Stemmatodus rhombus fossil as it appeared in December 2013’s Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month. © Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL

The Grant Museum of Zoology, London

Mark Carnall, 15.04.2014
Social media, especially blogging, can be one way to make difficult and esoteric collections accessible online. I find fossil fish interesting, the Grant Museum of Zoology in London has a lot of them, but they are firmly in the “unusable” category when it comes to engagement, displays and events.

They’re not particularly aesthetic, often incomplete, abstract, repetitive and complex to interpret.

Rather than write a dry blog series to highlight these specimens, I decided to focus on why you’re unlikely to have heard of them or see them in a museum display, and why you probably shouldn’t care. The blog is called Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month.

Through this monthly series I examine the preservation, research on and the impact on society (often none) of a fossil fish specimen. I’m often surprised by what I find when I research them and the series allows me to explore questions around why we have this material, why it hasn’t been looked at for hundreds of years and why museums are full of material like this.

I try to write in an accessible and humorous way while respecting the specimens we have and the duty of care we have for them. An added benefit is that the specimens get documented as I research them, slowly filling out our object catalogue.

One of my favourite comments on this series is: “I have to admit that fish fossils don’t particularly float my boat, but I love your writing and you got me reading the whole article.” This is exactly what we wanted for this series.

Much to my delight I’ve discovered that these posts are examined in history classes, and I’ve met fans of the series including colleagues from other museums, university researchers and members of the public. There have also been rumours of a TV series….

Mark Carnall is the curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology in London