Our Engage Volunteer, Gemma, is reflecting on one of the objects she has enjoyed working with over the last few months.
One thing working on the Engage table has shown me time and time again is that there is always more than one way of looking at things.
As of 29 April there have been new objects to handle out in the Museum at the trolley next to the Natural History Gallery. While I am really looking forward to working with them, I’ll be sad to see the back of the things we have been using for the last couple of months.
All the most recent batch of items had bags of personality.
The python skin has been a real winner. Kids and adults alike never seem to tire of unrolling its massive 4m length - so I’m sure it will be back! The duiker has been stroked and petted as we’ve cooed over the idea of tiny antelopes the size of bunny rabbits.
The wonky turtle has kept us guessing about the life it led before ending up at the Horniman and, fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how keen you are to meet one), I never did come across a single visitor who had seen a longhorn beetle in the UK.
There was also an armadillo carapace.
The handling has darkened it a bit, but it was not particularly well preserved in the first place having been badly bent and stuffed with bits of newspaper. The old newspaper kept the Engage team entertained as it has fallen out piece by piece providing snippets of news about a driving ban, the number 1870 and some sort of warning about German girls (I have no idea what they are alleged to have done).
The carapace has great links to the rest of the Horniman. Armadillos have traditionally been used in the Andes to make music. With its lumps and ridges, I’d pictured something like a guiro – a percussion instrument which you would rub with a stick or brush, but apparently it’s usually made into a stringed instrument called a charango. Sort of like a lute.
As a lovely example of animal adaption, it makes a good introduction to The Robot Zoo exhibition. There are also a couple of armadillos in the Natural History Gallery, but actually, one of those is not all it seems…
One of the things the Engage staff were told about armadillos is that only the three banded armadillo can curl completely into a ball. However, at the far end of the Natural History Gallery, there is another armadillo carapace. It’s a nine banded armadillo like the one on the trolley. It is very much curled into a ball.
According to the Curator, this may have been the work of an over-enthusiastic Victorian and is not a fully accurate reflection of the abilities of nine banded armadillos. Then again, when most of your audience wouldn’t have seen an armadillo in action, it gets the point across that they are bendy when they need to defend themselves and is no more misleading than our much loved (but very overstuffed) walrus.
As anyone who was around in the 1990s will tell you, the armadillo has links to the café too. Anyone for a certain smooth on the outside and crunchy in the middle chocolate snack? Or you can just eat it. I am told it tastes like pork.
So goodbye to our lovely, intriguing armadillo with all its great uses and links.
Or, as one American visitor said to me lately, "yuck, it’s just road kill."