Friday mystery object #241 answer

Last Friday I gave you this object, that I’ve been working on, to identify:


Ric Morris was straight in with the nicely disguised correct answer of occipital bone viewed from the basal aspect, correctly suggesting something bovine as the source.


This is the kind of object that you often come across from archaeological sites, where material may have been dug up from a butchery site, kitchen midden or similar assemblage.

Fragmentary bits can be quite hard to identify compared to complete skulls, but when you get a fairly complete chunk like this it makes things a bit more straightforward. In particular the hole of the foramen magnum and bordering occipital condyles provide a clear indication of where in the body it comes from. The shape and size of the condyles also helps narrow down the species.

Expect some more burnt and broken bits of bone in future mystery objects!

Friday mystery object #241

Recently I’ve been working through boxes of mixed archaeological bone and bone fragments. So here’s one of the objects I had to identify as part of that process:


Any idea what it might be?

As usual you can put your observations, suggestions and questions in the comments box below. If you find it easy, please try to use a cryptic clue so other people get a chance to get involved. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #240 answer

Last Friday I gave you this characteristic skull to identify:


Many of you recognised that this is the skull of a Hornbill, and Martin Edvardsson, ClareP, Jamie Revell, paleomanuel, witcharachne, marcuschua all managed to identify it as a Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis Linnaeus, 1758.

You may be surprised to know that this specimen was originally misidentified as a Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill Bycanistes subcylindricus (Sclater, 1870) by the taxidermists who prepared it – quite a basic error for a natural history professional!

The Great Hornbill is a large Asian bird that feeds on fruit and any small critters that end up at the wrong end of that impressive bill – from insects to owls. Their distinctive black and white plumage is used by a lot of native people in Southeast Asia in costume, leading to pressure on the bird’s population due to hunting.

Great Hornbills have a somewhat odd system for breeding, with the female walling herself up inside a hole in a tree using faeces, and the male delivering food to her and the chicks through a narrow hole. It works for Great Hornbills…

Friday mystery object #240

After the last mystery object, which was really difficult, I have an easier one for you to identify:


Apologies for the rather odd-looking set of images – the specimen proved quite hard to get level for photography.

As usual for easy objects, please try to be a bit discrete with your answer so everyone gets a chance to test their identification skills. I look forward to some interesting answers!

Friday mystery object #239 answer

Last Friday I gave you a really difficult mystery object to identify, in the form of this mysterious caramel-brown lump:


It turns out that for the first time in ages, nobody managed to get the right identification, although there were a lot of great suggestions ranging from “headless, legless rubber chicken. Which has been burned in a fire some great time ago” by Matt H., to a hyperostotic fish spine, which Jake and henstridgesj had in mind.

This lump is in fact a dentine nodule from inside the tusk of an African Elephant Loxodonta africana (Blumenbach, 1797).

These sorts of internal growths form when a tusk gets damaged and the pulp inside becomes infected. New dentine is laid down in response to the infection, walling off the affected tissue and preventing the further spread of bacteria.

These growths come in a variety of forms – none of which look much like ivory. Here’s a selection to give you an idea:


So the next time you find something that looks like a burnt rubber chicken, or an overly firm bit of ginger, you may want to check to make sure it’s not ivory.

Friday mystery object #238 answer

Last Friday I gave you this creepy clown doll made of bone to identify:


There were some great cryptic responses from yogicbear, Claire Miles, Jake, henstridgesj, Daniel Calleri, Robin Birrrdegg and Anne Åslaug Holder identifying that it’s been made from a wishbone, with the unfortunate donor being a Chicken Gallus gallus domesticus (Linnaeus, 1758).

The wishbone is somewhat larger and better formed than the usual one you’ll find in a modern chicken, since modern birds tend to be eaten when they’re much younger than this bird would have been. It came to the Horniman in 1923, donated by English folklorist Edward Lovett.

The second part of last week’s mystery was this sound provided by Cheryl Tipp, curator of the British Library Wildlife Sound Archive:

Again, there were some brilliant cryptic answers to the sound, with an anagram from Claire Miles and two lovely pieces of verse relating to the animal provided by Harry. It is of course the characteristic creaking call of the Corncrake Crex crex (Linnaeus, 1758).

Corncrake by Rachel Davies, 2009

Corncrake by Rachel Davies, 2009

So a big congratulations to everyone who took part – that’ll be the last of the sounds for the time being, next week I’ll have to think about some more specimens to pose a challenge!