Displaying animal skeletons in museums is just one of many reasons for preparing bones. Museums also maintain extensive collections of bones for the study of comparative anatomy.
All vertebrate animals have skeletons based on the same plan, because they involved from a common ancestor. By comparing them side by side, researchers can study the process of evolution and the levels of relationship between species. Medical researchers can also gain insight into our own bodies by studying the anatomy of other animals.
For this reason, far more bones are held in museum storage than are ever on display.
One of the leading lights of comparative anatomy in New Zealand was Thomas Jeffrey Parker, who from 1880 until his early death in 1897, was a professor of biology at the University of Otago and curator of Otago Museum.
Parker was a force of scientific enquiry and a masterful teacher who produced more than 40 scientific papers and numerous textbooks on biology.
He was also an extraordinary preparator of animal remains. Many of his exquisite bone articulations are on display at Otago Museum, while a collection of painted skulls, with their individual bones artfully colour-coded, is still in use by university students a century after it was made.
Among Parker’s many achievements was the development of a technique for preserving soft, biodegradable animal parts like cartilage and gut tissue using glycerine. The items he prepared in this way are still in a fine state, and provide a great resource for researchers.
To this day, no one has managed to match Parker’s skill and prowess at using this technique.
Old bones are a staple of museum collections, but only a handful of people in New Zealand have the skills to prepare them for display. Recovering the skeleton of a large animal—rotting it down, preparing, cleaning and articulating it—is a long and demanding journey that only the most dedicated pursue.
Last century, firearms flooded into New Zealand with returning servicemen, and during peacetime guns became synonymous with an honest, healthy way of life in the hills. Now, there are thought to be 1.5 million firearms in New Zealand—one for every three people—used as conservation or farming tools, or simply for sport. To some, firearms symbolise self-sufficiency and responsibility. To others, they’ll never be more than instruments of death.
But is this issue as clear-cut as it seems?
There is a quiet revolution taking place in rural New Zealand. Over the past decade, migrant labour has become essential to the country’s dairy farms, vineyards and kiwifruit orchards, and as a result, the culture of regional communities is changing. A bustling Sikh temple has opened in Te Puke, songs from Vanuatu warm chilly nights in Central Otago, and in Southland, around 1500 Filipinos are employed on the region’s 900 dairy farms. Yet many new-migrant families lead insecure lives, at the whim of immigration law, their future in this country uncertain.
Across the world, ecosystems have been transformed by the mass extinctions that followed the arrival of humans. In New Zealand, the moa, the world’s largest eagle, sea lions, elephant seals and whales were wiped from the register at lightning speed. How did our megafauna become reduced to lawn ornaments?