A boy with a museum under his bed | Curator of Micropaleontology

When I was at school I had my own geological museum under my bed. Aged 6 I took some of the first specimens in my collection to school for show and tell. This summer term I found myself doing the same at my 7 year old son Pelham’s school (thank you Natasha for volunteering me). I took some specimens on loan from the Museum’s handling collection and some of my favourite specimens from my original collection.

Read on to find out about the specimen that’s been on TV, the rock that is much lighter than it looks and where in Hintze Hall you can come do your own Key Stage 2 revision on Geology.

Hertfordshire Pudding Stone
Hertfordshire Pudding Stone – one of my favourite sedimentary rocks

First up I had to tell them about my own museum and that it was the spark that led me to be a curator at the Natural History Museum. It was most important to say that it is not only boys who can have collections of rocks, minerals and fossils and end up working in museums. Not all people who work in museums are as old as me and have beards but some are and do have beards.

I had brought a great selection of rocks, fossils and minerals so that we could try to work out together whether they were sedimentary, metamorphic or igneous. All specimens were handed round to the group of almost 60 pupils. Here are a selection of the rocks that we looked at:

Obsidian
Obsidian – volcanic glass

This piece of volcanic glass called obsidian was one of the favourites. I’m not sure why. I did ask.

Trilobite
Trilobite from the Wenlock Limestone at Wren’s Nest, Dudley.

This limestone is from Wren’s Nest in Dudley and contains the tail of a fossil trilobite. This is the first trilobite that I ever found and it made my fellow university class mates jealous because we all wanted to be first to find one. We had fun with the class discussing what you do when you find something new and whether you can name new fossils after yourself? Actually you are not allowed to.

Geode
A geode from Brazil

This geode was split by me when I was the same age as most people in the class. Our next door neighbours were producers for the BBC and were making a programme called “On the rocks”. They were trying to crack a geode using a giant vice but every time they tried they smashed them to pieces because they were pressing too hard on the lever. They brought me in from next door to come and crack one and all my 6 year old might was only just enough to split the geode perfectly in two. The geode was shown on TV, is pictured in the book that accompanied the series and was given to me after filming was finished.

Pumice
Pumice with Pelham’s finger illustrating the importance of including a scale in your scientific photographs.

This rock is a pumice which is a volcanic rock that has formed very quickly with a lot of air bubbles. It’s way lighter than it looks.

Coprolite
Coprolite. Some fossil poo from Lyme Regis

This was also one of the favourites a coprolite (fossil poo) from Lyme Regis.

Schist
Schist with shiny metamorphic mineral mica

This shiny rock is metamorphic. Originally sedimentary, it was heated at high temperature and buried at depth so that the shiny metamorphic mineral mica formed. It also raised a small laugh as it is called a schist.

I’m not available to come to schools to run the same show and tell unless of course I am asked back to come and do the same when my daughter Blossom comes to KS2 and studies Geology on the national curriculum.

As a curator at the Museum we are not encouraged to have own collections as it is seen as possible conflict of interest. My collection has been in my Dad’s loft for way too long but he’s hopeful that parts of it will soon be given to Brandlehow Primary School in Putney to help inspire the pupils of the future when they learn Geology at KS2.

Hope Hintze Hall
Hope the Whale in Hintze Hall. You can see our rock and mineral display cases on the mezzanine gallery level behind

If you would like to come and see some igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks for yourself, why not come to the Hintze Hall and look at the balcony display of  rocks? The Geologists’ Association also have a club of budding young geologists called Rockwatch that is well worth joining whether you have your own geological  museum under your bed or not.

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