Easter Egg Hunt!

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Tray of eggs from the Newall Egg Collection

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Four-legged duckling

I once had to disappoint a very excited young Etonian who came into the Museum asking me where the four-foot duck was on display.  He had misheard one of his peers, of course: we don’t have a duck which is 1.2m tall!  But one of the most iconic specimens in Eton’s Natural History Museum, and certainly the most inquired after by Old Etonians who return to the Museum, sometimes after many years, is our duckling with four feet!  The duckling is an example of a conjoined twin, as is our equally iconic two-headed kitten.  Both are examples of what used to be known as Siamese twins but are now more properly referred to as conjoined twins.  This phenomenon occurs when a single embryo divides partially but not completely.  In humans this is a very rare event (say, 1 in 100,000 or so) but it is reported to be more common in ducks.

As we approach Easter, we might reasonably turn our thoughts from emblematic ducklings and kittens to eggs.  The Museum’s Newall egg collection dates from the last quarter of the nineteenth century and is drawn from around the northern hemisphere with eggs from Alaska to Archangel down to the Bahamas, Astrakhan, Texas and Southern Spain.

Data-rich historical collections such as this are especially important to scientists as a source of information on the lives and past distributions of bird populations.  Oologists use these collections to study phenology, the timing of the seasonal laying of eggs in relation to climate change and other factors.  Collections can also ascertain whether a species’ range has changed by examining where the nests were found.

Guillemot Eggs

Guillemot Egg display

Egg collectors were fascinated by the variety of sizes, shapes and patterns seen in eggs.  Guillemot eggs in particular were noted for their variability, and it is said that variations in pattern and colouring allow adults to recognise their own eggs within a dense colony of sea birds.  The Eton Natural History Museum has a collection of over 90 such eggs to make precisely this point.

You can watch the Curator talking about eggs on the link below.

Have a Happy Easter!

 

George Fussey

Curator, Natural History Museum

The Eton College Natural History Museum in South Meadow Lane is open to the public on Sundays, from 2.30pm until 5pm; we are closed Easter Sunday. It is Berkshire’s only dedicated Natural History Museum, a family friendly museum with over 17,000 objects and features numerous displays showing the wildlife of the Thames Valley.

Contact us: g.fussey@etoncollege.org.uk or by phone on 370602.

Conservation of Ancient Egyptian mummification: call the specialist!

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A highlight of the popular Antiquities collection at Eton College is the mummification display. Recently we noticed that some of the wrappings on the mummified heads were starting to shed and come loose. To understand why this was happening and to repair the damage we brought in Jenny Mathiasson who specializes in the conservation of antiquities and human remains. Over two days we worked together treating every object in the display. After initial examination of the objects we determined the likely cause of the deterioration was due to extreme changes in the humidity within the case. Organic specimens can react quite violently to humidity changes. This coupled with their age and fragility meant interventive treatment was necessary to stabilize them for the future and prevent the permanent loss of any original material.

The stabilization was carried out in two parts. First, areas of flaking linen wrappings were consolidated and once completed the larger strips of linen could then be relaxed back into their original places and re attached. It was important to work with adhesives that would complement the original materials and to test a variety of strengths until the best solution was found. In our case we chose to use cellulose based adhesives such as 2% methylcellulose in a 50/50 solution of IMS (alcohol) and deionized water and wheat starch paste in deionized water. The methylcellulose adhesive was low tack and could be wicked up easily by the linen so it was ideal for consolidating the flaking edges of the wrappings. The wheat starch paste was higher tack and more viscous so it was ideal for re-adhering the larger strips of linen back in their original positions.

The final stage of the treatment was to re-position the object on their mounts as some had shifted slightly over time. Overall we were able to stabilize three mummified human heads, a mummified falcon, a mummified kitten and two mummified human hands.

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To prevent damage like this from reoccurring there is a humidity control system installed within the case, which will keep our mummified objects comfortable for years to come.

A huge thanks to Jenny Mathiasson for her expertise and to David Goode and Hawtrey House for hosting Jenny during her time at Eton.

Aimée Sims

Conservation Steward