In a grey concrete building on the University of Reading campus is a really colourful gem. The Cole Museum of Zoology. The collection demonstrates the diversity of the animal kingdom with some incredible specimens.
It’s a bit of a surreal space; a brightly lit entrance hall, that just happens to have some stunning and varied specimens on show. Here there really is an elephant in the room – an articulated Indian Elephant skeleton, with a Fake Killer Whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling alongside of it.
The displays are arranged by type, which further emphasises the diversity within species groups. There are a lot of beautifully preserved wet specimens, but also incredible casts of fossils, such as one that is deemed the largest spider (the main part of its body is bigger than a human head).
This is the first time that I have seen a copy from the Human Tissue Authority certificate displayed alongside human remains, as well as interpretation that explains the collection and display of these remains and takes account of the insensitive nature of the collection of human remains in the past. This was really refreshingly honest and transparent.
It was also great to be given some examples as to where specimens came from, including their original costs, thus showing off the detail of the accession information recorded. For example the India Elephant was bought by Cole for £42, it is the remains of an ex-circus performing elephant from 19th century Liverpool. There was also a case that focused on the wildlife on campus as well as recording work that students have been working on recently, showing how information on the collection links to and is used by current students.
University collections often have to display really detailed information which can lead to lengthy interpretation panels, but not here where information is kept concise. Extra information is available on a touch screen, easy to use, virtual tour. And it’s not just all writing, the ‘put the pig back together’ interactive is a case in point.
But it’s not the only museum on campus, just a short walk from the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology. I’m pretty jealous of the students here who have access to such interesting collections practically on their doorsteps.