‘Catch a Shooting Star’ – New Display at the Manchester Museum

Earth & Solar System

20151022_125044 Group member John and visitor Louise enjoying the new ‘Catch a Shooting Star’ touch table display. Image: KJoy

Ever wanted to put your hand on Mars, the Moon or an asteroid and can’t wait for commercial spaceflight to one day fly you there as a space tourist? Well imagine no longer, you can get your hands on amazing rocks from other worlds just by visiting Manchester (it might be a little rainier than the Moon though!).

There is now a great new meteorite touchable display at the Manchester Museum that has been developed by the Catch a Shooting Star team, led by our colleagues at the Open University. The exhibit, which has been funded by a public engagement grant by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, is the first permanent display in the UK where you can handle so many different types of meteorites and impact rocks in one…

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Follow that star/meteorite!

We’ve just installed a fantastic new meteorite handling table and video. The objects include pieces of the Moon and Mars which you can actually touch. Paige Tucker has put together a great video of me talking about the meteroites.

This project has been in partnership with colleagues at the Open University and was funded by an EPSRC public engagement grant.

Shark and Ray fossils

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A fantastic collection of Shark, Ray and Chimaeroid teeth have recently been donated to the museum. The fossils are from the Eocene period, 53- 36 million years ago. Most of the fossils were collected from Reculver Bay and Herne Bay in Kent.

Sharks, rays and chimaeroids all belong to the well-established group known as Chondrichthyes or cartilaginous fishes.

These fishes have a skeleton of firm elastic tissue or cartilage rather than bone. Cartilage is flexible and durable yet is half the normal density of bone.

Sharks

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Otodus obliquus 

The existence of sharks extends back in time approximately 400 million years to the upper Devonian period.

The ancestors of modern sharks were the Placoderm group which through evolution had adapted the dermal denticals (scales) for use as primitive teeth.
Sharks have been successful over millions of years due to their ability to adapt to almost any feeding condition. Sharks have multiple rows of teeth which are constantly replaced throughout its lifetime.

Teeth are often the only part of the shark to be preserved so differences in teeth are the most important means of identifying fossil species.

Rays

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Myliobatis sp.

Rays feed on molluscs and crustaceans; they have tooth plates to crush shells. Although Manta ray, feed on plankton.

Their teeth grow constantly and old or worn teeth are discarded through the mouth or sometimes swallowed and partly digested in the stomach.

Chimaeras

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Elasmodus hunteri

Chimaeriformes are an order of cartilaginous fishes, informally named rabbit fish; they are cousins of rays and sharks. They feed on molluscs and have six permanent grinding tooth plates to crush their food.
Reference
Kemp, D.J. (1977) A brief illustrated account of the English Eocene Shark and Ray fossils. Gosport Museum.

 

Great New Citizen Science project to record our fossils

We have a fantastic new Citizen Science project to record our fossils called Reading Nature’s Library!

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The idea is to put lots of photographs of our collection online so that anyone can help us record the information. It’s really easy to do and helps make the collection available to everyone. So please have a go! There is a leader board and you can share your images with friends and family. Some are more tricky to read than others, so we have included a help option via social media.

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This project has been put together by a brilliant MSc student from the School of Computer Science Rob Dunne. We have a team of volunteers who are working really hard to photograph our fossils and we hope to put other collections online very shortly.

Reading Nature’s Library is part of our new hands on collections gallery The Study which opens in September.

Refloating the Ark

So excited the conference is inspiring people to get excited about nature already!

Collections in the Landscape

Hello…again

I’m very pleased to be back at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery and to be involved once more in Collections in the Landscape. I’d only been at my desk for a couple of days last week when I was whisked away to attend a conference hosted by Manchester Museum.  Refloating the Ark explored the role natural history collections can play in engaging the public with environmental issues, and also how they can contribute to, and attract, new research.

Collections in the Landscape is all about connecting people with museum collections and the Derbyshire landscape. We want to foster a sense of place, and an appreciation and pride in our heritage. Speakers at the conference spoke of ‘Nature Connectedness’, when people feel like part of a wider, natural community. There’s much to gain from this vision, and in our project we certainly do want to connect people with the…

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Story telling at the La Brea Tar Pits

One of the reasons I wanted to visit The La Brea Tar Pits was to see how they tell the story of animals in the Last Ice Age.

Most of their displays are fairly traditional and date from the 1970s, but include some really spectacular specimens. One of the things I really liked was the wall of wolf skulls. It reminded me of Manchester Museum’s Nature’s Library gallery and really hammered home the dominance of predators at La Brea.

Mass display of Dire Wolf skulls

Mass display of Dire Wolf skulls

The really innovative thing at the museum is the ‘fish bowl’ lab. It was one of the first museums to pioneer the meet the scientist type of display. Visitors clearly found it really interesting, but it did still present a barrier between the visitor and the scientists.

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Alongside the displays were and army of dedicated volunteers and staff giving tours and doing object handling using casts. They were great at bringing the fossils to life, but I was a bit disappointed that the object handling did not use any real objects, missing an opportunity there.

Volunteer showing off her cast of a  Sabretoothed Cat

Volunteer showing off her cast of a Sabretoothed Cat

Where The La Brea Tar Pits comes in to its own is the on site excavation and interpretation. New material is being discovered every day, which is clearly very exciting. Daily tours give visitors the opportunity to meet the people excavating the fossils from the tar and make the experience really dynamic.

Project 23 excavation

Project 23 excavation

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Board detailing that day’s discoveries

This had clearly been thought through and the people we spoke to on my tour were really great at simply explaining what they were doing, what they had found and why it was important. My only slight thing was that it was a bit of a shame it was all done across a high security fence, but I guess this is an issue lots of museums in parks have to try and resolve.

The La Brea Tar Pits is an incredible place and is one of the finest places in the world to learn about Ice Age animals. It should be on everyone’s bucket list!

I would like to thank The Art Fund, Ruffer Curatorial Grants scheme for generously funding this research trip.

Migration of Bison at the La Brea Tar pits

The fossil Bison at the La Brea Tarpits show some amazing evidence of seasonal migration.

Ancient Bison

Ancient Bison

 

By looking at the wear and number of teeth, it is possible to tell that the Bison were either 2 to 4, 14 to 16 or 26 to 30 months old. There are no animals in between these ages, so Bison were only present a few months a year.

If the Bison were born at the same time of year as modern Bison calves, the La Brea Tar Pits Bison were here every year in late Spring.

I would like to thank The Art Fund, Ruffer Curatorial Grants scheme for generously funding this research trip.

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