flooded or inaccessible. This means the mineral samples collected from them are irreplaceable and particularly useful for research.

The instructions were that I’d read out the tray number and specimen number, and then explain why I thought the sample was so interesting or special. Project officer Neil Owen was busy taking lots of notes. There were some incredibly beautiful display specimens (like the beautiful wavelite sample at the top of this post), some excellent examples of very rare minerals, and many samples ideal for people to both see and touch. Trouble was, each time he took the tray lid off to reveal something exciting inside, I’d always start by saying ‘wow!!’ and only think to tell him that all-important specimen number last of all!

Superb yellow crystals of the very rare lead mineral matlockite from Matlock in Derbyshire, where it was first discovered
Superb yellow crystals of the very rare lead mineral matlockite from Matlock in Derbyshire, where it was first discovered

It was fascinating to see another good museum collection, and I’ll be reminding researchers that Leeds has lots for them to explore. But most of all, I’m especially looking forward to seeing some of the specimens I picked out go on public display. Very best of luck to Neil and all the Leeds team, as they continue the Geoblitz!

Monica Price, Head of Earth Collections

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More than a Dodo

I'm Public Engagement Manager at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and I look after permanent displays and other interpretation. I do a bit of social media on the side, too.

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