NHM (part 1)…

Last week, myself and the other 2 Natural History curatorial trainees (Glenn & Lukas) spent a week on placement at the Natural History Museum, London. It was a great week, and I’d like to start out by saying a huge thank you to all the staff that took time out of their day to show us around and answer our questions.

It started on Monday, with the 3 of us being met by Clare Valentine, the Head of Collections for Zoology. After Clare took us for our security passes we went to Clares office to have a quick chat and a cup of tea. Clare gave us a brief introduction to some of her responsibilities and an overview of the staff structure of the NHM (around 100 curators itself I found was an impressive number!).

Clare then took us on a brief tour of some of the Zoology stores. The spirit store was first and is a very impressive collection. One particular specimen highlight was stored in its own custom built tank. A giant squid. This particular specimen was caught in 2004 near the Falkland Islands and is over 8.5m long.

Giant squid Tentacle

After the spirit collections, we were then shown a recently updated large vertebrate store room, complete with plenty of desk space and new roller racking before being shown an older store in which specimens are stored in older wooden  & glass cabinets.

Tiger skull

We then went for lunch and afterwards met back up with Clare to attend a science group update. Delivered by the head of the science group, this was to inform staff of upcoming events, details on the new website, published work by staff, digitisation and research being undertook. Lukas, Glenn and I then finished off our afternoon with a look around some of the galleries.


Tuesday was paleontology day. We were met by Lil Stevens, a Curator from the Paleontology department who took us through the museum to the offices and stores of the collection. Here we met Zoe Hughes, Brachiopod & Cephalopod Curator.

Our first task was to help assemble several new microscopes which the department had just received. You wouldn’t believe how many different boxes one microscope comes unassembled in! After putting a few together in various locations around the collection stores, we were then given the opportunity to help Zoe condition check some objects which were to be used for an event that coming weekend.

Condition checking the specimens involved firstly making a note of the name & registration number. Notes were then made on the condition aswell as any visible signs of damage (e.g. cracks) or any possible problems which might arise whilst the specimens are being moved/handled. Pictures were then taken of each specimen, both as an overview of the object and to highlight any potential issues. Specimens included this huge femur of a mammoth.

Mammoth femur

The day was then finished with a tour of some of the fossilised Brachiopod & Cephalopod collections. Zoe was able to show us some excellent specimens, especially of a fossilised 80 million year old octopus.

Fossilised octopus

Our next day was spent in the Botany department. Met in the morning by Jovita Yesilyurt, the Collections Manager for the Cryptogamic Herbarium.We were firstly given a tour of the Herbarium.

Cryptogamic Herbarium

Along the way we were given an overview of curatorial methods for the storage & documentation of botany specimens and shown a variety of different methods for storing them, such as pressed sheets, bottled specimens & microscope slides.

Botanical slides

The tour then continued round into the office spaces, preparation rooms and research labs, where cultures were being grown for research.

Botanical culture

After the tour had finished, it was time again for Lunch and marked (around) the half way point in my week. This seems like a good place to finish this first post, and I’ll post the second part in a few days!

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