What do an Iguanodon’s thumb spike, an ichthyosaur paddle and a shark fin spine all have in common? Well these are just some of the specimens we’ve digitised as part of the museum’s eMesozoic project, headed by Fossil Mammal Curator Dr Pip Brewer.
For the past eight months myself and two other eMesozoic digitisers, Lyndsey Douglas and David Godfrey, have been busy in the palaeontology department mass imaging British Mesozoic vertebrates for the first time.
We have a massive digital challenge. How do we transform museum collections of millions of diverse specimens, each with complex information in many forms, into digital resources – images and data – to be used by modern science and shared across the world?
Microscope slide with a stonefly
Butterflies with QR codes
The collections have been at the centre of scientific knowledge for 300 years – how do we take them into science’s future? In the words of Rod Page from Glasgow University: how do we transform a 19th Century technology into a 21st Century technology? This is the question we have been looking at in a Cisco Pitstop at the London Digital Catapult Centre over two days in February 2016.
The ‘spatial wealth’ of the Museum’s collections is often ignored or at best under-appreciated. Most specimens if not all have a spatial locality associated with them, either written on to a label, written in a notebook, or on the specimen.
These localities can vary between very precise (e.g. a GPS-based latitude/longitude), very imprecise (e.g. ‘South America’) or, most likely, somewhere in-between. Most specimens within the Museum do not have a latitude and longitude, but do have detailed locality information on the accompanying label, which can be used to define co-ordinates for that specimen. So what is georeferencing, why do we need it, and how do we use it?