Powell Cotton Museum receives loaned Chimpanzee skeleton

The Powell Cotton Museum, located in Quex Park Birchington, is excited to announce a recent arrival on loan from the Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill, London. As part of the Horniman’s Object in Focus loans programme the Powell-Cotton Museum is the recipient of an articulated chimpanzee skeleton which will be on display until 15th December 2019.

The Object in Focus programme allows objects from the nationally significant Horniman Museum collection to travel outside the capital to museums around the country. Displayed in the Powell-Cotton Museum’s stunning Gallery 1, opposite the famous ‘monkey tree’ diorama, visitors will be able to see what is on the inside, as well as the outside, of these amazing animals. Object in Focus gives access to the Horniman’s collections by offering objects on short term loan.

This skeleton of a young chimpanzee (object number 25.15) was acquired in 1925 by the Horniman Museum and Gardens from the renowned London taxidermy company Rowland Ward Ltd. They specialised in mounting animal skins and displaying their bones. Taxidermy became highly fashionable in the 19th century as part of interior design as well as for scientific study.

Like many ape specimens prepared in the 19th and early 20th centuries it is mounted in an upright position. This is quite unlike the natural knuckle-walking stance of a chimpanzee. The upright position made comparisons between ape and human skeletons easier, so that similarities and differences could be seen more clearly.

The taxidermy specimens in the Powell-Cotton Museum’s Primate Diorama were also prepared by Rowland Ward Ltd. They were mounted between 1909 and 1952. Percy PowellCotton wanted his specimens to be as lifelike as possible. He gave the taxidermists notes on how to pose them based on his observations of animals in the wild. One of our chimpanzees is in a natural knuckle-walking posture, on all fours with the fingers curled under.

Powell-Cotton also built a large study collection of primate skeletons, which are not on display. The diverse collection includes animals of all ages, and some that were sick or injured. This makes it a very important resource for researchers, and the collection is used regularly to study conservation and evolution.

Research into the comparative anatomy of primates and humans contributes to our understanding of evolution and human and primate behaviour. Researchers can map physical features of modern primates against their observed behaviour, which informs the interpretation of fossil primate material, including human ancestors. Research on primate ecology also informs and supports conservation efforts aimed at protecting our nearest nonhuman relations.