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Life after death: about ethical taxidermy

Memorial. A Tribute to Taxidermy’ is currently on display in our Natural History Gallery. Here, ethical taxidermist and artist, Jazmine Miles-Long, tells us about the process of taxidermy.

  • About ethical taxidermy, Jazmine Miles-Long painting a taxidermy stoat ,  Ali Graham
    Jazmine Miles-Long painting a taxidermy stoat ,  Ali Graham

How do you create taxidermy?

Taxidermy involves a lot of processes and skills. The first thing that must be done is to collect all of the details about the specimen – how, when and where it died. There are many laws to protect wildlife in the UK that taxidermists must adhere to. So it is important to check if the species you are working with needs specific legal paperwork.

Then comes the skinning, which I think many presume will be very messy but it’s not that bad. Underneath the skin is a membrane that acts like a second skin keeping the body together in one piece. Working carefully between these layers means the skin can be simply peeled away. If all goes well not much blood is actually present. If I am working on a mammal, the skin must be pickled and tanned in a similar process to leather. Whereas with birds, all of the fat must be cleaned away from the feather tracts where the quills poke through on the inside of the skin.

Then the form replacing the muscular structure of the animal has to be created using measurements taken from the actual animal's body to recreate the same shape and size. Taxidermists use a variety of materials to make this form, I use carved balsa wood for birds and a bind-up for the mammals. A bind-up is made by wrapping wood-wool (fine, soft wood-shavings, typically used as a packing material) tightly around wire using cotton thread to hold the structure together. In both birds and mammals the skull is cleaned and used within the head. Some of the wing and leg bones are kept attached to the bird skin with all the flesh cleaned away.

The skin is then mounted onto the form, the facial expression is sculpted under the skin often with clay and the eyes are made from glass or acrylic. Once the piece has dried, any skin not covered by fur or feathers loses its colour turning a dark yellow or grey. Such as around the eyes, within ears, on pads of the feet of mammals and legs and bills of birds. Finally the last stage is to paint these areas using acrylic paints. 

See a video of this process below. Please be aware that this video shows scenes of animals being skinned and flesh being removed from bones.

How long will an artwork take to complete from start to finish?

It depends on the size and type of the animal. For instance larger mammals take longer as there is simply more body to build and skin to sew, also a longer time is needed to pickle a larger skin and for the piece to then dry once finished. On the other hand a smaller specimen such as a tiny bird, needs a far more delicate approach working slowly so not to rip the skin. I would work on a larger mammal over the period of a month while the skin pickles and dries. And although I can complete a small bird in one day, I prefer to break up the stages over a few days so I can take my time and get the piece right. Alongside making the taxidermy I create the cases and groundwork to accompany them and often will be working on several pieces at once.

Do you have to know a lot about zoology and natural history?

To be a good taxidermist you must have a keen love of animals and the natural world to understand the way they live and move. I did not study Zoology or Natural History but have always been fascinated by nature and learnt a lot through physically making taxidermy. I have discovered so much about the individuality of species through working closely with the animals in a way I’m not sure I could have from a distance.

How did you get into Taxidermy as a career?

When I finished university in 2007 I wanted to work in museum conservation and so volunteered at the Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton. While I was there my focus turned to the taxidermy and I decided to give it go with the help of the museum's Curator. After that I wanted to be a taxidermist and spent the years that followed practicing and learning about the craft. I now work with the Booth Museum often and am grateful that they helped point me in the direction I have taken. Museums are amazing places that can truly inspire.

'Memorial. A Tribute to Taxidermy' is on display from 22 October 2016 to 1 May 2017.

What's your favourite 60s Rock song?

The Museu da Imigração in São Paulo Brazil have been inspired to put on an English-themed music concert in their Gardens.

  • Museum of Immigration, Music in the Garden concert at the Museum of Immigration − ©  Museu da Imigracao
    Music in the Garden concert at the Museum of Immigration

This summer we had a Brazilian theme to our events and exhibitions. Our Festival of Brasil celebrated the South American country in all its many colours and diversities.

We met and worked with many Brazilian partners – artists, musicians, dancers and other museums. One museum we worked with is the Museu da Imigração (Museum of Immigration) in São Paulo in Brazil. We discovered that we have similar events to the Museu da Imigração.

Throughout July and August we put on Jazz Picnics and Sunday Bandstand concerts where we celebrated the diversity of Brazilian music, from Samba to Forró, Tropicália to MPB, and Bossa Nova to Choro.

The Museu da Imigração have similar events in their Gardens. Their Música no Jardim (Music in the Gardens) concerts happen once a month and focus on a different theme or place each time. We love seeing the similarities and differences between our events!

As a way of connecting with us, they are going to use one of their Music in the Gardens concerts to focus on English Music – much like our summer concerts focused on Brazilian music.

Their band, Vitroux, will be playing 60s British Rock songs. Their set list will include:

1. Heart Full of Soul - Yardbirds

2. We've Gotta Get Out of this Place - The Animals

3. Ask Me Why - The Beatles

4. Please Please Me - The Beatles

5. Waterloo Sunset - The kinks

6. Afternoon Tea - The Kinks

7. Worksong  - The Animals

8. Blue Feeling - The Animals

9. Wild Thing - The Troogs  

10. Under my Thumb - The Rolling Stones

11. Cool Calm and Collected - The Rolling Stones

12. Chains - The Beatles

13. Tattoo - The Who

14. Our Love Was - The Who

15. My Generation - The Who

We want you to have your say and vote for your favourite song from their list. Which song do you think sums up British music from the 60s? Do you think there are any vital songs they have forgotten?

You can vote by writing your comments on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. We will then share your comments with the Museu da Imigração.

Moving the Merman

You may have noticed that our famous Merman now has a new home. You can find him in his own case at the back of our Natural History Gallery.

The Merman used to be displayed in our Centenary Gallery. The Centenary Gallery closed last month as we began our exciting anthropology redisplay project. We have been decanting all the objects on display in the Centenary Gallery and taking them to our stores, where they will be processed by our Collections Team.

You can see a video of some of the team decanting some of the objects from our Centenary Gallery here.

Our Senior Workshop Technician, Alistair MacKillop, tells us how they created a new case for the Merman.

‘The Workshop were asked by the Learning Team to place objects from the Centenary and African Worlds Galleries in cases around the Museum so that schools could still follow trails and find these objects.

We thought the old vivarium case, at the back of the Natural History Gallery, would be a good place to house the Egyptian artefacts, as it had lighting already installed.

  • Moving the Merman, Artefacts from Ancient Egypt, including this mummified crocodile, can be found in their temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery near the Merman.
    Artefacts from Ancient Egypt, including this mummified crocodile, can be found in their temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery near the Merman.

  • Moving the Merman, This mummy mask is also on display in the Ancient Egyptian case.
    This mummy mask is also on display in the Ancient Egyptian case.

The problem was, it was still full of tanks and pipes where our lizards and snakes use to live. So we set to work clearing the case and building an insert case in the same style as the cases we had already designed for the Natural History entrance redisplay.

  • Moving the Merman, The redisplay at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery was the inspiration for the new case display for the Merman.
    The redisplay at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery was the inspiration for the new case display for the Merman.

It was such a success that when we were asked to think about the relocation of the Merman, it seemed a great opportunity to use the other end of that case. We wanted to make sure the Merman looked special, and by creating an aperture into a small case in a matching style to the Egyptian end, I think we achieved our goal.

The Merman had been out with our ‘Object in Focus’ outreach scheme not so long ago, so it seemed like a good idea to use the mount created by my former colleague Rebecca Ash. The mount consists of brass bar that has been brazed together with silver solder, the mountmaker works directly with a conservator to determine the best shape to give support to the object. The Merman has a very unusual balance point and is also very fragile. Of course, the mountmaker’s art is to then design a way for the mount not to be seen or be too obvious to the viewer.

This mount was filed and sand-blasted to remove any sharp edges. Then sprayed grey, we apply a sticky backed conservation felt that we call ‘Fluffy’, to any surface of the mount that touches the object, this prevents any rubbing and gives a comfy fit to the object.

I attached the mount to a painted plinth which can be moved on top of the case plinth, so we could find the best spot for the lighting and the balance of the finished look of the case.’

Our Exhibitions Officer, Lindsey, gathered together information and research about the Merman and edited the text for our graphic panel, which was then designed and produced by our Graphic Designer, Stew.

We think the Merman looks great in his new temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery. Pop by for a visit and say hello.

Music and the State in Latin America


The Latin American Music Seminar is being hosted this autumn by the Horniman. 

LAMS is a twice-yearly forum, hosted by the Institute of Latin American Studies and Institute of Musical Research, which usually consists of a day of 5 papers/presentations, followed by some form of live performance.

It aims to bring together scholars, students, musicians and interested members of the public to share interest, knowledge, and critical perspectives on Latin American music. 

As part of its special Brazil focus this year, the Horniman will be hosting the next LAMS on 19th November.

The Museum is home to an outstanding collection of musical instruments, which includes the new display of a set of samba drums - as played by the celebrated Brazilian bloco Monobloco.

You can view, download or print the full programme below:

Tickets are £8. Book now

Places are limited so please book by 11 November 2016.

Inspired by Anna Atkins

Today is Ada Lovelace day when we celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Our Librarian, Helen Williamson, is here to tell us about her work with our community partners creating beautiful cyanotypes inspired by Anna Atkins.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield Hospital.
    Cyanotype made by Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield Hospital.

‘We have written about Anna Atkins before on Ada Lovelace day but it’s a great opportunity to talk about her again, the beautiful book we hold in the library and the wonderful process of making cyanotypes.

The cyanotype was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842. He was a family friend of Atkins and a regular visitor at the family home in Kent. Atkins was a keen artist, as well as an enthusiastic botanist, and recognised that Herschel’s new invention, which required only a few chemicals, water and sunlight, offered an opportunity to approach botanical illustration in a different way.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Aisling from the Horniman Youth Panel.
    Cyanotype made by Aisling from the Horniman Youth Panel.

In 1843, she started work producing the cyanotypes that would make up Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. It is considered to be the first ever photographically illustrated book and we are very lucky to have a copy in our library which was previously owned by the museum’s founder, Frederick Horniman.

To make a cyanotype, objects are placed on a sheet of chemically treated paper and then exposed to sunlight. The length of exposure depends upon how bright a day it is. Once exposed, the paper is washed in water and dried, with the colour fully developing when dry.

The process of creating cyanotypes is almost unchanged since Anna Atkins was making her book, and it creates remarkably stable prints. Most early photographic prints have deteriorated completely by now or need to be kept in strict, environmentally-controlled storage. Cyanotypes, on the other hand, have endured amazingly well. The colours in our copy of her Photographs of British Algae are beautifully vivid and the paper is robust enough for handling and display.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by David Quan from Redstart Arts.
    Cyanotype made by David Quan from Redstart Arts.

Over the summer the library and the learning team ran an engagement project with a number of our community partners who were challenged to make cyanotypes of their own, inspired by Anna Atkins and using the botanical world around them. This is some of the beautiful work they produced.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.
    Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.
    Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.
    Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by the Stroke Association.
    Cyanotype made by the Stroke Association.

A book of all of the cyanotypes made during this project is available to view in the library, alongside other material about Anna Atkins.

Visit one of our Library Open Days on the first Sunday of every month, or book an appointment.

Poems to the Walrus

Write the Walrus a poem or lines, he will love it as long as it rhymes. 

Yesterday, 6 October 2016, was National Poetry Day. People across the country took to Twitter to write lines of verse that fit into 140 characters. 

The Walrus has his own Twitter account - @hornimanwalrus - and one poem especially caught his eye...

Soon, people from all over were tweeting their #PoemstotheWalrus. 

Here are some that particularly tickled us:

The Walrus even had a go at writing his own verse...

...and tried his hand at a haiku. 

Share your #PoemstotheWalrus with us on Twitter

Spend a charming evening at the Horniman

Bring your charms to Magic Late at the Horniman and have them photographed. They could become part of our anecdotal collection of modern charms. 

Charms are fascinating objects that appear in different cultures around the world all throughout history.

We will have the whole of our English charm collection on display at our upcoming Magic Late event on 13 October.

This includes everything from this witch’s bottle from Padstow in Cornwall, which was an antidote to supposed witchcraft…

  • Witch's bottle, Witch's bottle from the Horniman's English charm collection
    Witch's bottle from the Horniman's English charm collection

…to this mole’s foot, which was believed to cure cramp.

  • Mole's foot, A mole's foot from the Horniman's English charm collection
    A mole's foot from the Horniman's English charm collection

Our Anthropology Curator, Tom Crowley, will be on hand to answer any questions you might have about these fascinating objects.

We also want to explore charms that are still used today.

That’s where you come in!

Do you carry a charm around with you? You might not think of it as a charm – it could be a lucky pair of socks, a friendship bracelet, a ring that reminds you of a loved one, a special photograph, or a teddy bear.

  • Teddy bear charm, This teddy bear charm was brought in during a Lewisham Young Carers visit to the Museum.
    This teddy bear charm was brought in during a Lewisham Young Carers visit to the Museum.

If you have an object which has memories or special feelings attached to it, we would love to see it! Bring your ‘charms’ along to the museum. We will have a photographer on site, so you will be able to add a photo or description of your charm to the Horniman collection.

Find out more about Magic Late.

Specimen of the Month: The Glyptodon

Emma-Louise Nicholls, our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, is looking into the world of the Glyptodon for her Specimen of the Month series.

A Glypto-what?

This beautiful model shows what Glyptodon (a type of Glyptodont) would have looked like, and is available to enthusiastic viewers in the Natural History Gallery. You’d be forgiven for assuming it was a huge great tortoise, but the hair gives it away as a mammal.

Early descriptions of Glyptodonts were made by some of the most famous palaeontologists in history, including Richard Owen (who invented the word dinosaur, and was almost single-handedly responsible for the Natural History Museum in London) and Thomas Henry Huxley, who worked side-by-side with Charles Darwin and helped to spread the word of the theory of evolution.

But when these initial scientific descriptions were being recorded in the mid-1800s, the affinity of Glyptodont had many guises. Descriptions included ‘feet of a hippo’, ‘skull of a sloth’, ‘shell of an armadillo’, ‘teeth of a capybara’, and a more general statement that described Glyptodonts as something between a rhinoceros and a giant ground sloth (Megatherium). I can’t see either of those myself but we have to remember early specimens weren’t complete and that the animated film Ice Age only came out in 2002. Glyptodon’s closest living relative is in fact the armadillo.

  • The Glyptodon, Our Glyptodon scale model is 1/12th actual size and was made by Edward Vernon.
    Our Glyptodon scale model is 1/12th actual size and was made by Edward Vernon.

Learn more about Edward Vernon, who made our model.

Perturbing pesky predators

In the mid-1800s a voyage to South America came back with two full boxes of bone fragments from a river deposit in Uruguay. These boxes were eventually emptied onto the desk of a curator at the Natural History Museum in Paris and took ‘four months of constant toil’ to piece back together. Once done however, the curator found themself looking at the huge shell of a Glyptodon.

The shell and bony coverings from elsewhere on the body could weigh up to 400kg, which meant Glyptodonts were lugging around a quarter of their body weight in armour plating. There are those among us that find Medieval Role Play on a Sunday afternoon a great deal of fun, but for a wild animal the energy cost of wearing this suit of armour is too great for it to be for anything other than pure necessity. Voracious predators were indeed stalking around the underbrush during the Pleistocene and an un-armoured Glyptodont would have had its goose cooked before it could say 'Which way to the Amazon?'

  • The Glyptodon shell, This rosette shaped fossil fragment shows part of the huge mosaic of interlocking hexagons that would have formed the huge dome shell of Glyptodon.
    This rosette shaped fossil fragment shows part of the huge mosaic of interlocking hexagons that would have formed the huge dome shell of Glyptodon.

Why stop there?

In two of the largest Pleistocene species, a number of small gaps left by the traditional spread of Glyptodont shielding were protected by bonus armour plates. As these are only present on species that appeared later in the geological timeline, it is reasonable to suggest they’re adaptations to the evolution of larger carnivores than their predecessors had to contend with. Indeed, the largest land predators ever to have inhabited South America lived during this time. Poor Glyptodonts.

As you can see on our model Glyptodon had a heavily armoured tail. A number of other Glyptodont species thought this wasn’t enough however, and decided to evolve a huge club on the end. Clever scientific bods have worked out that an adult Glyptodont with a 40kg tail club could smack into a predator at speeds of up 12 metres per second. In a fight with another Glyptodont, that blow had the power to shatter the armour of the adversary.

My advice as a professional scientist? Don’t mess with a Glyptodont.

  • Illustration of the Glyptodont, What did I say? Don't mess with a Glyptodont. Even if you have teeth as big as your face. Images used with kind permission from The Field Museum, Chicago., (c) The Field Museum, GEO80218 through GEO80221
    What did I say? Don't mess with a Glyptodont. Even if you have teeth as big as your face. Images used with kind permission from The Field Museum, Chicago., (c) The Field Museum, GEO80218 through GEO80221

Slow but steady

Most Glyptodon specimens have been found in Patagonia and Argentina. 

Despite its appearance as a lumbering cumbersome animal, the fossil record shows it managed to venture as far as North America on occasion. Presumably they managed this courtesy of the handy bridge of land that popped up in Panama during the Pleistocene. The same bridge of land in Panama that connects North America to South America in the modern day.


Alfredo Eduardo Zuritaa, A. E., Soibelzonb, L. H., Soibelzonb, E., Gasparinib, G. M., Cenizoc, M. M., and Arzanid, H. (2010). Accessory protection structures in Glyptodon Owen (Xenarthra, Cingulata, Glyptodontidae). Annales de Paléontologie 96 (1) pp.1-11

Benton, M. J. (2005). Vertebrate Palaeontology, Third Edition. Oxford, Blackwell Science Ltd pp.317-318.

Gould, C. N. (1928). The Fossil Glyptodon in the Frederick Gravel Beds. Oklahoma Geological Survey pp.148-150

Hubbe, A., Vasconcelos, A. G., Vilaboim, L., Karmann, I., and Neves, N. (2011). Chronological Distribution of Brazilian Glyptodon sp. Remains: A Direct 14C Date for a Specimen from Iporanga, São Paulo, Brazil. Radiocarbon 53 (1) pp.13–19

Huxley, T. H. (1864). On the Osteology of the Genus Glyptodon. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 155 pp.31-70

Zurita, A. E., Miño-Boilini, A. R., Soibelzon, E., Scillato-Yané, G. J., Gasparini, G. M., and Paredes-Ríos, F. (2009). First Record and Description of an Exceptional Unborn Specimen of Cingulata Glyptodontidae: Glyptodon Owen (Xenarthra). Comptes Rendus Palevol. 8 (6) pp.573–578

Community Learning hits the Bullseye

Our Community Learning Volunteer, Jingsi Wang, tells us about her summer placement at the Horniman.

‘If you visited the Horniman this summer, you might have seen someone carrying a magnetic board and asking families to take part in a survey – that was me.

My student work placement at the Horniman was spent with the Community Learning Department helping to complete an evaluation for the summer activity sessions.

There were five different activity sessions in the 2016 summer programme: Horniman Explorers, A World of Stories, Big Wednesdays, Horniman Wildlife and Art and Craft.

How did I do the evaluation?

To evaluate the session, I collected the opinions and feedback from families taking part. Our focus was on the learning outcomes of each session – whether people gained a closer connection with the Horniman’s collections and whether they learnt about different cultures and the wider world.

To see if these learning objections were achieved, we came up with two evaluation methods: Bullseye and the Inspiration Wall.


Bullseye was the main method of evaluation. It was a large piece of paper with a black-and-white bullseye pattern stuck onto a magnetic board. The disc was divided into six equal sections and each section represented one question or statement from our learning objectives.

Visitors used magnets as their ‘darts’ on the disc. On a scale of one to five – one is the top and five is the lowest – the closer they put the magnets to the centre, the more they enjoyed themselves.

Inspiration Wall

Some learning objections can’t be examined by scoring, for instance, there’s one which is ‘encouraging curiosity and self-led discovery’. This is where the Inspiration Wall played its part. The Inspiration Wall is a flipchart board with an open-ended question on the top. People were invited to write their answers on the paper.


We tried to ensure that each session was evaluated equally. Now the summer has come to an end, all the statistics will be analysed to help us understand the strengths and limitations of the learning outcomes.

People at the Horniman are really nice and helpful – both visitors and everyone in the office and I was happy to experience every session of the whole summer programme during this evaluation. I learnt a lot during the process, such as the importance of adjusting and always having a Plan B. The best part of this student placement is that I was given the opportunity to put theory into practice and get a deeper understanding of how it feels to work in a museum.

I have had various volunteering experiences before but this is my first time doing something so specific, focused and consistent in a museum. This summer has shown me the whole process of the initiating, growing and completing the evaluation of the summer programme at the Horniman, from the very beginning until the end – a challenging yet worthwhile task.

I always say that I could not think of any better way to spend my summer than doing my student placement here at the Horniman. This summer may have come to an end, but it is really just another beginning!’

Find out more about how you can volunteer at the Horniman

Making History: Horniman Youth Panel and Patrick Hough

The Horniman Youth Panel set out to explore how Egyptian culture and history is represented in Hollywood Movies.

We learned to think critically about the film props in these movies while having a chance to experiment with script writing, directing voice acting and basic filmmaking techniques with the video artist Patrick Hough.

The workshop began with a brief introduction to Patrick’s artistic practice, looking at early photography on Hollywood film sets in Morocco, to newer video works that use film props and green screen backdrops. We then briefly looked at a range of short clips from films depicting Egypt, ranging from the fantastical to the historically accurate and discussed the visual elements from the sets, costumes and props, lighting while comparing and contrasting the different ways Egypt has been shown on film.

Later on, we worked with real physical film props loaned from a London prop house that are used in Egyptian movies. We explored their different material qualities – comparing them to the amazing Ancient Egyptian objects in our Hands on Base. We also discussed the varying degrees of accuracy these objects have in portraying cultures.

Finally, we broke up into two groups to develop a short script together. We were given a chance to create our own short film scene that gave a voice to the film prop and placed it in a theatrical context.

Participants directed the voice acting, choose the camera angles, light the scene and create direction notes for the editor.

Here are the final results – we hope you like them!

Find out how you can get involved with our Youth Panel

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