Museum and Natural History Glossary

Acquisition – the general process of receiving a new object for the collection

Accession- the legal process of acquiring an object, including the registering  and creation of an accession number.

Acession Number– this is the specimens unique number, it usually has the museum’s code ( ie LEEDM) at Leeds we use collection codes (natural history is C) then the year of acquisition (2013) then a number indicating the total number of specimens collected. so  number would look like this LEEDM.C.2013.20 [add hyperlink to ostrich skull]

Disposal-  This is  not as drastic as it sounds, often items are disposed of by giving them to other museums, or occasionally selling them, throwing things away is a last resort and can only happen if no one else can take them.

Specimen – any biology, geology or palaeontology object is a scientific specimen.

Artefact- what archaeologists collect, mostly pot shards, or rusty things.

Object – what everyone else (in the museum world) has, some NH specimens can also be cultural objects.

Taxonomy- the naming and sorting of living things into categories. The binomial system was formalised by Carl Linnaeus in the mid 18th century. His system uses morphological (body plan/sex organs) differences  to sort animals and plants into species.

Phylogeny-  the connection between all groups of living things by ancestor/descendant relationships. This produces a tree showing when each organism last shared an ancestor with another organism. eg human last common ancestor with Chimpanzees 5-to 10 million years ago.

Binominal- When an organism is described by science, it is assigned a ‘latin name’. For example; the first part Felis is the genus,  and catus is the species. This shows that the cat is most closely related to the jungle cat and sand cat. When typing a binominal it should be in italics, if handwritten it should be underlined.

 Type Specimen-  The description of a species is generally based on one  individual or sometimes a selection (ie male female juvenile) these will them be known as lectotypes. If one needs to work out what the organism in hand is, one can refer to the type description, or even arrange to visit the type specimen. When labelling or mentioning a species in a scientific paper the describer and date should be added; Linnaeus, 1758, this means  that the original description can be looked up and then used to compare to the specimen you ar eunsuer about.  

Natural History-  Natural History covers biology, geology and paelontology. Historically it often covered Ethnology, but this is now rigfhtly  considered to be part of social and world History.

Entomology- traditionally the study of invertebrates. this includes, among others,  insects, spiders, crabs and worms.

Zooarchaeology- animal remains connected to human activity, or found in human dwellings. These remains can give clues to hunting patterns, domestication and butchery.  The Greenwich Whale is an example of animal remains increasing our knowledge of human activity.

Ethnobiology-  Looking at human-animal/plant interactions, this can cover anythign from working on tradtional medicines, to finding and describing new species using local knowledge.  

Cryptozoology – The search for unknown animals, usually based on on myths and legends. This category also covers out of place animals. Enthusiasts often end up debunking supposed monster sightings such as the Montauk Monster.

Museum Pests – Fur, skin, silk and chitin(insect exoskeleton) are all considered edible by museum pests, the most common pest in entomology collection is the larva of the carpet beetle, infestation can ruin a drawer of butterflies. taxidermy is susceptible to webbing clothes moths, which cause the fur to drop out.

IPM- Integrated Pest Management. This means keeping all spaces in the museum and store as clean as possible to discourage pests. Food can only be eaten in the staff room and must be sealed. Insecticides are not used in any of the collections unless an infestation is found. Pests are monitored with traps and this data is recorded by the IPM officer.

Archival Quality –  Specimens are sensitive to gasses and acids from paper and plastic, so acid-free  card  is used and plastazote foam which does not off-gas and isn’t affected by changes in humidity and temperature is used for lining insect and osteology drawers.

Stable Conditions – all specimens are affected by light levels, temperature and humidity. fluctuations of temperature and humidity are the biggest problems for specimens, things stretch or dry out, or they get damp and mouldy. the ideal temperature is around 16 celsius and a humidity of around 40%.


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