Dinosaur Eggshibition!

It’s been a while since I last wrote much on my blog, apart from the regular Friday mystery object. Mainly that’s because I’ve been busy getting to grips with a new collection at the Grant Museum of Zoology, where I am now the Curator. Just before I left my previous job at the Horniman Museum & Gardens I curated an exhibition that has a nice Eastery link (which will become apparent), that I thought might be worth writing about.

The exhibition is a touring show developed under the title Hatching The Past, which was brought to my attention by palaeontologist, science blogger and old friend Dr Dave Hone who’s a lecturer at Queen Mary University of London. I went to the Città della Scienza in Naples with some colleagues from the Horniman to take a look (which is an interesting story in its own right, since the main part of the museum had been burned down by the Mafia in 2013).

Despite the suboptimal exhibition space in Naples (thanks to the fact that the building it was meant to be displayed in was a pile of charcoal), the quality of the science, the objects in the exhibition and the vibrant and exciting artwork by the awesome palaeoartist Luis Rey made it well worth considering for the Horniman, which tries to get in a blockbuster temporary exhibition every year.

This exhibition focuses on the eggs, offspring and parental care of dinosaurs. A family focus is right up the Horniman’s street, and that’s what led to the change in the exhibition title, to bring more focus on that family element, without losing sight of the DINOSAURS!


Star of the exhibition

Of course, making an exhibition intellectually fit into a museum takes more than just changing the name, so the temporary exhibitions at the Horniman include objects from the permanent collection, with links to activities and other content. So while working out my notice from the Horniman I was feverishly selecting objects and writing text to help build that link before I left.


It has to be said that seeing members of the public engaging with your work is incredibly satisfying, so when the exhibition opened in February I was delighted to see people reading my text and really getting interested in the objects I’d picked to tell the story of parental care in living animal groups.


I was also keen to take the opportunity to help the Horniman build closer links with one of their patrons (and a living legend for pretty much every naturalist out there), Sir David Attenborough, who kindly agreed to loan the Elephant Bird egg he found when filming Zoo Quest in Madagascar. This for me is the ultimate version of an egg hunt.

Have a great Easter weekend – I hope you get all the eggs you could ask for!

#TwitteratiChallenge Museums Bolt-on = #MuseumTwitterati

I love social media. In particular I enjoy using Twitter because it provides me with a wonderful opportunity to engage in dialogue with interesting and knowledgeable people who have helped me develop in my profession, and I hope that I have been able to enrich other people’s experience in turn.

It was therefore a real pleasure to have been nominated by Katie Hobbs for the #TwitteratiChallenge, which was originally started by @TeacherToolkit to “recognise your most supportive colleagues in a simple blogpost shout-out. Whatever your reason, these 5 educators [museologists] should be your 5 go-to people in times of challenge and critique, or for verification and support“.

Note that I have slightly tweaked the focus of the challenge from the original – it’s such a nice idea that I think it’s worth borrowing (stealing?) for the museum sector. To help prevent the original intent of the challenge (i.e. finding helpful educators) from being diluted, I’m going to suggest that a new/additional hashtag be applied – so witness the birth of #MuseumTwitterati!

This is quite timely, as I recently attended the NatSCA conference, which was called Museums Unleashed and it focussed, in large part, on the role of social media in the museum profession.


As new tools are introduced, we need to be willing to give them a go, to see if they can be used to improve how we work. But Twitter is no longer a new tool.  It has proved its worth as a way of communicating and I see it rapidly becoming as important for museum professionals to use as email (although there are still a few people in the museum sector who haven’t quite got to grips with email yet).

For colleagues who are just starting out on Twitter, the #MuseumTwitterati hashtag may provide a helpful trail for identifying good people to follow.

Subversive as always, I’ve tweaked the original #TwitteratiChallenge rules, and simplified the ‘What to do’ section:


  1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life (ex-colleagues are fine, it’s a small sector and we’d run out of people in no time otherwise).
  2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge or #MuseumTwitterati (sorry Jan Freedman)
  3. Copy and paste the ‘Rules’ and ‘What to do’ information into your own blog post and be sure to cite @TeacherToolkit since they came up with the idea.

What to do:

  1. Within 7 days of being nominated you must write your own blogpost identifying the top-5 museologists that you regularly go to for ideas, support and challenge. Share this on Twitter using the hashtag #MuseumTwitterati and tag them in – they are thus nominated.
  2. If you do not have your own blog, write your list by hand or on a computer, take a photo/screenshot and upload it to Twitter, tagging the people mentioned (yes, you can do that) and using the hashtag #MuseumTwitterati – they are thus nominated.

So here is my selection, which sadly omits a lot of fantastic people who I engage with regularly about my specialist interests, but who are not really museum professionals per se (people like Jake, Ric and Ben). There are also a lot of notable absences because I work with some excellent Twitterers (Tweeters? Tweeps? Whatever – check out this #TwitteratiChallenge post by Rupert Shepherd who is one of them, and he lists most of the others):

My #MuseumTwitterati

Mar Dixon (@MarDixon) – Doyenne of digital media for the museum sector. Trendsetter and maverick empowerer of the people, who has probably done more to unstarch the undies of the stiffest museum staff through the innovative Culture Themes than anyone could have imagined possible.

Erica McAlister (@

Mark Carnall (@mark_carnall) – Incisive and provocative natural science curator, with a playful sense of humour and a passion for Lego.

Tincture Of Museum (@TinctureOfMuse) – Another Lego lover, museum volunteer and a passionate advocate for access in museums, with a special insight into autism.

Nicholas Poole (@NickPoole1) – Trend tracker, strategist and big picture thinker. Tweets to share nuggets of museum management gold.

Apologies to many of the other fantastic people I engage with on Twitter who didn’t make the list – nothing personal, since I used commun.it to help me decide; it’s a very useful tool for managing your online community!

International Museum Day: why are museums important?

Today is International Museum Day, which provides a nice opportunity to share some thoughts on why museums are important for society.

Museums are a source of knowledge, enjoyment and inspiration

The first point is that they contribute to the economy – in the UK tourism is a significant contributor to the economy, accounting for  9.0% of GDP, so tourism is big business. Why do tourists come to the UK? Because we have things they want to visit of course – things like museums. 32.8 million tourists came to the UK last year and they made 21 million visits to the 16 DCMS sponsored museums. It’s probably not unreasonable to say that an estimated 64% of tourists to the UK visit museums as part of their experience, bearing in mind that there are around 1,800 accredited museums in the UK, there’s a pretty good chance that the total number of tourist visits to museums in the UK is quite a bit greater than that 21 million.

recent report on tourism by Deloitte recognises this and explicitly states:

The supply side offer of tourist infrastructure also extends to attractions, and standards in this area can have a significant influence on the appeal of the overall tourism offer of the UK. Some of Britain’s most well-known attractions have long suffered from inadequate infrastructure, such as parking, visitor centres, and museums and educational facilities. It will be important for Britain to maintain and improve in this infrastructure as competitor destinations invest in infrastructure which may risk diverting visitors away from the UK.

In addition, museums generate revenue at a more local level, attracting visitors who need to eat and drink, or buy things from museum shops, like greetings cards, plastic dinosaurs and copies of brilliant books like Jake’s Bones.


Museums aren’t just scrounging from the government, they generate revenue and contribute to the local and national economy

Beyond the immediate economic argument, museum collections provide a physical record of the life and culture on our planet, both past and present. They provide the hard evidence to recognise and describe the different species on Earth and they provide a historical record of how things once were, for comparison against the present, helping us to better understand change and make better predictions for the future. So museums can help us shape a better future by understanding the past and present.

Museum collections document the amazing diversity of life and the diversity of human material culture

Part of this role is fulfilled by making collections accessible to the public for their information, education and entertainment (because entertainment helps us learn too – I’m a big proponent of informal learning). However, there is also a need for research that feeds into academia and the informing of local, national and international policy decisions.

Even research that doesn’t seem to have immediate practical application is useful for testing ideas, exploring human creativity and gaining a deeper insight into other people’s minds and cultures. This sort of work may not rock the world of politics or science, but it can be effective for engaging the public and encouraging a deeper interest in topics that have a benefit to society that, at least to my mind, stretches far beyond the outcome of the X-Factor finals or which minor celebrity is divorcing which other minor celebrity.

Museums are there to nurture, support and inspire a fascination with the wider world, and really that’s why I think they’re important.


I’ve already posted a teaser about my mermaid research, but now I’m pleased to say that the academic paper is available in the Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 27 (2014), pp.98-116.

©Horniman Museum and Gardens & © Heini Schneebeli

We had hoped (and we asked) to make the paper open-access, as one of my co-authors is based at the Wellcome Library and the Wellcome takes open-access seriously and provide funds for making research freely available.

But alas our request seems to have been missed or ignored. I’m not hugely surprised as the Journal is published by the Museum Ethnographers Group, which is a Subject Specialist Network (SSN) run by volunteers and the systems are simply not in place for organisations like that to adopt new publishing models quickly and easily.

I should know, as I am involved in a couple of SSNs and I know how much time and effort goes into producing a Journal and I know how core the Journal is to the running of an SSN – it’s seen as a benefit of membership and therefore giving away the content freely is seen by some as devaluing membership.

At the SSN I am most involved in (the Natural Sciences Collections Association – NatSCA) we make all of our Journal articles freely available, but only a year after publication, so there is still a benefit to joining (among other benefits of course!).

I may not be able to legally share the final version of the paper with everyone, as I don’t hold the copyright, but I hold the copyright of the earlier drafts, so here is an earlier draft of the paper if you want to get the gist of the mermaid research.

I won’t go into detail here about the contents of the paper, since I’ve been busy writing for other blogs where I look at different aspects of mermaids:

how to make a mermaid is explained on Henry Nichol’s excellent Guardian science blog Animal Magic;

why Henry Wellcome may have collected mermaids is explore on the Wellcome Collection’s blog;

an accessible summary of the mermaid research on the Horniman merman is available on the Horniman website,

and there is a nice blog by Vicky Pearce on the Horniman blog.

Hopefully this mass of mermaid information will inspire discussion, where I really hope to find out about more mermaid specimens and stories.

If you have any information, thoughts or questions please either use the #mermania hashtag on twitter or leave a comment below. Enjoy!


The Mermaid

As you may already know, I’ve been doing a lot of work on a mermaid specimen in the collections of the Horniman Museum & Gardens over the last few years.

The upshot of all that activity is that I have a paper written in a journal that will be hitting the bookshelves any day now. As you may have heard me say before, the specimen is not made of a monkey attached to a fish – I know that after undertaking painstaking examination of the specimen using CT scanning equipment and DNA sampling and good old fashioned anatomical investigation.




Instead it appears to be a real creature of uncertain taxonomic affiliation. The teeth suggest a link to the Wrasse family, the tail to the Carp and the torso to no known living group, so I have designated this specimen as the type for its species and have named it Pseudosiren paradoxoides. Full details can be found in the paper which is due out next week in the Journal of Museum Ethnography – I’m so excited!


Today is #MuseumSelfie day as part of #MuseumWeek, so here are few selfies of me trying to recreate the look of specimens from the Horniman’s natural history gallery.






Utterly ridiculous, but fun nonetheless. If you have some similar selfies why not link to them below in the comments section? After all, I don’t want to be the only one looking silly!


11 questions to a museum blogger for #museumweek

Twitter has provided some great opportunities for sharing blogs, photos and other interesting content relating to museums. If you’re interested in museums, from either a personal or professional perspective, you should definitely try using twitter.

This week is #MuseumWeek, which provides me with an excellent and relevant excuse for being tardy in responding to Jack Shoulder’s 11 questions to me, which he shared last week on #MuseumBlogs day.

1. Who are you and what do you like about blogging?

I’m Paolo Viscardi, curator, bonegeek and staunch advocate of museums and science. Blogging for me is something that I don’t really enjoy doing, but I really enjoy the outcomes, when I feel like I’ve shared information, ideas and some of the good bits of my amazing job.


2. What is the most popular post on your blog?

Last year I published a post called Atacama ‘alien’ mystery is no mystery, which wasn’t directly about museums, although they do get a mention. It’s had around 45000 views so far, with almost 14000 of those on the day it was posted. There have been 136 comments, not counting the offensive or trolling ones I deleted. It was a controversial post in that it challenged some very odd ideas, that some conspiracy theorists seemed to take quite seriously, without applying much critical thought.

3. And which post on your blog did you have the most fun writing?

Back in 2011 there was a lot of hype about a prediction of the Rapture (the ascent to Heaven in advance of the end of the world) by evangelical Christian Harold Camping. I had a lot of fun writing the post Jesus disappointed by Rapture flop, which took the position that the Rapture had actually  happened and only one person ascended, who wasn’t even a Christian. Since most of my posts are observational or factual it made a nice change of pace and gave me a chance to play with ideas.

4. If you could go behind the scenes of any museum, which one would it be and why?

Most of my museum experiences involve going behind the scenes. I rarely go to see exhibitions and I’m usually visiting other museums in order to meet other curators, or to do some research. I’ve not yet been to the West Coast of America, but if I ever make it over there I’d love to get behind the scenes at the Page Museum at Rancho La Brea to take a look at some of the amazing fossil mammal material they have in their collections.

Smilodon at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. Image by Dallas Krentzel

Smilodon at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. Image by Dallas Krentzel

5. If you could interview anyone, anyone at all, for your blog, who would you talk to and what would be the first question you ask them?

I’m interested in observing the physical world and trying to understand it, so I’ve never considered doing interviews. I suppose I could interview other scientists, but I’m not really a natural people-person and I would struggle to know what to ask!

6. What is your earliest museum memory?

This is a question I’ve (sort of) answered for Meet a Museum Blogger on Museum Minute a while back, so I’ll repeat that here:

“Seeing the door into the Palaeontology department at the Natural History Museum in London (the one next to the Megatherium specimen) is one of the clearest memories from my childhood – it was at that point I realized there must be people working behind the scenes in museums and that I could be one of them.”

Megatherium at London NHM. Image by Ballista

Megatherium at London NHM. Image by Ballista

7. What was the last museum you visited what did you see?

Apart from the Horniman, which I visit every week day for work, the last museum I visited was the Città della Scienza (Naples Science Centre) at the start of March. That was a scouting trip for a potential temporary Dinosaur exhibition for the Horniman. I was impressed by the museum’s tenacity in the face of outright criminal assault, following an arson attack a year ago to the day of my visit, that razed the main museum site to the ground

8. Share a museum selfie?

I hate taking selfies, but since they’ve become so popular I was persuaded to take one with the Horniman Walrus – just awful…

selfie with walrus

Since then I’ve taken a lot of selfies, and thankfully I’ve managed to look a bit less smug in those…

9. If time and money were not an issue, which museum in the world would you most like to visit?

As someone with a soft spot for Smilodon it would have to be the Page Museum!

10. Which museum do you think more people should know about?

The Horniman is a pretty small museum that does some pretty big things, but I know that outside the museum sector we’re not as well known as we could be. That said, I love the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL and the Natural History Museum in Dublin – two of my favourite places that shockingly few people seem to know about!

I do think that all museums deserve to be known about though, which is why I’ve been working hard with colleagues at the Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA) and a variety of partner organisations (like the NHM and Linnean Society) to get a better idea of what museums are out there that hold natural science collections. At the moment the project is in its early days, but we’ve developed a crowdsourced map of UK natural history collections that you can see – and add to – on the NatSCA collections pages.

11. What’s the oddest search term that has led people to your blog?

“Rat poo”. It’s a surprisingly common search term too, with almost 400 people finding the site through some variation on that theme. I suppose that’s what happens if you show people pictures of rat poo though…


On that somewhat unsavoury note I will pass on the baton to some more museum bloggers:

Here are my questions for Jake, Claire and Russell:

1. Who are you and what do you blog about?
2. Why do you blog about museums?
3. And which post on your blog was the hardest to write?
4. Which is your favourite museum?
5. Do you think you’ll still be interested in museums in 20 years time?
6. What is your earliest museum memory?
7. What was the last museum you visited and what did you see?
8. Share a museum selfie?
9. If you could build a museum, what kind would it be?
10. What is the most popular post on your blog?
11. What’s the oddest search term that has led people to your blog?

And here’s what you have to do:

Answer the eleven questions – you can adapt them a little to fit your blog.

Include the BEST BLOG image in your post, and link back to the person who nominated you (that would be me, or this blog post).

Devise eleven new questions – or feel free to keep any of these ones here if you like them – and pass them on to how ever many bloggers you would like to.