SYNTHESYS ethnobiology workshop

Figure 1: In the stores, lies a sweet shop! (but best not to eat too many!)

Figure 1: In the stores is like being in a sweet shop for would be curators! (but best not to eat too many!)

Last week I enjoyed a great training session in curating ethnobiological collections at Kew Gardens.  Ethnobiology encompasses many organic materials used by people both in the past and now.  Gina’s blog gives a good outline of what an ethnobiology collection encompasses.  The funding for this was provided by SYNTHESYS, who promote exchanges of research expertise across Europe. As a result the course attracted participants from museums all across Europe keen to improve their knowledge of ethnobiological collections (or biocultural collections as Jan Salick Senior Curator, Missouri Botanical Garden catchily referred to them).

Figure 2: A shield and Gina, who kindly allowed me to use her photos in this post!

Figure 2: A shield (more on this later) and Gina, who kindly allowed me to use her photos in this post!

The course was run by Mark Nesbitt who is the curator of the Economic Botany Collection at Kew.  He was ably assisted by Luba Dovgan Nurse who is a textile conservator who’s worked with the Kew collection, and Caroline Cornish who recently completed her PhD on the Kew collection and is now undertaking work on a new acquisition of ‘Materia Medica’ material.

Figure 3: This sheild is made of basket and is purely ceremonial (an Amazonian wife-raiding ritual to be precise!).  The shield is presented with photos and information outside the box showing what it is and also a photo of the underside to avoid unecessary movment.

Figure 3: This sheild is made of basket and is purely ceremonial (an Amazonian wife-raiding ritual to be precise!). The shield is presented with photos and information outside the box showing what it is and also a photo of the underside to avoid unecessary movment.

Figure 4: Mark was foolish enough to entrust me with its removal and repositioning!

Figure 4: Mark was foolish enough to entrust me with its removal and repositioning!

Mark talked to us about curating ethnobiological specimens en general, whilst Luba gave us instruction on conservation techniques and IPM in relation to these collections.  Luba’s blog gives some idea about the work she’s been doing with ethnobiological collections in relation to indigenous groups; particularly a Maori cape made from the leaves of the mountain daisy.  We also completed a ‘packing exercise’ with constructive feedback given by Mark and Luba.

Figure 2: We got to practice packing priceless medieval material such as these Christams decorations.

Figure 5: We got to practice packing priceless medieval material such as these Christams decorations.

I thoroughly enjoyed the two days, particularly the tour around the collection and the herbarium at Kew.  We were free to input our own expertise throughout the event, and it was also a great opportunity to meet up with old friends and make some new ones!

Figure 5: There's a funny story in relation to these still poisonous spears, collected by Richard Spruce, (as was the shield).  Basically, curator gets stabbed by it in New York, rings for medical assistance, person answering the phone says "You're in luck, the specialist in these collections is in New York"  Guess what?  It was him! (Gina tells it much better than I!)

Figure 6: There’s a funny story in relation to these still poisonous spears, collected by Richard Spruce, (as was the shield). Basically, curator gets stabbed by it in New York, rings for medical assistance, person answering the phone says “You’re in luck, the specialist in these collections is in New York” Guess what? It was him! (Gina tells it much better than I!)

Figure 7: The happy delegates!

Figure 7: The happy delegates!

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New blog- put thy feet up

To celebrate having a little bit more time on my hands (and a new television) I’ve decided to start a blog recommending certain TV programmes I’ve been watching. This will entail me writing humorous reviews of interesting, stimulating, educational programmes available to catch-up (at the time of posting anyway) so you can indulge anything that takes your fancy. I may also write about anything rubbish I’ve watched just to prevent you from sharing the same fate!

This week I watched Pop! The science of bubbles (available until 18 April), A history of Britain (available until 13 April) and ‘Crossing England in a punt: river of dreams’ (only available today: sorry: )

The address is http://putthyfeetup.wordpress.com/ Hope you enjoy!

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Nature’s Library progress

Figure 1: Something fishy is going on in this cabinet...

Figure 1: Something fishy is going on in this cabinet…

Last Thursday I returned to Manchester to help with the new Nature’s Library gallery.  How exciting!  A lot of progress has been made; the mounts are now finished and the cases are almost ready for the objects to be put in.  I helped out with measuring out where objects will go so they can be appropriately positioned.  This was where all the work I did previously with Kate paid off (see blog post) and we could accurately map out the footprint of the objects.

I also helped out with cleaning and tidying as there is certainly a lot of that that will need to be done before the gallery is due to open.  I also helped David put these skulls on display:

Figure 2: The cases are looking brilliant; I'm particularly impressed by the lighting (as evident here!)

Figure 2: The cases are looking brilliant; I’m particularly impressed by the lighting (as evident here!)

So, although my traineeship has officially finished, I’m hoping there’ll be more opportunities to help with the new Nature’s Library gallery before it officially opens on the 26 April.

 

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Last day of traineeship…

Figure 1: These museum-themed cakes were baked for Comic Relief.

Figure 1: These museum-themed cakes were baked for Comic Relief.

Sadly, this is the last day of my traineeship.  Hopefully I will be coming back to help with the installation of Nature’s Library but this is my ‘official’ last day.  Yesterday’s ‘bake off’ of wonderful museum-themed cakes and treats in aid of Comic Relief (raising over £100) has reminded me what I’ve enjoyed most about being in Manchester this past year:

  • The people: everyone has been so friendly and good to me and I feel I’ve made some great contacts for the future.
  • The allotment: I’ve really enjoyed my work with the ‘allotment crew’ on a Friday and will miss my involvement immensely.
  • The Big Saturdays: I’ve really enjoyed interacting with visitors on Big Saturdays and other public events.
  • The baking (see above): always a great standard of cakes!
  • The volunteers: The volunteers are great at Manchester!
  • The collections: Working with the collections at Manchester has been a unique opportunity.

One thing I won’t miss are the trains (shame on you Northern Rail).

But aside from that I’ve had a brilliant year.  Hoepfully the blog will continue and I’ll keep you posted on future developments.  Thanks for reading!

Figure 2: Kate's well case cake was both delicious and amazing!

Figure 2: Kate’s well case cake was both delicious and amazing!

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Living Worlds/ Nature’s Library volunteer handling collection

Figure 1: The ever popular fox will remain part of the Living Worlds/ Nature's Library handling collection.

Figure 1: The ever popular fox will remain part of the Living Worlds/ Nature’s Library handling collection.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on a small project in relation to the opening of the new Nature’s Library gallery.  The project has been to refresh the objects offered as part of the Living Worlds (and now Nature’s Library too) volunteer handling table.  The handling tables, as you may have seen in some of my earlier posts, are very popular amongst visitors, and the volunteers enjoy hosting them throughout the week.

Figure 2: The rabbit is also another popular object.

Figure 2: The rabbit is also another popular object.

In order to tie in with the opening of Nature’s Library, I was invited by David to produce a training booklet and run a training course for the volunteers.  The first task I needed to do was to select the objects.  This involved working with the curators of all the natural science collections (zoology, botany, entomology, and earth sciences) to come up with suitable objects.  Most of the objects I selected were approved by both the curators and conservation, who needed to make sure they were robust enough to stand up to being handled by visitors.

Figure 3: The sea beans or drift fruit as they're sometimes called, are great tactile objects to use on a handling table

Figure 3: The sea beans or drift fruit as they’re sometimes called, are great tactile objects to use on a handling table

The final object selections were: red fox, rabbit, sea beans/ drift fruit, coco de mer seed pod (both of which I’d experienced using on a handling table before), Giant African longhorn beetle (as featured in a previous blog post), and an ammonite.

Figure 4: Hopefully we'll soon have a coco de mer seed pod like this to use on the handling table (the ones currently in the collection are going to be displayed on Nature's Library).

Figure 4: Hopefully we’ll soon have a coco de mer seed pod like this to use on the handling table (the ones currently in the collection are going to be displayed on Nature’s Library).

It was great to be able to include things from all the different collection areas.  The beetle, sea beans and ammonite are in a box to protect them but the sea beans and ammonite can also be touched.

Figure 5: The giant African longhorn beetle has fantastically long antennae!

Figure 5: The giant African longhorn beetle has fantastically long antennae!

The training booklet I prepared gave an introduction to Living Worlds and Nature’s Library; gave a bit of information about what the different galleries were about; and also listed a ‘mock conversation’ detailing some of the questions that visitors might ask about Nature’s Library.

Figure 6: This ammonite is 160 million years old!

Figure 6: This ammonite is 160 million years old!

I then took a photo of all the different objects and wrote a short biography of each of them and posed some questions the volunteers could ask visitors to aid them with their engagement.

The training on the day itself was given by myself and Irit from conservation.  Irit went through how to handle the objects correctly before I went through the booklet with the volunteers.  We then shared the objects out and engineered a role play.  I was pleased the volunteers were so receptive to the new objects and hope they enjoy using them on their handling tables in the future.

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Longhorn beetle project finale

Figure 1: The unidentified South African species went in the 'undetermined foreign cerambycidae drawer', along with many other fantastic specimens!

Figure 1: The unidentified South African species went in the ‘undetermined foreign cerambycidae drawer’, along with many other fantastic specimens!

So I’ve finally completed my longhorn beetle project.  All the data, including recently added locality (where the insects were collected) data has been added onto KE-EMu and the specimens have been incorporated into the collection.

Figure 2: The huhu beetles find a home amongst their bretheren!

Figure 2: The huhu beetles find a home amongst their bretheren!

The New Zealand species incorporated are called huhu beetles (Prionoplus reticularis) and are the largest native beetles found in New Zealand.  They are also sometimes eaten by Maori; the larvae said to taste a bit like buttery chicken!  I might be tempted to give them a try if I was in New Zealand as it’s been a while since I had any chicken!

Figure 3: Petrognathus gigas!

Figure 3: Petrognatha gigas!

I also incorporated this rather large giant African longhorn beetle into the collection (the one on the left anyway); whilst the one on the right, with large antennae displayed, is going to form part of the handling collection for the new Nature’s Library gallery.  It lives on dead accacia tree bark and the antennae resemble twigs to hopefully keep it hidden from potential predators.

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Longhorn beetle project

Figure 1: Can you spot the one's that I've incorportaed amongst this lot?

Figure 1: Can you spot the one’s that I’ve incorportaed amongst this lot?  (Nope, neither can I!)

Just thought I’d update my progress on the longhorn beetle project as…I’ve nearly finished!

All but four have now been incorporated into the collection and their location (cabinet and drawer number) inputted onto KE-EMu.  It took a little while to get all the different accession numbers for the different parts of the collection together (e.g. the one’s collected in Japan need a different accession number from the one’s collected in Argentina); but now it’s nearly complete.

The one’s that I haven’t done are from South Africa and New Zealand as these require special accession numbers.  Hopefully I’ll have these done soon!

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NatSCA conference 2013

Figure 1: My talk with atmospheric lighting and giant me!

Figure 1: My talk with atmospheric lighting and giant me!

I spent Thursday and Friday last week at the NatSCA conference 2013.  NatSCA, who part-fund my traineeship, are a great organisation facilitating the transfer of skills and expertise throughout the natural sciences curatorial community.  This year’s conference was in York at the Yorkshire museum.

Figure 2: The panel discuss collectionn reviews.

Figure 2: The panel discuss collectionn reviews.

Kirsty (my fellow trainee based at Leeds) and I gave a talk on our experiences during the traineeship.  It was well-received, and we both had a brilliant time meeting up with some familiar faces as well as meeting some new ones.  The talks were varied and intesting and I particulalry enjoyed the panel discussion about collection reviews and the tour around the museum gardens.  There was also an intersting talk about how York’s egg collection is helping current zooarchaeological research.

Figure 3: The Yorkshire museum is just to the right in this picture of the museum gardens.

Figure 3: The Yorkshire museum is just to the right in this picture of the museum gardens.

I’ve appreciated how wlecome I’ve been made by the NatSCA community and hope to continue to be a member for many years to come.

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This has probably been the coldest experience of my traineeship thus far! Plenty of enthusiastic visitors to keep me focused though!

Herbology Manchester

Yesterday, Andrew Lawton (the Museum’s curatorial trainee) and I braved the cold outside the Museum entranace to make bird boxes with Evan Powell from the RSPB.

For National Nest Box Week, we made homes for starlings and sparrows which will be placed in trees around the University of Manchester campus. We’re hoping to increase the amount of wildlife that calls the University campus home.
Members of the public helped us by decorating the boxes with their individual artworks

We couldn’t decide whether this was a colder event than the Wonderful Whitworth Wildlife bioblitz last year!

Tomorrow, artist Lucy Burscough will be making beautiful bird houses made from woven naural fibres in one of our Urban Naturalist events. These nesting pouches would be suitable for wrens and are inspired by the work of the Scottish ‘outsider artist’ Angus McPhee.

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Longhorn beetle project- labelling and incorporating

Figure 1: Here's one I prepared earlier!

Figure 1: Here’s one I prepared earlier!

Now that the longhorn beetles (Cerambycidae family) have been pinned, and their antennae and limbs firmly fixed in place (hopefully!), it’s now time to label the specimens.

I saved the packets and labels that came with the beetles and pinned them next to the specimen or specimens it came with, making sure to assign them the same number.

Then came the difficult part of working out if the name assigned to the specimen was the right name or not.  This involved working with Dmitri and using the ‘good old interweb’ to see if the names were still valid.  We managed to find a handy checklist of Cerambycidae of the Western Hemisphere, which included a lot of the species names that we were looking for (the ones from Argentina anyway!)  Once we could assign a species name to a specimen, the label was made using special software that Dmitri has and the labels were printed off.  (It was important that each label number corresponded with each number assigned to the specimen to avoid confusion).

Figure 2: I take my label pinning very seriously indeed!

Figure 2: I take my label pinning very seriously indeed!

I could also now assign accession numbers to some of the specimens.  The foreign Cerambycidae collection has been added to many times over the years, but the collector who I’m predominantly dealing with is R N Baxter, who collected mainly in Argentina.  The accession numbers I’m currently assigning are for the R N Baxter collection only and so therefore only specimens from Argentina can be assigned an accession number at this time (F2729 if you’re asking!).

Figure 3: This is a pinning stage; a handy tool in the entomologist's arsenal.

Figure 3: This is a pinning stage; a handy tool in the entomologist’s arsenal.

The labels and accession numbers (if given) were pinned through the bottom of the specimen so that they stuck out as little as possible.  I hope to assign accession numbers to the rest of the collection soon, including specimens collected in Japan, India and the USA.

Figure 4: The labels are very small and look like this on the sheet.

Figure 4: The labels are very small and look like this on the sheet.

I’ve  now reached the stage where I can begin incorporating the Baxter collection into the main foreign Cerambycidae collection proper.  This involves looking on KE-EMu to see if we have representatives of the specimen’s genus already in the collection or not; sometimes we even already have specimens of a species in the collection already.  I then look to see which cabinet and drawer the specimens are housed in before removing the drawer and trying to incorporate the new specimens.

Figure 5: Sometimes it can be very difficult to find space for new additions!

Figure 5: Sometimes it can be very difficult to find space for new additions!

Sometimes this is easier than others, and may involve a great deal of moving things around in order to create the right amount of space for the new specimens.  I may also need to write a new species or even sometimes a new genus label and pin that in just above (for the genus) and just below (for the species) the new specimens.

Figure 5: The Psalidognathus couple get used to their new home.

Figure 6: The Psalidognathus couple get used to their new home.

I’ve enjoyed working on the Cerambycidae collection; they’re marvellous creatures with their long antennae (can be used to pick up chemical signals called pheromones from the air; usually from females).  I look forward to assigning accession numbers to the rest of the specimens and getting them incorporated into the collection soon.

Figure 7: It was necessary to assign a new genus to this drawer.

Figure 7: It was necessary to assign a new genus to this drawer.

The next step for all of the new specimens will be to create a new KE-EMu record for them.  Wish me luck!

 

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