Week 2 – 19th to 23th September – Human Remains, Boxes and the BBC

After being thrown head first into the glass conservation course, this was my first proper week in the PCU (Palaeontology Conservation Unit). Like any normal first day I had all my tours, introductions and health and safety bits first. But after that we got straight onto my favourite subject – human remains!

The NHM are involved with a large repatriation project returning ancestral human remains to their countries of origin where the Traditional Owners can be identified. Recently the museum repatriated some remains back to the Torres Strait and Aboriginal communities – this story can be seen here.


Most of these remains had already been organised for this process – they had been packaged and condition reported. However the next project will involve the repatriation of other remains to a different ancestral community (sorry can’t be specific at this stage) – and this is the one I will be involved in through my placement here.

Due to the nature of this project I cannot post any photos of human remains.

The NHM had custom made box cut-outs designed for the purpose of storing skulls, mandibles and post-cranials. I was shown how to fold the boxes so that they slot together without the need for any glue – they are made of high quality conservation grade materials. The boxes have 3 parts – the box, top and tray. With the top off, the front side of the box slides down so the tray can slide out without a need to reach into the box and lift out.

The boxes are lined with plastazote which is cut so that it holds the skull on its crown securely, with the mandible in front.

I used the NHM condition report system which stores the information along with conservation details on KE EMu. My anatomical knowledge came in very useful here.

I cleaned an Ichthyosaur fossil for researchers who needed to take important measurements… and I can’t tell you anything more about that! I packed for a loan to Liverpool.

This week we were also bombarded by the BBC who does an excellent job of emptying the lab of any scientists or work! They were filming for a news story about the Science Uncovered event held at the museum on the 23rd September – I didn’t help with the event as it was my birthday. This would be my first experience with a film crew – my opinion is mixed, it’s great to see the conservation services getting some attention but the crews can be quite ignorant.

Sorry there were no pictures of my work – everything this week was pretty top secret! Here’s some of my skull art work instead…

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