Six questions for a geological curator – David Gelsthorpe – Manchester

David is Curator of Earth Science Collections at The Manchester Museum.

If you would like to find out more about what he is up to then follow him on Twitter @Paleomanchester and take a look at his blog

David Gelsthorpe

David in front of the famous Stigmaria specimen at The Manchester Museum, and (right) an early photograph of the specimen.

1. What sort of Geological collections do you look after? (Mineralogy, Palaeontology, what fossil or mineral groups, other natural history groups too?)

Palaeontology, Mineralogy and Petrology.

2. What is your collection usually used for and by whom? (Public display, scientific enquiries, teaching?)

Manchester Museum’s collection is used by a wide range of people, something I’m really proud of.

We have around 450,000 visitors a year to the galleries and the collection is used by university students, researchers, schools, artists and for public events.

3. What is the most famous item in your collection and why?

Stan the T. rex is probably the most famous item in our collection amongst the public, but I’d choose our Stigmaria. It’s an incredible specimen and can be used to really bring the Carboniferous to life. We also have a fantastic selection of images of when it was discovered in 1886 and a great account of the Museum’s curators trudging through the rain to go and see it.

4. What is the most viewed part of your collection and why?

In terms of research, it is probably the Ice Age mammals. We have one of the largest collections in the country, particularly from Creswell Crags in Derbyshire.

Creswell is one of the northern-most outposts of human occupation in Europe during the last Ice Age and has yielded some incredible fossils. Some of the highlights include human remains and almost everything else from Cave Lions to Water Voles. Much of the research has involved dating the material to unravel the complexities of climate change at this time.

5. What is your favourite story about your collection that illustrates its importance and use? (more than one story is allowed if you want!)

So many to choose from! One of my favourites is the discovery of Percy the Plesiosaur in 1960 by Manchester University students.

Fred Broadhurst, who was a lecturer at the University, was leading a group of students along the beach between Robin Hood’s Bay and Ravenscar when one of them shouted ‘that’s a big belemnite’. It turned out to be the skull of an almost complete plesiosaur. Fred led a team excavate and conserve the fossil, which was subsequently described as a new holotype.

It is a great example of what can still be discovered, particularly to students embarking on their geology degrees.

6. If you had unlimited funds, how would you develop your collection?

Top of my list would be: a complete Mammoth (a North Sea one would be nice), world class meteorites, large marine reptiles and gemstones. Not much to ask surely!

I’d also supplement that with a big extension to the galleries and collection areas and dedicated collections and conservation staff.

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