Category Archives: Community
What is 14 m long, rather smelly and comes out of the ground of a local wood: our whale skeleton!
And thanks to all you Name the Whale voters, we can now refer to it as Drigg or Driggsby!
To quickly recap: not so long ago, and not so far away, our Sei whale, Driggsby, died on Drigg beach, West Cumbria around February 2014 and we recovered the skeleton that August. An ambitious campaign to mount the skeleton in the Museum began. Burying the specimen with sand and compost encouraged decomposition of remaining flesh. Whilst a few of those bones were ready to store in the Museum (and exhibit) last October, most of the specimen had been sitting underground in a local wood, waiting patiently for our return…… (I hope this doesn’t read like a Star Wars intro too much).
I had been eagerly awaiting this April for some time. It was an exciting prospect to bring Driggsby to its new home at Tullie. So when I received an e-mail early in April from my predecessor Stephen Hewitt, who was involved with the recovery of the skeleton in 2014, that the specimen had been dug up from the ground and was now suitably “skeleton-ised” enough so that it could be brought to the Museum, my heart jumped with joy.
However, there was much planning to do. For instance, we needed to arrange a large vehicle (kindly driven by Carlisle Scaffolding) to pick up the specimen. But now the adventure could begin.
As our large 10 m long truck pulled away from Tullie House, we eagerly anticipated inspecting our specimen. With our full protective suits and large, blue nitrile gloves, our team of six looked like we had just escaped from a laboratory (Personal Protective Equipment is not fashion-conscious!). However, as we discovered, we would need all this gear with all the challenges that Driggsby was about to throw at us.
After we entered the local wood, we pulled up next to a large, blue tarpaulin cover, at the side of the road; this was the “X” on my (mental) treasure map. This is where I had been told Driggsby had been stored, after she (or he) was dug up. Eagerly I pulled back the cover to reveal dozens of bones of various different sizes. In the middle, the neck vertebrae (cervicals) were stacked up alongside lumbar and thoracic vertebrae. At the side, a huge bar curved around these bones: one of the lower bones in the jaw or mandible. It seems Christmas had come early…
Each bone was coated in sand and compost giving it a, technically speaking, ‘messy’ feel. Now, our “bone-athun” began, loading heavy specimens carefully onto the bubblewrap lined vehicle. It was amazing how quickly we got through such a huge roll of bubblewrap, as we carefully packed around each element to prevent movement and subsequent damage. My advice to anyone planning this kind of project: you can never have too much bubblewrap!
Just after we got into our stride, we came across three large vertebrae seemingly joined together. Why was this? The first clue was a pungent, lung-gripping smell. As we bravely peered closer, we could see a white gel-like substance between the vertebrae. This was soft tissue still remaining. It is quite common for soft tissue to stubbornly remain on the tail vertebrae at a late stage of decomposition. So I was actually expecting this (though you can never really prepare for the bad smell). Using a curatorial field tool, a saw, we separated the vertebrae to make them easier to carry.
However, the greatest challenge was easily the 2 1/2 m long skull. First we needed to dig it out of the sand: it seems the weight of the skull had allowed it to sink into the soft sediment. Like a scene from Jurassic Park (and the size of these bones certainly justifies this comparison), we busily gathered around the skull and began excavating it from the surrounding sediment so that we could safely lift it out. Although this skull is huge, it is incredibly fragile. Many parts are just made of thin sheets of bone and if lifted incorrectly,… well you can probably guess the rest.
As we were kneeling down prising sediment from around the bones, a heavy storm of hail showered down, mercilessly bombarding us; our dedication to this task couldn’t have been highlighted more. But we had come this far and this was certainly not going to deter us: #stubborncurators.
Four of us were needed to lift this huge object onto the truck. We used a series of pallets stacked on top of each other in order to get the skull safely to a height where we could lift it onto the truck. Finally we were ready for the next part of the adventure. Driggsby the whale was coming to Tullie.
As we arrived, we were greeted by a crowd of smiling children from Calthwaite School who had heard about the whale arriving. One of the teachers lifted each of them up, in turn, so that they could peer inside. Their reaction can only be described as awe; it was the combination of the fact that these strange objects were bones and that they were of dinosaurian proportions.
After taking a short break (which was a bit like taking us away from our Christmas presents) we eagerly returned to start unpacking the specimens. We have a dedicated storage area for the smelly bones where we will clean them to remove the sand and compost, and remaining flesh!
A special scaffolding frame was built (thanks to Carlisle Scaffolding) to support the skull so that it could be carried in by four people. You can see below the skull being lifted onto the scaffolding structure: what you are looking at is the top of the skull, the long spike is one of the bones in the roof of the mouth. We have one of the 2 cheekbones that go with this object.
Now shelf after shelf, with bone after bone, await cleaning and identification. I have started working with a keen team of young people from the University of Cumbria (which attracted attention last week from the Cumberland News). We have made a good start but there is still a long way to go!
So after an untimely death on Drigg beach in 2014, Driggsby was recovered by the Museum, spent one and a half years underground “skeleton-ising”, but has now officially joined the Tullie House family. So the adventure is still young, there is much to do before the dream of mounting Driggsby the whale in the Atrium is realised, and, as Holmes would say, the game is still very much afoot. Stay tuned for the next exciting whale post…
A £50,000 mission is being launched at the Museum to help exhibit our new fantastic whale skeleton. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to name the whale, and in so doing, help us to meet our target.
For those of you who might remember, in October last year I reported the discovery of a sei whale which the Museum was lucky enough to acquire (read here). The young whale was tragically stranded on a beach near Drigg, West Cumbria (2014) and was recovered by an expedition for the Museum some six months later. We received the first part of the whale in October, last year, (whilst the remainder is still underground decomposing with manure). Now, the whale patiently waits in an unused room, used for storage.
I visit whenever I can. It’s the highlight of my day. I am dwarfed by the vastness of the bones; ribs as long as me, vertebrae as big as small children and shoulder blades which look like giant hand fans. I’ve become somewhat immune from the stale stench of manure and tell myself that it is all in the aid of science. Today I am eagerly returning with a team of bright volunteers; Laura (Carter) and Conor (Cull) from the University of Cumbria; our mission is to select several of the bones for a small exhibition in the Atrium, as a taster for the full specimen when it will ultimately go on exhibit. But first things first, we can’t put these bones on exhibition until we remove some of that nasty manure!
Brushes and sponges at the ready; we go to washing the specimens, though it will be very delicately as I explain how fragile the specimens are. Christening the new box of blue latex gloves, with a distinct surgical look, we get the bones nice and wet to start with, with the sponge, which softens the dried manure. We then switch to brushes and the bristles are great for entrapping manure particles as they are swept gently over the bones.
However, I explain to Laura and Conor that the bones will still need expert cleaning by specialists in order to remove the fatty oils which now manifest themselves as an unsightly orange colour on the specimens. But here we should be relieved as the bones are not dripping with excessive amounts of fatty oils, which are common in fresh whale specimens. In a marine ecosystem, these oils would have provided food for communities of bacteria, mussels, and tube worms perhaps providing a feast lasting several decades. Many microbes depend on hydrogen sulphide and this gas is produced as the whale oil breaks down.
It seems that the action of the waves upon the specimen has naturally weathered them removing a lot of the oils, combined with their burial for a year with manure to aid decomposition (see previous blog). So all that work paid off!
The whale has an exciting future ahead, as I explain to my volunteers. After the oils have been removed, the specimen will then be put back together a bit like a jigsaw. I will work with external specialists in order to articulate the bones upon a frame. Although much of this work will be done in an off-site workshop, it is hoped that there will be some on-site construction where the whale is mounted in the Atrium.
Visitors will be amazed as they look up as they enter the Atrium with a 14 m whale looking down at them. As the sun beams through the glass roof, in the summer, you will be “encaged” by the silhouette of the Leviathan. We hope that the whale will not only be a museum centrepiece, but will become a new icon for Carlisle. It would be our version of Dippy the Dinosaur from the Natural History Museum. Perhaps the train station might welcome visitors with “home of the whale”?
But as I said at the start this project, this will not come cheaply! We are currently estimating a ceiling cost of £50,000 which will cover travel, cleaning and modelling missing parts.
So how can you help? We are launching a series of public appeals: the first, Name the Whale, is where everyone can help. Choose your favourite name for the whale: it can be either male or female as we don’t know the sex of the specimen with any confidence. Please write your suggestion on the inside of the whale on the envelope (please donate £1 inside). Be inventive! Be creative! This is your chance to put your stamp on the newest addition to the Tullie family!
Stay tuned for our next blog post about the whale!
Curator of Natural Sciences
written Thursday, 25 February 2016
 http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=808&cookieConsent=A Marshall,T (2010) Oily Whale Bones Fuel Unique Ecosystems. Planet Earth Online (NERC Science of the Environment). (As accessed 26 February 2016)
The Youth Panel is a group of active and enthusiastic young people based in the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. We meet regularly to help curate exhibitions, create alternative labels for artefacts, and shape the youth programme.
As a group of 14 to 21 year olds we put our own spin on the museum, which is now the proud winner of the Telegraph Family Friendly Museum Award 2015. As part of the museum’s inclusive approach for all ages, we play a part in making sure the exhibitions and museum spaces are designed to be suitable for everyone. As well as designing, creating and running our own exhibitions, we have made links with youth groups from other museums around the country to see how young people are shaping museums everywhere!
THe Youth Panel are branching out to spread the value and meaning of culture to outside the confines of a museum, into our local society. Carlisle is overflowing with culture, history and art, yet the majority of residents and tourists miss out on the opportunity to experience it. Hundreds of tourists come into Carlisle from the train station, but follow the same familiar route to the main shops rather than reaching Carlisle’s Historical Quarter. Enter our most recent project- The Cultural Crawl app and map. The handy pocket sized map will be stocked free in the train station for tourists to pick up as they leave, and directs them to the spots on our Cultural Crawl.
The Citadel Station itself is the first point, the map then leading across the city towards The Guildhall, The Cathedral, Tullie House and Carlisle Castle. These points are only the tip of the iceberg for Carlisle’s history, and we hope in the future we’ll be able to expand the Crawl to cover as much of the rich culture as we can!
As tourists and residents follow the map around the city, summaries are available inside the leaflet, but it gets even better when you add a smartphone. By downloading the updated Tullie House app (available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store), we can give them a sneak peek into what they would see at each attraction. Using the Augmented Reality function of the map, users can hold their smartphone over the map and see THe Youth Panel talk about some of the highlights and interesting facts from each. Also on the app, users can use sliding photos to compare old and new Carlisle, as well as look at animated images.
Through the app and the group itself, we hope to open up Carlisle’s history to residents and tourists alike, bringing together a community involving every age group!
Check out the app on Apple-
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tullie-house/id952651174?mt=8 and Google Play-https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.montyfunk.tulliehouse&hl=en_GB and pick up your map from Carlisle Citadel Station!
On Saturday 28 November, the volunteer programme were delighted to welcome 22 pupils from Caldew School to complete a day of ‘Social Action’ at Tullie House as the culmination of their National Citizen Scheme Award.
Nicky and John tell us about their day at Tullie and the work towards their award.
Last Saturday we completed our social action project at Tullie House Museum. As a group we developed and participated in three activities. The focus of the day was thinking about visitors from the community with visual impairment. This meant that one group created a sensory space in the garden, and another group researched and wrote scripts then recorded audio ‘labels’ for the Social History gallery. Finally the third and smallest group produced an NCS display, highlighting what the NCS programme involves and has to offer all young people.
To give you some background, the NCS stands the National Citizen Service award and is open for all 16-17 year olds across England and Wales. It is a journey through a series of phases with its ethos being based on:
- Social mix
- Social action
All of us who complete the NCS journey are awarded with a certificate signed by David Cameron (prime minister). However the skills and knowledge that we gain on the route are extremely valuable to wherever our futures lead.
We are all year 12 pupils from Caldew School. The start of the course saw us go to Lockerbie Manor, an outdoor pursuits centre where we did a range of activities designed to build up our confidence and communication skills. Then over the Autumn half term we visited various places within Carlisle and improved our understanding of the local community. We also took inspiration from the local organisations which eventually led us to taking part in a social action project at Tullie House Museum.
Davie, one of the students summed their wish to participate perfectly saying “I’m here to give something back to the community” a sentiment echoed by all the students.
John Sander the NCS Co-ordinator from Carlisle United had these further comments to make:
“I am thrilled that the group have chosen to work in partnership with the city’s leading tourist attraction. The confidence and inspiration they will gain as this project develops will not only have a big effect on their futures but it will be something that they will always remember. Hopefully their endeavours both in raising the funding and then working at the museum will also have a long, lasting and beneficial effect on the city and people of Carlisle”
John Sander added:
“For most of these sixth formers who attend Caldew School the NCS journey has been a life changing experience. This relatively new government initiative has improved their employability and allowed the young people to build friendships and memories on both the away and home residential experiences that will last for ever. The work at Tullie House is now the icing on the cake that allows all these students to graduate”
What Nicky and John didn’t mention in their text above is that they also carried out fundraising that meant Tullie House was able to benefit from £200 worth of plants for the garden and further £600 for the museum. It is my intention to see these funds used to continue the work you have started.
I was very pleased to host these students and enable them to complete their award. In addition, they have made a real contribution to their museum and created superb resources for visitors to enjoy for years to come. It was a privilege for me work with these students who gave up their Saturday and worked solidly throughout the day to achieve their aims – even in the rain! Well done and thank you all!.
Claire – Volunteer Co-ordinator
Some brilliant words from Jack about our recent win at Kids in Museums – a great blogger about museums – thank you Jack!
The scores are in, the families have spoken, and the time has come to crown a new holder for the title of Most Family Friendly Museum in the UK. Previous winners have included museums such as the wonderful Horniman Museum in South London, the Haselmere Educational Museum in Surrey and everyone’s favourite conjoined museums, the Pitt Riverls and the Oxford University Natural History Museum.
That list alone should give you an idea of the level of overall awesome-ness that families and the team at Kids in Museums are looking for in their winners. The winners would have to be awesome, because this is the biggest museum award in Britain and the only one to give a powerful voice to families.
Before I tell you who won, I’d like to remind everyone of the shortlist from the length and breadth of the country:
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Our Sky Map project continues with some great poems written by our Amy’s Care group for those with Dementia.
You can read some of the poems here and visit Tullie House in November to see the Sky Map in place!
An anthology of the poems written by the group during their first session.
It’s Cooler at the Top
Glaramara, Cat Bells
Walking up hills
First of August
A lovely warm day
Borrowdale, Ashness Bridge
Past a tea shop in Grange
Can be cooler at the top
A change in weather
A change in altitude
In winter, you’ll need gloves
Brenda must’ve been keen
To go up Helvellyn
In the winter
Tullie House/Amy’s Care: Helen’s Poem September 1st 2015
Pictures and placemats
When the frost comes
Jeanette’s Poem #2
Up into the clouds
Wet to the skin
Over the hill
Shrouded in cloud
Tullie House/Amy’s Care: Jeanette’s Poem #2 September 1st 2015
Feel it in your bones
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Our work with Amy’s Care on the Cumbria Sky Map continued last week with an art session, see what they got up to on the new blog post.
Last week was our second session with the Amy’s Care group at Tullie House, and our first artist session with Alex.
We were excited to see the Sky Map parasol, which is currently being painted lovely cloudy shades of blue by the other groups. Can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s finished, and everyone’s artwork gets added!
We also looked at the map, which the other groups have added to with things from their sessions. We’re hoping to see the Carlisle section later today.
The Kendal group also sent us a lovely message from their session. It was great to hear how they’ve been getting on.
This week we were painting eagle eggs, based on what looking at the real ones last week.
Alex showed us how to make lovely speckles and textures with wax crayons and watercolours, and we were a very productive…
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Eloise and Catherine have been working with Amy’s Care and our other CMC venues to bring the Cumbrian Sky Map project to life – read about it here
‘Sun, sea and the sky; kites birds and clouds.’…as Helen said; ‘the clouds often come out in the Summer as well as in the Autumn! But the time has really flown by this week as the season changes. We certainly were talking about flight in our first session last week we had our very first session at Tullie House, working with the Amy’s Care Group.
We had a very creative afternoon, looking at some of our objects, including the beautiful Golden Eagle Eggs used by Artist Uta Kogelsberger for her project. We all thought they were quite big, and it was interesting to look at how different the two eggs were. One was white and the other was very speckled. Andy even thought that the egg looked a bit like Alastair!
‘Big, speckled, golden brown, they fly and hatch. Fluffy like a baby hamster!’- Jeanette
We also spent some time…
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Andrew, our Head of Collections and Programming recently traveled to China with our Learning and Engagement Manager Anna, who has written a blog about working with a couple of museums on how to engage with children and young people.
After Anna headed back to the UK, Andrew stayed in China to experience some more of the country’s rich heritage and culture. He’s written a short blog to let us know what he got up to.
…after leaving Anna in Suzhou I traveled to Shanghai, then flew 856 miles to Xi’an, home of the famous Terracotta Warriors, and then took a five hour bus journey (of only 215 miles) through the mountains to the small city (only 3.5m residents!) of Tianshui in Gansu Province.
I intended to visit Tianshui to experience what was described as the ‘Silk Road Festival’ but what turned out to be an annual celebration of Fuxi (pronounced Foo-she), the ‘founder’ of Chinese culture. Fuxi is a cultural hero in China credited with creating humanity and the invention of hunting, fishing and cooking as well as Ying & Yang and the system of writing Chinese characters.
Tianshui also has several museums and I visited three. The Folk Art Museum is located in a traditional Chinese house which comprises several rooms around open courtyards. The museum displayed historic artefacts in their original setting so the kitchen had material from the Quing Dynasty (nineteenth century) and the bedroom had a period box bed and so on. In addition to the roomsets the museum also had a room for showing shadow puppet performances and a theatre for showing traditional Chinese Opera.
The City Museum is linked to the Fuxi temple and has hugely impressive archaeology and history collections but has very little by way of interpretation or engagement – it seems that visitors are expected to know or understand a certain amount of history, which may be true for local people but is certainly not the case when it comes to international visitors.
I met with Mr Lee the museum’s Director and gave a presentation on Tullie House to his staff. Mr Lee explained that the museum (which is roughly the same size as Tullie House) has 200 staff (Tullie has less than 50) and attracts about 30,000 visitors per year (Tullie has 270,000). Mr Lee showed me the museum’s new temporary exhibition gallery which was displaying a collection of artwork from a famous but recently deceased Chinese artist (which I wasn’t allowed to photograph). The aim was to attract new or repeat visitors to the museum through the temporary exhibition programme. However, Mr Lee felt that this first exhibition wasn’t necessarily a success.
The third museum I visited was directly opposite the Folk Art Museum and was owned by the City Council but run through a management agreement by the Shan family. Mr Shan Snr is a highly regarded artist and successful businessman and his son (my host for the week) runs a business from Guangzhou promoting artists and cultural projects. Mr Shan’s museum is, like the Folk Art Museum, located in an historic house. It features artwork and a fabulous historic book collection but it is also significantly lacking collections and any real purpose. The Shan’s have therefore asked Tullie House for their ideas on how the museum might develop. There may well be more to report on this in the future…
Andrew Mackay, Head of Collections and Programming
Tullie House’s work with museums in China is ongoing – keep an eye out for exciting partnerships and events coming up!
The treasure trove store of over 7000 boxes of archaeological material has been the destination for our team of dedicated volunteers.
Working alongside Tim, the curator of archaeology, the team are well underway with the huge task of creating a comprehensive inventory of this diverse material.
As well as displaying objects, Tullie House also stores for future reference and research finds from many of the excavations carried out in north Cumbria. From boxes of animal bone and pottery sherds to the finest gold jewellery it all finds its way here, all providing the evidence for our unwritten past.
Managing this volume of material is a big job and one that one archaeology curator cannot carry out alone, so this is why we are so grateful to the hardy team of volunteers who give up their time to assist with this task. It could not be done without them.
I went down the store to meet up with the team to see their progress, and they showed me some of their favourite finds so far.
This “amazing find!”… “It’s so complete and readily identifiable as Mercury”.
This coin is great condition, as you can see from its packaging it was found during the excavation of Annetwell Street during the redevelopment of Tullie House.
An almost complete Roman iron lamp from the Millennium excavations, again close to Tullie House. Found from the area where the steps from the underpass come up in front of Carlisle Castle.
And Tim, with a relatively modern (19th century?) teaspoon proving that it doesn’t have to be 1000s of years old to be significant to archaeologists!.
Thank you Pam, Diana, Kath, Siriol, Chloe and Sally for all your hard work on this collection!
Claire, Volunteer Co-ordinator