Friday, March 13, 2009
According to the Daily Telegraph, the Natural History Museum recently published a list of all specimens from its collections that were stolen or lost over the last five years. Of course, the Telegraph article gleefully focussed on the theft of a dinosaur coprolite from an exhibit, which was an opportunity to put science director Richard Lane on the spot about the value of fossil crap (cue stock natural history collections answer about how all our specimens are unique and priceless, etc - to find out exactly how unique and priceless coprolites are, take a look here). The existence of fossil poo is a source of endless amusement to non-paleontologists ("it looks like poo, it came out of a dinosaur's bum, heheheh") and the fact that NHM is spending taxpayer's pounds on looking after it will be a source of outrage to the retired colonels and stockbrokers that make up the Telegraph's readership. But I was far more interested in the minutiae of the list that the Telegraph hinted at. A serial squirrel thief in Edinburgh? Beetles stolen from a car in Vienna? 22 conodonts hoovered up by mistake? These are the sorts of things that make museum life so fascinating. Anyone that's ever worked with a museum collection can reel off a whole bunch of such stories - fortunately for most of us, we don't have to publish them to the public.