Bone Idols: Protecting our iconic skeletons

This project took place from 2014-2015 and was a huge success - all goals were met. The text below dates from when the conservation work was taking place.
Preserving the world's rarest skeleton

The Grant Museum is undertaking a major project to protect 39 of our rarest and most significant skeletons, some which have been on display in the Museum for 180 years. This includes what can be considered the rarest skeleton in the world: our extinct quagga – an unusual half-striped zebra.

The Grant Museum rhino being disarticulated

It is the only mounted quagga skeleton in the UK, and no more than seven quagga skeletons survive globally. The Bone Idols project involves completely dismantling and chemically cleaning the irreplaceable skeleton, and then remounting it on a new skeleton-friendly frame in a more anatomically correct position.

Ensuring these specimens can be used for the long term

The work is intended to secure the long-term preservation of the specimens. We are now fund-raising to support this critical work. You can donate using on our online giving page.

Grant Museum Manager Jack Ashby says “The Grant Museum was founded in the 1820s as a collection for teaching. As a result, the ethos of the Museum today is to allow extremely close access to specimens for our visitors. The Bone Idols project is essential for the Museum to continue to use our collections every day in our fantastically popular programmes with schools and the public, as well as university teaching and research.”

Protecting uncollectable objects

The quagga would be the focus and most involved element of Bone Idols: Protecting our iconic skeletons, a major project of conservation across the Museum’s displays. Interventions will range from deep cleaning bones, repairing damaged elements and re-casing specimens through to remounting huge skeletons.

Among the 39 skeletons involved, we will be conserving our critically endangered gorilla, Siamese crocodile and Javan rhino, and endangered tiger, chimpanzee, orang-utan and Ganges river dolphin skeletons. These are effectively uncollectable today. 

You can watch a video introducing the project and demonstrating the dismantling  of our largest specimen - the one-horned rhino - below.

The majority of the specimens are being treated by UCL Museums’ expert Conservation Team, but for some of the larger skeletons, where complex metal-work is required to remount them, we have commissioned specialist skeleton preparator Nigel Larkin.

Raising the funds

The Museum is undertaking its first ever public individual giving fundraising campaign to meet the costs of this critical project.

The Museum is committing £15,000 from its own funds; nearly £2,000 has been generously provided by Arts Council England’s Museum Development Fund; and £750 from the Natural Sciences Collections Association, demonstrating the importance of the work to safe-guard these globally important specimens. However, we need to raise around £15,000 more to cover the costs of this crucial work.

Please support the campaign by making a donation on our online giving page, by using this postal donation form (.docx, 63kB), or in person in the Museum.


Collectively each small gift will make this project possible, preserving these irreplaceable skeletons for the long-term future.

Arts Council England logo Natural Sciences Collections Association logo
Bone Idols Project Objectives:

1) Improve the condition of largely uncollectable specimens through remedial conservation.
2) Improve the storage of those specimens by purchasing new cases.
3) Improve access to those specimens by ensuring their long term future.
4) Engage museum visitors with conservation work in action.
5) Learning experience for UCL Museums Conservators by working with specialists in skeletal articulation and mount-making/metal work.

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