‘Rock music’: a new take on the NHM Building Stone Collection

The Natural History Museum Building Stone collection contains over 17,000 specimens and is one of the largest documented collections of its kind in the UK. It is particularly useful for matching stone in historical buildings during conservation work, but not only for that!

Often this collection causes an unconscious burst of inventiveness, and it features amazing pieces of art like this black stone from Derbyshire or this spectacular limestone. This time around it has inspired artist Charles Richard to collect the ‘sonic’ languages extracted from geological materials, a continuation of his master project at the Royal College of Art with a mission to create a series of digital box sets.

Continue reading to learn more about the building stone collection and Charles’ project.

Continue reading “‘Rock music’: a new take on the NHM Building Stone Collection”

Creating a new promotional banner component for the launch of the Anthropocene hub

A homepage takeover component, created for the launch of the Anthropocene hub

The Museum’s new strategy to 2031 has been announced, with a call to arms to take action against the current environmental crisis facing our planet.

In the lead up to the announcement, the Connect product team in the Digital Media department were tasked with a brief: to deliver an impactful “takeover” of the Museum’s homepage which grabbed the attention of the user while not only conveying a sense that urgent action was needed, but delivering a message of hope for the planet’s future, not despair.

Continue reading “Creating a new promotional banner component for the launch of the Anthropocene hub”

Darwin Digitisation in 2020| Digital Collections Programme


A tooth from Equus, a wild horse collected by Charles Darwin in Argentina on 10/10/1833

In 2018 the Museum embarked on a pilot project to document and 3D surface scan 10% of the fossil mammals that Darwin collected on the Voyage of the Beagle. During this project we focused on 20 fossil mammal specimens to investigate the potential that digitisation holds for this collection. This was also the first time that researchers have fully documented, researched and conserved these historically significant specimens since many of them came over to the Museum from the Royal College of Surgeons during the second world war. The fossils included in this pilot were released onto the Museum’s Data Portal and uploaded to Sketchfab.com to share these new resources with as wide an audience as possible.

Due to the success of the pilot project the Museum is undertaking two new digitisation projects with Darwin specimens in 2020. The first of these projects is to complete the documentation and release 3D models of the remaining 90% of Darwin’s fossil mammals and the second project will digitise the fish that Darwin collected aboard H.M.S Beagle.

Darwin’s fossil mammals

Among the thousands of plant, animal, rock and fossil specimens Darwin collected while aboard the Beagle, he collected 13 species of fossil mammals, eight of which remain today. During the pilot phase of the project we focused on all the fossils that have been attributed to Megatherium, Mylodon and Toxodon.

Artist impressions of Glossotherium and Scelidotherium. Images by Mauricio Antón.

During this final stage of the project we will be focusing on the fossils attributed to two species of ground sloth:, Glossotherium and Scelidotherium; a species of ancient horse, Equus neogeus, and Macrauchenia, a large, long-necked and long-limbed, three-toed native South American mammal in the order Litopterna. Macrachenia that resemble a modern-day llama whole not being related to any living mammal today.

“I had no idea at the time, to what kind of animal these remains belonged. The puzzle, however, was soon solved when Mr. Owen examined them; for he considers that they formed part of an animal allied to the guanaco or llama, but fully as large as the true camel. As all the existing members of the family of Camelidae are inhabitants of the most sterile countries, so may we suppose was this extinct kind.” (Charles Darwin, writing in January 1834)

Macrauchenia crop

Artist impression of Macrauchenia by Mauricio Antón

We are hoping to complete the documentation and release new models of these specimens by the end of 2020 so in order to do this have had some new team members join the project team. Lorna Steel will be taking care of the documentation and research while Lucia Petrera will be conserving the specimens including ensuring they are properly housed in protective boxes and undertaking any repairs they need.

“It’s a real privilege to be asked to document these specimens. Many years ago I came across a copy of Darwin’s ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’ in a charity shop, and once I started reading, I just couldn’t put it down. Here was a young man taking on five-year voyage into the unknown, recording his thoughts along the way. His accounts jump from describing an insect, plant or a landscape, to the appearance, customs and attitudes of the individuals and tribes that he meets. I’m no stranger to fieldwork in remote locations, but I take my hat off to Darwin and other naturalists of his generation for what they achieved.” Lorna Steel

“I’m really looking forward to start to work on the Darwin fossil mammal collection, conserving such historically important specimens to preserve them for present and future generations.” Lucia Petrera

Darwin’s fish

On average about 250 visitors per year to the fish section – almost a visitor every single day of the year. The Museum has 85 lots of fish specimens collected by Darwin. In contrast with the fossil mammals these fish have already been documented and their data released onto the Museum’s Data Portal, but they do not have any images with them. Digital images can be very useful to researchers and help towards their research, such as understanding which species they belong to. Darwin’s specimens are mostly preserved in alcohol and are particularly fragile and therefore unsuitable for repeated handling/transportation. Digitising enables rapid access to researchers worldwide whilst limiting wear and tear of the original specimens. When digitising, some of the most useful aspects to capture for scientific researchers are scales, fin rays and body proportions. To capture these features a 2D photograph is taken of each fish from the left side (lateral), and for some species they are also photographed from the top (dorsal) and underside (ventral). Once this work is complete the images will be released onto the Museum’s Data Portal to share this new resource with the world.

BMNH 1972.4.25.1 Paralichthys orbignyanus small.1500x2957
Paralichthys orbignyanus with Darwin’s handwriting visible on the label.

Darwin studied all aspects of natural history during his five-year voyage on H.M.S. Beagle. The specimens he collected inspired his later theories on evolution which were revolutionary not just in his time but are still relevant to this day. Darwin’s specimens are particularly important not only because they were collected by Charles Darwin but because most are the first specimens of their kind to have been identified as species new to science.

We hope that by sharing new digital resources will allow more access, provide new learning opportunities and bring Darwin’s discoveries into the 21st century. Find out more at www.nhm.ac.uk/darwinsfossils or follow us on twitter @NHM_Digitise and @NHMFossilMammal.

Joseph Banks, the Banksian Herbarium and the Natural History Museum | Botany Collections

Sir Joseph Banks was an eminent eighteenth-century naturalist and explorer. His travels and scientific patronage enabled him to amass specimens from around the globe.

An avid botanist, his private herbarium was one of the founding collections of the Museum’s herbarium.

In a series of posts, the Museum’s botanical staff reflect on Banks’s herbarium, his approach to collecting, and the uses of his collection – both in his time and today. Continue reading “Joseph Banks, the Banksian Herbarium and the Natural History Museum | Botany Collections”

The Marsh Awards 2019 – Winners announced! | Earth Sciences

The Marsh Awards, run in partnership between the Marsh Christian Trust and the Natural History Museum, recognise unsung heroes who have made a major contribution to the promotion of palaeontology, mineralogy or earth sciences.

The winners in three categories – the Best Earth Sciences Book of the Year, Palaeontology, and Mineralogy – were celebrated at an awards ceremony at Museum on the 13 December 2019.

The winners were:

  • Marsh Award for the Best Earth Sciences Book of the Year:
    In the Footsteps of Darwin: Geoheritage, Geotourism and Geoconservation in the Galapagos Islands, Co-authors Daniel Kelley, Kevin Page, Diego Quiroga, Raul Salazar
  • Marsh Award in Mineralogy: Dr Jolyon Ralph
  • Marsh Award in Palaeontology: Dr David Penney

Continue reading “The Marsh Awards 2019 – Winners announced! | Earth Sciences”

Over half a decade of digitisation  | Digital Collections Programme

Award winning digitisation

Blog 1

The Natural History Museum Digital Collections Programme has just received a lovely Christmas present! Following our November win as best Not for Profit project of the year in the UK IT Industry Awards, we’ve just been notified that we are also winners in the Culture and Tourism Category of the World Summit Awards. Continue reading “Over half a decade of digitisation  | Digital Collections Programme”

Fossil ice found in Earth’s starting material |Curator of Petrology

High-resolution SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) investigations, along with high-resolution CT imaging of a 4.6 billion-year-old meteorite have revealed “fossilised” ice, showing for the first time direct evidence that when early asteroids formed they incorporated frozen water into their matrix.  This has allowed Dr Epifanio Vaccaro, Curator of Petrology at the Natural History Museum, along with colleagues in Japan, to create a model of how the asteroids grew and the planets formed, including our own planet Earth.

Picture of Earth credit NASA

The presence of ice in some asteroids it has been known for a long time, this has been hinted at by the observed alterations caused by the water to the minerals making up the asteroids known as aqueous alterations. However, the direct evidence of the presence of ice was never been observed before. The discovery was made by Dr Epifanio Vaccaro, Curator of Petrology at the Museum, along with a team of Japanese researchers.

Continue reading to find out more about this important discovery.

Continue reading “Fossil ice found in Earth’s starting material |Curator of Petrology”

Wildlife Garden Autumn BioBlitz|Citizen Science

Photograph of a landhopper, Arcitalitrus dorrieni

A BioBlitz is a race against the clock to find and record as many living things as possible within a specific area over a set period of time. These observations are then used for scientific research and environmental monitoring by our wildlife garden managers and are shared with scientists in the UK and abroad. Our Autumn BioBlitz in the Wildlife Garden was on the 21st October, we had typical autumn weather with a lot of rain, but still saw interesting wildlife.

Continue reading “Wildlife Garden Autumn BioBlitz|Citizen Science”