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Captivating book delves into background of museum objects


Captivating book delves into background of some objects in New Zealand museums

In 1983 a schoolgirl in south Auckland found a strange white bird huddled under a tree in the grounds of her school. The bird was clearly unwell. The girl took it home and looked after it but it died in the night.

This bird would start Auckland Museum curator Brian Gill on a consuming quest to discover the bird’s origin, and how it had ended up where it was found. The mystery deepened when a tiny ant’s head, found in the bird’s gizzard, showed the bird could have come only from southeast Australia. How on earth had it got to New Zealand?

This is one of the many remarkable stories in Gill’s book The Owl that Fell from the Sky (Awa Press, $35).

Natural history collections of museums contain thousands of strange specimens, from stuffed mammals to mysterious frogs, eggs of extinct birds, snakes – yes, we do have them in New Zealand! – and unusual bones. Behind many lie tales of adventure, exploration, human obsession, scientific quests and strange coincidences.

Gill, curator of birds and land vertebrates at Auckland Museum, reveals the background of fifteen unusual objects in New Zealand museums, and in the process leads us behind the scenes into the curator’s world, where a phone call from a member of the public can lead to an exciting discovery, carefully preserved specimens can help biosecurity officers detect that an alien species has invaded the country, and the answer to a baffling mystery can come from a tiny clue – such as the head of an ant.

A gem of a bookBrian Gill’s engaging prose hooks you immediately and captures the absolute delight of what it is to work in a museum. – Leo Joseph, Director, Australian National Wildlife Collection.


The Owl that Fell from the Sky: Stories of a Museum Curator by Brian Gill

Release date: June 21, 2012

RRP: $35


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