Category Archives: Conservators

02 Cotton buds and plumber’s tape | #NHM_Live

The Museum’s conservators were the stars of our second broadcast in the first #NHM_Live series, where we took a look at how they repair and maintain the millions of specimens in the collections.

Camilla Tham and Alison Shean were joined by conservators Arianna Bernucci and Cheryl Lynn to talk about mummified cats, Archaeopteryx, 1.3 kg of dust from a single specimen and some of the major specimens that will feature in the upcoming #Whales: Beneath the Surface exhibition.

To see more of their work, take a look at the #NHM_Conservators tag on Instagram.

Whale preparation: conserving the blue whale skeleton and planning articulation | Conservators

It has been several months since my last post looking at blue whale on the move but finally the long process of cleaning and conserving each individual bone has been successfully completed and the conservators are now just embarking on surface scanning the bones in high definition. Conservation can be an extremely slow process but it is worth the time and effort. During the past 9 months the team have cleaned and conserved over 220 individual bones. This equates to over 110m2 of whale bone surface area.

Photo showing a man kneeling inside a scale model of the Museum's Hintze Hall, manipulating part of the spine of the scale model of the whale hanging within it. The model is approximately the same size as the man.

Articulation of the blue whale using a 3D printed scale model

During this time we also planned the final position and articulation of the whale for its suspension in Hintze Hall so the armature design could commence.  This post outlines the conservation treatment and articulation planning phase of this project.

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Blue whale on the move: the de-installation of the skeleton | Conservators

Although it’s only been a few weeks since I looked at ‘what lies beneath,’ it feels like a lifetime as so much has happened to our blue whale skeleton in a relatively short space of time. The biggest challenge of de-installing the skeleton from the Mammals Hall has been completed with resounding success and the Conservators are now busy with the next phase of cleaning and conserving each individual bone.

Photo of the vertebra from above, wrapped in tape with a label to describe its position on the skeleton,

The first caudal vertebra, showing the metal loop used to keep it in place on the armature

We all knew that safely removing the bones from the 81 year old armature was not going to be easy. Add in the fact that it was suspended over a large model of a blue whale and several other specimens with very little room for manoeuvre and you start to appreciate the whale-sized nature of the project. This post outlines what happened during the de-install.

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What lies beneath: dusting and documenting the blue whale skeleton | Conservators

The team have been busy in the 3 weeks since my last post, studying the blue whale skeleton and documenting its condition. The first stage was to record the initial condition of the skeleton, including the coating of dust that has accumulated over time, and to start to identify areas which would require attention prior to dismantling.

Photo showing the dusty vertebra close up

Thoracic vertebrae coated in dust and also showing an area where a metal support has failed.

Dust particles that are deposited on museum objects will typically consist of fibrous material (aka “fluff”) and non-fibrous particulates. Dust is hygroscopic and can accelerate biological, chemical and physical deterioration of specimens and even though it is over 6 metres above the ground, the whale skeleton is a dust attractor so a regular cleaning schedule is important where practicable. On this occasion, over 1.3 kilos of dust was removed from the blue whale skeleton during this initial clean.

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Up in the air: the beginnings of a whale-sized conservation project | Conservators

The stunning 25 metre long skeleton of a blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) currently suspended in the Museum’s Mammals and blue whale gallery since 1934 is to be taken down in January 2016. After an extensive period of cleaning and conservation it will then be re-suspended from the ceiling of the Hintze Hall in the summer of 2017.

Photo of the blue whale skeleton from head-on and below.

Head-on view the blue whale skeleton prior to scaffolding being put in place.

Photo showing the scaffolding from the rear, left side view

The scaffolding in place around the blue whale skeleton, with the model of the blue whale below.

Following months of careful consideration the blue whale skeleton has been chosen to take centre stage at the Museum, to give an immediate introduction that illustrates our research into the rich biodiversity of life on Earth and a sustainable future, as well as the origins and evolution of that life.

Moving a blue whale around is quite literally an enormous project which involves many specialists including curators, project managers, scaffolders, structural engineers, specimen handlers, and mount makers, to name but a few. Central to this project are the conservators who will be ensuring the skeleton is given the due care and attention it needs.

So exactly how do you work on a large specimen suspended over 6 metres above the ground with many other specimens and models surrounding it? That’s the story we aim to tell in our upcoming posts in our new Conservators blog.

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