The rest of the iceberg

Feb 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Working in a museum is an awesome experience. It's something I wanted to do since the age of four and I've been incredibly fortunate to get established in this highly competitive field. The role of a curator is particularly rewarding since we get to research collections and bring some hidden treasures out into the light of day (figuratively speaking of course, our head of Conservation would be very disapproving if we did that literally).

Unfortunately, no matter how much material we manage to put on display, the vast majority of collections are kept in storage since there is simply too little room to display everything. This means that what you see in showcases is very much the tip of the iceberg; at the Horniman Museum for instance it is estimated that 95% of the collections are in storage. Of course some people are critical of this and want to see more material on display, whilst others subscribe to the less-is-more philosophy in exhibitions (see point 8 ), but being in storage doesn't mean that the collections don't get used - far from it. Researchers, artists and members of the public use the stored collections for all sorts of projects - in fact, we even refer to our stored objects as our study collections.

Exhibition space limitations aside, much of what we have in storage wouldn't be considered to be particularly interesting if it did go on display. Some specimens are very small and plenty are by no means pretty. Many can't tell an interesting story without an awful lot of additional information and prior knowledge. As a curator I have a desire (and indeed a duty) to provide some of the information and knowledge needed to make objects relevant and interesting. As a technophile I think that the Internet provides a fantastic medium for doing this, which is why I started a blog back in 2009. This has provided an opportunity to show a tiny glimpse of the rest of the iceberg.

Damage by the ivory-eating squirrel, the odd object in storage that inspired the first Friday mystery object

So for 83 weeks in a row I have posted an image of an object and I've asked a simple question relating to it (usually I ask for an identification). The responses to my question gives me an opportunity to gauge how self-explanatory an object is and it also provides an insight into how objects are perceived by a varied audience. Then when I provide an answer to my question the following Monday I get the chance to provide a greater depth of information.

This Friday I've decided to use a particularly challenging object, that a few people will identify immediately because it is so distinctive, but anyone who hasn't seen one before is likely to struggle a bit. Can you work out what type of bone this is and which species it comes from?

(N.B. this is the same bone photographed from different sides - click for bigger)

For those few that are in the know perhaps you could drop hints rather than blurting out the answer and I hope that everyone else will feel free to ask for clues or make a note of their thoughts about this specimen in the comments section below. Good luck!

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