Coral conservation


Working in the conservation department.

I’ve been sprucing up a large Sea Fan coral in preparation for an exhibition Coral: Something Rich and Strange which opens at Manchester Museum on 30 November 2013. (Click on images to enlarge).


Side 1 before work starts – rather grubby!

Labelled Rhipidogorgia flabellum, the (historic) accompanying text describes it thus:


There is a link to my recent previous activity of documenting fossil Cnidaria as this soft coral is a member of the Cnidaria phylum.


Close-up of the structure.

The layer of grime was removed using  gentle application of dry cleaning  latex sponge and copious amounts of time (9 hours altogether – plenty of thinking time but hard not to drift off into a trance!).  Although the structure looks delicate, it had a relatively plastic quality.  Round the edges the exposed wiry core was needle sharp.


Side 1 – the cleaned area in the centre shows how dirty it was.


Side 1 completed – now turn over …


Side 2 – quite a different colour with red stems and yellow ‘fan’.


The finished article!

Introduction to curating Geology II

DSCF0119Following my foray into the Geology collection at Manchester, I’ve been entering the location of some of the fossil corals onto the museum collection management system KE EMu – honestly, its not as dull as it sounds.


Labelled Conularia africanus       Prince Albert, S. Africa        Lower Devonian

This fossil is the ice-cream cone shaped shell of an animal whose sea anemone-like tentacles protruded from the wide end. The pointy end attached to a handy hard surface. The shell was made of calcium phosphate as were the pearls which they could produce – apparently not attractive enough for ornamental use sadly.

Its no use having a lovely collection if none of it can be found when needed.  It often falls to volunteers to enter this vital information but going through this process is a good way of finding your way around a collection.  At Manchester, the fossils are organised by taxonomy and after working through a section, you can start to recognise some of their characteristics, particularly when working directly from the objects.


Before entry on KE EMu.


Databased and organised by accession no. – impressive eh?

Before I started there was one entry only for each drawer-full.   I created an individual record for each specimen and linked it to the parent drawer record.

There are about 100,000 fossils and 40,000 rocks and minerals in the stores at Manchester Museum.  After a day’s work we know where a few more drawers-full  of them are and I know a bit more about Cnidaria.

Ichthyosaur interlude

During my recent journey into geology I sat in on a public drop-in session where David Gelsthorpe talked about a recent ichthyosaur acquisition collected by Howard Turner from the beach at Port Mulgrave, near Whitby.

20130827_135944The two sections shown above form part of the head and the jaw, and the bony eye socket can be clearly seen.  Other specimens were used to bring the animal to life – a more complete ichthyosaur (though sadly missing its paddles), a jaw complete with fearsome teeth, and examples of ichthyosaur diet.


Ichthyosaur without a paddle.


Teeth with fantastic textural detail – the red is iron (not blood).


Internal cast of Belemnite.

Ichthyosaurs preyed on squid-like belemnites.  Claws from the end of belemnites’ tentacles have been found in regurgitated heaps along with ammonites.

The workshop was held in the Museum’s Collection Study Centre.  The group was small and informal so there was lots of opportunity to ask questions, get a really good look at the objects and chat to the others.  The only downside was the noise of visiting school parties echoing up from Nature’s Library below, but they were obviously having a great time too.

Introduction to curating Geology

20130827_113826Recently I was given a 3-day introduction to curating a Geology collection by Dr David Gelsthorpe, Curator of Earth Science Collections at Manchester.  We started appropriately in the bowels of the earth (or basement collection stores) by working through what one might do if suddenly confronted with the responsibility of a mixed geology collection.

First question - what have we got?

First question – what have we got?

In a completely non-panic-stricken way, one works out what one’s got, deciding if the objects are rocks, minerals or fossils using any physical clues and available information (like a handy label!).

Next, decide how to organise the collection – by taxonomy (classification), age, collection, aroma, or according to a particular published system, or a combination of these depending on how the collection is likely to be used.

We looked at taxonomy of fossil collections plus some really useful information on classifying rocks.


Paneth amber collection

Over 2 days, we covered the storage conditions and care appropriate to each of the fossil, rock and mineral collections, bearing in mind any associated risks to object or person, and of course ensuring any associated documentation is securely attached or referenced to the object.

We dipped into the history of the acquisition of the collections, the range of objects, how the type and figured specimens are stored and how the collections are accessed and used.  It was a privilege to have all this illustrated by the most amazing objects plucked out of drawers and off shelves, like this beautiful leaf.


Fossil leaf collected by Marie Stopes in Japan.


A neatly curated drawer in the mineral collection