Last Friday I was at the SPHNHC, NatSCA and GCG joint conference in Cardiff, which provided a fantastic opportunity to catch up with natural science curators, conservators and collections managers from all over the world, but which gave me limited time to spend on the mystery object.
As a result you ended up with an object that made an appearance in a ‘feely box’ at a fun pub quiz organised by guys at the Oxford Museum of Natural History.
It’s not the prettiest object but it’s characteristic shape and structure makes it readily identifiable using touch.
Jake spotted that it was a horizontal section through a skull, including the palate and Maxine and Julie Howard recognised the tusk alveoli extending from the maxilla, and correctly suggested Pumbaa, or Warthog Phacochoerus africanus (Gmelin, 1788).
Touch is an often under-appreciated sense in science, but it can be used to identify some specimens and provide a new perspective on the evolution of forms in nature. This is something I came to realise when working at the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History in Dublin, where I was fortunate enough to meet evolutionary biologist Dr Geerat Vermeij, who has been blind since birth, yet is able to identify shells to species and read part of their life history from touch alone.