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Object – Discussion – Action
Human skull

There were interesting comments around reburial. This will be considered later as part of the wider ongoing consultation over ancient British human remains. Part of wider consultation.


This specimen was seen as symbolic of the need to understand malaria. As such it is important to retain the specimen in the Museum. Retain.

Objects in the Africa ‘unlocated’ cupboard

Discussions around the meaning of the label were of more interest than those around the contents of the cupboard. However, the label is inaccurate as the cupboard now contains objects of known origin. The online discussion demonstrates how we should publicise the collection, and the digitisation work, more widely. There are objects in the store for which we have no known origin, but there are frequent visitors to the store, many of whom help in identifications. Replace the label with a correct one and dispose of the old label. ACTION: SW
One contributor suggested making them into jewellery for seahorses! There are possible uses once digitized, such as projections within a gallery, using copies to create jewellery. But do we need the whole collection to do this, there are a lot of them and generally they are rarely used. Audit and review the collection prior to exploring alternative uses. ACTION: DG
Black Poplar seeds

It had been suggested that they be scattered to the wind, although they are unlikely to germinate. It was pointed out that discussion around these seeds started in the summer when there was a lot of ‘f’luff’ flying around. There was research potential with these specimens. Retain.
Victorian newspaper

These are an example of the arbitrary nature of some forms of collecting. Their retention had never been a conscious decision. If someone was researching this period, there are many archives of complete newspapers to consult rather than random individual pages. Julie Marie Strange expressed interest in receiving them. Pass on to Julie Marie Strange. ACTION: LW
Hyena skull
While it had been suggested that we lend the specimen to Creswell Crags it was pointed out that we have recently lent a number of specimens to Creswell for their new visitor centre. Retain.

Leftover dinner shellfish
These had been collected by Bill Pettitt, former Keeper of Invertebrate Zoology, as part of research into cultural aspects of molluscs. There are examples where natural history discoveries were made from specimens shot for the table, including Darwin discovering something in the carcass of an animal whilst on the Beagle. Might be interesting to have an example with which to compare these more famous discoveries. Retain.

Darwin’s Moss

This was only found in the collection recently. There was an interesting proposal from Anne Kelleher to bury the moss on Dartmoor or to return it to Argentina; this inspired a number of other comments around burial and the journey. Another proposal was to burn the specimen as an expression of frustration with the enormity of the problems of survival. However, this specimen will be on display in the Charles Darwin exhibition opening in October. Retain as will be displayed in Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist from October
These brought many whimsical responses around memories and experiences, they acted as touchstones. The most interesting thing about this group of objects was the label and packaging, which relate to BH or Benjamin Harrison of Ightham in Kent, who was an enthusiastic exponent of eoliths or ‘dawn stones’. Although the eoliths are natural stones and not of interest in themselves they do shed light on a little known episode in the study of prehistoric archaeology. There are lots of eoliths in the collection because the Manchester curators and local enthusiasts were involved in the debate. Suggested that we audit eoliths, keep a representative sample and dispose of the rest, taking up some of offers made on the blog. Audit and review the collection prior to exploring alternative uses. ACTION: BS
Hand Axe
It was suggested we dispose of the hand axe as it was unprovenanced and had been broken in the past and glued back together. There are other better examples in the collection. However, it was felt better to use the hand axe in outreach perhaps as a model for a flint knapping activity. Several people had expressed interest in flint knapping on the Blog. John Lord was a popular demonstrator. Retain and organise a flint-knapping workshop. ACTION: BS
British West African penny

This object has negligible research value, and is kept in a so-called ‘dip and keep’ box. Jonathan Jarrett at the Fitzwilliam Museum offered to give it a home. Transfer to Fitzwilliam Museum if they are still interested. ACTION: KEITH
Dowry bow There was little discussion on blog. It was seen as least valuable item in the archery collection, although it is more relevant to anthropology. Retain and reconsider how curated within the Museum.
Seabed fossil

On the blog a volunteer expressed an attachment to this specimen as ‘her’ rock, used in handling sessions. The documentation for the specimen could be amended to include this connection to an individual. Retain and update catalogue information.

Statue of Buddha
There were a number of comments relating to ‘folk engagement’ with museum collections, touching the Buddha, leaving offerings or protective charms. The Buddha will shortly be going back on display in the Museum entrance. Retain. Consider display of offerings and provision of offering box. ACTION: SW
Orphaned labels
There is a student coming to work on these in September, they will be put into order (like with like) and where possible matched to the original object. A number of similar labels are currently used in Mark Dion’s Bureau. Some probably belong in the Museum archive. There were a number of comments that we should do something active with these, and some interesting ideas on the blog. Retain and reorder. Katy should then be invited to produce a response to the Hermit. ACTION: MC

There was little discussion around the specimens themselves, but much on the relationship between the plant and the wasp. No reason was expressed to dispose of the specimen. While the hymenoptera collection of Museum isn’t particularly strong, it was suggested that we actively seek a fig wasp for the collection. Retain and acquire a fig wasp. ACTION: Dmitri
Carpet beetle

There was no online discussion around this specimen and no reason to dispose of it was expressed. However, it was noted that the species itself is closely monitored throughout the Museum. Retain and continue to monitor the live specimens. ACTION: AS
Photograph of Trucanini

There was an interesting response from a possible relative of a colonial civil servant, but this did not develop into dialogue. Ansuman contacted a representative of the Potameio people in Tasmania who was happy to talk privately but not publicly. There was also contact on Facebook with an owner of a tobacco pouch supposedly made from human skin. The categorization of human cultures by museums was still apparent in the discussions, in Australia this is a live and sensitive issue. Discussion about the contemporary prejudice against half-blooded indigenous Tasmanians. Retain, but scan images and send to Aboriginal group and National Museum of Australia if both are interested. ACTION: SW
Honey Bee

There was very little focus on the bee itself, but it did stimulate discussion around what it stood for. This is relevant to the Museum’s work on sustainability and the environment, as well as the bee being the symbol of Manchester. The Museum used to have an apiary and it would be desirable to have it again, if possible (the Museum shop used to sell the honey). Due to the decrease in green areas around the Museum a lot of wildflowers have been lost, there may not be sufficient to support a colony. Retain the specimen and investigate the possibility of re-establishing the bee-hive (if not at the Museum then possibly at botanical gardens in Fallowfields). ACTION Dmitri
Kiwi feather cloak and kiwi

Main responses were around the suggestion to display them together as a way of discussing the decline of animals and animal resources. The Museum entrance would not be possible as the light levels are too great for this type of material. Retain and explore potential to display in Sustainable Planet? Gallery. ACTION: HMCG

There was no clear discussion over this specimen. Many people were unaware of how it fits into discussions on depletion and loss, although it made the point that minerals are a finite resource. There were also reminiscences around how this particular specimen was collected. Retain as the Museum is a good home for this.
Niedzwetzky Apple

Blog contributors suggested we use it to grow an orchard of apples (pollinated by the re-introduced Museum bees?). Retain and investigate the planting of apple trees in the Living Plants display (or local environment). ACTION: LW
on-marine bivalves

There was not much discussion online for these specimens. It was suggested give one to each schoolchild visiting the Museum. Collection needs rationalization and possibly sharing with others. Retain for now while an audit and assessment of the collection is carried out. Non-traditional methods of disposal should be explored. ACTION: DG
Frog skin cells

Ansuman liked the suggestion we offer cells to a logging company in Madagascar, but no-one else picked up on this. The sample is old and no longer poisonous. Retain and re-examine the relationship between the live animal collection and the rest of the collection. ACTION: NM (as part of Vivarium review)

There was good debate for this object. One contributor was particularly distressed about link with genocide of the Taino people. ‘Another suggested we use it in learning programmes about human interaction and imperialism. It may even be of interest for the Sustainable Planet? Gallery. The Portuguese and Spanish established plantation system of intensive farming in Caribbean with result that indigenous people were displaced and destroyed by disease and war. Only 10 Taino were left in 1610, although half-blooded descendants survived and today campaign to establish their cultural rights. We could offer Duho to a Caribbean museum, although there has been no call for repatriation. These are very rare objects. It has been suggested that duhos were used by women as much as men. Retain and research how it ended up in Salford.Hold a Collective Conversation and publish on YouTube. If no clearer use can be made then investigate potential repatriation. ACTION: SW
Fossil Cockroach

There was not much debate about disposal of this holotype specimen. Retain

Great Wall of China Brick

No-one who responded to blog seemed to care that much! Lack of interest echoes attitude to wall as a whole. Previous offer to Confucius Institute went nowhere. No response/reaction from Chinese visitors either. Possibilities for ‘corporate’ loan to Chinese Consulate. Through work on forthcoming China exhibition we are making stronger links with Manchester’s Chinese communities. Possibilities for display in Ancient Worlds gallery around misguided souvenir collecting, an example of looting of material from ancient monuments. Offer to Chinese Consulate. ACTION: SW/AW
Lady’s Slipper Orchid Collected by Grindon

Paul Baxendale expressed interest in it for the national Museum of Hospital and Pharmaceutical History, but no-one came out to support his proposal. Currently the site of living orchids on North York Moors has to be protected by security. Retain as public interest best served by use in museum.

Clay Lamp

Of the four comments received, three were in favour of retention. There was one suggestion that we could go back to using clay lamps for lighting. During consultation over Ancient Worlds gallery there was strong interest in the use and display of lamps; in particular members of the Sudanese community suggested there was interest in seeing how the lamps change over time. There are over 1200 in the Museum including some duplicates and many different designs. As they tend to come from different sites it would be difficult to propose disposing of some and only keeping a representative selection. Retain and consider use in new galleries. ACTION: BS
Giant earwig

This seemed to frighten people, although it is a rare and precious thing. It is almost definitely extinct because of human activity. Retain as public interest best served by use in museum.
Fossil leaf

There was not much online discussion. It can be used to explain past environments. Retain through lack of other interest.

What factors are causing the population decline? Is it decking in gardens? In the past there was always food available in towns and cities, including through horse feed/manure. This is a similar issue to that of bees and orchids. We already make nesting boxes as part of our public programmes. Perhaps the nesting boxes should be put up as communal nesting boxes but not near the Museum because of insect pests! Museum can promote helpful activity. Retain as they are a challenge for us to do something about the environment. Investigate possibility of establishing nesting boxes. ACTION: HMCG
Coca leaves

This had a similar proposal to the orchid, and a similar response. This is made more difficult by being covered by the Museum’s drugs license so we cannot simply dispose of them. Retain as public interest best served by use in museum.
Carved elephant tusk

Only two responses, including one about the iconography of the tusk. Acquisition method is not clear other than from cotton traders /rubber merchants (slavers?). This is used quite a lot already in public programmes and activities. While the carving is by an anonymous artist, their style and events in their life are evident through the carving. One of the tusks in the collection may date to as early as 1750 and was used as gunpowder container, evidence of the trade with Europeans. A visiting Congolese group last year was particularly pleased to see this in the collection as it places their culture within the Museum. It is further evidence of the links between the journeys to Manchester made by both objects and people. The group is planning a cultural centre in the city, this material may be of further interest to them. Retain and contact the Congolese community group with a view to lending material for their cultural centre. ACTION: AW
Human teeth

As human remains these will be considered later as part of the wider ongoing consultation over ancient British human remains. Part of wider consultation.
Kahun Fire Stick Martin Prothero offered his services in running a fire-making programme; this could be part of a Big Saturday, perhaps together with the flint-knapping. There are also possibilities of filming a Collective Conversation. Retain, continue display of original and organise a fire-making programme. ACTION: AB Hold a Collective Conversation and publish on YouTube. ACTION: BS

Slender Billed Curlew egg

The Radio 4 Today programme recently reported an appeal for sightings of a number of rare species that in some cases have not been seen since the early 20th century – including the slender-billed curlew, which is believed to be extinct. This specimen would be of interest in the Sustainable Planet? Gallery which will deal with extinction. This is one of the most prized specimens in the collection. Retain and consider display in Sustainable Planet? Gallery: ACTION: HMCG
Egyptian reed pen

There was no discussion on the blog. The irony is that you would have to destroy it to use it. One person initially wanted to claim it then backtracked. Retain as ‘being in the Museum is the greatest honour for it’ (blog comment).
Glass of water

Collected by Ansuman whilst a hermit. Ansuman wanted to offer this to the Museum but unfortunately the glass was knocked over during the project and the act of collecting cannot be repeated. Lost.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 05/12/2019 7:20 pm

    Hi, what do each of the actions mean? BS, AW etc?

    • Steve Devine permalink*
      05/12/2019 7:37 pm

      Hi Emily,
      these were initials of staff members the actions were assigned to.
      Best wishes

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