Thursday, 23 January 2014

Yorkshire Survey - what have we been doing?

As I’ve mentioned before in an earlier blog (see here) we have tried something a bit different preparing for the new ‘Snapshot of Yorkshire’ exhibition which is opening this weekend at Abbey House. We put out a call for people to complete our Yorkshire Survey to find out what people had to say about the county, the people and places in it, and how they identify with it. We had a fantastic number of responses, so I wanted to give you a little bit more information on what we have been doing with them.

The surveys have been used in a variety of ways, which hopefully people will see in the exhibition. Most obviously to the visitor, each case features either a quote related to the subject on display, or a list of top 5’s that I have compiled using responses to questions like “What food and drink do you associate with Yorkshire?” We will then also have a digital screen which will be running a series of quotes from the surveys in response to some of the questions that we posed, alongside some of the images from our ‘Snapshot of Yorkshire’ photography competition.

Going through all of the responses was a long, but ultimately, very rewarding task. It showed people all had their own unique view on Yorkshire, wherever they originated from or live now. We had responses from Australia, America, Scotland, and even as far away as distant Lancashire. I have it on good authority that every Yorkshire Day, the Yorkshire flag is flying on at least one Oslo balcony.

Once the exhibition is up and running I’m hoping to put together another couple of blog posts looking more specifically at one or two of the questions that we asked, but for now, on behalf of everyone at Abbey House Museum, I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone that took the time to complete our survey.

If you fancy visiting the exhibition, it opens this Saturday and runs until the end of December.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Collections through Cake: Coin of Eion

Last week it was my (Lucy, Project Curator) turn to bake! I chose to return back to one of my absolute BEST FAVOURITE OBJECTS, one that I wrote a blog post about when I was a volunteer at the Discovery Centre a couple of years ago. You can read it here.


The object in question is a tiny 12mm coin from a city called Eion. The coin is from our Baron Collection and is the only specimen we have. 

Eion was a town in western Thrace and was a trading post in 500 BC. Both Persian and Athenian traders used the port, so it was important that the currency used in Eion could work within the different monetary systems. These small coins fitted both Athenian and Persian weight and fineness standards, so could be used commercially not just in the city of Eion in Thrace, but across both the Athenian and Persian empires.

There are several reasons that I am so fond of this coin. One is that numismatics is my first museum love. The second is that this coin is just so small, so economically fascinating AND has a goose and salamander on it. 

To get the maximum punnage from the cake, I also made it GOOSEberry flavoured, but adding a layer of gooseberry jam to the middle, as well as some tinned gooseberries to the batter and buttercream. 

It was so delicious, I didn't even get to eat any ... Rule for next time: make two cakes!

Don't forget you can read more in my original post 'Keeping the Balance'.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Collections through Cake: Mummies Eyes


Whoever said Mummies Eyes had to be made of mummies? These eyes in question are in fact the lenses of the Humboldt squid and were used to replace  eyeballs in Peruvian mummies.* They were probably taken from one that had washed up on a beach in South America. 

The question of which Peruvian group these 'eyeballs' are said to belong to is absent from our information, but there is a good introduction to all mummification processes here. Peruvians used these lenses to replace the eyes of human mummies. They give the corpse a more life-like appearance. The mummies are placed in a sitting position on salt beds and occur in their thousands.

This cake was made by Liz, our Education & Outreach Officer at the Discovery Centre, who used all her cunning to create this masterpiece from bought items. I think it is probably the most inventive seen so far. 
Humboldt Squid are a really interesting species. They are predators and are known to hunt in packs. Currently, their population is exploding, due to a lack of predators hunting them. Populations are also closely linked to El Niño events. During El Niño years migrations of the squid spread and numbers increase, which may be linked to warmer waters. To see some footage of Humboldt Squid, have a look here.

Close up of the eyeballs - Liz made them from lemon and orange mentoes. Apparently the dust from the real eye lenses is carcinogenic!**

These lenses are unique on our collection and are the only example of (part) of a Humboldt Squid that we have!

* Some sources say this story is apocryphal.

** Don't worry, we are always very careful with our handling of them. And it is in HUGE quantities.

Friday, 17 January 2014

The anniversary of an extinction - The Passenger Pigeon

Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius)

Above is an example of a Passenger Pigeon that we hold in our collection but the Passenger Pigeon has a sad tale to tell. It used to be one of the most abundant birds on earth and when their populations were estimated in the early 1800's there was thought to be anywhere between 3 to 5 billion individuals; on migration their flocks would fill the sky and it was truly a sight to behold. Because of their abundance they were seen as cheap food and were caught in their millions, plus there was mass deforestation of their habitat after Europeans arrived. Over 70 years their population slowly dwindled and then in the latter decades of the 1800's their numbers crashed. The last Passenger Pigeon, called Martha, died in captivity in Cincinnati Zoo one hundred years ago in 1914. 

Being able to show examples of this bird helps illustrate extinction and can be a powerful education tool. Having a species that was so abundant become extinct purely from the actions of mankind provides an insight on how we can drastically affect our environment resulting in extreme consequences. This case study is also a good way of educating people about population dynamics. Some species survive in low densities and even when there are only a few left there is still a hope of conservation. The Passenger Pigeon needed large flocks because of how they migrated and interacted with one another, once their numbers dropped below a critical level, even though that level might have numbered in the hundreds of thousands, they soon died out.

Welcome our new acquisition of a Hawfinch!

Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)

Today we acquired a new specimen! Pictured above it is the skin of a Hawfinch and one of their most notable features is their large powerful beak which is used to eat hard seeds and stones of fruit such as cherries, plums and olives. Hawfinches are shy birds that mostly stay in the higher branches of trees and their numbers are on decline in the UK.

We have 18 Hawfinch specimens, but even though they are all the same species they have individual information attached to them providing details of the environment of the area that they were found. For instance, you would know that it wasn't moorland, as these birds need trees with hard seeds as part of their habitat. If a specimen was collected 100 years ago in a particular place and that species is no longer found there then that signifies that the environment has changed. This information can be valuable when looking at conservation, reintroductions and environmental education.

Collecting is different to how it used to be. In the past things were shot or caught in traps but when accepting modern specimens we will only acquire things that have died of natural causes from trusted reliable sources. If a big game hunter offered us a lion we wouldn't take it!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Rear-side view of Black-headed Gull.

Rear view of Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

For some reason we often have Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) tapping on the skylights so I thought I would use this opportunity to take a rear-side view.

Black-headed Gulls do not actually have black heads, it is more a dark chocolate brown which they only have in the summer around breeding time; the rest of the year they have white heads with two dark spots. The gulls are definitely not 'seagulls' as they are mainly land based and do not fly far from the shore. Food wise they will eat a large variety of things including invertebrates, carrion, seeds and rubbish scraps and they are known to live to over 30 years of age, with one unconfirmed story of an individual reaching 63 years! Expect to see them all over Europe and around north-eastern North America, there was even one sighting in Australia, although this was very unusual.

Monday, 13 January 2014

My archaeology placement year at Leeds Museums and Galleries

As part of my course at Bradford University, where I am studying for a BA in Archaeology, I had the option for my third year of undertaking a placement year.
During the first two years of my course I had discovered that museum work could be an avenue under the umbrella of archaeology that I may wish to pursue. I was therefore very interested to be part of a museum environment for my placement, so I went about securing several interviews with museums in the West Yorkshire area. I was lucky enough to obtain a placement position at Leeds Museums and Galleries. Lucy Moore (cover Archaeology Curator for Kat Baxter) came to meet me at the University for an interview and was fantastic and I greatly appreciate all her help.  
On arriving at The Discovery Centre (the Museum’s store facility) on my first day back in mid-September, the first task given to me by my supervisor and Archaeology Curator, Kat Baxter, was to get to work accessioning the M1-A1 Link Road Excavation archive. I wrote down every box name, their location and contents.
Going through the excavation archive
I then went through the publication of the excavation, ‘A New Link to the Past: The Archaeological Landscape of the M1-A1 Link Road’, where a previous volunteer had started accessioning the small finds. I first found all those objects, inked on their accession numbers (using special archival ink), photographed them – front and back, then filled in the relevant information onto the museum database, TMS. Some of the objects included an iron knife, a ring, flints and querns.
Bronze Age jet disc from the excavation, accession no. LEEDM.D.2008.3.39
I was then fortunate enough to spend four weeks at Leeds City Museum as a Visitor Assistant, which was such a good experience as I was able to see how different aspects of the museum work.  For example, I gained an appreciation of the difference between the day to day work of a Curator compared to the day to day work of a VA which was very interesting. My role as a VA was to patrol the galleries assisting members of the public when necessary, working in the museum shop and setting up for conferences. My highlight though was definitely Halloween half term, as I got to help out with craft activities in the education room, which was a hive of activity.
I then returned to The Discovery Centre where I carried on with the M1-A1 Link Road Excavation archive.  I moved on to the objects in the archive which weren’t accessioned, which included all the pottery pieces, more flints and querns. I accessioned these objects, photographed them then filled in the relevant information into TMS, including the period, description, location, constituent and dimensions, which I gathered from the excavation publication.

Accessioning flints from the excavation

And now here I am, it’s already 2014!  I have just completed the archive, so Kat has informed me what my next task will be: to co-ordinate a new archaeology display case at The Discovery Centre with the archaeology volunteers and interns. I am very excited about this as it is such an invaluable opportunity and a fantastic experience.
By Laura Bradbeer, BA (Hons) Archaeology student at Bradford University, and placement student at Leeds Museums and Galleries 

Collections through Cake: Bird's Nest Cake

Did you think our cake odyssey was forgotten, dear reader? NEVER! We are museum professionals and cake is a stalwart of our working lives. Our pre-Christmas #MusCake was made by Kirsty, a member of our Digital Team (previously Kirsty was our Natural Science Curatorial Trainee).

Kirsty drew on her egg-cellent work with the oology (!) collections to create a fantastic Bird's Nest Cake.

The nest and eggs belong to a Barn Swallow, which is a bird of open country. It builds its nests in sheltered location that are sheltered from the weather and predators. Their use of man-made structures, such as barns, stables and bridges, for nesting means that swallows have spread with human expansion.

The barn swallow builds a cup-shaped nest on a beam or a semi-circular nest if its built against a wall. The nest is made of mud pellets collected in the beak and then lined with grasses and feathers. Males and females work together to construct the nest. Barn swallows usually lay four to five reddish-spotted white eggs.

The ‘cake’ is constructed of a milk chocolate-covered all-bran framework covered with dark chocolate truffle mud pellets. And a few feathers thrown in.

You can follow all our #MusCake adventures by following @LeedsMuseums on Twitter and by checking back on the blog! Happy cakery!