That belongs in a museum!

Somewhere off the Portuguese coast, rain pours down hard. Lightening flashes in the background. He lifts his bloodied face and smiles. He is surounded by four bad guys, held back and beaten. Even when the historical gold cross is taken from his bag, he still believes. He knows that object should be in a museum, and has no quarms is saying it, despite his predicament. Those words, “that belongs in a museum”, spoken with passion by Indiana Jones, are inscribed above every museum curators door. Well, they should be. Too often do we see things sold to private collectors, and I have even seen specimens on eBay. More often than not there is nothing we can do but watch as unique objects go off to the highest bidder.

Yep. That's me. Just telling that lady who asked about the auction house what she should really do with it. (From here.)

He  stood his ground for what he belived in. Damn it Indy, you are so right. (From here)

 

Sometimes there may be something we are able to do. Or at least try.

Recently I saw a large collection go to a University. Not a University Museum – they live by the same rules as other museums. University Museums have curators, catalogues of collections, databases, and do some real cool things with their specimens. This collection went to a University teaching collection.

This is a shame, because those specimens, with their own little stories will be used just for teaching – and this is a pretty limited audience. Only the students and a handful of lecturers will see the collections. Some universities do an open day once a year, and bring out some of their teaching collections (I have helped out with some over the years and they often bring out the same specimens, so the rest are kept in behind closed doors). Anyone wanting to carry out any research on the collections needs to know the collections are there – and these will be the university lecturers and a few select students. Even if there is research carried out on them, perhaps a dozen people may read the scientific paper.

I have nothing against University teaching collections – in fact they are excellent at giving the students a chance to see real specimens instead of images on a presentation.

The good, the bad and the ugly

I emailed around to museums to see if there were any experiences with University teaching collections they wouldn’t mind sharing. I heard back from a dozen colleagues with a mixture of good and bad experiences. One University transferred their dinosaur footprint collection to a museum, which was fully documented and included lots of additional data and has subsequently been researched on. A museum took on a University’s entire herbarium collection (over 10,000 specimens) and rescued a Diptera collection which was being badly attacked by pests: both collections had good data. One University Museum holds the teaching collections from three Universities with about 80% information associated with the specimens (one of the collections was from a University with a University Museum!?!).

There are also some not-so-great examples. Some teaching collections were taken by another museum which had very little data associated with them, and were in very poor condition – any old documentation was chaotic and curators are still attempting to identify specimens over 30 years later. Another teaching collection has some fantastic skeletal and taxidermy specimens from all over the world, but no data with them at all, and are very badly eaten. Some years ago a museum took an entire geology teaching collection which had very little data with the specimens at all: the museum spent a long time with volunteers and members of the Russell Society on identifying them, eventually keeping just a fraction of the collection.

An amazing collection of primate skulls, including several of the same species. Lots of potential use with these specimens. But, they have no information with them, and no one knows they are there.

An amazing collection of primate skulls, including several of the same species. Lots of potential use with these specimens. But, they have no information with them, and no one knows they are there.

 

An enormous herbaria collection was almost disposed of but quickly taken in by a museum. It held teaching specimens, PhD research specimens as well as individuals own collections. This took years of volunteers who knew botany to go through and assess the material. Lots had little or no information with them, but the collection did hold some really rare and unique specimens. Just to think that they were almost thrown in the bin.

Some very ugly examples were also brought to life by colleagues. A University disposed of their geological collections with very poor data, and are now with a private individual. In the 1980s another University closed its Geology department, and skipped their teaching collections and students were told that they could take specimens from the skip. A few years ago a University skipped their entire teaching collections only for museum curators to hear about it after it was too late. The loss of unique and potentially important specimens must have been huge.

 

Just one drawer of several from a University teaching collection. The moths have been eaten and completely destroyed.

Just one drawer of several from a University teaching collection. The moths have been eaten and completely destroyed.

 

Hmmm. So there seems to be a few problems with University teaching collections:

– information with the specimens is lost, or not kept.

– the specimens are not cared for and get eaten/damaged/lost.

These are just a few examples. Not all University teaching collections are poorly looked after. There are however enough examples to warrant a little concern.

 

That belongs in a museum.

Of course specimens should be offered/donated to a museum first. Collections with information with them should be held in a relevant public institution so they can be accessed by anyone. The collections get cared for, and one hundred times the use!  Donating to a relevant museum strengthens their collections by filling gaps, adding unique stories, and encouraging more researchers, artists, school groups, and public through new displays. This also makes it easier to identify where to go if you were looking for specific things from a certain area. Someone wanting to look at bat specimens from Devon would not go to a museum in Newcastle.

The group that is often said to be the biggest users of teh collections are researchers. While it is true all museums have researchers using the unique, histoical collections, there is more. So much more that we should be shouting about! Collections are used for much more than research. There are probably many more examples of uses, but I will just share some of my own: I have artists each year coming in and taking inspiration from the collections; I bring specimens out and give talks about the local collections to local community groups; I have been out with local specimens to talk to elderly people suffering from dementia; I set up practical sessions using collections for undergraduate students to get up close and see real specimens. I bring bugs, fossils and skeletons out to schools inspiring hundreds of children every year; I have brought out the collections and their stories to people in shopping centres, the local hospital, the university and other places around the city. Museum collections not only are for active research, they have an even greater role in society: they are actively inspiring.

My fantastic old apprentice, Hayleigh, leading an interactive session about skulls and bones with enthusiastic children.

My fantastic old apprentice, Hayleigh, leading an interactive session about skulls and bones with enthusiastic children.

 

What can be done?

Unfortunatley, the worst things about University teaching collections is the lack of any information with specimens, and the poor condition they are kept in. I have worked closely with three Universities, and I know that teaching colelctions are built up by individuals who are particularly interested in that area. They generally don’t record where specimens were from or when they were colelcted, because for teaching taxonomy this information isn’t needed. When the lecturer retires, or departments closed, then Unviersities get rid of these teaching collections. And if we are fortunate enough, a museum may get wind and rescue the collection from the skip. The difference with a museum is that a curator can carry on from their predecesor. In a University, if that lecturer leaves, there is no one to take over their teaching collection.

The teaching collections are often in such bad condition that musuems have had a difficult time checking what the specimens actually are. Bluntly put, I think the specimens are better off in a museum in the first place. They can be cared for and used much more. I have used collections for teaching University students. Why not have the ‘teaching collections’ in a museum and Universities use them through the museum?

Unfortunately there is no law saying that they should be offered to museums first. Maybe museums need to talk more to universities to offer advice on how to look after their teaching collections. I have written a report for one teaching collection offering advice on safe storage, and ways of finding out the historical information about the specimens. I am working closely with another University to help digitise and care for their herbaria collection. Two other museums I know encourage undergraduates to donate their finds from their dissertation projects and how to record information correctly. These examples help build relationships between the museum to the University.

Today many University departments are closing because there is less demand for degrees in plant sciences or zoology. As they close, the teaching collections with them are thrown out. Perhaps teaching collections would be better housed in a museum in the first place.

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The flamboyant cast

Another Bad Cast for your pleasure. Here we have a pretty small cast of a trilobite. You can just make out the outline of this specimen.

Just. But it is a trilobite.

There is a cast of a trilobite on this image. There really is.

There is a cast of a trilobite on this image. There really is.

Unfortunately, as is a recurring theme with these bad casts, this specimen does not convey the true flamboyance of this type of trilobite. It is a cast from the extravagant trilobite family Thysanopeltid. Species in this family of these extinct arthropods are noted for their big gabella (which is the bulging bit in the centre of the head). They also have very elaborate pygidiums (the ‘tail’ segment): almost as long as the main body in some species.

A beautifully preserved (Image from here)

A beautifully preserved Scabriscutellum sp. from Morocco. Note the very elongated tail section (towards the left of the image). (Image from here)

As with all trilobites, they lived in the marine environment. With their large eyes, and relatively flat, streamlined bodies, these unusual trilobites likely lived in the shallow coastal areas where there was light. Staying close to the sandy or muddy floor, they would have scurried along feeding on the tiny organisms in the water as they went.

These were creatures of the Devonian. From around 410 to 358 million years ago, several species from this family were swimming in the warm seas. From Morrocco, North America, and South England, this was a successful family.

The land was slowly being colonised by plants in the Devonian, with some primitive insects scuttling through these alien forests. The seas were different: they were rich, full of diverse life.  With giant armoured fish longer than me, coral reefs, and hundreds of different types of trilobites, this was a world owned by the marine creatures. Stepping barefoot into shallow Devononian waters, you would feel the tickle of trilobites running furiously over your feet, while others swimming would accidently bump into your legs. It was a wonderful world.

Towards the end of the Devonian the fossil record shows that there was a huge extinction event, with numerous families of trilobites, ammonites, corals, and some land animals vanishing forever. Around 22% of families had gone, and 75% of species. The causes may have been due to a meteorite impact, or the changing atmosphere due to the spread of the land plants. It was, and still is, a very fragile planet where slight changes have extremely dramatic effects.

Around half of the bad casts at the museum are trilobites. I get why. Plymouth is on very hard, tough limestone. What fossils have survived 400 million years of crushing, burial, heat and uplift, are fragments of corals or sea shells. When the museum opened, like all museums, they wanted to represent life past and present. Without real fossils to purchase, casts were the next best thing. Apparently.

Did they have to be so bad? We will never know why someone, 100 years ago, spent many shillings on so many bad casts. What is worse for this particular cast, is that species from this wonderful family, Thysanopeltid, have been found in Newton Abbot. Rocks, which are only 40 minutes away. 40 minutes away. Instead of looking for the real thing, we have ended up with this bad cast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The beauty of the beast

I will admit it. I am fond of this weeks bad cast. The cast is not unique or unusual. Nor is it particularly striking. The beauty of this beast is unseen.

A familiar cast? It is of course, the wonderful Archaeopteryx.

A familiar cast? It is of course, the wonderful Archaeopteryx.

You will immediately recognise this cast: Archaeopteryx. A cast of one of the most famous fossils in history. Preserved almost perfectly for around 150 million years, this is a truly beautiful creature. The preservation on the real fossil is so incredible even the feathers have been fossilised. This is down to the exquisite limestone they have been encapsulated for an immense period of time: the Solnhofen Limestone.

The limestone in Solnhofen, Germany, has been quarried for centuries. Forming around 150 million years ago this was once at the edge of the now extinct Tethys Sea. Here, there was a beautiful, sparkling lagoon. Beautiful but deadly. With the salinity so high, no organisms could live here. This was good news for future palaeontologists, because no organisms in the lagoon means there is nothing to eat anything that falls into it. Added to this was the incredibly fine carbonate mud falling to the bottom. So not only was anything that fell into the lagoon protected from scavengers, their bodies were covered in extremely fine sediment. The result – exquisitely gorgeous fossils including plants, insects, pterosaurs, and of course Archaeopteryx.

Admittedly it is not the most detailed cast ever produced. Made with a rather thick, powdery Plaster of Paris, you can only just make out the outline of the wings. Today, fine resins make much more detailed casts of fossils, often reproducing the smallest of details.

This cast is certainly not rare. Almost every museum in the UK will have a copy of this famous specimen. So confident that you are guaranteed to see this cast, my chum at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, Mark Carnall, included it in his slightly tongue-in-cheek, ‘Museum Bingo’. Here you take the Museum Bingo card into a museum and cross off the specimens you see. More often than not, you will shout ‘Bingo’!

And it is true. There are plenty of them about. I have seen an Archaeopteryx proudly displayed in a case right next to the front doors welcoming all visitors. In another museum, a quirky ‘real life’ model of an Archaeopteryx is perched valiantly next to the cast. One museum goes one step further and boldly places the cast on the wall to explain bird evolution: it is the only specimen on the wall and I am really sure it works.

So why, if nearly every museum in the UK has a copy, do I have such a secret crush on this bad cast?

True beauty is not in what something looks like. Something that appears beautiful can actually be quite the opposite. I have known a couple of people whom many would say are beautiful. They have strong features, soft skin, big eyes. But to me, they were not beautiful. They lacked personality, humour, empathy, kindness, or warmth. These are the features that make someone (or something) beautiful. The ability to make someone smile; to have interesting, engaging chats; to understand others and to have that warmth of kindness in their eyes. There are so many truly beautiful people in the world. And it is their beauty that really shines.

This Archaeopteryx cast is beautiful. There are only 12 specimens of Archaeopteryx in museums in the world. Twelve. Being so rare, not every museum can hold a specimen. But that doesn’t stop every museum from wanting one. Because these were amazing animals.

Archaeopteryx is one of those ancient animals that have caused heated debate ever since it was first discovered. It is incredible because it has gorgeously preserved feathers; real, long, asymmetrical feathers, which are used in birds today for flight. But there are traits in this creature that cannot be seen in birds today:

  • Archaeopteryx had fingers: birds today have three fingers (digits ii, iii, and iv) which have shrunk or fused to form an extra one in the wing.
  • Archaeopteryx clearly has teeth: birds today lack teeth in their beaks. Some chicks have an ‘egg tooth’ to help them get out of the egg when they hatch.
  • Archaeopteryx had several bones in its tail: birds today have a small number of 5 or 6 tail bones fused together (called the pygostyle).

A strange creature indeed. And it clearly shows a very close relationship between dinosaurs and birds. Although maybe not a direct ancestor for modern birds, this was a very early type of bird which had wings for flying.

And even after 150 years after it was first discovered, we are still learning new things about this ancient bird. In 20122 a team used the incredibly powerful Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) to look a feather of Archaeopteryx. Zooming in at such a high magnification brings out features that have not been seen before, including structures of melanosomes: the cells which store the colour of the feather. The team compared the structures to many other bird melanosomes, and it showed this feather was very likely black. Another study looking at more feathers indicated that some were dark and light. Each new fascinating bit of research adds a little extra detail to this enigmatic bird.

Using the bad cast. I like to use Archaeopteryx at events. This week I have been running an event for Science Week. School shave been learning about bird anatomy, plus a little bit of evolutionary history.

Using the bad cast. I like to use Archaeopteryx at events. This week I have been running an event for Science Week. Schools have been learning about bird anatomy, plus a little bit of evolutionary history.

All of these great features, and the historical tales of great debates of Archaeopteryx, make this a wonderful fossil to have a cast of. Does it matter that it is a cast? Not really, no. It was cast from the original fossil. And the cast can be used in many different ways. Many museums have it on display. I don’t. I actually use it for talking to schools or families about anatomy, evolution, adaptation, fossils, history of science…This is one of my regulars I get out for events. And it never fails to impress.

The beauty of this Archaeopteryx cast is it’s ability to inspire. Talking to people of all ages and letting them get up close to this fossil, give a real sense of awesomeness. It may not be the most perfect cast, but goodness me, it really is the most beautiful.

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Hidden beauty

They are back. After a little break, mainly to digest their pure awfulness, bad casts are back. This plaster cast of a real fossil is as bad as you would expect. (And I must remind you, that all the casts in this series are real casts.)

I’m not really sure what this bad cast looks like. But I do know that is looks nothing like the fossil it was cast from. This is another trilobite. Paying homage to the ghost in the rock, this rather blurry replica, gives little detail for the viewer to drool over. Which is a shame, because it is actually from a really cool group of trilobites.

 

A squashed bug you say? Nope. That's a cast of a trilobite.

A squashed bug you say? Nope. That’s a cast of a trilobite.

 

This rectangular slab of plaster does have an museum number with it, and an accession card! That is pretty exciting, because the accession card is a record of all the associated information with that specimen. (Today we have computer databases, but 100 years ago, there were wonderful accession cards.) Very exciting. Well, it would be, if the accession card had any information on it!

Written on the card is ‘Plaster cast white slab’. Yep. Got that.

Then it gives the measurements ‘5 ¼ x 4 ¾’. Pretty pointless.

Finally, the card tells us that this specimen was given by the crooksters Gregory and Gregory. (See previous posts. Several of these bad casts have been sold by those two.)

Accession cards should have information about where the specimen came from, who collected it, when it was collected and any other information. That is standard for museum objects. Without that information, the object may be pretty fro display or education, but scientifically useless.

My trilobite identification skills are not amazing. So I sent an image of this (and several other bad casts) to colleagues at the Natural History Museum, London. They were awesome and identified them as best they could, despite the fact that they were so bad. This trilobite was placed in the Family Cheiruridae. This was a fairly large family with around 83 different Genera, and numerous different species. These are a pretty cool Family of trilobites. With elaborate head spines, and extra large spines growing from the bottom, they are a distinctive group.

Trilobites are sadly now extinct, but they were a very successful group of invertebrates. The first fossils of them can be found at the very beginning of the Cambrian Period (around 520 million years ago), and they evolved to live in a huge number of marine environments. A hard, but thanks to the segments on the thorax, flexible outer shell protected the creature from most predators. Some groups grew elaborate spines from their backs, adding a little extra protection. Others we happy to be incredible simple looking. What a great group of animals. Hidden under the tough outer shell were two dozen or so little legs, each with gills on, furiously kicking giving the illusion of an animal elegantly gliding through the water.

The Family Cheiruridae first appear around 485 million years ago, and vanished around 360 million years ago. That is a long time for a Family to be on the planet. (The Family to which humans are in, along with the great apes, the Hominidae, have only been around for around 14 million years.) And they were are pretty stunning Family too.

A beautiful fossil of Paraceraurus exsul, from Russia. This little beast would have been swimming int eh waters (Image from here)

A beautiful fossil of Paraceraurus exsul, from Russia. This little beast would have been swimming in the waters around 460 million years ago.(Image from here)

Unfortunately we only got the Family for this trilobite cast. Such a terrible reproduction means a positive identification is very tricky. But I do know more than I did about this cast than I did before. These were beautiful animals. Scanning images online of the fossils (here), the detail in the preservation is incredible. Over 400 million years old, and they are exquisite.

It is such a shame that this cast is just so bad. It tells a tale of the beauty and diversity of trilobites. But to look at it, one would never know.

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An insect in amber

Trees bleed. When a part of the tree is damaged, a thick  liquid slowly oozes out. This liquid aims to quickly clog the hole made, preventing unwanted guests from getting inside. Not too dissimilar to our blood when we bleed. This ‘blood’, known as resin, oozes out to protect the tree if it is damaged. (Sap is different from resin. Sap moves through plants to make sure all parts get the nutrients they need.). This resin, thicker than golden syrup will seep and cover anything in its way. Including animals.

Lizards and frogs have been known to become stuck and slowly entombed by this sticky, deadly fluid. But the most common animals to be trapped in a trees resin are insects. Trees are a metropolis for insects: hundreds of insects  live under bark, inside cracks, on leaves, and inbetween branches. (I have lead lots of mini-beast hunts, and my favourite part is getting the families to open up some umbrellas and place them upside down beneath a tree. Then they shake the branches. From an whole hidden world on the tree fall dozens of tiny insects and spiders. The look of pure amazement on their faces is incredible: they never imagined that so many animals lived there).

Resin is pretty cool stuff. It traps small animals, and then hardens so fast that they are perfectly preserved. What is even cooler, is that the resin itself has been preserved. For millions of years. Hardened, fossilised, resin is known as amber. As perfect as the day they died, animals can be seen trapped inside.

On Friday, an enquirer came into the museum with an amber ring. She thought there was an insect inside. I walked over, not expecting much: in museums we get lots of enquiries where people have ‘found a meteorite’ or a piece of amber with a perfect insect.

This amber ring did have an insect inside. I was intrigued.

It was tricky to see what it was, so I invited her, her 11 year old and 4 year old  to my office to peer at the insect under a microscope. I don’t know who was more excited when they peeked down and saw the insect in beautiful detail; me or the 11 year old.

A close up of the insect inside the amber. This is the best shot after several attempts of holding my camera phone over the microscope eye piece. Not too bad.

A close up of the insect inside the amber. This is the best shot after several attempts of holding my camera phone over the microscope eye piece. Not too bad.

As a general natural history curator, I know a little entomology. I know my Coleoptera (beetle) from my Hymenoptera (bees, ants, wasps). Even then within groups, I can identify some of the more familiar ones. Looking at this beautiful insect, it was obvious it was a fly: all flies (Order Diptera) have just one pair of wings, and this persevered beauty had one pair. I was quite pleased with myself.

But, there are over 240,000 different species of flies!

The mother was happy with the identification of ‘a fly’. The 11 year old was over the moon! But I wanted more. I was lucky to get a reasonable photo from my awful camera phone down the microscope. I posted the images on Twitter, as part of the incredibly popular #FossilFriday. I wasn’t expecting any feedback on the fly, but was secretly hoping there would be some!

A good old friend (@FlyGirlNHM) at the Natural History Museum, London, was quite interested, as she is a fly expert (yep, they do exist). She shared the photo, and someone (thank you Morgan Jackson @BioInFocus) managed to identify it as belonging to possibly the SuperFamily Tephritoidea. To narrow it down to belonging to one of just eight Families (out of around 140 different families) is amazing!

There was no information about where the amber had originally come from, so I dont know how old this little fly is. It was brought from Norwich, but that’s all I know. Most amber found in Britain is though to be Baltic amber. If this piece was, then this little fly is around 40 million years old.

There was one last intriguing discovery on the amber. It had been drilled. Right down to the abdomen of the little fly. Perhaps after watching Jurassic Park someone though that this abdomen was full of blood. Although mosquito are a type of fly, the fly in amber lacked the pointy needle mouth. Strange to see such a perfectly drilled hole. Stranger to imagine why the hole was drilled. I am pretty certain that no one has cloned a 40 million year old fly. Pretty certain.

This was something very unusua. The piece of amber had been drilled right down to the body of the insect.

This was something very unusual. The piece of amber had been drilled right down to the body of the insect.

 

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Belemnites and battleships

FromShanklin

On Sunday 7th November, the small historic town of Totnes in Devon stood still. Quietness floated down the steep Elizabethan high street, where the large crowd of locals stood. A trumpet softly played ‘The Last Post’, while a small flock of pigeons slapped their wings as they flew as one above us.

Remembrance Sunday is held on the closest Sunday to the 11th November; the date the First World War ended. It is a time to remember those who have given their lives for their country.

Often we are so busy we don’t actually get the time to stop and think. Everyday life is hectic: as hectic as we make it. This is what makes Remembrance Sunday special. For two minutes at 11am people stand in silence together and remember. The two minutes silence is held again on the 11th November. It allows people…

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A cast not worthy

If you were expecting another terrible cast today, you will not be disappointed. This week we meet another really awesome creature, only to be bitterly disgusted by another truly Bad Cast. Can we really be saddened by another cast of a fossil that looks nothing like the fossil? From what we have seen in the twenty other bad casts, we should really expect it. But, even seeing what I have seen, I am still shocked at the poor quality, lack of detail, and pure shoddiness of these casts. And here is another.

I have seen a lot of real fossils in my time, and this cast doesn’t even attempt to look anything like its original. With it’s 1970s sickly brown colour and thick, ugly, visible brush strokes, there was clearly no love in making this cast.

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Beautiful. Just beautiful, with a hint of sarcasm.

Almost as an afterthought, because the brown chosen for this cast was so bad, the makers have added a few strokes of crapness to the cast. On the bottom jaw, there are a few brush strokes of darker brown paint, and a few on the top right. I can’t think why they did this, as it adds no detail or beauty to the cast. Flabbergasted is the only word for this cast: it was a ‘professionally’ made cast, from a real fossil.

But here it is and we must make what we can of it. Clearly it’s life as a museum object has been one of neglect: bad storage, poor handling and no respect shown by the chipped paint, random splotch of red in the top middle, and a strange number scribbled onto it.

Just in case it is not obvious, this is a cast of a skull. Luckily, the label tells me what creature it was based on; Hyaenodon brachyrhynchus. Although the name sounds like it was a type of hyena, it wasn’t. The name means ‘hyena toothed’ (but you cant really see that from this crap cast). Hyaenodons were a really cool group of carnivores that belonged to an extinct group called Creodonts. All creodonts are now extinct, replaced by more successful carnivores, like the lovely cuddly ones we know so well, the Felids.

There were at least 42 different species belong to the Hyaenodon family, and they were around for over 26 million years. The skull was pretty chunky and you can see the small ridge on the head which would have held large muscles for chomping meat. These animals cut and sliced meat; their teeth were not strong enough to crunch bone like hyenas today.

Now this is what a fossil looks like. A skull of Hyaenodon cyluxi. (Image from here)

Now this is what a fossil looks like. A skull of Hyaenodon cyluxi. (Image from here)

This wasn’t a massive creature. The bad cast would sit comfortably in the palm of my hand. Species varied in size, with some as big as modern day hyenas, and others as small as a weasel. Our bad cast, Hyaenodon brachyrhynchus was living in the Old World during the Miocene (around 20 – 6 million years ago). There were species running around America, Europe and Asia; this was a very successful group of carnivores.

Hyaenodons were the top predators in their environment. It is not clear why they became extinct, around 8 million years ago, but it could be that competition from mammals with more stamina, greater speed and bigger brains pushed them to the edge. Whatever the cause of these amazing animals vanishing, I am left with this bad cast.

 

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