Ready for the road


Tomorrow is the official launch of the Dodo Roadshow. Our 8 day adventure from Land’s End to John O’Groats kicks off at the southern tip of the country, before zooming on to 4 other museums during the day. It’s certainly a busy one to get us going!

The ambitious itinerary on the back of Darren's t shirt
The ambitious itinerary on the back of Darren’s t shirt


Ellie Smith and Darren Mann, part of the first leg team have packed up the Museum van with the essentials. They’ll be joined by Julia Parker and will head down to Cornwall today. Next stop Land’s End!

Ellie and Darren lift the Dodo into the van
Ellie and Darren lift the Dodo into the van

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

It’s the Dodo Roadshow!

Stickers small - Dodo Roadshow_crop

We are definitely more than just a Dodo, but sometimes we do like to celebrate our famous specimen. This month we’ll be doing that in two exciting ways: putting the real Dodo remains on display, and taking Dodo bits and pieces on an epic tour – the Dodo Roadshow.

The Oxford Dodo display in the centre court of the Museum tells the story of the famous specimen that’s been under the care of Oxford University since the 17th century. But it doesn’t contain the real head and foot remains of the original animal: this uniquely precious specimen has to be kept behind the scenes, so it’s rare to get even a glimpse… until now!

On show until 19 July, you have a one-off opportunity to see the real deal on display in the climate-controlled Presenting case near the Welcome Desk. You can find out more about the display on the Museum website too.

Gently placing the Oxford Dodo into the Presenting case
Gently placing the Oxford Dodo into the Presenting case

As you’ll probably know by now, we’ve been shortlisted for the Art Fund Prize Museum of the Year 2015. To mark this, we’re embarking on a unique and ambitious tour of the country. Beginning at Land’s End on 8 June, the Dodo Roadshow will travel the full length of Britain in the colourful Museum van. Staff will journey all the way to John O’Groats in just one week, visiting over 20 museums and galleries along the way.

Oh, and we’ll be taking a Dodo with us too. While the original head is on display in the Museum, we’ll get the striking Dodo model out on the road, and we’ll also take along real Dodo foot and limb bones, from the same original animal as the head. These will be used as part of a ‘show and tell’ with visitors at each stop.

The Dodo model (right) which will be joining us for the adventure
The Dodo model (right) which will be joining us for the adventure

But it’s not just about the Dodo. In a bid to celebrate the rich diversity of museum collections in the UK, the Dodo will meet with star objects from every museum and gallery on the tour too. And in a small expression of cultural heritage exchange, the Dodo will ‘interview’ these star objects for a series of Q&A articles, which you’ll be able to read about right here on the blog.

We wanted to do something special to celebrate our nomination for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015. Getting out on the road to visit museums and galleries far and wide seemed like a great way to talk about the huge breadth of collections that we have in the UK, both in natural history and well beyond.

The Dodo Roadshow is a chance for some people to meet the iconic Oxford Dodo, and for the Dodo – and us – to meet equally important objects in other museum collections.

– Professor Paul Smith, Museum director

Here’s the full breakdown of where we’re going:

Monday 8 JuneLAND’S END Visitor Centre; National Maritime Museum Cornwall; Royal Cornwall Museum; Eden Project; Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
Tuesday 9 JuneRAMM; Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Wednesday 10 JuneNational Museum Wales; Black Country Living Museum; Compton Verney
Thursday 11 JuneDerby Museum and Art Gallery
Friday 12 JuneYorkshire Sculpture Park; The WhitworthDove Cottage
Saturday 13 JuneTullie House Museum & Art Gallery; Robert Burns Birthplace Museum; Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Sunday 14 JuneThe Hunterian, Glasgow; Perth Museum & Art Gallery; RSPB Loch Garten
Monday 15 JuneUllapool Museum & Visitor Centre; Information Centre, JOHN O’GROATS

Look out for travel snaps, postcards and drawings from the Dodo here on the blog and @morethanadodo on Twitter – #dodoroadshow.

Right, I’m off to pack – squawk!

Spot the staff wearing these t shirts out on the road
Spot the staff wearing these t shirts out on the road

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

What’s on the van?… the end of the road

What's on the van banner 2

DSC_1230It all started with a question from a member of the public; “What are these things on your van anyway?” Since then, our weekly blog posts have featured the story of 37 specimens from the Museum’s diverse collections.

From the Oxford dodo to Darwin’s dung beetle, a gemstone to a T rex, the ‘What’s on the van?‘ series has covered it all. Each week, expert voices from across the Museum (and beyond) have brought insight and intrigue to the images, explaining the secrets behind the specimens that decorate our van.


DSC_1221We hope you’ve enjoyed the weekly installments and will feel a little bit more knowledgeable if you see us out and about on the road. You can call out “I know what’s on the van!”.

Rachel Parle, Education Officer


What’s on the van? – Ammonite


This week’s What’s on the van? comes from Eliza Howlett of the Museum’s Earth Collections.

This ammonite belongs to the genus Mortoniceras, introduced by the American palaeontologist F. B. Meek in 1876 in honour of his colleague Samuel Morton (1799-1851). The species name rostratum refers to the rostrum, the curved projection near the opening of the shell.

This specimen was collected by William Buckland (1784-1856), Oxford’s first Reader in Geology. It was originally described and illustrated by Buckland’s friend James Sowerby in 1817 in his Mineral Conchology of Great Britain, the earliest work to describe all of the fossil shells then known from the country. The specimen lived during the Cretaceous Period and is approximately 100 million years old. It was found in a marine rock formation called malmstone at the hamlet of Roke, near Benson, 10 miles southeast of Oxford. Malmstone is a distinctive fine-grained grey green rock, widely used in buildings in the area.

The ammonite on the van
The ammonite on the van

Ammonites are an extinct group of molluscs whose closest living relatives are squid and Nautilus. They had an external shell made up largely of mother of pearl. As in Nautilus, the animal’s body moved forwards periodically as the shell grew, and the back end of the body secreted an intricately folded plate called a septum after each move, so that the shell was divided into a series of chambers with the animal’s body in the last chamber. The rostrum of our specimen tells us it was an adult and had stopped growing. Ammonites floated freely in the water column, probably feeding on plankton. Although they are traditionally illustrated with the body chamber at the top, in life they were actually the other way up, with the body chamber at the bottom.

Though originally described from Oxfordshire, Mortoniceras rostratum floated its way around the Cretaceous world, and specimens are known from Texas, Japan, South India, Madagascar, South Africa and elsewhere.

What's on the van?

What’s on the van? – Bumble bee


This week’s What’s on the van? comes from Dr. James Hogan, of the Museum’s Hope Entomological Collections.

Bumblebees and honeybees busily working away are one of the iconic visions of summer. Bumblebees and honeybees are also closely related, both belonging to the order Hymenoptera, family Apidae.

In the UK 28 species of bumblebee (species of Bombus) have been recorded, although several species are sadly now extinct or have been seen only a few times.

The short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus) has been the focus of recent conservation efforts. Although extinct in the UK, descendants of some British short-haired bumblebees still survive– in New Zealand! These bees originate from a deliberate introduction to New Zealand in the late 19th Century for pollination of clover crops. Unfortunately, attempts to re-introduce these New Zealand bees have been unsuccessful because they are too inbred, but by introducing short-haired bumblebees from Sweden the species is establishing again in Kent (more details about the short-haired bumblebee re-introduction can be found at )

Although we have lost some species we have recently gained one more, the tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). This species is believed to have colonised the UK naturally from France and since its arrival about 10 years ago is spreading rapidly across Britain. We first became aware of this new bee in Oxford in 2008 when Steven Williams, one of our regular volunteers, brought in a strange-looking bumblebee which none of us recognised. It had a colour pattern unlike any other British species, with a red-brown thorax and a black abdomen with a white tip.

After a bit of detective work (and some help from local bee expert Ivan Wright) the arrival of the tree bumblebee in Oxford was confirmed. This bumblebee is now a common sight in Oxford gardens –look out for it next spring!

What's on the van?

What’s on the van? – Beryl gemstones


This week’s What’s on the van? comes from Monica Price, Head of Earth Collections.

This time, it’s a special double issue of ‘What’s on the van?’! Two gemstones, that look very different, turn out to be exactly the same mineral, beryl. On the right is a greenish yellow variety of beryl called ‘heliodor’. It gets its name from the Greek word for the sun, and is coloured by a trace of ferric iron. The stone on the left is absolutely colourless because it has no impurities colouring it. This kind is known as ‘goshenite’ after Goshen in Massachusetts, USA, where it was first found.

Beryl is composed of beryllium, aluminium, silicon and oxygen (Be3Al2(SiO3)6 to be precise) and it is not very common. Flawless transparent crystals are rare, and as they are also very hard and durable, they are ideal for cutting into gemstones. Heliodor and goshenite are not often seen in jewellers shops, and nor is the pretty pale pink variety called ‘morganite’. There are two kinds of beryl which are much better known, ‘aquamarine’ and ‘emerald’. Aquamarine is  coloured light blue or green by a trace of ferrous iron, while rare and highly prized emerald is vibrant green because it contains a little bit of chromium.

We talk about ‘cutting’ gemstones, but in fact the faces are ground away on a flat fast-revolving flat metal plate charged with abrasive powder, called a lap. The faces are then polished using finer and finer grades of abrasive powder. Each face is cut at a very precise angle to get the maximum amount of sparkle in the gem.

Our heliodor and goshenite gems are from a beautiful collection generously presented to the Museum by Mr Bernie Peel in 2004. You will be able to see lots more cut stones from the Peel collection in the Museum’s gemstone display when the Museum reopens in February 2014.

What's on the van?