The Glass Plate Slides Collection – A View into Early 20th Century Documentation of Animals, Plants and Farming

While I’ve been busy cataloguing the scientific off-prints from the various institutes that have comprised the animal genetics programme in Edinburgh; with the start of the New Year I am moving on to catalogue the glass plate negative slide collection that makes up another aspect of the Towards Dolly project. There are c4000 glass slides, which we think were used as teaching materials, covering images of animals, plants, farming techniques and machinery from places like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South East Asia among other places.

Instructing students, Wagga Farm, New South Wales, Australia, early 20th century

Instructing students, Wagga Farm, New South Wales, Australia, early 20th century

First, though, I’d like to tell you a bit about what a glass plate slide is and a bit of its history in regards to photography. The first collodion wet plate negative was made by the British photographer, Frederick Scott Archer in 1851 and Richard Leach Maddox, a British physician and photographer, made the first dry glass plate negative twenty years later in 1871. What is meant by these types of negatives? ‘Glass plate negatives comprise two formats collodion wet plate negatives and gelatin dry plate negatives. Both types have a light sensitive emulsion with a binder thinly layered on one side of a glass plate.’ The article, Handle with Care: Glass Plate Negative and Lantern Slide Collections at the Syracuse University Archives, is particularly useful in describing the history and technique.

Since I’m just beginning to catalogue the glass slides collection and have already found many interesting and diverse images – from a photograph of men loading horses in the Chicago Stockyards:

to an illustration of man-eating lions from Tsavo (Kenya) :

– I’m looking forward to discovering more fascinating things as time goes on. I’ll keep you posted!

Star of the Stripes

J.C Ewart with Burchell's zebra c.1900I have recently begun cataloguing the papers of James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933), who was Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh from 1882 to 1927. Cossar Ewart was a pioneering zoologist and animal breeder who is probably best remembered for his work on cross-breeding zebras and horses. This work, written up as The Penycuik Experiments (1899), was instrumental in disproving the long-held theory of telegony, which held that the a sire could ‘infect’ the dam he serves by influencing the genetic inheritance of the offspring of subsequent sires.

To disprove this, Ewart cross-bred a zebra stallion with various mares of different breeds, which produced foals with zebra-like stripes. The mares were afterwards mated with horses of their own breeds, but these offspring never showed any evidence of having been affected by the previous zebra sire.

Cossar Ewart was also the driving force behind the establishment of a lectureship in genetics (1911) at the University, the first in the UK. He is pictured above with one of his prized zebras – an image which has already proved to be one of our most popular, as seen here

More about Cossar Ewart and his zebras to follow…

Avian Hieroglyphs in Ancient Egypt


In this first post of the New Year, I thought I’d start off with something fun, and while it’s not scientists performing interpretive dance in the 1950’s, it takes us in another direction combining archaeology and animals – back to the first mention of domestic birds in Ancient Egypt!

I came across J B Coltherd, a scientist at Edinburgh’s Poultry Research Centre’s article, “The Domestic Fowl in Ancient Egypt”, in Ibis, 108 (1966): 217-223 in the off-print series and discovered some interesting ideas on origin of chickens and geese in Egypt and that it could be reference by hieroglyphs depicting the different kinds of birds. In this article, he traces the birds’ history through trade routes and appearances of references in hieroglyphs from different time periods.

According to Coltherd, in 1966, ‘there is no recorded mention of the domestic fowl in Ancient Egypt before the Middle Kingdom (2134-1786 BC). Evidence for its existence there before this time is completely negative. The hieroglyph Quail which is found in the earliest inscriptions, and certain peculiarities in the mention of the indeterminate birds, led some early writers to believe that the fowl had already been introduced into Ancient Egypt at the dawn of history, by invaders from Mesopotamia.’

He illustrates the article with several examples:

A goose: Goose HeiroglyphA sentence on how four birds lay eggs every day:

Sentence and a general symbol for birds:

General birdThis article would certainly be fascinating to anyone interested in archaeology, Egyptology, as well as biology and animal migration. It would be interesting to know if anyone – scientist or archaeologist – has found any more specific and current information on when domestic fowls were introduced to Egypt. Any ideas – please post!