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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

Summer Raffle winners

Check your tickets! We're announcing the winners of the 2016 Summer Raffle.

  • Summer Raffle winners, Our raffle and fundraising activities help us produce free events such as our popular Horniman Carnival.
    Our raffle and fundraising activities help us produce free events such as our popular Horniman Carnival.

A very big thank you to all those who bought raffle tickets during this summers’ Festival of Brasil and helped support the charitable work of the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

We raised an amazing £2,625 which will support our educational programmes, the conservation of our collections, the maintenance of our buildings and will help us to programme more fantastic free events in future.

The ten lucky winners are:

Meet the Animals – Wendy Klein (07961)
Behind the scenes tour of the Aquarium – Sue Henderson (08468)
A free Family Membership – Raj Joneja (06643)
Family ticket to Dinosaurs: Monster Families – Joolz (08919)
£50 voucher for the Café – Fernando (07991)
Cuddly Walrus – Kirsty (06639); Andrew Eastham (07943); Viv (08707); Paul Williams (06893); Margaret (06875)

To claim your prize please contact fundraising@horniman.ac.uk. All winners must provide the tickets listed above as proof of purchase.

Find out more about supporting the Horniman, including details of our Membership scheme.

Rhinos on the Clock

Today, 22 September, is World Rhino Day. Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Emma-Louise Nicholls, explains why the Sumatran rhino is nearly extinct.

Countless species are being driven to extinction by both deliberate and accidental human activity, but extinction is not something we invented. Nature has been selecting species for the bin for hundreds of millions of years. The story of the Sumatran rhino’s demise has a big hairy foot in both of these pies. Whilst the biggest threats to their continuation on the planet are poaching and habitat loss, Mother Nature also seems to be holding up a red card.

Less than 100 Sumatran rhinos made it to see-in the year 2016. Malaysia now has a wild rhino population of zero, and only three in captivity. Indonesia is fairing slightly better but around 90 individuals is far from a healthy population for a planet the size of ours. The last expat Sumatran rhino, called Harapan (meaning Hope), lived in Cincinnati Zoo but was relocated to Sumatra in 2015. And with that heavy-laden trans-Pacific flight, no Sumatran rhinos existed outside of Indonesia or Malaysia.

  • Harapan and Emi, Baby Harapan and his mother Emi at Cincinatti Zoo, Creative Commons
    Baby Harapan and his mother Emi at Cincinatti Zoo, Creative Commons

Mean Old Mother Nature

If you’ve ever had trouble with romance (who hasn’t), Sumatran rhinos can definitely empathise. As a species they are secretive and solitary, and so if two should have the very good fortune of running into each other in the forest (given how rare they are, the chances are automatically low), the first response would likely be aggression. Even if it’s a male and female and the circumstantial rendezvous has potential for the pitter-patter of tiny three-toed feet, the meeting is still likely to rapidly descend into biting and sparring.

With most animal species, when a male or female is ready to ‘settle down’ (if only for five minutes or so) there will be displays of courtship, nest making, or physical signs on/in the body that the time is right. But for Sumatran rhinos, romance is a bore and little if any flirtatious behaviour exists to let the other rhino know of their intentions. An approaching member of the opposite sex is as likely to horn you in the ribs as to ask for your number.

Why does Mother Nature make it so hard for them? Ahhh she’s not even done there I’m afraid. Sumatran rhinos are induced ovulators. This means that a female needs to mate in order for her body to wake up and begin to prepare itself for making a baby, and thus she needs to mate again to actually conceive. By which time, the one and only male rhino that has come along in the last six months is long gone, probably for at least another six months. In species that are induced ovulators, if ovulation does not occur relatively regularly, cysts will start to grow in the womb which can cause real problems when trying to produce offspring. What this basically means is that even if a female Sumatran rhino finds a mate in the wild, she probably won’t conceive anyway.

  • Hairy beast, They say chest hair is sexy, how can they not want to breed?, Creative Commons
    They say chest hair is sexy, how can they not want to breed?, Creative Commons

Intervention of a Good Kind

In the 1980s, rhino specialists (the only job title I want besides my own) put their qualified heads together and agreed a captive breeding programme should be initiated (hence the aforementioned departure of Harapan from Cincinnati Zoo). So began the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Indonesia where rhinos live in a semi-wild (but heavily guarded) area of Way Kambas National Park. A number of highly skilled, extremely motivated, and well-armed individuals called the Rhino Protection Unit protect this crash (collective noun for rhinos) from poachers. The most recent birth at the SRS was that of a little girl in May 2016, and boy oh boy is she a cutie.

The short-term goals of the SRS are to produce as many mini rhinos as possible, as well as to increase our knowledge of their biology and behaviour. The long term goal (best case scenario) is to release a healthy population of rhinos back into the wild. However this obviously requires mankind embarking on a new age of global enlightenment regarding traditional medicines, meaning each released rhino won’t walk their horn straight into a poacher’s duffel bag if left un-guarded. But with education on the rise, and Prince William on their side, we can still hope for this future.

  • Ratu and baby, Ratu and her baby resting at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary , Creative Commons
    Ratu and her baby resting at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary , Creative Commons


Hance, J. (2015). Officials: Sumatran rhino is extinct in the wild in Sabah. [Online]. Available at: https://news.mongabay.com/2015/04/officials-sumatran-rhino-is-extinct-in-the-wild-in-sabah/ [Accessed 16th September 2016]

Payne, J. (2016). Tragic death of Sumatran Rhino points to the need for a single species recovery programme. [Online] Available at: http://www.borneorhinoalliance.org/resources/comment/tragic-death-of-sumatran-rhino-points-to-the-need-for-a-single-species-recovery-programme/ [Accessed 14th September 2016]

Save the Rhino (2015). Sumatran rhino Harapan embarks on new life in Indonesia. [Online] Available at: https://www.savetherhino.org/latest_news/news/1374_sumatran_rhino_harapan_embarks_on_new_life_in_indonesia [Accessed 21st September 2016].

Save the Rhino (No date). Indonesian Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. [Online] Available at: https://www.savetherhino.org/asia_programmes/sumatran_rhino_sanctuary_indonesia [Accessed 16th September 2016].

Save the Rhino (No date). Indonesia: RPU Programme. [Online] Available at: https://www.savetherhino.org/asia_programmes/rpu_programme_indonesia [Accessed 16th September 2016].

Save the Rhino (No date). The challenges of breeding Sumatran rhinos. [Online] Available at: https://www.savetherhino.org/asia_programmes/sumatran_rhino_sanctuary_indonesia/the_challenges_of_breeding_sumatran_rhinos [Accessed 15th September 2016].

Save the Rhino (No date). An heir and a spare. [Online] Available at: https://www.savetherhino.org/asia_programmes/sumatran_rhino_sanctuary_indonesia/stories_from_the_field/an_heir_and_a_spare [Accessed 21st September 2016].

Schaffer, N. E., Zainal-Zahari, N. E., Suri, M. S. M., Jainudeen, M. R., and Jeyendran, R. S. 1994. Ultrasonography of the Reproductive Anatomy in the Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 25 (3): 337-348

Dinosaur Cherry on a Prehistoric Cake

Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Emma Nicholls, uses her expert eyes to examine the Velociraptor sculpture in our Prehistoric Garden. 

Over the last few months the super green-fingered Gardeners at the Horniman have created a landscape full of plants from the Cretaceous period. Now starting to flourish, the Prehistoric Garden is looking stunning. To top the Prehistoric Garden off, in August of this year we became home to a permanent installation of the most exciting kind- a stylised Velociraptor dinosaur.

  • Velociraptor  , The (r)awesome new addition to our Prehistoric Garden.
    The (r)awesome new addition to our Prehistoric Garden.

Velociraptors rose to fame in the 1993 timeless classic Jurassic Park, in which they are portrayed as scaly, scary, two metre tall monsters intent on feeding beyond stomach capacity and learning how to open doors. In reality Velociraptor was only about half a metre in height and most likely covered in feathers. Whilst pretty certain, the presence of feathers is an extrapolation from other fossil discoveries, and hasn’t been proven for sure. However our Velociraptor is skeletal so the choice of ‘to feather or not to feather’, was not something we needed to worry about.

Our Velociraptor was generously funded by an anonymous donor, for which we are incredibly grateful. It started life as a number of large 8 mm steel sheets, from which the raptor’s parts were cut and then welded together by Neil Bowen of Lakeland Steel. Now fully assembled in the Prehistoric Garden, it measures an impressive 1.5 m in height. It is therefore around three times life size and an imposing addition to our gardeners’ latest masterpiece.

  • Velociraptor, Upside down and in pieces
    Upside down and in pieces

When the Velociraptor first arrived it was deep silver in colour but we are letting it weather to a beautiful tan brown. Exposed to the elements, the mild steel corrodes at around 1 mm a year. Those of you quick at maths will have calculated that in 8 years’ time our Velociraptor will therefore be a pile of twinkling dust, but that’s only if we leave it untreated. Once corroded to the perfect tan colour, Head Gardener Wes Shaw will coat it in a protective sealant to protect the steel from further degradation.

  • Velociraptor, Before and after shots show how our Velociraptor is turning a lovely brown as the steel reacts with the elements.
    Before and after shots show how our Velociraptor is turning a lovely brown as the steel reacts with the elements.

I think it’s fair to say that no-one really wants an unsteady two metre steel Velociraptor wobbling around in the wind, so to keep its impressive bulk steady its feet were literally nailed to the floor. It has large steel plates beneath its feet which have been set in the ground with giant metal tent pegs. A large rock between its feet completed the task. So don’t worry, although it looks fearsome, it’s safe to visit… there won’t be any fearsome steel dinosaurs rampaging down the hill any time soon.

  • Velociraptor, The large steel plates beneath the feet of our Velociraptor.
    The large steel plates beneath the feet of our Velociraptor.

Have you visited our Prehistoric Garden yet? Tell us what you think and share you photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #horniman.  

Visit our Dinosaurs: Monster Families exhibition - on display until 30 October 2016. 

Volunteering with Community Engagement

What is Community Engagement and why is it important for Museums? Our volunteer Holly investigates. 

Community Engagement is an important part of the work the Horniman does to ensure it is an accessible and inclusive place for all. So when there was a space for a volunteer on the Community Engagement training day, I jumped at the chance to attend.

The day is designed to equip community group leaders with the skills required to confidently lead visits to the museum and run projects or activities linked to the collection. It was useful to hear the group leaders explain what they would need to run a successful session, as well as seeing how the Horniman is able to shape its services to accommodate the needs of community groups. This flexibility is essential; each community group has differing requirements, and fixed offerings typically won’t work for every group.

During the training day we had to think on our feet and test our creativity. In the Hands on Base we explored the large collection of objects available for visitors to handle. In the galleries we designed our own themed tour of the museum, including potential activities, for a community group visit. These activities encouraged us to identify questions and opinions about objects, make connections between objects, and create our own journey through the museum.

  • The Stroke Association group explores musical instruments, This community group are exploring talking drums in the Hands on Base.
    This community group are exploring talking drums in the Hands on Base.

As a volunteer, I learnt more about how the museum works and gained an insight into the community groups it partners with. This has increased my confidence as a volunteer, giving me new ideas on how to present the objects in the handling collection and how to engage visitors.

Since completing the training, I’ve volunteered at several Community Engagement sessions and no two sessions are alike. Participating in a costume workshop, making Carnival crowns with the Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation, was a great excuse to explore my own creativity while volunteering. I quickly realised there’s countless ways to make a Carnival crown, and just as many ways to learn from other people’s creative ingenuity.

  • Volunteering with Community Engagement, Colourful Brazilian crowns made during community group activity sessions were then worn at the Horniman Carnival on 4 September.
    Colourful Brazilian crowns made during community group activity sessions were then worn at the Horniman Carnival on 4 September.

At a Redstart Arts artist-led exhibit, I got to help showcase the participating artists’ work which was inspired by the Horniman’s collection. Seeing the artworks side by side with the objects that inspired them encourages visitors to see both in a different way. It connects people with the collection, making the objects more accessible sources of inspiration - something to interact with and not only see on display. It also helps to show the many ways people experience the museum and engage with the collections.

  • Redstart, This Redstart Arts workshop saw community groups making sculptures inspired by the Horniman collection.
    This Redstart Arts workshop saw community groups making sculptures inspired by the Horniman collection.

While each session is different, there have been a few constants from my experiences with Community Engagement. I’ve met a wide range of people including the community groups, museum staff, local artists and volunteers working with the groups. It’s an enjoyable way to improve my confidence and volunteering ability, and a great insight into how museums can help change people’s lives.

Find out more about volunteering at the Horniman. 

Animal in Focus: Daisy the sheep

Every month, the Animal Keepers want to introduce you to a member of their extended family, and this month’s animal anarchist is Daisy, the Ouessant sheep!

Ouessants are French and are reported to be the smallest breed of sheep in the world! Visitors to the Animal Walk often mistake Daisy for a lamb, when in fact she is 3 years old, the same age as the rest of the herd, and is a fully mature adult ewe.

Daisy may be small, but she has a BIG attitude!

She is hooves down the loudest animal at the Horniman, and when she starts off a baaing chorus, all the others tend to join in and attempt, and fail to out shout her! Despite her small stature, Daisy is the first to start fights, but is rarely the one to finish them (George, the white faced woodland sheep dominates in that department!).

Ouessants originate from the Ile de Ouessant in Brittany. It has been suggested that this breed of sheep is so small because there was very poor grazing on the island, which led to the selection of small sheep for breeding, and further domestication has maintained this trait! The islanders spun and wore the wool for their clothes and textiles.

The horns of the rams are very heavy, curl forward and terminate in sharp, outward turning tips. Ouessant ewes are polled, which means that they have no horns. This physical difference between the two sexes is called sexual dimorphism.

Rumour has it that the Ouessant breed descended from a Viking breed carried on board their ships and left behind on conquered lands, and Daisy definitely has the personality of a conqueror, just not the physical ability!

Come visit the Animal Walk and meet Daisy and the rest of our rare breed sheep that share her paddocks!

The Animal Walk is open each day from 12.30pm to 4pm and entry is free.

Afghani kite-making at the museum

This summer we held a kite-making workshop in association with one of our community partners, Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers. The leader of our workshop, Ahmadzia, tells us more about this fun event. 

My name is Ahmadzia and I am a kite maker from Afghanistan. On the 27 July I had the pleasure of being invited to lead a workshop on kite-making at the Horniman.

It was a beautiful summers day and the wind was great for kite flying. I was happy to see that many people came to the workshop, both children and adults.

At the start of the workshop I gave a quick introduction to the making of kites and then everyone had a chance to make their own. We used lots of different coloured paper to make each kite unique and personal.

We then took our kites to the top of the hill in the beautiful Horniman Gardens and all flew them together.

Kite making and flying is a traditional pastime in Afghanistan, where I was born. Kite fliers of all ages come together to display the kites they have made and sometimes even compete against each other by trying to cut down each other's kites.

To see more of me making and flying a kite watch this short film.

GUDIPARAN from Nima Shahmalekpur on Vimeo.

Ask a Curator Day 2016

This year, on Wednesday 14 September, we are taking part in Ask a Curator Day. This is where Museum Curators from all around the world answer your questions on Twitter.

If you have a burning question you want to ask, then you can tweet at us using @HornimanMuseum using the hashtag #AskaCurator.  

We have curators on hand to answer questions about musical instruments, natural history and anthropology. 

The curators we have to answer your questions are:

You can tweet in your questions at any time. We will then gather them up and answer as many as we can on 14 September. 

Specimen of the Month: The Three-Toed Sloth

Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History - Emma-Louise Nicholls - is back with her Specimen of the Month blog series to bring you closer to the specimens as well as the species for which each is an ambassador. Next up is...

The three-toed sloth

Olympic athlete

The scientific name for a three-toed sloth is Bradypus: Brady = slow and pus = feet. Not yellow fluid in this case.

Sloths are collectively the slowest mammals in the world, never in a hurry to do anything they wear their name with pride. In terms of speed - on the ground they are useless, but in the trees where they’re in their element… they’re also useless.

They move so slowly that algae is able to grow on their fur undisturbed by movement. Besides providing a rather fetching green tint to their otherwise unfashionable grey outfit, the algae also provides the sloth with a little extra camouflage.

  • Specimen of the Month - The Three-Toed Sloth, You can see the vivid green algae on the fur of this three-toed sloth in Costa Rica, D. Gordon
    You can see the vivid green algae on the fur of this three-toed sloth in Costa Rica, D. Gordon

They may be the slowest mammals in the world, but catching a sloth can still be a tricky affair.

In Central and South America where these sloths are found, indigenous people sometimes hunt them for food. Slow they are, but weak they aren’t. The sloths grip is so strong that not only can they sleep whilst still hanging upside down, but they can also stay hanging upside down after they die. This means that if one is speared or darted (or shot) there’s a strong chance it won’t fall to the ground immediately.

It can take several days for the flesh to decay enough for the locked digits to loosen their grip on the branch sufficiently for gravity to take over. By which time, the hungry hunter will have given up and found something else to eat.

  • Our three-toed sloth, Sloths can hang upside down whether they are old, young, asleep, awake, alive or dead
    Sloths can hang upside down whether they are old, young, asleep, awake, alive or dead

An old young sloth

We know our sloth is at least 111 years old, given it came to the Horniman in 1905 with the Samuel Prout Newcombe Collection.

The original specimen record described it as a young pale-throated sloth (Bradypus tridactylus), however it seems to lack the substantial markings on its facial fur characteristic of that species.

Unless the sloth’s fur has faded in highly isolated patches against the laws of physics (extremely unlikely), the markings on the back and more monotone face (not meaning to bruise its ego) suggest it’s probably a juvenile of the brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus). With a good pair of glasses and some enthusiasm you can just make out the patterns on its fur in the image above.

Whatever species it turns out to be, the specimen definitely has three toes and is unequivocally a sloth, so three-toed sloth is still the correct genus and an accurate title for this blog. No science lies here.

  • Close up of our three-toed sloth, A lack of facial markings suggests the original identification may be incorrect
    A lack of facial markings suggests the original identification may be incorrect


ARKive (No date), Brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus).

ARKive (No date), Pale-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus).

National Geographic, (No date). Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus)

Moraes-Barros, N., Chiarello, A., and Plese, T. (2014). Bradypus variegatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014

Suutari, M., Majaneva, M., Fewer, D. P., Voirin, B., Aiello, A., Friedl, T., Chiarello, A. G., and Blomster, J. (2010). Molecular evidence for a diverse green algal community growing in the hair of sloths and a specific association with Trichophilus welckeri (Chlorophyta, Ulvophyceae). BMC Evolutionary Biology 10 (86) pp.1.

Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies

Our new pollinator bed is designed to be a banquet for pollinating creatures like bees and butterflies. Andrea, our Gardner, shows us around the pollinator bed and tells us the best way to plant for pollinators at home.

This summer, you may have noticed a new border spring into life in the Gardens. Last autumn we started to plant up the bandstand terrace bed with herbaceous perennials, which began flowering in the spring, and are still going strong, creating a lovely splash of colour. As it is still the first year, some of the plants might look a bit sparse, but over the next couple of years, they will get bigger and fill out the bed.

This border contains about 50 different species of plants and has been designed to be attractive to pollinating insects. Pollinating insects like bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies transfer pollen from one flower to another, helping the plants to fruit and set seed.

As farming practices have changed over the last few decades, there has been a steep decline in the wild flower population that was previously their main food source. As a result, many of their populations are in decline. This may result in problems in the future with food production, as so much of our food is reliant on plants being pollinated, so it is important to help them out.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

There are many different pollinators, and there is no one plant that is a good food source for them all, which is why variety is important.

Some flowers, like those in the daisy family, are popular with a variety of pollinators. The flower head is made up of many small florets, each one a nectar source for the insects. This includes flowers like the Echinacea purpurea (Purple coneflower), and the Echinops ritro Veitch’s Blue (Southern globethistle).

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

Other flower shapes are not so simple. The Salvia guarantica ‘Black and Blue’ (Hummingbird sage) has lipped flowers with long tubes. Bumble bees and solitary bees use the lip as a landing platform and push their heads inside the flower to reach the nectar, coming back out with pollen covering their back.

Others, such as the Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese cross), have their nectar deep inside a small tubular centre to the flower, which moths and butterflies are able to access with their long thin tongues.

As well as planting a variety of different plants, it’s a good idea to try and create a display that has a long flowering season – especially early and later in the year, when alternative nectar sources might be scarce. Winter/spring bulbs like Crocus, Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop) and Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite) can provide a food source early on in the year, while plants such as Salvia and Rudbeckia (Coneflower), that continue flowering into the late summer and early autumn, cover the other end of the year.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

Over the next few years, we’ll continue to tweak the planting display. We’ll be adding some more spring bulbs, as well as assessing how well the plants are doing, and replacing any that have died or are struggling. We’ll keep a good mix of variety and seasonal food source for the pollinators, as well as ensuring there is a long lasting and colourful display for all our visitors.

If you want to help out at home, you can. A list of pollinator friendly plants can be found on the Royal Horticultural Society website. By adding any of these plants to your garden, you’ll be doing your bit. You don’t even need much space. A window box full of spring bulbs or a pot with a couple of sunflowers in will be a welcome refreshment for the pollinators flying around your area.

Send us your pictures of pollinator-friendly plants using the hashtag #Horniman. 

The Pollinator boarder has been created with support from the Finnis Scott Foundation

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