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Wednesday 22 November 2017

It's no life for 'Dead Zoo' treasures

Rare items in storage due to lack of funding

Nigel Monaghan holds a monkey’s skull – with braces – at Dublin’s Natural History Museum
Nigel Monaghan holds a monkey’s skull – with braces – at Dublin’s Natural History Museum yesterday
A tray of bird skins
Documentation assistant Alan O'Connor holds a stuffed baby elephant
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

THESE are among the treasures of Ireland's hidden past, unable to be put on public display because of a lack of funds and space.

The fossil of a seven-metre-long killer that terrorised the seas 200 million years ago and a 40,000-year-old leg of a woolly mammoth are among more than one million items held in storage by the Natural History Museum in Dublin.

The collection also includes unusual items like a monkey fitted with teeth braces -- a gift from the family of a Dublin dentist -- and a stuffed baby elephant.

"The macaque monkey was donated in 2006 by someone whose father was a dentist," Keeper of Natural History Nigel Monaghan told the Irish Independent.

"The monkey must have been put to sleep because it wouldn't go for that, it'd rip your arm off."

The museum has more than two million items in its collection, ranging from antlers of the giant Irish red deer to jars of pickled fish and microscopic crustaceans.

About half are on display in the Dead Zoo on Dublin's Merrion Square, with the remainder in storage where they will remain unless new funding is secured.

Rarely is anything thrown away. Last month, scientists discovered that the polar bear was directly descended from the Irish brown bear, based on a DNA analysis of bones held by the museum.

In the 1990s, a drawer full of stoats was subjected to analysis, which found they were native to Ireland.

But space and funding are issues for the museum, which would love to put more artefacts on public display.

One such artefact is the fossil of a seven-metre-long pliosaur, "like a killer whale but with more teeth and attitude".

"We can't display it. We could if we had two museums," Mr Monaghan said.

"There's no space for fossils since the 1960s because we lost a lot of space when the Dail expanded."

Some 300,000 people have visited the Dead Zoo in the past year.

Irish Independent

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