Rehoming a dinosaur

Last summer we ran an unusual competition: finding a new residence for our four metre-long model of Utahraptor ostrommaysorum. It had been hibernating in one of our off-site stores for a while, but following a reorganisation of collections we needed to find a new place for it to live. The competition to rehome the dinosaur was fierce, with 200 venues across the world vying to become the Utahraptor‘s new keeper…

It’s taken some time, thanks to logistics and admin, but one year later we are really delighted to reveal that the Utahraptor has now been installed at the Children’s Hospital at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

The bid to take in the Cretaceous creature came from Sarah Fletcher, who now works at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford. Sarah nominated the Children’s Hospital so that the dinosaur could amaze and inspire the young patients.

The idea of having a model Utahraptor in the hospital seemed like a lot of fun. Having been through the Children’s Hospital with my family, I knew that it would make such a difference to everyone who walks through those doors. But I never thought in a million years that we would win it – I am thrilled!
– Sarah Fletcher

The Children’s Hospital team celebrate the arrival of their new ‘pet’

The model has been installed in the main entrance of the hospital, complete with new shadow-casting lighting, thanks to support from Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals Charitable Funds.

The team are now looking to develop new arts projects for young patients, themed around the dinosaur, including an all-important naming competition. We all hope it will bring pleasure to patients, provide a welcome distraction, and make their hospital visit a little more fun.

Patients, staff and visitors can peer at the dino on the way to the wards

So long, 2015…


As you can tell from the adornment of our Red Deer, Christmas is upon us, so it’s nearly time to bid farewell to another year. It’s been another remarkable twelve months here at the Museum so here’s a little round up a few highlights from 2015…

As winter gave forth to spring
News emerged of a heartwarming thing
The Art Fund whispered in our ear
We were nominees for Museum of the Year!

Although eventual winners we were not
It mattered really not one jot
For in celebration we embarked
On the Dodo Roadshow – a tremendous lark

Back in April we’re pleased to say
Another award came our way
Goes to Town gave creatures free reign
And grabbed a gong for Marketing Campaign

But we weren’t always on the road
In our exhibitions many stories were told
Of evolution, geology and sensory powers
Science and research passed the visitors’ hours

Our doors were open without interruption
While out on the lawn was a volcanic eruption
University scientists had plenty to say
On a really Super Science Saturday

So to our schools, and families, and adults and more
Thank you, cheers, and thank you some more

Here’s our programme for January to April. See you in 2016…

Starry night

Image: Philip Hadland

This dazzling photograph has just been awarded third prize in the Geological Society’s 100 Great Geosites Photo Competition and will feature as the December image in their 2016 calendar. It shows a building close to our hearts, the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough. In fact, the photo was taken by a member of our Earth Collections team, Phil Hadland at the Yorkshire Fossil Festival back in September.

On day 2, after a busy day sharing collections and knowledge with the festival-goers, the cloudless skies revealed a dark starry night. So Phil ventured out to do bit of photography, envisaging a beautiful trail of stars apparently rotating above the Rotunda. Conditions could not have been much better.

Using the Google Sky Map app he found Polaris (also known as the North Star), the star which sailors once used to navigate at night. He carefully positioned his camera and tripod for a 45 minute exposure to capture both the Rotunda and the stars. The image that resulted is spectacular. Phil explains;

Of course it is the rotation of our planet that causes the effect of star trails, but it shows that we are constantly on the move on a tiny speck within the universe, which we call Earth.

The timing of the success is ideal. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of William Smith’s Geological Map, which we are celebrating with our current exhibition Handwritten in Stone. Smith also went on to conceive and design the The Rotunda Museum as the ideal place to display fossils and interpret geology.

Credit: Philip Hadland
Credit: Philip Hadland

Phil is understandably proud of the attention that his photograph has received:

I’m thrilled to be among the winners and it is a great feeling when the effort (which is usually required to take great photos) pays off. It’s also nice to know that so many people will get to see and appreciate the photo over Christmas 2016.

This isn’t the only long exposure image that Phil has created; here you can see a photo of this very museum treated in a similar way. Perhaps a testament to the long-lasting importance of natural history.

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

Mandy on a mission

Mandy featured

Regular visitors to the Museum will have noticed a certain Shetland Pony hasn’t been seen for a while. After living in Knaresborough Zoo during the 1980s, Mandy went on to spend over 10 years on display as touchable taxidermy – admired, adored and stroked until she could take no more. With the arrival of our new Sensing Evolution displays, it was time for a revamp and Mandy has gone into retirement. But, as our Community Outreach Officers explain, she’s now embarked on a brand new adventure…


Mandy hasn’t disappeared! Instead of being in the Museum of Natural History, she now comes out to community family events with Oxford University Museums’ outreach team. This summer she has been all around Oxfordshire at Playdays, organised with Oxfordshire Play Association, and also with us at community festivals such as the Cowley Road Carnival and the Leys Festival. These brilliant indoor and outdoor activities are completely free for everyone to attend.

Mandy takes pride of place at an Oxfordshire Playday

Oxfordshire Playdays offer children the support, space and resources to develop play and explore other activities available in Oxfordshire. The carnivals celebrate the places, spaces and communities in which we live, offering people an opportunity to be part of their local community.

Some of Mandy's admirers come to say hello
Some of Mandy’s admirers come to say hello

At these events Mandy has pride of place in front of the museums’ outreach gazebo, so everyone can see her. The outreach team represent all the Oxford University Museums and Collections, giving people a flavour of what they can find. So, along with an elephant’s tooth, Megalosaurus footprint and Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, Mandy comes with us to represent the Museum of Natural History. Once people give Mandy a stroke, they often come and hold a Cockroach or talk to the Outreach Officers about the other objects.

Teddy takes a ride
Teddy takes a ride

When parents, children (and dogs!) see Mandy, they are delighted. A lot recognise her from the Museum of Natural History, but others are just drawn to her soft, cuddly fur. Lots of children stroke her, pretend to feed her and put their teddies on her to give them a ride. Often we hear:

It’s the horse from the museum! Is she alive? How did she die? Where did she live?

So Mandy has not been forgotten. Instead she’s roaming Oxfordshire, bringing smiles to lots of children’s faces and has become a very valued member of Oxford University Museums’ outreach team!

Nicola Bird and Susan Griffiths, Community Outreach Officers

Adam and the Edmontosaurus

Edmontosaurus re-instate 011
Adam (left) and Pete carrying a hind leg, presided over by the statue of Henry John Stephen Smith, Keeper of the Museum 1874 -1883

Fossil Fridays don’t get much bigger than this. This morning a team from the Museum have started the process of reinstating our large Edmontosaurus cast. The 49 pieces that make up the skeleton were brought back into the Museum after going out on the road, and now sit ready and waiting in the middle of the Museum.

For many of the team, lugging dinosaurs around is an everyday challenge, but one member of staff is very new to this sort of thing. Meet Adam Fisk, our new apprentice who joined the Museum only 2 weeks ago. Working alongside his supervisor Pete Johnson, he’s already helped with all sorts of tasks around the building, such as removing old display panels and fixing lights, but this one has to be a new experience.

Returning the Edmontosaurus base to the museum court with supervisor Pete Johnson
Returning the Edmontosaurus base to the Museum court with supervisor Pete Johnson

Adam is fresh into the Museum following his GCSEs this summer and he says it all feels like a dramatic change of scene;

Only 8 weeks ago I was sitting in a classroom – now look at me stride!

The Edmontosaurus was dismantled back in June and went to the Cheltenham Science Festival with Professor Phil Manning of Manchester University. It was displayed in the ‘Dinozone’ exhibition, which received 14,000 visitors over 6 days.

The Edmontosaurus bones attract attention from a visiting primary school.
The Edmontosaurus bones attract attention from a visiting primary school.

The cast is made up of 15 sections (plus 34 ribs) which bolt together. First to go on are the back legs and pelvis, then the spine and the skull, followed by the upper limbs. Lastly, the 34 ribs can be carefully slotted into place. The giant puzzle of fitting it altogether will begin on Monday.

Here’s how Pete describes Adam’s Edmontosaurus experience:

One small step for A-dam, one giant leap for apprentice-kind!

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

Dodo Roadshow – #ILoveMuseums


So, it’s been one hell of a trip man. In a bid to shake off the cobwebs and ‘find myself’ I set out on an epic Roadshow from Land’s End to John O’Groats. The Dodo Roadshow, no less: all mine, but also everyone else’s…

I found so much more than I could have bargained for: monuments to nature, relics of industrial might, extinctions recent and past, and a whole load of philosophical perspective. I am a changed Dodo.


And this is what I have learnt – museums are powerful, important and brilliant. They are full of wonder, learning, curiosity, surprising viewpoints and fun discoveries. To find out why, read my full story in the cartoons below (thanks to Chris Jarvis for capturing the essence).

And then I need your help. I need you to head on over to and put your name to the campaign. I may be an old bird-brain, but I know that we should stand up for our museums – I’ve seen ’em man and they’re really something special. Squawk!

The Dodo.