ABACO’S MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, MARSH HARBOUR


Prehistoric crocodile skull fossil, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

ABACO’S MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, MARSH HARBOUR

The Abaco Field Office of the AMMC is located at Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour. Primarily geared toward the study and research of the natural history and prehistory of The Bahamas, the expanding collection makes a huge contribution to the knowledge and understanding of the environment from both before and after the arrival of people to the archipelago.

Turtle shells & Prehistoric crocodile skull fossils, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The cases shown below hold carefully labelled exhibits, against a background showing the structure of the cave systems and blue holes of the island. Prehistoric fossils and turtle shells, early lucayan human skulls, a HUTIA (extirpated from Abaco in times past), a deceased parrot, bats, butterflies, and a whole lot more are on display.

Exhibit cases in the Museum of Natural History, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

There is even a small reminder of Abaco’s once-thriving logging industry, in the shape of two circular blades from the area around the Sawmill Sink blue hole. For more of the ‘industrial archeology’ at the site (with photos,) check out what was revealed by a still-smouldering forest fire HERECircular saw blades from Sawmill Sink, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)The activities conducted through the office include site surveys, excavation and documentation, collection, the conservation and curation of artifacts and fossil material, and public outreach. .  Fossil / ancient turtle shells, natural history museum Abaco (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Specialised scientific activities include researching the blue holes and cave systems of Abaco. The explorations have discovered the prehistoric remains of now-extinct vertebrate species; geologic anomalies; evidence of prehistoric storm and fluctuating sea levels; and valuable data about the biodiversity of cave-adapted fauna and vegetation.

Cased butterflies, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Dry caves and blue holes also provide evidence the arrival of the first humans that migrated to the Bahamas, beginning with the early Lucayan Amerindians, as well as the plant and animal communities during their initial occupation more than 1000 years ago. One skull (r) demonstrates graphically the effect of the Lucayan practice of (deliberate) cranial deformation.

Human Skulls, Lucayan - Cased butterflies, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The Field Office’s collaborative research involves a number of scientific organisations; and the educative outreach includes schools, universities, scientific conferences and public forums. As importantly, the valuable community resource of a first-rate small museum that contains many fascinating exhibits it right there in Marsh Harbour. And it is free to all.

Crocodile skull, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)   Hutia, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Display cases, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Some of the cave bats of Abaco. In Ralph’s Cave, to this day there’s a fossilised bat entombed forever on the floor of the cave.

Display of bats, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Fossilised bat, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The museum is located at the Abaco offices of the AMMC and Friends of the Environment. It is open for viewing during 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. There is no admission fee, but donations for exhibit development are gratefully accepted. School groups should call in advance to arrange a tour. LOCATION: just drive up the hill past Maxwell’s, to the junction at the top and turn left. If you want to know about Abaco’s past in the broadest sense, this should be your first stop. You can even ‘get the t-shirt’ to complete the experience and support the institution…

Display cases, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

This strange, ill-clad male is either (a) trying to give an authentic traditional Lucayan greeting or (b) trying to high-five Nancy Albury (who is ignoring it) or (c) just behaving bizarrely. I go for (c).

Rolling Harbour Abaco...

Credits: first and foremost, curator Nancy Albury and her team; Friends of the Environment; AMMC. All photos are mine (with plenty of excuses for poor indoor colour, display glass reflections etc), except the tragically entombed cave-bat in the bat-cave from well-known diving and cave-system exploration expert Brian Kakuk / Bahamas Cave Research Foundation; and the wonderful photo below of a Barn Owl flying out of a dry cave on Abaco, by kind permission of Nan Woodbury.

Barn Owl flying out of a cave on Abaco (Nan Woodbury / Rolling Harbour)

MARK CATESBY, PIONEER NATURALIST: NEW BOOK


MARK CATESBY, PIONEER NATURALIST: NEW BOOK

Exactly two years ago, I wrote about the publication of a lavish limited edition facsimile of Mark Catesby’s renowned work The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands in 4 volumes to mark the 300th anniversary of Catesby’s arrival in the New World. Unsurprisingly, the cost of the set was prodigious (a rather nice car) – but only a fraction of the cost of a vanishingly rare original set (a rather nice house). Reader, I didn’t buy one.

Now the CATESBY MEMORIAL TRUST has produced an excellent and inexpensive illustrated introduction to Catesby’s great work that will transport you back through the centuries to the earliest days of natural historical research by Europeans abroad. It’s worth remembering that Catesby antedated the more famous John James Audubon (1785-1851) by a whole century.

Catesby’s signature

The new book has over 40 illustrations from Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. These are paired with relevant extracts from the work, and there is additional commentary. Click on Catesby’s Tropicbird below for a sample of the book.

Click me for book sample!

To buy the book – it’s $25 – click HERE

Mark Catesby - 'Bahama Titmous' (Bananaquit)

Mark Catesby – ‘Bahama Titmous’ (Bananaquit)

MARK CATESBY? JUST REMIND ME…

Mark Catesby (1683 – 1749) was a pioneering English naturalist and artist who published his magnum opus based on a number of expeditions he undertook from 1712 onwards. His was the first ever published account of the flora and fauna of North America, and the 2 volumes (with a supplement) included some 220 colour plates of the creatures and plants of land and sea that he had come across. After his travels, Catesby spent some 20 years producing his masterwork and died soon after, perhaps from the sheer effort of it all.

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree (HM QE2)

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree

AND HIS RELEVANCE TO THE BAHAMAS IS…?

On behalf of the Royal Society Catesby undertook expeditions, first to Carolina and then more widely in America and eventually in the Bahamas. On these trips he drew and painted detailed pictures of birds, fish, turtles, flowers and corals, many of which are familiar in the Bahamas to this day – and a few of which are included here.

Mark Catesby - Angelfish

Mark Catesby – Angelfish

Flamingo Head + Gorgonian Coral (HM QE2)

Flamingo Head & Gorgonian Coral

Mark Catesby - plate 139 Hawksbill Turtle

Mark Catesby – Hawksbill Turtle

Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

RELATED POSTS

CHARLES CORY & ABACO 1891

THE PIONEERS (Wilson, Audubon, et al)  

MR SWAINSON (on his 224th Birthday)

Bahama Finch (Western Spindalis)

RELATED BOOK

51C+Zz+7CSL._SX363_BO1,204,203,200_

Information about the Catesby Commemorative Trust and the book The Curious Mister Catesby can be found HERE. I have the book: it is wonderful, but as an amateur I find it quite a difficult read, and I have to take it in small chunks.

For anyone tempted to look further into the importance of this ground-breaking naturalist, the CCT produced a 50 minute film that is well worth watching if you are interested to know more.

Credits: HM QE2, Catesby Commemorative Trust, National Geographic, Mariners’ Museum Library, sundry open source info-&-pic-mines inc. Wiki, Addison Publs, 

“Illuminating natural history is so particularly essential to the perfect understanding of it”   (Mark Catesby)

MARK CATESBY: PIONEERING NATURALIST OF EARLY c18


Mark Catesby Bahama Finch (Western Spindalis, Spindalis Zena)

Mark Catesby: Bahama Finch (Western Spindalis, Spindalis zena)

MARK CATESBY: PIONEERING NATURALIST OF EARLY c18

There’s been (yet) another abrupt side-swerve away from a topic I’d intended to post about, resulting from a newspaper article I read over the weekend. This concerns what was gushingly described as “the ultimate coffee table book”, a facsimile of Mark Catesby’s renowned work, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands.

Catesby (1682 – 1749) was a pioneering English naturalist and artist who published his magnum opus based on a number of expeditions he undertook from 1712 onwards. His was the first ever published account of the flora and fauna of North America, and the 2 volumes (with a supplement) included some 220 colour plates of the creatures and plants of land and sea that he had come across.
Mark Catesby - Angelfish

Mark Catesby – Angelfish

Mark Catesby - Queen Triggerfish

Mark Catesby – Queen Triggerfish

Catesby’s growing fame as a botanist led to his undertaking expeditions on behalf of the Royal Society to collect plants and seeds in Carolina. He widened his researches both in America and to the West Indies, collecting plants and fauna as he went and sending them back to England. Among other discoveries, he was one of the very first people to observe and record the occurrence of bird migration as a twice-yearly phenomenon.

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree (HM QE2)

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree

Eventually, in 1726 Catesby also returned to base and set about writing up his findings and painting what he had seen. He learnt how to etch printing plates, and gradually the illustrations became more sophisticated, starting without backgrounds then including plants with the animals and birds. The whole project took him some 20 years; quite soon after completing it, he died.

Flamingo Head + Gorgonian Coral (HM QE2)

Flamingo Head & Gorgonian Coral

 
CATESBY: THE VIDEO INTRO
WHERE IS THE ORIGINAL WORK NOW?
 
Catesby’s original drawings were bought by King George III for £120 (a very considerable sum in 1768 – my quick attempts to discover how much suggest ± £200,000) and have remained in the Royal Family ever since. This treasure is kept in the Royal Library of Windsor Castle, the property of HM QE2, though it is occasionally exhibited elsewhere. Later facsimiles of the original were produced, of which some 50 survive today.
Mark Catesby - 'Bahama Titmous' (Bananaquit)

Mark Catesby – ‘Bahama Titmous’ (Bananaquit)

SO WHAT’S ALL THE EXCITEMENT ABOUT NOW? 
Addison Publications has printed a very limited edition facsimile of 60 in 4 lavish volumes, printed one at a time, “to mark the 300th anniversary of Catesby’s arrival in the New World”.
catesbys_natural_history_9
The cost per set? A stonking £39,500 ($61,330). Now this may sound a great deal of money for a modern copy of an old book and it undoubtedly is. But here’s the Christie’s Auction catalogue entry for one of the early facsimiles. Mmmmmm.
CATESBY AUCTION JPG
Mark Catesby - plate 139 Hawksbill Turtle

Mark Catesby – Hawksbill Turtle

“Illuminating natural history is so particularly essential to the perfect understanding of it”                 (Mark Catesby)
Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

Delphi afficionados, especially any who have stayed in Room 1, may recognise 3 of the illustrative images I have chosen – the Spindalis, the Bananaquit and the Grassquit. No, I don’t mean the actual species, I mean that Catesby prints of them are tastefully hung on the walls. I can never decide which of the 3 is my favourite…

RELATED POSTS

CHARLES CORY & ABACO 1891

THE PIONEERS (Wilson, Audubon, et al)  

MR SWAINSON (on his 224th Birthday)

51C+Zz+7CSL._SX363_BO1,204,203,200_

STOP PRESS Thanks to Woody Bracey for his interesting comment. More information about the Catesby Commemorative Trust and the book The Curious Mister Catesby can be found HERE. A slightly curious promo video was also released.

For anyone tempted to look further into the importance of this ground-breaking naturalist, the CCT produced a 50 minute film that is well worth watching if you can spare the time.

Credits:  Sunday Times (article), HM QE2, National Geographic, Catesby Commemorative Trust, sundry open source info-&-pic-mines inc. Wiki, Addison Publs, & my Bank Manager for declining to loan me the purchase price of the new facsimile…

“THE ABACO BACKCOUNTRY – AN APPRECIATION” by JIM TODD


Click to preview The Abaco Backcountry photo book

Jim Todd has produced an attractive self-published book, available in 3 formats, showcasing some of the outstanding features of the less-frequented areas of Abaco and its waters. It contains many excellent photographs, with interesting notes and observations. There are places and facts in the book that may not be known even to locals! Below are some sample pages. 

Abaco Backcountry Grab 2 Abaco Backcountry Grab 3 Abaco Backcountry Grab 4 Abaco Backcountry Grab 5Abaco Backcountry Grab 7 Abaco Backcountry Grab 6Abaco Backcountry Grab 1

Anyone who loves Abaco, its natural surroundings, its ecology and its wildlife will love this book. If this post has whetted your appetite, here are some further details:

Available exclusively on BLURB (this is the direct link)

“The Abaco Backcountry draws on the author’s extensive exploration of the area to describe a hypothetical traverse of its length in words and pictures. It is not a guidebook but an appreciation of a unique Bahamian marine ecosystem”

56 pp, available softcover ($35), Hardcover, Dustjacket ($38.99) and Hardcover, Image Wrap ($40.99)

STOP PRESS In answer to a UK query, the Blurb price is shown in $$$. When you go to the checkout, the shipping is added e.g. $10.99 to ship the PB version to the UK. You can pay by CC or Paypal. The conversion to sterling (or presumably euros) happens… by magic

“GLIMPSES OF LIFE ALONG A CORAL REEF” A c19 NATURALIST VISITS ABACO


GLIMPSES OF LIFE ALONG A CORAL REEF by F. H. HERRICK

This post is aimed at those with a particular interest in the flora and fauna – especially avifauna – of Abaco and its Cays. It is a naturalist’s account from 1886 of an expedition to Abaco, interspersed with a few line drawings. It’s an easy read if you are interested in Abaco, its history, and the state of natural life on the islands 125 years ago. Those who have come to this site for the photos and / or even the occasional jest are warned to expect neither. However, to tempt waverers I’ll highlight below (by way of a quiz) some intriguing aspects of the 9-page article. I have had to edit it to correct the many ‘literals’ in the open-source material; however the c19 spellings are retained. I’ve also added coloured subject-matter codes as follows: PLACE NAMES; BIRDS; PLANTS; FISH; CREATURES

In 1886, Herrick visited Abaco with a party of naturalists. This trip predated by 3 years the publication of Charles Cory’s groundbreaking ‘Birds of the West Indies‘. There would have been scant readily-available published material about the natural history of the Bahamas, let alone of Abaco itself. Herrick and a friend left the main party and went on their own wider explorations of Abaco with two local guides. Herrick recorded their findings, which were subsequently published in ‘Popular Science Monthly‘ in 1888. In Herrick’s wide-ranging account of the adventure you will find the answers to the following 15 questions. If any one of them whets your appetite to read this historic account, press the link below the quiz!

  • What fruit might you have found growing in fields on Abaco in 1886?
  • What was the local name for the perforated rock at Hole-in-the-Wall?
  • What is an “egg-bird”?
  • What was causing “the gradual extermination” of flamingos?
  • What were “shanks” and “strikers”?
  • To what human use were Wilson’s Terns put?
  • How many eggs does a tropic-bird lay?
  • What law prevented the shooting of tropic-birds, and indeed any other bird, by naturalists?
  • What sort of creature is a “sennet”?
  • Which was rated the better for eating – grouper or ‘barracouta’ (sic)?
  • Who or what is or are “grains”?
  • What common creature had a burning touch like a sharp needle?
  • What bird was reckoned to have the call ‘loarhle-ee’ ?
  • What – or indeed who – was described as a “pilepedick”?
  • What creature laid 139 eggs?

ABACO NATURAL HISTORY Popular Science Monthly Volume 32 January 1888