Good news travels fast

BBC Oxford's Martin Eastaugh talks to architect Nicholas Bradley

BBC Oxford’s Martin Eastaugh (R) talks to architect Nicholas Bradley (L)

The Museum’s been at the centre of a media whirlwind over the past week. After a rather dormant year, things are coming back to life and the TV cameras, microphones and journalists are keen to capture it all.

Wednesday 15th January marked one month until the day when our doors will swing open again, so it was great to hear us popping up on BBC Oxford… both TV and radio in one day!

IMG_0718Radio journalist Martin Eastaugh seemed to thoroughly enjoy his time with us and put together a really enthusiastic report, which features some names you may recognise. Listen from 01:55 to hear the latest on the Museum’s re-opening. Then at 02:50, make sure you listen to Martin talking to Purcell architect Nicholas Bradley high up on the roof. You have just 5 days left to hear the report, so don’t dawdle!

The BBC TV cameras arrived just in time to capture the unwrapping of one of our very largest specimens, the Iguanodon skeleton. Take a look at Stuart Tinworth’s piece for BBC Oxford news that shows just how beautiful and light the Museum is looking lately.

Museum staff unwrapping the Iguanodon

Museum staff unwrapping the Iguanodon skeleton

Then, to top it off, we’re only on the front page of the Oxford Times!

Of course, the attention’s very nice, but the most positive thing that’s come out of the media coverage is the public’s reaction. We’ve had many people telling us how excited they were to see their “favourite museum” on TV and to hear that they’ll soon be able to come back and enjoy it once more. The good news is, there’s just 29 days to go!

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

The One Show

Amazon Dismorphia Wallace

Last week, members of our conservation team were presented with a wonderful opportunity to get out of the ‘Whale Tank’ and make their way to London to escort some very special specimens to the BBC.

The precious cargo consisted of newly-discovered Alfred Russel Wallace butterfly specimens that were uncovered in the Museum’s Life Collection by 17-year-old Athena Martin, a Nuffield Research Placements work experience student. This story featured on Thursday night’s edition of The One Show, where presenter Mike Dilger spoke about Athena’s project with the Museum and was able to show, on national television, the fruit of her hard work.


Papilio ulysses. Examples collected by Wallace are marked with a red dot.

Two cases of butterflies were used on the programme and contained specimens collected by Wallace during his exploration of the Malay Archipelago. The show focused in particular on Papilio ulysses, and it was a joy to witness Mike Dilger’s excitement at discovering Wallace’s handwritten collection labels.

Our specimens, which were shown alongside some wonderful footage of CT scans of a developing chrysalis, made for excellent viewing for anyone with an interest in Lepidoptera.

If you missed it the first time around please do have a look on the BBC iPlayer. The butterfly feature begins at about 15’40”.

Gemma Aboe with the drawers of Wallace specimens.

Gemma Aboe with the drawers of Wallace specimens.

We are very grateful for coverage on The One Show as it was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate, outside the Museum environment, the significance of natural history specimens, as well as highlight the important work of our conservators. It was also a thrill to be on set and watch the live show, so thanks a lot to the BBC for asking us along.

Nicola Crompton, Conservation intern
Gemma Aboe, Assistant conservator

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

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

It’s all relative


A while back we featured a great little story about some graffiti, which was discovered high up on the Museum roof. You may remember that it was painted by two of the craftsmen responsible for creating our beautiful Victorian building. The graffiti reads “This roof was painted by G. Thicke and J Randall, April 1864″

Roof graffiti

The graffiti in the rafters of the roof

The story picked up quite a lot of press attention, featuring in the Oxford Mail and BBC Oxford, and that blog post is our most-read so far. But one reader’s attention was particularly attracted by the names of the painters. Oxford resident Debbie Moorwood has been tracing her family history for some time, so when she spotted the familiar name G. Thicke, she decided to do some extra digging.

After consulting the Victorian censuses and tracing back through her family tree, Debbie revealed that painter George Thicke was actually directly related to her husband, Steve Moorwood. Steve is George’s great great great grandson!


Staff from Beard and Purcell join Steve and Debbie in the roof rafters.

Excited by her discovery, Debbie contacted us directly through this blog and we thought this was a fantastic opportunity for the graffiti artist’s relatives to see his work up close.

So, last week I had the pleasure of meeting Debbie and Steve Moorwood and we joined staff working on the roof project to climb high up into the roof. It was also a good opportunity for Debbie to share her discoveries about her distant relative, George Thicke. He was born in Glastonbury in around 1809, so would have been roughly 55 when he painted the graffiti on our roof. He is first spotted living in Oxford in the 1841 census, when he was a resident of the Cowley Road and, most importantly, listed as a painter! Later he moved around the area, living in St Clements, Headington and finally Shotover, before his death in 1887.


Debbie said of the experience: “We had an amazing time visiting the Museum roof. We never expected to get a full guided tour of the whole building and Steve loved it, especially the building works. We can’t wait for the roof to be finished and for the Museum to open again, when we’ll be dragging our kids & family in to have a look. I think the museum has become quite a special place for us now.”

We now have a good picture of one of our infamous roof painters, but J Randall remains a bit of a mystery to us. So far, we think he was John James Randall of St Ebbes, Oxford, but we know very little else. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could track down one of his relatives next?

Rachel Parle, Education Officer

Lightning strikes!

Science Club presenters Mark Miodownik, left, and Dara Ó Briain, right, talk fulgurites with Monica Price, assistant curator of Mineralogy Collections  at the Museum

I’ve just been getting our fulgurites out of their drawer for their second outing to London. ‘What’s that?’ I hear you ask. Well, the clue’s in the name, for ‘fulgur’ is Latin for lightning. Fulgurites form when lightning strikes the ground; and if the ground happens to be made of sand, the intense heat of the lightning melts the grains of sand to form a tube of natural glass. The longest known fulgurite is nearly five metres long, but they are always very fragile things.

A bit of discussion about fulgurites at the end of filming the pilot programme

A bit of discussion about fulgurites at the end of filming the pilot programme. Presenter Dara Ó Briain is holding the Drigg fulgurite. Photo: Alastair Duncan

So why is a fulgurite going to London? We get all sorts of requests to see specimens, from researchers, amateur enthusiasts, students and artists, and even people who are just curious. Our collections are there to be used and enjoyed after all. But in this particular case the producers of the BBC4 programme Science Club were making a pilot for their new series and were looking for a fulgurite to star in the show.

I took two different fulgurites to the recordings, both found in the early 19th century. One is a piece labelled as coming from Drigg in Cumberland. This was a famous discovery; even Charles Darwin knew about them, for he wrote that the fulgurites he discovered in South America were very like those of Drigg in appearance. The second was found in Westphalia, Germany, and it shows a glassy trace of the lightning’s path as it passed through the sand.

Mark was determined to have his photograph taken holding a fulgurite.

Mark was determined to have his photograph taken holding a fulgurite! Photo: Alastair Duncan

For this pilot programme Science Club was investigating natural disasters. Presenter Dara Ó Briain was joined by expert demonstrator Professor Mark Miodownik who had quite a shocking experience with a lightning machine! We were also shown why it is dangerous to stand under a tree during a thunder storm, and we heard about the lucky escapes some people have when struck by lightning.

Fulgurites are rather rare and special, and as the pictures show, both presenters enjoyed a chance to get a close look at these natural curiosities.

The pilot programme was successful, and one of our new Education trainees, Liz Danner, will be taking the fulgurites back for the final filming of Science Club this week. If you would like to see them too, they will feature in our next ‘Presenting…‘ display soon. Follow the blog and we’ll let you know when

Watch out for more Science Club on BBC4 – it’s fascinating and fun.

Monica Price, Assistant curator, Mineral Collections

Presenting… Bruno’s fossil find

Presenting Bruno's fossil find

Limulus polyphemisYou’ve read about it in the press (probably), but now you can see Bruno Debattista’s rare trace fossil find for yourself in our Presenting… display, just inside the entrance of the Museum. Although we are closed, this changing exhibit can be seen by visitors coming through the building to the Pitt Rivers Museum.

On display we have Bruno’s shale rock, found in Bude, Cornwall last year, which shows faint tracks left by a pair of horseshoe crabs as they crawled up an ancient, muddy shore more than 300 million years ago. Although the species of horseshoe crab which made these tracks is long extinct, we are displaying two modern specimens for comparison. One is around the size of the animal which left the original trackway; the other is a full size horseshoe crab which lives in the Atlantic Ocean – Limulus polyphemus.

We should also point out that horseshoe crabs aren’t really crabs at all. Crabs are crustaceans, but horseshoe crabs are more closely related to the arachnids, such as spiders and scorpions.Fossil and horseshoe crab

Scott Billings – Communications coordinator