We have had the pleasure of hosting the brilliant Chris Packham at the Museum recently. He has been filming with the collections for a forthcoming series for the BBC. Keep an eye out for that.
In the meantime, we chatted to Chris about our Goes to Town trail of specimens around Oxford city centre. He was very enthused about the idea and volunteered for this snap in front of our banner outside the front of the Museum.
Chris said: “I think this is a really good idea. If it encourages people who otherwise wouldn’t visit the Museum to come along and have a look at things then that is really worthwhile.”
It is almost a couple of weeks since the release of the specimens and we are now looking forward to receiving entries to our competition. To enter, you’ll need to visit all twelve specimens on the trail and tell us, via the website, which has the highest Danger rating and which has the highest Rarity rating. Prizes will be given to people whose names are drawn out of the hat when the Museum reopens in February next year.
Now here’s a sad story That you all should hear About a funny old bird Who had never known fear
Till explorers landed Upon the isle of Mauritius And the creatures they brought Found this Dodo delicious
Too docile to fight Too flightless to flee Now a head and a foot Are all you can see
There’s a rather nice article on the Guardian website today all about our famous Dodo remains. Journalist Henry Nicholls interviewed our zoological collections manager Malgosia Novak-Kemp, who showed Henry the only known surviving soft tissue remains from the extinct Dodo.
The article includes a reference to Hilaire Belloc’s poem, so it seemed appropriate to share this little Ode to a Dodo with you. We wrote it as part of our Goes to Town trail, which is launching in Oxford next week.
You can watch a short trailer about this at goestotown.com, but suffice to say that the Dodo will feature, along with his Ode, in one of our partner venues. See if you can find him and all the other exhibits from Tuesday next week.
Wow, we have an award-winning blog! I’m pleased to say that Darkened not Dormant was announced as a runner up for an OxTALENT award this evening. The awards “recognise and reward excellence in teaching and learning supported by ICT” within Oxford University.
Communications Officer Scott Billings and I attended the celebrations and we were genuinely flattered to have been nominated, let alone get a prize.
The blog was recognised in the Use of Technology for Outreach and Engagement category, and there was also a mention of the Museum’s Twitter account @morethanadodo. It turns out that the Dodo has quite a following around Oxford!
A while back we featured a great little story about some graffiti, which was discovered high up on the Museum roof. You may remember that it was painted by two of the craftsmen responsible for creating our beautiful Victorian building. The graffiti reads “This roof was painted by G. Thicke and J Randall, April 1864″
The story picked up quite a lot of press attention, featuring in the Oxford Mail and BBC Oxford, and that blog post is our most-read so far. But one reader’s attention was particularly attracted by the names of the painters. Oxford resident Debbie Moorwood has been tracing her family history for some time, so when she spotted the familiar name G. Thicke, she decided to do some extra digging.
After consulting the Victorian censuses and tracing back through her family tree, Debbie revealed that painter George Thicke was actually directly related to her husband, Steve Moorwood. Steve is George’s great great great grandson!
Excited by her discovery, Debbie contacted us directly through this blog and we thought this was a fantastic opportunity for the graffiti artist’s relatives to see his work up close.
So, last week I had the pleasure of meeting Debbie and Steve Moorwood and we joined staff working on the roof project to climb high up into the roof. It was also a good opportunity for Debbie to share her discoveries about her distant relative, George Thicke. He was born in Glastonbury in around 1809, so would have been roughly 55 when he painted the graffiti on our roof. He is first spotted living in Oxford in the 1841 census, when he was a resident of the Cowley Road and, most importantly, listed as a painter! Later he moved around the area, living in St Clements, Headington and finally Shotover, before his death in 1887.
Debbie said of the experience: “We had an amazing time visiting the Museum roof. We never expected to get a full guided tour of the whole building and Steve loved it, especially the building works. We can’t wait for the roof to be finished and for the Museum to open again, when we’ll be dragging our kids & family in to have a look. I think the museum has become quite a special place for us now.”
We now have a good picture of one of our infamous roof painters, but J Randall remains a bit of a mystery to us. So far, we think he was John James Randall of St Ebbes, Oxford, but we know very little else. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could track down one of his relatives next?
I’ve just been getting our fulgurites out of their drawer for their second outing to London. ‘What’s that?’ I hear you ask. Well, the clue’s in the name, for ‘fulgur’ is Latin for lightning. Fulgurites form when lightning strikes the ground; and if the ground happens to be made of sand, the intense heat of the lightning melts the grains of sand to form a tube of natural glass. The longest known fulgurite is nearly five metres long, but they are always very fragile things.
So why is a fulgurite going to London? We get all sorts of requests to see specimens, from researchers, amateur enthusiasts, students and artists, and even people who are just curious. Our collections are there to be used and enjoyed after all. But in this particular case the producers of the BBC4 programme Science Club were making a pilot for their new series and were looking for a fulgurite to star in the show.
I took two different fulgurites to the recordings, both found in the early 19th century. One is a piece labelled as coming from Drigg in Cumberland. This was a famous discovery; even Charles Darwin knew about them, for he wrote that the fulgurites he discovered in South America were very like those of Drigg in appearance. The second was found in Westphalia, Germany, and it shows a glassy trace of the lightning’s path as it passed through the sand.
For this pilot programme Science Club was investigating natural disasters. Presenter Dara Ó Briain was joined by expert demonstrator Professor Mark Miodownik who had quite a shocking experience with a lightning machine! We were also shown why it is dangerous to stand under a tree during a thunder storm, and we heard about the lucky escapes some people have when struck by lightning.
Fulgurites are rather rare and special, and as the pictures show, both presenters enjoyed a chance to get a close look at these natural curiosities.
The pilot programme was successful, and one of our new Education trainees, Liz Danner, will be taking the fulgurites back for the final filming of Science Club this week. If you would like to see them too, they will feature in our next ‘Presenting…‘ display soon. Follow the blog and we’ll let you know when
Watch out for more Science Club on BBC4 – it’s fascinating and fun.
Monica Price, Assistant curator, Mineral Collections
You’ve read about it in the press (probably), but now you can see Bruno Debattista’s rare trace fossil find for yourself in our Presenting… display, just inside the entrance of the Museum. Although we are closed, this changing exhibit can be seen by visitors coming through the building to the Pitt Rivers Museum.
On display we have Bruno’s shale rock, found in Bude, Cornwall last year, which shows faint tracks left by a pair of horseshoe crabs as they crawled up an ancient, muddy shore more than 300 million years ago. Although the species of horseshoe crab which made these tracks is long extinct, we are displaying two modern specimens for comparison. One is around the size of the animal which left the original trackway; the other is a full size horseshoe crab which lives in the Atlantic Ocean – Limulus polyphemus.
We should also point out that horseshoe crabs aren’t really crabs at all. Crabs are crustaceans, but horseshoe crabs are more closely related to the arachnids, such as spiders and scorpions.