These objects are all marine specimens. But they are certainly not all from the same habitat, they span the ocean floor to the shoreline, the red-lit depths to the bright, sparkling space of the photic zone; anchored creatures to those that spend their lives traversing the open ocean.
Collectors have always produced catalogues of their collections. These have taken a wide variety of forms, from the luxurious to the basic; they could be taxonomic check-lists of contents, or lavish and erudite works explaining the cosmology of the collection. I wanted to see what would happen if I made a catalogue of my collection.
I have a cabinet containing most of my natural history collection in the corner of my flat. It's usually barely part of my conscious experience of my living space, but a thorough reworking recently proved to be a process of personal archaeology.
Corals are still seen by most people as still mineral-plants, not keystone animals. Changing our intuitive understandings of the value of natural things - which seems to have moved on little from the medieval Great Chain of Being- might help to stop biodiversity losses.
Dippy, the iconic cast of a diplodocus skeleton that has inhabited Natural History Museum's Hintze Hall for over a century, has been replaced by the sinuous curve of a blue whale skeleton diving from the ceiling.
"To the far north, on the coast of Norway, there lives a mighty creature, as big as an elephant, called the walrus or 'morse', perhaps so named for its sharp bite; for if it glimpses a man on the seashore and can catch him, it jumps on him swiftly, rends him with its teeth, and kills him in an instant"
Why do we want to bring extinct animals back from the dead? We already know how to play jiggsaw with genomes, roll out herds of clones, or store the biosphere's blueprints in gene banks, but resurrection or de-extinction is the ultimate reconstruction.
The Exoticorum libri decem (Ten books of exotics) (1605) was one of the first natural history works published in Europe dealing exclusively with novel exotic plants and animals. It was published by the scholar and naturalist Carolus Clusius (1526-1609), professor of botany at Leiden University, who's extensive network of merchants, scholars, collectors and apothecaries helped... Continue Reading →