TLC (turtle loving care)

Turtle post-treatment

The Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) above has been receiving some much-needed TLC from Abby Duckor, our first conservation intern from UCL’s MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums. Here Abby explains what she’s been up to…

During my time at the Museum I have been lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time working on this taxidermy turtle. There was plenty to do: the specimen was covered in a dark layer of dust; there was a large tear in the neck, perhaps from a knock; and the taxidermy was generally overstuffed, noticeably on the stomach plate which had become completely detached, revealing the inner filling material.

The turtle shell (carapace) in the middle of treatment. The carapace was cleaned with detergent and de-ionized water. Toothbrushes were used to scrub the hard shell and to help remove any ingrained dirt.

The turtle shell (carapace) in the middle of treatment. The carapace was cleaned with detergent and de-ionized water. Toothbrushes were used to scrub the hard shell and to help remove any ingrained dirt.

Most of the filling was wheat with a small grain size, dating it to pre-1950, according to Dr Stephen Harris: after 1950 wheat grains were cultivated to be fatter and the stalks shorter. The wheat and other plant materials in the filling suggest an English location for the taxidermy.

The specimen itself is labelled as part of Rev. Buckland’s collection, dating it to the early 1800s, if not earlier. William Buckland, an important early geologist and palaeontologist, was quite a character. During his life he amassed a large collection of living and mounted animals. He claimed to have eaten his way through the animal kingdom, and you have to wonder if he ever tasted this fellow… Green Turtles were a popular food for sailors and locals, reducing their population size. Today they are listed as endangered.

Abby working on the turtle in the conservation lab.

Abby working on the turtle in the conservation lab.

Conservation treatment of this specimen involved cleaning the shell with detergent and deionized water, revealing a colourful shell underneath. You may have noticed that this Green Turtle is not actually green. In fact, the Green Turtle is named after the colour of its fat, not the colour of the skin. Ours had been painted a dark greenish-brown colour, because they lose their skin colour after they die, but I removed the top layer of paint to better reveal the yellow scales on the turtle’s head, tail and limbs.

The final touch was the replacement of the stomach plate, or plastron, which is now held in position with epoxy putty wedges attached to the metal stakes that hold up the specimen. Cleaned, and with everything in its right place, our Green Turtle is now in much better shape, as you can see in the photo at the start of the article.

 

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