Mineral catalogue complete

Earlier last week I completed my first project whilst working at the museum. I was tasked with writing up a copy of a catalogue of minerals, that were recorded in 1877.

In total, there were 1,228 individual specimens of 161 types of mineral documented and then put into a spreadsheet, making it a lot easier to read rather than flicking through 55 pages of a book that dates back over 140 years.

One of the most challenging parts of completing this project was surprisingly the task of trying to read old victorian handwriting, something which I, as a 20 year old undergraduate student have never had to tackle, but can say I was able to understand with no problem as I progressed.

As I used mindat.org as a reference for most of the specimens, it was interesting to see how the chemical compositions of some of the minerals is thought to be different today than what they were thought to be in 1877 when the original catalogue was written. This serves as a reminder that our understanding of the natural world is always changing, and will most certainly continue to change.

This spreadsheet can hopefully aid in identifying the vast collection of minerals in the stores at Manchester Museum.

Agate specimens on display at Manchester Museum

115 years of T. rex

The 5th of October is a special day for Palaeontology, as it marks the anniversary of the first description and naming of Tyrannosaurus rex, in 1905.

Being the poster-boy of Palaeontology and Dinosaurs around the world, T. rex has become the most widely known dinosaur species in popular culture, and for many people, is what turns their head towards an interest in natural history.

This was of course helped massively by the release of the Jurassic Park film series in the 90s, and the Walking with Dinosaurs docuseries on BBC a few years later, fuelling public interest in extinct animals.

Although in the science world, it may not be everyone’s favourite dinosaur, due to it being exploited in films and television for easy views and revenue, it should be celebrated and enjoyed on it’s naming anniversary, and it is after all a very impressive animal.

Specimen AMNH 5027, the first complete Tyrannosaurus rex skull to be discovered.

A quick introduction

After my first week on placement at Manchester Museum I thought it would be a good time to introduce myself on this blog that David has allowed me to access.
My name is Nathan, I’m an undergraduate Zoology student at LJMU and I am currently working at the Manchester Museum for the next year or so, working on projects such as researching information for exhibits and cataloguing data.

I hope to be posting regularly to the blog, and may update on what I have been working on, as well as anything interesting that I might want to share.

Thank you for reading if you have, and feel free to follow me on twitter

Enjoy this blurry picture of me and Stan for the time being.

Plastic pebbles on our beaches

We recently acquired some new objects in our rock collection at Manchester Museum – some plastic pebbles from Cornwall.

About 40% of the UK’s waste is burnt in incinerators to generate electricity. This has created a new kind of plastic waste called Pyroplastic. When Pyroplastic gets into the sea, it is rolled around and weathered forming pebbles that look like rock.

Strange as this sounds it could be an important indicator that we are in a new geological era, the Anthropocene. They look very similar to any other beach pebble, but are much less dense.

Dinos in Lockdown #4 British Dinosaurs

Stan may not have been terrorising Britain 66 million years ago, but we can definately make a claim to the birthplace of dinosaurs. We have some pretty cool evidence to prove it too.

The first dinosaur bone was described in 1824 by William Buckland. Megalosaurus is now in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The word dinosaur was first used by Richard Owen in 1842. But dinosaurs are few and far between in the UK for a few reasons:

  • Most of Britain was under the sea at the time of the dinosaurs. This means we have amazing fossils of animals that lived in the sea, but not so much for dinosaurs.
  • When Britain was land during the time of the dinosaurs, it was very rare to preserve them as fossils. The sandstone they are preserved in often has an open porous structure that means fossil bones are dissolved away as water flows through the gaps in the rock.
  • It is rare for fossils to form on land anyway. If a dinosaur died on land, it was most likely eaten by other animals, rotted away and broken up by the wind and rain. Fossils are much more likely to form in the sea, lakes and rivers where they can be quickly covered up by sediment and buried.

Alongside some rare bones, the best evidence for dinosaurs in Britain is in the form of fossil footprints.

Dinosaur footprint from near Scarborough, showing details of the pads of the feet.

Unlike bones, theses fossils can tell us about the skin muscles of the animals and their behaviour. It turns out we had some pretty incredible dinosaurs right in our own back yard!

A great book about British dinosaurs is: Dinosaurs of The British Isles.

Dinos in Lockdown #3 Amber

One of my favorite dinosaur stories has got to be the original Jurassic Park Dinosaurs, DNA and Amber, in the Michael Chrichton’s book and Stephen Speilberg’s film. DNA is extracted from dinosaur biting insects and used to resurrect them.

It’s a really cool story that’s inspired millions of people around the world, but as I’m sure you’ll not be surprised to learn, it isn’t possible to get dinosaur DNA from amber for a few reasons:

Spider (at the top) in 40 million Baltic Amber. Manchester Museum

DNA is not preserved

DNA is unfotunately not preserved inside the insects. The bacteria inside the gut of the insects carries on rotting the insect after it’s death destroying and DNA. What we are looking at is a very accurate copy of the outside of the insect.

There isn’t much Jurassic amber anyway

Jurassic Amber is extremely rare and even more rarely contains insects, let-alond dinosaur DNA. There have been some amazing discoveries of 110 million year old spiders webs which give us clues to the insect diversity. Most of the beautifully preserved insects in amber are in much younger, long after most of the dinosaurs had become extinct.

Creatceous Amber, New Jersey. Manchester Museum

Blood but no DNA

Amazingly, fossil blood has been found in a 46 million year old Mosquito. But DNA is a very fragile molecule that doesn’t survive the fossilisation process.

There’s much more on this story from colleagues at the Natural History Museum, London.

Dinos in Lockdown #2

One of our most overlooked objects on display is also one of our most amazing. The point at which most doinosaurs became extinct – The Cretaceous/Tertiay bounday (also known as the Cretaceous/Palaeogene boundary).IMG_7030

The bottom of the grey layer marks the  exact point where three quarters of all plant and animal species became extinct, including most dinosaurs. Across the world, this layer has a high level of a rare element Iridium, not commom on Earth, but common in asteroids and comets. The extra-terrestrial cause of the mass extinction was first proposed by Alavez et. al. 1980.  The tell tale crater was later discovered in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.

In recent years, it has become widely accepted that not all dinosaurs were wiped out. A few bird species, directly descended from Theropod (meat eating) dinosaurs, survived the extinction and thrive today.



Dinos in Lockdown #1

As DinoSelfie opportunities are a bit limited at the moment, I thought I’d share some of my favorite dinosaur facts and stories, many of which were in the Dippy exhibition at Rochale and Manchester Museum’s Fossils Gallery.

A couple of years ago we displayed our amazing new feathered Velociraptor dinosaur model.

It’s based on a handful of spectacular fossils from China which show the ghosts of preserved fossils.

Fossil remains of Zhenyuanlong suni. Credit: Junchang Lu

More stories to come soon 🙂

Ice Age Treasures: a fond farewell for a while, #MMhellofuture

Last chance to see some of our Ice Age treasures as we say a fond farewell for a few exciting years building our new Museum Hello Future! The ancient worlds galleries will close at the end of September 2018, as we transform into a natural history museum during the building work.


British Ice Age fossils including mammoth, hyena, bear and hippo formed the core of the Museum’s collection in the 1880s and 1890s when sites such as Creswell Crags were being excavated. They have been key to understanding where and how Neanderthals and other early humans lived in Britain during a period of rapid climate change during the Last Ice Age around 200,000 years ago. They continue to help us understand how our climate changed in the past, how people adapted and survived as animals migrated in and out of Britain and how we might adapt to future climate change.

Although some of our Ice Age Treasures will be resting from display for the next few years, they are still available by appointment and we still have our fabulous Fossils Gallery open as usual alongside a host of exciting events. Exciting times ahead!

Frogs in Ancient Egypt

Egypt at the Manchester Museum

An Old Kingdom carnelian frog amulet from Qau el-Kabir. Acc. no. 7122.

We recently had a visit from Joy Kremler, a Curatorial Assistant at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia. Joy was visiting Manchester to discuss the process of redisplaying archaeological and Egyptological collections in advance of plans for a refurbishment at her own institution. Joy also has a particular interest in frogs, especially in the early apperance of frogs in Egyptian iconography and their use as amulets. It was a great opportunity, therefore, for Joy to meet my colleague Andrew Gray, our Curator of Herpetology, and see some of the many living frogs we have in our Vivarium at the Museum.

Middle Kingdom ivory wand or birthing tusk from the ‘Ramesseum Tomb’. Acc. no. 1801.

Joy was keen to point out although the frog in ancient Egypt is often associated with the goddess Hekat, the appearance of frogs in iconography…

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