Osteomancy I – Pop goes the Weasel

Yesterday I found a skull labelled ‘weasel’ it didn’t look like the other weasel skulls; the cranium was the wrong shape, and the cranial sutures were visible, which is only the case for very young mustelids.
I first looked for any other data on the label, so I could narrow down my options. But no data! ( you will see this is a recurring problem)

twirly string!

mystery skull on the left, Mustela nivalis on the right.

The sharp teeth are suggestive of a carnivore or an insectivore. Instead of canines forming fangs the incisors perform this function. I also noticed the lack of auditory bullae, which have either fallen off at some point, or were never there.

hey look, an accession number -->

mystery skull on the left, Mustela nivalis on the right

My first thought was perhaps a fruit bat, but checking my Handbook of Living Mammals [Timothy E Lawlor, 1979] fruit bats may have large canines but their cheek teeth are simple compared to the dental set in the cranium I am investigating.

this book is great

Figure 35. Skull of a pteropodid (Epomophorus, x 1 1/2)

My second stop in the book was the insectivore section, where I found that the canine-like incisors, lack of auditory bullae and quadritubercular teeth are all diagnostic of the Erinaceidae family ie hedgehogs and gymnures. Checking against the diagram in the book the skull looked very much like the typical Erinaceidae skull figured.

a mystery no more

mystery skull resting on Figure 24. Skull of a[sic] erinaceid (Erinaceus, x 1)

Comparing the skull to other species of hedgehog using Animal Diversity Web it is possible it is a desert hedgehog or a four toed hedgehog, but it is mostly likely a European Hedgehog Erinaceus europeaus local animals are slightly more likely to turn up in the collection and we do have 12 stuffed hedgehogs.

Der Igel, l'Hérrison

A live European Hedgehog, © Michael Gäbler / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

If you are interested in seeing larger versions of the photographs, leave me a message in the comments.


Cave Fauna Documentation

One of the school workshops run by Leeds Discovery Centre uses specimens of Pleistocene animals found in Kent’s Cavern in Torquay.

My job was to locate which boxes these specimens came from, then to document them thoroughly on the database, so that they can be kept together ready for the Education officer.

Although the specimens had been added to the database and given a unique accession number there were very little


series of hyaena teeth from Kent’s Cavern

data on the database, and no photos.

So my first task was to hone my SLR camera skills and take photographs of the specimens to add to the database.

Using the old data cards I transferred the information onto the digital database, this was an excellent way to learn how TMS (The Museum System) works.

As TMS is not designed for natural history collections I had to learn which datafields to enter key information such as the scientific name and geographical locations.

Some of the specimens we wanted to use were one of a set, such as these hyaena teeth, and did not have their own unique accession number; so I learnt how to create daughter records, to keep the data all linked together.

One of the specimens was a cave bear jaw with a loose tooth , so it has been taken to the conservator to be stabilised, and I choose another bear tooth to replace it.

bear jaw with loose tooth

bear jaw with loose tooth

Once the records were as complete as possible I moved the specimens from plastic trays, to their own designated box, this move was then recorded on TMS.

Now these specimens are thoroughly documented, the school children of Leeds can learn about prehistoric megafauna from real specimens collected in the UK.

So What Does a Natural History Curatorial Trainee Do?

Working in a Museum is about documenting, conserving and sorting, but it is also about interpreting and education, a collection without interpretation is like a closed book, you can see what it is, but the full potential is only reached once the book has been opened and the words set the concepts free into your brain.

From my volunteering at the Natural History Museum I am familiar with documenting and sorting specimens, so I have started a couple of projects one working on the Zooarchaelogical remains we have, and one recording shells from the Hanley Collection.

I am also working on some conservation projects, including a wolverine skeleton and hopefully an aardvark.

However I have relatively little experience with exhibitions, so I am hoping to create tour-trail about New Zealand Birds, to take advantage of our collection. I will also be creating an exhibition at the Bexley Wing at St James’s University Hospital.

In the summer I will be taking the museum to the children for CBBC Live at Leeds and later in the year I will be speaking at Café Scientifique and assisting with school workshops.

In between all this I shall be going on placements at other museums around the country. Firstly I’ll be at the Natural history Museum in London, but I shall also be visiting York, Liverpool, Manchester to extend my experience and learn some more specialist techniques, such as Botany and Herbarium care at Liverpool and specimen preparation at Manchester.

I shall also be going on all sorts of courses, such as Fluid Preservation, Zooarchaeology and the Biology of Animal Mummies.

To add to the experience and for some opportunistic networking I shall be attended the NatsCA/ SPNHC joint conference and the Museums Association Conference.

I’m sure more projects will turn in the mean time, but I shall be working hard on this lot for the next few months.