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The plight of the Passenger Pigeon: How Museum collections are helping us to better understand their Story
Sat in Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, surrounded by other natural history specimens, is a small pink and grey passenger pigeon on a branch. She is just one of many creatures in the museum’s collection that can now only been seen in books or museum showcases. Like many museums worldwide, Shropshire Museums ensures that specimens like her survive as both a reminder of our impact upon the environment but also a vital resource for future research.
The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America and possibly the world. A single flock could contain more than a billion birds. John James Audubon, awed by the spectacle of passenger pigeons in Kentucky in the fall of 1813, writing that “the light of noonday was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.” As mass shooting for sport and food reduced their numbers, museums collected examples to illustrate their plight. Today, scientists are still trying to answer the question as to how they became extinct so quickly.
A new study of the passenger pigeon’s genome, published recently in the journal Science, outlines new research into this puzzle. This recent investigation suggests that passenger pigeon populations were stable for thousands of years, even during periods of dramatic climate change. Studies of small samples taken from museum specimens have found that the pigeon population, although huge, lacked genetic diversity. The study concluded that much of the bird’s genetic code shows signs of strong natural selection, but very little evidence of ongoing small genetic changes that would help it to adapt if the ecosystem changed.
“Our mass murder of them over the course of decades was just too fast for their evolution to keep up,” said Beth Shapiro, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC-Santa Cruz and one of the paper’s co-authors.
It is therefore no wonder that Shropshire’s Passenger Pigeon is looked down upon rather wistfully by a portrait of Charles Darwin, who first fully published the process of evolution. Her, like many other specimens cared for by generations of museum curators, is all science have left to understand her species’ story.
Visitors to the historic town centre venue will have the chance to have their very own personalised spell written for them, make a magic wand using simple woodworking tools and create their very own magic potion. The first fantastic adventure in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone (PG) will be shown on both evenings in the magical setting of the museum balcony.
In addition to the wealth of hands-on activities available, on Saturday 28 October bestselling author and illustrator Matt Sewell will be showing visitors how to create their own beautiful bird book in his Spot and Jot Owl’s Workshop.
Visitors will also be treated to a chance to see some live Owl’s courtesy of Battlefield Falconry Centre!
On Sunday 29 October magician Rob Chapman will mystify and delight with his super magic show suitable for all ages.
stop. café will be putting on a special spooky menu for children and Hot chocolate and Halloween themed treats will be available to buy throughout the film screenings.
Visitors are invited to come along in fancy dress.
For further details and to book your tickets, go to:
The weekend of activities is part of the national ‘Museums at Night’ programme.
Saturday 28th & Sunday 29th October
11- 4 The Spellwright – Our resident spell scribe will craft a personalised spell on a scroll for you to take away.
11-4 The Wand Whittler – Use simple tools to create and decorate your own magic wand with the ‘Wand Whittler’
11-4 Potion’s Class – Create your very own magic potion to take away
11 – 11.30 Spooky story time – a selection of toe-tingling stories (ages 3 – 10)
4pm – Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone (PG), Warner Bros Films, 2hrs 39m. Snuggle up with a STOP Café hot-chocolate and watch the first film in the Harry Potter series in the magical setting of the museum balcony. Parental guidance recommended, places limited, book in advance, £1 per person.
Saturday 28th only
1-2 Care of Magical Creatures – A chance to meet a selection of Battlefield Falconry Centre’s beautiful Owls
2-3 Spot & Jot Owls workshop – Matt Sewell. Best-selling author and artist Matt will show you how to create and draw your own beautiful bird book. Open to all ages, all children must be accompanied, no artistic skills required, everybody must draw! – booking essential, suitable for ages 6+, workshop £8 per person includes museum admission.
Sunday 29th only
1.30 – 2.30 Magic Show – magician Rob Chapman mystifies and delights with his super magic show suitable for all ages.
T: 01743 258881/258888
Or you can drop in to the Museum Visitor Information Centre.
To celebrate Heritage Open Days, Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery are offering visitors free entry on Sunday 10 September 2017.
Usually £4.50 for adults, visitors to the Museum will be able to see the amazing collections on display that bring over 650 million years of history to life completely free!
During your visit, you will get to see some of the best preserved mammoth bones in the UK, one of the UK’s finest fossil collections as well an entry to the wonderful special exhibitions, Antarctica: Life in a hostile land and Synthetic Landscapes.
Lezley Picton, Shropshire Council Cabinet member for Culture and Leisure, said:
“Heritage Open Days is the largest heritage festival in the UK so it’s great to see Shropshire Museums and Archives getting involved.
“As well as the amazing things to see and do at each site, visitors will get to go behind the scenes and see and do things that are only available a very limited number of times a year.
“I’d encourage everyone to make the most of this great opportunity and get to our sites… and it’s free!”
As well free access to the Museum’s galleries on Sunday 10 September, you can explore the Medieval town of Shrewsbury on a free guided town tour, which usually cost £7.50. Advanced booking is advised to ensure your place.
These tours take place on Thursday 7 September and Friday 8 September and start at 2pm at the Visitor Information Centre housed in the Music Hall.
Loyd Grossman, Patron of Heritage Open Days, said:
“At a time when many of our heritage sites, museums and buildings of cultural interest are under increasing economic pressure it’s heart-warming to see the number of Heritage Open Days events continue to grow. Our army of volunteers play an important role in championing our wonderfully diverse local heritage, opening up doors and keeping access free for these very special four days every year. We are keen to encourage people to stand up for the places that are important to them by bringing to life their stories for everyone to enjoy.”
Come and discover the stories that make this county unique. Explore millions years of history through a thousand remarkable objects in the extraordinary set of buildings that house Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery. From a medieval town house to an early Victorian Music Hall they span more than 750 years of history.
During your visit, you can also visit stop. café bar, the Museum’s vibrant café bar, which provides the perfect spot for relaxing after visiting the Museum’s galleries or taking a break from taking in the town of Shrewsbury.
Heritage Open Days is the largest heritage festival in the country; in 2015, over 4,800 events welcomed around three million visitors across England.
Heritage Open Days operates as part of the National Trust with funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
See what else is happening across Shropshire Museums & Archives other amazing sites: Shrewsbury Castle, Shropshire Archives, Acton Scott Historic Working Farm and Ludlow Museum & Resource Centre.
Museum in School
MUSEUM IN SCHOOL
We bring the museum to you! An experienced museum educator will visit your school to deliver a two hour active learning session. All workshops are supported by a wide selection of original and replica artefacts and specimens from the museum collections.
KS1: Fossils and Dinosaurs
Children become paleontologists digging up and identifying bones, looking closely at real fossils, placing dinosaurs on a timeline and investigating the varying sizes of dinosaurs in relation to themselves and other creatures.
Children handle original toys and look for evidence of how children played in the past. They look for similarities and differences between old and modern toys, play with a selection of replica Victorian toys and help Kipper put all his toys back in his toy box.
KS1: Charles Darwin
Children learn about Darwin’s early life by dressing up in costume of the period, sorting shells into types and organising bugs into categories or groups. They also follow the route of the Beagle to discover some of the specimens Darwin collected during the voyage.
KS1: Florence Nightingale
Through hands-on activities, children explore Florence’s childhood and school days and meet her pet owl Athena. They learn how to tie a bandage and help to make a poultice before identifying the problems faced by the hospital at Scutari, and discovering how Florence addressed them.
KS2 : Ancient Greeks
Children develop an understanding of ancient Greek life through close examination of the clues left behind and costumed role-play. Children discover how ancient Greek pottery can provide direct evidence of the Greek way of life, try on replica armour and explore the differences between Athenian and Spartan society.
KS2: Original Olympians
Through group discussion, object handling and role play, the workshop will guide learners through a range of imaginary scenarios inspired by real events in Ancient Greece and Victorian England to understand how the modern Olympics developed from ancient ideals. Ancient Greece and Original Olympians can be booked together as a whole day experience.
KS2: Ancient Egyptians
Children discover how Egyptian objects can tell us about the life and beliefs of this ancient civilisation. They draw on a variety of sources to find out what the ancient Egyptians believed about life after death before reconstructing the process of mummification.
KS2: Meet the Romans
Designed to develop investigative skills, children will discover how archaeology can teach us about life in the past. Through handling a wide range of original Roman artefacts and replica costume, they will see the wealth and variety of material that has survived from the Roman invasion of Britain.
KS2: Viking Raiders
More than 1000 years ago, fearsome Viking raiders sailed up the River Severn and into Shropshire. Who were they, where did they come from, and why did they come here? This fun workshop uncovers some of the mysteries of the Viking age, with a chance to handle Viking kit, hear tales of Viking gods and goddesses, and to re-enact some of the struggles between the Vikings and their Shropshire foes!
Children reconstruct a typical Anglo-Saxon grave to find out what burials tell us about their beliefs, way of life, crafts and technology. They compare this to the royal burial at Sutton Hoo and to the finds from the Staffordshire Hoard. Our Viking Raiders and Anglo-Saxon workshop sessions can be booked together as a whole day experience.
For information and to book contact: email@example.com Tel: 01743 258881
Two hour session in the morning or afternoon to suit your timetable. £110 for a two hour session, £190 for two of the same workshop sessions in one day.
The Shrophire Gallery’s Ceramics
Our ceramics display explores this story through the people who made some of Shropshire’s most famous tea sets and tiles. Companies such as Caughley, Coalport and Maw’s & Co. sold their wares around the world. Each piece is a unique record of the skills of the local people who designed, moulded, and decorated these pieces.