Category Archives: Collection Management

Discovering the world’s largest kangaroo – Part 2: In the lab

By Rochelle Lawrence, Palaeontological Research Assistant, and Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator, Geosciences, Queensland Museum 

The giant kangaroo tibia (shinbone) found at the megafauna fossil sites of South Walker Creek, travelled safely back to the Queensland Museum’s Geosciences collection. The specimen is treated like evidence for a case (fossil evidence!) and is processed through a series of stages from field collection (Part 1) and preparation, to research and conservation. The plaster jacket containing the kangaroo tibia was brought into the fossil preparation laboratory where it was prepared by specially trained fossil preparators, like Rochelle and Peter below. The aim of the preparator is to expose the bone while minimizing the loss of information and preserving the specimen for the future.

South Walker Creek’s senior preparator, Rochelle, using an air scribe to remove matrix away from the specimen.
Rochelle and technician, Peter, make sure to have the right protective equipment when cutting open the plaster jacket. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

To begin preparation, we cut off the lid of the jacket with a plaster saw. Once opened we started to prepare the underside of the kangaroo tibia, the side that was facing down in the ground in the field and couldn’t be seen. We use a range of tools and vibrational air scribes to remove the sediment or matrix surrounding the specimen. As the lab is a technical workspace using electrical tools, equipment and chemicals, we wear a range of safety gear like earmuffs, glasses, dust masks and lab coats. We look pretty cool!

Palaeontology is a little bit like forensic science except we are solving some very, very old cases that involve prehistoric victims. Can you think of the similarities between the two sciences?

Peter uses the plaster saw to cut the lid off the jacket.
Peter begins the bulk removal of matrix surrounding the specimen. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

We continued to remove the matrix in layers before exposing the kangaroo tibia. During this whole process we record, photograph and photogram any interesting features such as a change in the sediment colour or type, or if we come across any other bones and teeth that have been preserved next to the main specimen. This information can help us understand how the fossil site formed through the processes of sedimentology and stratigraphy (the way in which the sediment was deposited in layers) and taphonomy (how the animal decayed and fossilized) [Sketchfab 4]

The tibia is revealed in the matrix about half-way through preparation. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

The final phase of preparation for this side of the kangaroo tibia is the surface cleaning and preservation treatment with chemical glues to consolidate [Sketchfab 3] the specimen, keeping it together. It’s during this stage that we see other interesting features on the surface of the bone. With our tibia we found a few pathologies (diseases or injuries). A deep groove [Sketchfab 1] within the shaft indicates an injury or bone disease. However, it also shows secondary bone growth indicating that the disease did not kill the animal because it had time to grow new bone. We then found two puncture marks [Sketchfab 2] which fit the form of crocodile teeth indicating the kangaroo was attacked by a crocodile and this is how the kangaroo died.

Are you starting to see how similar our science is to forensics? We now have an idea of who may have been involved in the death of our victim, the giant kangaroo.

Crocodile teeth of many shapes and sizes found within the South Walker Creek sediment. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

The next phase involved the creation of a plaster cradle [Sketchfab 2] so that the specimen could be flipped over allowing us to complete the preparation of the other side. We have to make sure the cradle is just right to support the specimen, not grip it too tight, otherwise it may never be taken out without breaking it. We use plastic wrap to protect the bone and plasticine around the specimen to create a wall for the wet plaster mix (casting plaster and a polymer) to settle and dry into a strong cradle.

Rochelle stands next to the tibia which has completed the first stage of preparation.
The tibia is covered in plastic wrap which is tucked into the plasticine wall. The plaster mix is poured over the plastic wrap molding to the surface of the bone to create a form-fitted plaster cradle for the specimen to sit in. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Can you see the similarities and differences between the field plaster jacket from Part 1 and the collection plaster cradle here?

Once again, we have to undertake the tricky process of flipping the kangaroo tibia in one piece. If we have properly conserved the specimen it shouldn’t fall apart – which it didn’t! We took away the plasticine wall and cleared away any loose matrix to prepare the side we first saw in the field. When it was finished, we did some final photographs and photograms of the specimen, and completed the documentation of our preparation job. The specimen is now ready for further analyses and research!

The kangaroo tibia survived the flip and is ready for the final stage of preparation.
The tibia fully prepared and completed. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

A part of this stage involved the transportation of the kangaroo tibia to a hospital so it could be X-rayed (Computed Tomography scanned). Can you imagine what the other patients thought as we wheeled in a fossil leg bone of a giant kangaroo! A radiographer, like Nikki below, takes x-ray images of the bone from different angles to produce digital slices of the specimen [Sketchfab 1]. This allows us to see inside the bone [Sketchfab 4], like x-ray vision, and in this case to study the pathology [Sketchfab 2, 3] in greater detail. Once a specimen has gone through the research stage it is finally ready for conservation, which is the final treatment of the specimen into a safe environment where it is either stored within the collections or placed on display.

The kangaroo tibia is on its new plaster cradle ready to be CT scanned.
Nikki controls the scanner with her computer and uses special algorithms to process images of the fossil bones, which are denser than human bones. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

We use all of the data collected as evidence to form a profile on our victim. We have found some teeth and other limb bones representing a giant kangaroo that may be associated with our victim. Its unguals (claws) [Sketchfab 3] on its feet also have a unique morphology (form, shape) being long and hoof-like, similar to a deer. It may have used its strong unguals to tip toe, making itself taller, to reach food that was higher up in the trees.

Starting from the back, the white coloured tibia is from a modern kangaroo followed by two fossil tibiae from our giant kangaroo and finally the shinbone of a smaller species of kangaroo. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

In fact, what stands out about this giant kangaroo, is its size [Sketchfab 5] perhaps reaching up to 3 metres in height when on its toes. We compared it to other known extinct giant kangaroos and it didn’t fit these species. Its tibia [Sketchfab 1] is longer than these species even without the epiphyses (end caps) fused, meaning it wasn’t fully grown adult. We think our giant kangaroo might be a new species and it looks to be the biggest species ever found!

Reconstruction of the giant kangaroo with a joey in its pouch next to an adult human of average height. Image Credit: Vlad Konstantinov, Andrey Atuchin, Scott Hocknull, Rochelle Lawrence.

Make sure to check out Part 1: In the Field as we go behind the scenes to collect evidence of a giant kangaroo.

Project DIG is a partnership between Queensland Museum and BHP that will digitise and scan our collections and research for people worldwide. Check out our Tropical Megafauna in 3D!

Top Image – The stages our kangaroo tibia went through from being excavated in the field, documented through photogrammetry, CT scanned and finally reconstructed. Image Credit: Vlad Konstantinov, Andrey Atuchin, Scott Hocknull.

Discovering the world’s largest kangaroo- Part 1: In the field

By Rochelle Lawrence, Palaeontological Research Assistant, and Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator, Geosciences, Queensland Museum 

As the weather begins to cool, the ‘dig’ season starts for us (palaeontologists) as we venture off along the coast and into the outback heart of Queensland. Over the last ten years we have been investigating a series of fossil sites at South Walker Creek located near the town of Nebo, west of Mackay. It is here that we are finding some of Australia’s last tropical ice age megafauna.

The dig team excavate megafauna bones at the main fossil site on an ancient floodplain. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Our dig team usually consists of palaeontologists, along with other scientists and specialists who contribute and volunteer their time. During the year of 2016 one of our volunteers, Noel Sands, who specializes in caving (and their fossil deposits!) called speleology, found a very large fossilized bone. Using an array of brushes and dig tools, Noel carefully excavated the sediment from around the bone to expose its shape and size. It was identified as a tibia (shinbone) [Sketchfab 1] from a kangaroo, but not just any kangaroo, the world’s largest species of kangaroo!

Using a palaeontologist’s tool kit to remove the sediment and find the extent of the bone. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Once the position of the bone was established, we trenched around the specimen to create a pedestal so it could be isolated, with its surrounding sediment, from the rest of the dig site. The bone was then recorded and photographed in situ (the original place of deposition). We also place a temporary paddle pop stick [Sketchfab 6, 7)] with an identifying field number on the bone so it can be plotted in 3-D using a process called photogrammetry.

Scott and Rochelle doing the ‘photogrammetry shuffle’ where they take overlapping photos at different heights and angles of the exposed bones across the entire dig site. These photos are uploaded to special software to reconstruct them in 3-D, kind of like a 3-D puzzle. Image Credit: Clare O’Bryen.

To begin the process of extraction, we first cover the bone and pedestal with foil to act as a protective layer. It is then covered with strips of wet newspaper, which provides cushioning for the jacket we are going to make to contain the bone. To make the jacket we use strips of hessian dipped in a plaster mix (casting plaster and water) and wrap them around the pedestal with the bone and wait for it dry. This is always the fun job!

The large tibia bone on the pedestal ready to be jacketed.
Scott, Christina and Natalia have fun plastering the specimen. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Once the plaster jacket is dry, the field number and a directional north arrow are written on it so we know which specimen it is and its position in the site. The next step of the process is always tricky and is about getting it just right to roll the jacket over with the specimen kept in one piece. We use a hammer to bang in chisels at the base of the pedestal to loosen it from the underlying sediment. When it becomes loose it is ready to be quickly rolled over. If we have made a good jacket the specimen should stay all in one piece. On rare occasions we are not so lucky, but this time it went without a hitch! You can see this whole process in the video below, check it out!

Scott using a hammer and chisel to slowly wedge the plaster jacket away from the ground.
Noel and Scott sit happy and proud with the successful roll over of the plaster jacket. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Finally, the other side of the plaster jacket is sealed with the same plastering process to form a lid. Now the specimen is protected in a hard, egg-like shell to be transported back to the Queensland Museum and stored temporarily in the Geosciences collection with other unprocessed specimens awaiting preparation. There was also a distal tibia epiphyses (end cap) bone [Sketchfab 3] sitting on the shaft of the tibia and a bone shard [Sketchfab 4] nearby that were carefully collected so they were out of the way of extracting the tibia. We will be able to see if these bones are associated (connected) to the tibia.

Scott and Christina make the lid to the plaster jacket so it is sealed and protecting the specimen inside on its travels back to the museum. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Another challenge of the fieldwork is getting large jackets from the dig site back to the field vehicle. As the terrain is quite rough and our excavations occur in an eroded creek bed we cannot drive very close to the dig site. We have to use trollies, stretchers and manual handling to slowly walk the jackets with their specimens out of the dig site. Whilst excavating fossils by hand is exciting, it is also a lot of hard work. It involves good fitness, experience, precision, problem solving and most importantly team work.

Scott and Peter are tasked with transporting the large plaster jacket across the bumpy terrain to the field vehicle using a trolley. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Check out Part 2: In the Lab as we go behind the scenes to investigate the giant kangaroo leg further.

Project DIG is a partnership between Queensland Museum and BHP that will digitise and scan our collections and research for people worldwide. Check out our Tropical Megafauna in 3D!

Top Image – The dig team sit proudly around the tibia of the world’s largest species of kangaroo, all ready to be extracted. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

 

Contemporary collecting: Recording history as it happens

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside the collections at Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

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Global Strike for Climate march in Townsville, September 2019. Image by Sophie Price, Queensland Museum

What springs to mind when you think of museums? How about words like old, ancient, artefact or taxidermy? That’s not surprising.  Museums have a long history of collecting and displaying ‘curiosities’ just like that – ancient artefacts, taxidermy specimens, dinosaurs and mummies. In movies, they are often portrayed as dark, musty places filled with forgotten things.

But the concept of museums, and the theory behind what we collect and why, is constantly evolving. This topic is even more prominent right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic engulfing everyday life.

People all over the world are realising that we are living and experiencing a key moment in history, the likes of which have not been experienced since WWI, and the ‘Spanish flu’.

Covid-19 will be recorded in history books, and perhaps more importantly, in the form of quarantine memes and tik toks. It begs the question of how we can preserve these iconic moments in time, when they are happening around us.

Contemporary collecting is necessary in museums – world history isn’t just ancient history. It’s modern, it’s current, it’s happening as we speak and, it’s defining us.

History in real time

In March last year, Queensland Museum Network began collecting items associated with another contemporary, current phenomena: the School Strike for Climate movement.

The movement originally gained worldwide attention in August 2018, when the unwavering 15 year old Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, began striking from school outside the Swedish Parliament, to call for stronger action on global warming and climate change. Now the public face leading the worldwide movement, Greta is renowned for her hand-made sign which she used at this protest, with a simple yet effective message: “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (School strike for climate).

By September 2019, more than 7.6 million people joined Greta for a week of protests and strikes for climate action worldwide. In Australia alone, more than 300 000 school children and adult supporters took part in over 100 separate rallies during the nationwide strike on 20 September, to protest the lack of climate action by Government bodies and politicians. In Australia, 2,500 businesses allowed employees to take time off to participate in the strikes. To date, the September strikes are the largest climate mobilisation and protest in history.

The student driven School Strike for Climate movement focuses on one of the most important social and environmental issues of the 21st century: climate change and climate action.

There were three key demands of the September strikes and the School Strike 4 Climate movement in Australia. They were no new coal, oil and gas projects, 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030; and, for the government to fund a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and communities. The campaign emphasised how Australia is already in the grips of the climate crisis, with the effects of prolonged drought, flash flooding, bushfires, cyclones and heatwaves causing damage to people and environments throughout the country.

The movement recognises that, as one of the greatest threats to future human existence, global warming and the ongoing effects of climate change directly threaten the future of today’s children. Young people will continue to drive the movement with unwavering passion.

Preserving the movement inside the museum

As the September 2019 strikes neared, staff at from Queensland Museum Network looked for ways to record the historical event. The answer was clear: what better way to capture the meaning of the movement than through documenting the messages of the protestors?

The following collection of protest posters and signs highlights the attitudes of the young people involved in the Townsville School Strike for Climate rallies, and whose livelihoods and futures depend on the outcomes of the protests. These items are now officially part of the State Collection, recording this moment in our history for generations to come.

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Alice de Fouchier has carried her homemade protest sign in three climate rallies. She kindly donated the sign to Museum of Tropical Queensland after the September strikes in Townsville. The sign reads, ‘we need to save the world’. (Object no: H49889). Image by Matthew Lewandowski

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James Cook University students Tia Goltl and William Loveday with their protest signs. Tia’s sign reads, ‘don’t be a fossil fool’, and William’s reads, ‘the climate is changing, why aren’t we?’ (Object no: H49893). Image by Sophie Price, Queensland Museum

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Local school student Brooklyn O’Hearn at the Townsville rally. The reverse side of Brooklyn’s sign reads, WORD OF THE WEEK ‘CLIMIGRATION’ (Object no: H49890). Image by Sophie Price, Queensland Museum

Extinction Rebellion (XR), an international socio-political movement with a primary focus on nonviolent civil disobedience produced the following two signs: The Rebel Agreement – a summarised understanding of the movement, and a poster that was distributed to participants.

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This poster was produced by Extinction Rebellion, a global grassroots organisation who promote nonviolent acts of civil disobedience in the protest for climate action (Object no: H49891)

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The Extinction Rebellion ‘Rebel Agreement’ (Object no: H49892)

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator, Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

In Focus: The Ernie Grant Collection

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside the collections at Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

In 2016, the Queensland Museum purchased a collection of items from Jirrbal Elder, Dr Ernie Grant.

The Ernie Grant Collection, now housed at Museum of Tropical Queensland, represents the cultural and social life of Ernie Grant and his family. Although a small collection, it is personal and unique.

The objects in the Museum’s Ernie Grant Collection include boomerangs, shields, a ceramic shield created by artist Danie Mellor, firesticks, a shadow box and baskets – these are representative of Ernie’s wider personal collection, and document key moments in Ernie’s life and work.

These particular objects were collected over decades, and over that time they have been carefully curated by Ernie. As curator and custodian, Ernie recorded all the information possible about these objects, including where and when they were made, who made the objects, the history of use, and associated stories. The collection stands out amongst the many items in the museum, which have been disconnected from their cultural identity, makers, and communities from which they originated.

Ernie is a Jirrbal man from Tully in Far North Queensland. He has worked widely across Queensland, particularly in the Tully and Innisfail regions. In his early days, Ernie worked for the Railways, and for government departments controlling noxious weeds.

From there, he worked in the timber industry in Papua New Guinea, and in 1991 joined the Queensland Education Department as a Cultural Research Officer based in Cairns.

Ernie’s work in the Queensland Education system has made a significant impact in the way language and culture are taught in the Queensland curriculum. He was instrumental in the development of holistic planning and teaching frameworks, for embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and knowledge in the education system.

Ernie has also collaborated with the Tasmanian Education Department, South Australian Museum and the National Library of Australia, and received national and international recognition for his life’s work.

The following four items from the Ernie Grant Collection were selected to provide an insight into the types of culturally significant objects Ernie curated throughout his lifetime.

Ceramic Shield

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This ceramic shield was made by artist Danie Mellor. The shield echoes the styles of traditional rainforest shields of the Murray Upper Region in North Queensland. Significantly, Danie gifted this item to Ernie Grant, to recognise Ernie’s crucial role in helping Danie understand his personal history and develop his art practice.

Shadow Box

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This three-tiered shadow box is constructed using several pieces of wood shaped as boomerangs, spearthrowers and clap sticks. The shadow box is painted and features motifs of fish, goanna, snake, platypus, and turtle.

Shadow boxes are a contemporary form of Aboriginal artwork, and were originally produced in the 1970s at the Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve. Shadow boxes are a representational artwork of Aboriginal culture, featuring scaled down versions of cultural objects such as boomerangs, spear throwers and shields.

Shadow boxes were often displayed in family homes, and were rarely sold outside communities; they were not produced as souvenirs, but as cultural representation. Ernie purchased this from a community artist and kept it in his collection for over 40 years.

Shield

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This item was made sometime between 1959 and 1989. Ernie stipulated that this type of shield was made by boys before they became men. It is much smaller than traditional rainforest shields.

Firestick (Bagu)

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This Firestick was made in the late nineteenth century. The Firestick is traditionally made up of two parts – the Bagu (body) and the Jiman (sticks).

The Bagu is made in the form of a man, and the patterned designs represent the fire spirit – who would take the Jiman, throw them across the sky, and leave behind a trail of fire.

See some of the contemporary artworks inspired by Bagu at the Girringun Aboriginal Arts Centre: http://art.girringun.com.au/projects/bagu-with-jiman/

Keep an eye out for the rest of the Ernie Grant Collection on the Queensland Museum Network Collections Online.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator, Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

 

Uncovering Pacific Pasts: Histories of archaeology in Oceania

As part of the Collective Biography of Archaeology in the Pacific (CBAP) Project (led by the Australian National University in Canberra), the Museum of Tropical Queensland is currently participating in the worldwide exhibition, Uncovering Pacific Pasts: Histories of archaeology in Oceania. The collaborative display is featured in over 30 collecting institutions around the world, and explores the ideas, people and networks that were pivotal in the development of archaeology. The displays show how social interactions continue to affect the ways in which we interpret and engage with the history of the Pacific.

The Museum of Tropical Queensland chose to feature a range of stone adzes from HMS Pandora and investigate what the objects themselves can tell us about who made, used and traded them.

Polynesian stone tools excavated from HMS Pandora (1791)

Twenty five basalt adze blades and five basalt pounders were excavated from HMS Pandora, from the area thought to be the officer’s storeroom. These Polynesian tools give insight into the movement of objects in the 18th century.

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Stone adzes excavated from HMS Pandora

The late 18th century was a time of burgeoning exploration, colonisation and settlement by Europeans throughout Oceania. Driven by the high demand for ‘artificial curiosities’ in Europe, sailors on the early voyages made a habit of collecting souvenirs or ‘curios’ from islands in the Pacific. Museums and private collectors sought out these prized objects, with many items forming the basis of early European museum collections.

Objects often become disconnected from information about where or how they were collected, and the people who originally owned and used them. The Pandora collection, however, is different. Documentary evidence – the captain’s log – links the stone tools to specific regions in the Pacific islands where Pandora stopped to search for the HMAV Bounty mutineers.

While the captain’s logbook does not specifically mention the crew actively collecting the ‘curiosities’ during the voyage, the excavated assemblage is evidence that trade and exchange occurred between the crew and the local peoples.

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Made from volcanic rock, the adze blades were usually attached or hafted to a wooden handle with plaited coconut fibre

Mid-20th century archaeological investigation placed emphasis on the shape and form of adzes, suggesting that certain types of adze originated from different island groups across Oceania. These studies also suggest that the location of where the artefact was found is also where the stone was sourced and the tool manufactured. This method of investigation is known as typological analysis, and it identifies the majority of adzes from Pandora as coming from the Society Islands where the crew spent many weeks during the voyage. The remaining adzes are thought to have originated from the Southern Cook Islands, where Pandora visited Aitutaki and Palmerston Island. Interestingly, typological analysis of one style of adze identifies it as originating from Tubuai, an island visited by Bounty but not Pandora.

More recently, researchers used a non-destructive geo-chemical technique called portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) to determine the composition of the stone tools and identify quarry sources. These results open up more interesting questions. Did each island group have their own quarry where they dug out the stone for their tools or was the unshaped rock moved between the different island groups? If this occurred, what can we learn about Polynesian voyaging, social networks and exchange throughout the Pacific?

Soon, we will be able to better understand how these objects moved throughout Oceania, prior to their journey on Pandora. The results of these studies are forthcoming.

Alison Mann, Assistant Collection Manager, Museum of Tropical Queensland

This display is now on at Museum of Tropical Queensland from 1 March 2020.

To see what other objects are on display around the world and the links between them please visit uncoveringpacificpasts.org

Re-imagining Pandora

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

In 1790, HMS Pandora sailed out of England with a clear mission: to find the HMS Bounty and its 25 mutineers. Pandora reached Tahiti in March 1791, and captured 14 of the mutineers, restraining them in the makeshift prison cell on the stern deck, ‘Pandora’s Box’. Leaving Tahiti in May 1791, Pandora spent the next several months searching for the remaining mutineers on other islands in the South-West Pacific, including Samoa, Tonga, Rotuma and Tokelau. On the eventual journey home to the United Kingdom in August, after failing to track down the nine other mutineers, Pandora ran aground and sank whilst attempting to traverse the Torres Strait.

The wreck remained undisturbed until 1977. Upon discovery of the shipwreck site, the Queensland Museum conducted several archaeological expeditions between 1979 and 1999. The extensive excavations unearthed a significant amount of the buried ship’s hull, as well as the well-preserved collection of artefacts now held by the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville.

When Pandora sank, so did almost everything on board the vessel. The Queensland Museum team uncovered a large assemblage of artefacts that shed light on the everyday lifestyle on board the ship during its eventful journey, as well as a range of Polynesian artefacts that the crew had collected whilst on the islands.

Among these Polynesian objects were a collection of fishhooks and shanks made from mother of pearl shell. Research on the collection deduced that the shell shanks, in particular, were parts of fishing lures used for trolling bonito fish. When suspended in water during use, the lures resemble small fish moving in the water, and attract the predatory bonito. After over 180 years underwater, the other distinguishing features of the lures – the hook and plant fibres – disintegrated prior to discovery of the wreck. The shanks, therefore, cannot be linked to one particular area, as this kind of lure was not only common in French Polynesia, but in a variety of regions across Oceania. They came in a variety of forms, colours and sizes, depending where they were manufactured.

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MA7901 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

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MA8098 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s

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MA8023.1 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

Currently on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland is the display, ‘Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora collection’. As part of the display, artist and anthropologist Tokainiua Devatine created an art installation inspired by the many pearl shell shanks from the Pandora wreck. In his artwork, Tokainiua aimed to represent the variation in the pearl shanks, displaying different sizes, colours and forms of the shell pieces in his interpretive artwork.

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Art installation created by artist Tokainiua Devatine, currently on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
People in French Polynesia still use bonito lures made from mother of pearl shells to catch bonito fish. Although, today metal hooks and synthetic fibres are used on the lures, instead of the natural fibres and shell or bone hooks used when the Pandora’s crew acquired the lures.

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E40896 Bonito lure. PhD student and curator Jasmin Guenther purchased this lure in French Polynesia in 2018.

Alongside the pearl shanks found on the Pandora wreck site were several pearl fishhooks. Fishhooks used in French Polynesia at the time of Pandora’s journey through Oceania also came in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their intended use and associated region. Locals would frequently include the hooks in trade and exchange practices, and European visitors to the islands avidly collected them in the 1700s.

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MA8006 Fish hook fragment. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

Unlike the lures, pearl fishhooks are no longer used for recreational or commercial fishing today.

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E40888, E40889. Tahitian artist Hiro Ou Wen created these fishhooks in 2018 as reproductions of the traditional pearl fishhooks discovered at the Pandora shipwreck.

To learn more about the material culture of French Polynesia, and the connection between Pandora artefacts and contemporary art in Oceania today, visit the Museum of Tropical Queensland and experience the current display, ‘Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora collection’.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

Well, that’s a pickle!

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories

Sometimes when working with the collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, you see an object that just makes you stop in your tracks. The object featured today is one that really made me stop and think. So what is it?

A bottle of pickled onions. Exciting, I know!

This bottle was manufactured by Nuttall & Co in Lancashire, England between 1873 and 1887. It was then transferred onto the Scottish Prince, where it would become part of the cargo travelling with passengers on the vessel from the United Kingdom to Australia in the late 19th century.

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On the 2nd of February, 1887, the Scottish Prince was making the final stage of its journey under the command of William Little, sailing into Moreton Bay, Queensland. William Little left the ship that night, with a less-experienced Second Mate in charge of the vessel. Just before midnight, the Scottish Prince ran aground at the southern end of Stradbroke Island.

More than 60 years later in 1955, the ‘Under Water Research Group of Queensland’ discovered the wreck. The site was explored and, in many cases, pillaged by divers collecting souvenirs and scrap metal.

This bottle of pickled onions was uncovered from the Scottish Prince wreck in 1974, by Mr Elliott. He collected it before the implementation of the Historic Shipwreck Act in 1976, which enacted new regulations that protect historic shipwrecks in Commonwealth waters, and maintain their use for educational, recreational and scientific purposes. In 1993, an historic shipwreck amnesty was established which encouraged divers and other private collectors to declare their artefacts from shipwrecks older than 75 years, without charges being laid, in order for the Commonwealth to document and create a more complete understanding of the existing artefacts and heritage of Australian Maritime history.

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Elliott declared this object at the time of the amnesty, and in 2017, donated the bottle of pickled onions to Museum of Tropical Queensland, where it became a valued addition to the Museum’s Maritime collection.

The bottle – with the lid still intact, and the onions inside still preserved – has lasted throughout its tumultuous history with almost no damage! Another interesting element is that the lid was made with a lead seal, which would have heavily contaminated the contents of the bottle had they ever been consumed. So no, even if we wanted to crack the bottle open, we couldn’t eat these pickled onions anymore! Created in the late 19th century in the United Kingdom, and then remaining – untouched and undamaged – underwater for almost 70 years in Australian waters, this object has lived a very interesting life, and seen things we can only imagine.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland