There are over 4 million items in our collection, but every item has an individual story and particular significance. Below we're shining a spotlight on some our more unique items, presented by those who know the collections best. 

Grace Yee
Diaphonised skinks

Collection Technician, Entomology & Botany (IDEA Project)

Grace Yee

Amongst the taxidermies, skeletons, and wet specimens, there is another form of animal preservation that is often forgotten about: the diaphonised specimens. Here at Tāmaki Paenga Hira, we are fortunate enough to have several diaphonised shore skinks (Oligosoma smithi) in our collection, with their records enhanced as part of the IDEA project.

These skinks have undergone a clearing and staining technique called diaphonisation, which makes the animal translucent by soaking the animal in a trypsin soup and, with the use of dyes, the animal’s bones and/or cartilage are stained. This process creates beautiful specimens of vibrant reds, pinks, blues and purples. The skinks here have been dyed with alizarin red and so the skeleton appears in reds and pinks. Diaphonisation allows for the ability to identify bone and cartilage structures as found internally without displacing them.

Due to the development of better imaging techniques, diaphonisation is becoming less common, however, it is finding new life in the hands of artists that appreciate their beauty and the rich diversity of anatomical structures formed in nature.

Want to know more? Read the full article here

Oligosoma smithi - diaphonised
Dr. Josie Galbraith

Project Curator, Natural Sciences

Dr. Josie Galbraith

In Te Whiwhinga sits a small hunk of rock with an incredible whakapapa.  It is one of the most amazing but understated objects on display – a pallasite meteorite.  It is undoubtedly one of the oldest objects on display, with an origin so far back in time it is hard for us to fathom. 

Pallasite meteorites are a rare type of meteorite thought to have formed in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter, when our solar system was just forming. That would make it over 4.5 billion years old!  It is mind-blowing to imagine its journey through space and time, to end up here on our planet.

The next time you visit the Museum, see if you can spot the extra-terrestrial specimen on display in Te Whiwhinga The Imaginarium.

Meteorite GE157
Gail Romano
New Zealand Ensign flag

Associate Curator, War History

Gail Romano

The Museum collections hold many objects that have come through adversity and are not their whole selves, including some stained with the scent of fire. After more than 100 years, we can still catch a whiff of smoke from the burnt remnants of this New Zealand Ensign that flew over the New Zealand Soldiers’ Club in Salisbury, England before the club was completely destroyed by fire in the early hours of 2 July 1918.

Historian Felicity Barnes has written that ‘Clubs were presented … as familial places, with the comforts of home and its conventions too. Within the club setting, soldiers engaged in the world’s bloodiest war became "boys", to be looked after by women who were characterised as motherly.’

At the Salisbury club, soldiers could rest and relax away from camp with billiards, reading and writing materials, music, baths and meals. The Salisbury Town Council praised the work done by the club and passed a resolution of ‘deep sympathy’ for the New Zealanders at the loss of the club which could not be saved, the flames that night fanned by a fierce wind.

The club’s manager, Agnes Chilton Button, rescued the flag with the help of a fireman and donated it to the Auckland Ex-servicewomen’s Association who subsequently gifted it to the Museum when it opened in 1929.

New Zealand Ensign flag; AWMM 1929.352, F013, W0415
Wilma Blom
Maoristylus hongii

Curator, Marine Invertebrates

Wilma Blom

Are you a lefty or a righty?

While most of us are right-handed, some of us are left-handed.

This is the same for snails, regardless of whether they belong to marine or terrestrial species. More than 90% of snails coil in a clock-wise (right-handed) direction [flax snail on right], but sometimes individuals within a population, or even entire species, genera and families are found to coil in the opposite, anti-clockwise (left-handed) direction [flax snail on the left]. It is not yet known exactly why it happens, but research has shown that the direction of shell coiling is determined very early in the development of the baby snail, before it is even eight cells big. In left-handed snails the body is also reversed so such snails have difficulty finding a suitable mate. Therefore, in mostly right-handed populations and species left-handedness is unlikely to survive beyond one generation.

So next time you see a garden snail see if it is a lefty or a righty.

Maoristylus hongii
Grace Lai
Albatross foot purse

Curator, Applied Arts and Design

Grace Lai

The albatross is the world’s largest seabird and has long been considered by sailors as a good-luck charm.

Without more traditional bag making materials available at sea, an albatross’s foot works surprisingly well (if a bit gruesomely) as a purse. Resourceful sailors travelling through the Southern Ocean saw these majestic birds in a practical light, and their feet were often made into pouches to hold tobacco.

With its wrinkly skin and claws still visible, this particular pouch has been fashioned into a coin purse, evident by the floral filigree frame that clasps it shut.

Our records say this purse could have been made by a sailor en route to Australia either on a convict, merchant, or immigrant ship, perhaps for his sweetheart.

To learn how such a curious object came into being, take our Google Arts & Culture audio tour

Albatross Foot Purse M1742