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Museums and collections


Earth Based Skills

Nature is our physical world that we experience, enjoy and use for its resources. The environment is not only something to be protected but to be enjoyed and used as it has been for millennia by our ancestors. The University of Cambridge Museums represents how these earth based skills have been used in the past and how they are still used today.

Tools and Clothing

Natural materials have been used by our ancestors for years to provide them with everything they need from tools, to clothes and transport. The Polar Museums houses a large collection of theses items used once by the different cultures living in the Arctic The Inuit people of Greenland and northern Canada, surrounded by ice and snow used the materials of animals such as seal skin. One of the most unique objects is a parka jacket made of sea mammal intestine, sewn with sinew and constructed so that the interior of the intestine is the interior of the parka.  This design takes advantage of the natural qualities of the intestine:  it allows moisture to escape, but not enter, making the parka waterproof.  It’s like a natural version of Goretex used in waterproof clothing. 

Credit: Scott Polar Research Institute



Find out more abut the Gut Parka here and see it at the Polar Museum.

As well as tools and clothing, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology also has displayed the many crafts and art made from natural materials from cultures around the world. The importance of the natural environment to a culture is displayed in the carvings and imagery on the tools and the natural materials used to make them.

Credit: The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

See the natural images carved into this black shale pipe from Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia.

Natural Colours

It is the minerals of the Earth that were used and developed to create pigments for paintings and decoration. The mineral Lapis lazuli found in the Sedgwick Museum’s mineral gallery, was once an incredibly sort after substance as the only thing to create a truly vibrant blue pigment. At one time more expensive than gold, it was often only used for very important parts of a painting, which why the Virgin Mary is often depicted in blue in Renaissance paintings.

See more of the minerals which have been used for pigments at the Sedgwick Museum.

See more about pigments made for ancient art at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Credit: Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

Using the Earth

It is a rare thing now that the food on our plates has been grown by our household. The Botanic Garden Schools Garden is where school groups are able to get involved with practical horticulture, learning these basic earth skills, sowing seeds, and seeing it through right up to harvest.

Find out more about the Botanic Garden School Garden.