Bone Room Meditations VIII: sub basement 5

May 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

I wanted to know how the size of song bird skulls relate to brain size. To answer this question Peter Howlett, vertebrate curator at National Museum Wales took me down to one of the sub-basement sliding storage facilities.

As the shelves slid apart a series of strange jars were revealed. I moved into the space thus made and looked to my left; I was level with a tall glass vial full of lifeless terrapins that swirled very slowly in the residual movement from the parting of the shelves. Peter then got out the grey body of a pigeon; it looked boiled, the nerves sculpted out in delicate bas-relief. There was no doubt about it, it was a queasy object and our companion didn’t want to look at it at all.

“There, you can see”, said Peter, “the bones are very thin so there’s not much difference between the size of the brain and the size of the skull.”

The dissected pigeon, living on in my mind as an unforgettable image, was then returned to its fellow pickles; and to its fate of very slow decay that could just be detected beneath the odour of formaline. As we walked back up the steps Peter turned out the lights; sending the sub-basement back into a darkness that is as black as burnt bone.

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