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Monday, May 23, 2005

What secrets are hidden in museums

From Ken Macleod's blog:

The Hunterian Museum is quiet, with the sort of hum that might be an aural hallucination. The smell is of locusts and wild honey, like John the Baptist's menu. The windows are like in a church. There is armour and parchment. There are vases and mummies. Every length and lath of wood is polished to a force-field sheen. Around the hall are galleries where minerals and fossils lie under sloping glass. And under these displays are drawers that glide out, in memory, as if on wheels. They are full of detritus and shards labelled in india ink and held together with varnish and Sellotape. In a corner of one of these galleries I had a table and a chair, and on that table I laid out bones taken from the drawers, and looked at them and puzzled over them, and doodled them, and fiddled with suspending them from bits of thread, and read all about Metriorhynchus when I wasn't skiving off and reading about something more exciting, like the Portuguese Revolution or The Outcasts of Foolgarah (by Frank Hardy. It's a great book.) I took more than one girlfriend to see that table. Come up and see my fossils. It wasn't much, but it hardened them for the experience of seeing my bedsit. (Mouse footprints in the frying pan lard. Trace fossils! No, they weren't impressed either.) Anyway, I checked all the specimens I could find, including in the basement of the Natural History Museum where they keep the stuff not on public view: the dragon's egg, the Woking Martian, the Piltdown skull; and, more excitingly, the above mentioned bones of the arthritic crocodile and the original reconstruction of the hind foot, in a little tray lined with indented baize. I drew it and made notes. All the bones were flat, and the foot was a flat paddle.
Hat tip to wickerman for emailing me the link.


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