Into the Wilderness

Wildnerness python

Ah, the rough-smooth joy of snakeskin. Who could resist a little stroke? Well, a few people definitely can it seems (ophidiophobics), but certainly not this young chap. Along with hundreds of other visitors, this family stopped by at the Oxford University Museums yurt at this year’s Wilderness Festival where we spent four great days showing off objects from the collections and indulging in a bit of festival craft.

Wilderness signThe weather was kind, and armed with a brilliant team of volunteers and festival-hardy staff we welcomed costumed, painted and be-masked revelers to our tent to learn about the museums and get up close to some great objects. Outside in the sunshine, people whiled away the day making Pitt Rivers Museum-inspired hats, Museum of the History of Science planispheres and our own peacock headdresses.

Peacock headdress

Peacock headdress

We had a really positive response to everyone who came along and joined in with the activities, and although I shouldn’t brag, this is a nice comment from one parent which I will share:

We had a really fantastic time at the Oxford University Museum area. They love making Napoelon style hats which kept them occupied for ages. They also really enjoyed looking at the bugs and inspecting the snake skin. The staff couldn’t have been more helpful – they had a great rapport with the kids and were a friendly team. Please come again next year!” – Mother and two daughters, aged 8 and 6.

As for Wilderness itself, things took a rather stranger and more adult turn after nightfall as the Bacchanalian Masked Ball got into full swing in a hitherto hidden vale amongst the lantern-lit trees. No record exists of that portion of the evening but suffice to say that visions were beheld and morning heads were a little sore.


The camp


Investigating the collections

Insect drawer

The pinned insect drawer

Rock python

The ever-popular rock python skin (so long it didn’t fit in the tent!)

Thanks to everyone who came to help out, and to everyone who visited on the day. And thanks to the Wilderness Festival team for setting us up with a lovely green yurt as our base-camp.

More next year, perhaps…

Scott Billings, Communications coordinator

Thanks to Chris Wood for the photos.

Dodo Loco

Michael Rosen enters the 'Alice Door', Christ Church Oxford

Michael Rosen enters the ‘Alice Door’, Christ Church Oxford

I had a magical day of wonderland adventures recently. Each year Oxford celebrates one of its favourite literary daughters with Alice’s Day, a festival of theatre, art, stories and general silliness that takes place throughout the city. As we’re closed this year, we couldn’t join in on the day, so we decided to do something special in the run up.

_DSC2739Along with the Story Museum, Christ Church cathedral and Blackwell’s, the Museum has created the Alice Team… or A Team! Our mission is to show Oxford’s children what an inspiring city they live in, tell them tales of Alice in Wonderland and help them create something fit for an imaginary world. With this year’s Alice’s Day theme set as nonsense, we created a project called Dodo Loco.

Dodos may be extinct, but we certainly tracked a few down on our hunt around Christ Church. _DSC2694Children from Larkrise, East Oxford and St Ebbe’s Primary Schools joined us for an exciting behind-the-scenes trail, visiting special spots like the rooms where Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson, or Dodo Dodgson) lived, and the lawn where the real Alice (Alice Liddell) played croquet. 

Along the way, they tracked down nonsense words dotted around the college and cathedral. Once we were fired up and had soaked up the atmosphere of Alice in Wonderland, we all marched over to the Story Museum for the next stage of our Alice adventure. _DSC2802

_DSC2815The 120 children (and the A Team members) were treated to a spectacular nonsense poetry workshop by the fabulous Michael Rosen. He got everyone laughing and moving as he performed some of his own poems; my favourite was Hand on the Bridge and I really recommend watching this video for a glimpse of his style. Then, using the words gathered around Christ Church and lots of ideas from the children, he created some more hilarious nonsense poetry, before handing over to the children themselves.


I must admit to being enormously in awe of Michael, so it was great to see how patient and warm he was towards the children and even the adults! He joined my group for the tour around Christ Church, which was both exciting and quite nerve-wracking! He was great, though, joining in with the activities and even telling me a few extra stories about the Alice in Wonderland characters. Here I am with Michael, enjoying another inspiring story.

More Dodo Loco updates coming soon!

Rachel Parle, Education Officer

Chris Packham Goes to Town

Chris Packham

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.

But for you blog readers, here’s a sneaky taster:

Here's an escapee in situ. You'll have to get up close to read the all-important ratings...

Here’s an escapee in situ. You’ll have to get up close to read the all-important ratings…
Photo: Mike Peckett

Ode to a Dodo

Professor Dodo

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, 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.

Scott Billings, Communications coordinator

Look out Oxford…


There’s a flurry of last minute activity around here at the moment. Display cases are being collected; a funny proto-human ape creature model is being cleaned and prepared for the limelight; and logo-adorned lab coats are being freshly starched and pressed. We are preparing to go to town.

Mobile site

The smartphone-friendly Goes to Town website

You may have seen our teaser trailer a few weeks back. If not, you can check it out here. It didn’t give much away, but regular readers of this blog deserve a proper heads-up: Next week we will be installing twelve specimens in venues all around Oxford city centre, creating the Goes to Town trail, accompanied by a specially-designed mobile website.

You can see what the website will look like on the right here. It features lots of extra info about each specimen on the trail, along with audio recordings about each exhibit made by Museum staff and Oxford University scientists. The site will go fully live after the specimens are all safely in their new homes next week.

Goes to Town will remain in the twelve Oxford venues for six months. During that time residents and visitors to the city can complete the trail and enter our competition. Every specimen display has two Top Trumps-style ratings, one for Danger and one for Rarity. If you tell us which has the highest rating in each category we’ll enter you into a draw for prizes to be awarded when the Museum reopens in February 2014.

There will be another little film to follow too, so watch out for that. In the meantime we need to get back to preparing our crate-clad displays. As you can see below, the workshop chaps are beavering away at this right now…

See you in town!


Preparing the displays

Scott Billings – Communications coordinator

Red rug to a dodo

Red carpet OxTalent

Enjoying our moment on the red carpet

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.

OxTalent celebrations

Celebrations after the awards

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!

Rachel Parle, Education Officer

Fascinating Plants

Girl with bee

As part of the annual Fascination of Plants day, the Education Team headed off to Harcourt Arboretum for what promised to be a fun day in the great outdoors, inspiring visitors with the amazing things plants do for us.

General Gazebo shot

Our gazebo pops up again!

Our stall, ‘Bees, Seeds and Dinosaur Feed!’ offered three activities to entertain visitors. For one, we were lucky enough to have been lent some beautiful fossils from the Geology department. Armed with ‘wow’ examples of prehistoric ferns, horsetails and clubmosses, we certainly impressed passers-by with the fossilised ancestors of many plants they could see in the Arboretum today.


Fossil handling

Simone shows off a beautiful fossilised specimen

Man with microscopeAlso, our ‘Science Saturdays’ family activities came out of closure-hibernation. We took out our Entomology activity, which allowed visitors to see some bee specimens up close and discover how important they are for pollination. And the day saw the maiden voyage of our brand new activity ‘Plant Power’, designed especially for the day. Families identified some of the pressed specimens on display in the Museum, tried out a microscope and learned about the amazing properties plants have. 

Throughout the day there were hands-on activities and displays, guided walks and trials from many other organisations. The University of Oxford Plant Sciences Department, Plant Life, and Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust to name a few.

peacockWith a steady flow of people all day, Janet, Sarah, our intrepid volunteers and myself were kept busy with questions and interested visitors. Entertained every now and then with the occasional peacock display of course!

Huge thanks to the Harcourt Arboretum and Botanic Garden teams for organising such a great day, and the volunteers who came along to give us a hand!

Simone Dogherty, Education Assistant