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The Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL


The Grant Museum is a brilliant museum. When I was planning my trip to London I knew it was definitely one of the places I wanted to visit. It's not the biggest museum in the world. It doesn't have huge moving dinosaurs. It's not the best museum for toddlers (I know because I went with my baby brothers Sam and Harry). But if you are the tiniest bit interested in bones, or maybe just interested in cool or gross stuff you should definitely go.

Whoever picked the exhibits (or even just Robert Edmond Grant who set up the museum 170 years ago) seems to have a good idea of what's cool and what's not. Their jar of moles probably doesn't teach scientists anything but it's cool. (I bet more people go away talking about that than the tiger or quagga skeletons.) The micrarium (that's it at the top) is tiny but deeply cool. You could spend all day in there. Even the walrus baculum is cool, (but also slightly gross and weird to tell your mum about). Here's some of the other cool stuff:

When I first arrived Mark Carnall, who is the really nice and friendly curator there, gave me a tour even though he didn't have to. He showed me his favourites like the quagga skeleton (one of seven skeletons in the world, dad didn't get a picture, though), the partial dodo skeleton (dad didn't get that either, I'm going to sack him) and the dissected heads that the museum has a lot of. I've no idea how they dissect these, or how the head stays together afterwards. I've never seen anything like this in a museum before:

They seem to like pickled stuff. You don't see a lot of pickled mammals in museums these days. Here is an otter skull and pickled otter:

In my other post about the Grant I said they had signs which made you question things about the cost of conservation, which is a brilliant idea:

This sign on a dolphin skull says "Swimming with Dolphins: To ensure sightings, guides take tourists to areas where wild dolphins come to rest. Being denied proper rest time is very stressful". So it's a bit like bringing American tourists into the Queen's bedroom at night and waking her up in order to see her. So all those people who think they are more in touch with nature by swimming with dolphins are actually screwing nature up.

There's a big dugong skeleton. Dugongs have an amazing skull, like it was made of wax and then left near a fire:

At the other corner of the room was this tiger skeleton, which appears to be wearing handcuffs. The Grant Museum let you get really close, they really trust their visitors.

This koala seemed to have dislocated its shoulder though:

It was nice to see a golden eagle skull to compare with mine:

 And I don't think I'd ever seen a sloth bear skull before. It has an overbite like some breeds of dog like a bulldog:

There were some I was interested in because I am processing my own skeletons of them and am planning to rearticulate them, like this badger (mine is still rotting down)

...and this swan...

and this grey seal  (and walrus baculum, it was like a baseball bat. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about walrus penises.)

This walrus skull is above the baculum. He looks happy, as you probably do if you have a baculum like that.

I had never seen a cookie cutter shark before, but they take a bite of flesh at a time then keep the victim alive.

This crocodile skull was cool but it didn't seem to have any teeth.

I liked this display because you can see all three birds (sparrowhawk, bullfinch and cuckoo) close to my village:

They had some pretty cool rhino skulls that were quite different as well. This is a white rhino:

and this is a javan rhino:

and this hippo skull:

and this elephant skull which had the original holes from when it was shot:

I quite liked how the orangutan had been left in pieces:

and next to it were the ancestors of homo sapiens which was cool too:

The cabinets were stuffed full of stuff, so the harder you looked the more you saw, like these oxen eyeballs:

This is in the micrarium. It is a small room with three walls full of 2,000 slides with a lightbox behind. Much better than sticking them in a dusty drawer !

I'd agreed to meet Ben Garrod of Ben's Bones when I was there and he showed some of the coolest stuff, like this thinly sliced fox canine tooth:

and this one which he said was the saddest story of all because when sliced up the mother leech all the babies that were inside her tried to escape but they got squashed under the slide too and killed.

Meeting Ben Garrod was amazing. I have been emailing him and chatting for a long while now but this was the first time I had met him. (He helped a lot with my fox skeleton at Christmas). Ben showed me a lot of the stuff he liked, and showed me the articulations he was working on at the museum, and we talked about my book and his recent monkey dissecting expedition. We talked for ages and I would have liked to have talked for longer but my brothers were going a bit mental and mum was doing that thing where she makes her lips go thin so we had to go and get lunch.

The Grant museum reminds me a lot of the D'Arcy Thompson museum at the University of Dundee or the Bell Pettigrew museum in St Andrews. All three are university museums named after great Victorian collectors, none of them are big and all of them are brilliant. If I had to pick a favourite it would be the Grant museum because it was busy, friendly, and bit wacky too. It's also not full of bored tourists looking at things for the sake of looking at things, because it's off the main tourist routes. It's definitely worth visiting in London.

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Christine Sutcliffe said...

Ok, now I definitely want to see this place!
The dugong skull is so insane - it doesn't even really look like a skull at first glance! The room of slides is such an ingenious idea; those are exactly the kind of things that most people wouldn't be interested in much if they were displayed in boxes or drawers but having it floor to ceiling means that even really young children can appreciate them all at once.
I have to ask though, the jar of moles...is that moles as in small furry burrowing mammals or moles you find on the body? XD A jar of either is mad enough but I thought I'd ask anyway.

Jake said...

The mammal one ! http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology/collections/objects/pickled-moles

Christine Sutcliffe said...

Oh wow! That really is bizarre.

Michela said...


I'm planning a visit next week and I was wondering: approximately how long does it take to leisurely tour the whole museum?

Thank you!

Jake said...

The museum is quite small but there is a lot to see. I would say at least an hour, maybe an hour and a half. I think I was there for two and would have liked to stay there longer if my brothers hadn't been running about. Hope this helps !

Michela said...

Perfect, thank you!! :D

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