Friday mystery object #243 answer

Last week I gave you this nightmarish looking mystery object to identify:

mystery243

There were lots of great suggestions about what it might be, with most of you in the right area of the animal kingdom with a legless critter in mind. In particular a fairly primitive type, with aglyphous or ‘groove-less’ teeth (as opposed to snakes characterised by having opsithoglyphous or ‘backward grooved’, proteroglyphous or ‘forward grooved’ and solenglyphous or ‘pipe grooved’ teeth).

There were several suggestions of Boa constrictor – specifically the right maxilla (upper jaw), but they have a straighter top to the maxilla and a differently shaped process that connects with the frontal and ectopterygoid bones (check out Udo Savalli’s snake skull anatomy page to see what those terms mean).

Anaconda was also suggested, but the anterior (front) part of  the maxilla is not squared off enough.

Nicola Newton, rachel and Alex Kleine all suggested Python, which is what I think it is. I’m not certain of the species, but it’s definitely a big one – I’m leaning towards the Reticulated Python Python reticulatus (Schneider, 1801).

Just to give you a better idea of which bone it is, here it is compared to the skull of another large Python skull from the Horniman’s collection:

mystery243b

and to give a better sense of scale, here it is with my (fairly large) hand for comparison:

mystery243a

My very rough estimate of the length of the animal, based on other skeletal material I’ve seen, is around 5m – that’s one snake I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of!

Friday mystery object #242 answer

A very Happy New Year to everyone!

Last week (and indeed last year) I gave you this box of bones and one non-bony object, dug up on the Isle of Sheppey to identify:

mystery242a

Everyone correctly spotted that the bones were canid (and by everyone I mean Ric Morris, witcharachne, Jake, Paleotool, Allen Hazen and Sam Misan), either Dog or possibly Fox, as suggested by Sam Misan.

The length of the bones would fit both Dog and Fox, but they’re a bit too robust for Fox – here’s a comparison of a radius from the box and a Fox:

mystery242d

So we have a Dog in the box, but the non-bony object has posed more of a challenge:

mystery242b

mystery242bb

The initial thought was that it might be a musket ball, but it’s rather on the big side for that – more like a small cannon ball or piece of grapeshot.

The material its made of may provide a clue as to what it is. It’s not magnetic and there’s no red coloured oxidisation on the surface, so it’s not iron. It doesn’t have any casting marks, it’s too hard to be lead and although it’s dense, it doesn’t seem to be metal.

To my mind it seems likely to be a naturally formed mineral concretion. It could be a phosphatic nodule, pyrite or marcasite (they contain iron, but they’re not magnetic) or maybe a quartz mineral, like flint (which is what I’m leaning towards).

This may be naturally occurring in the area, but if the materials were collected together it seems likely that the ball had been used by someone for something. The possibility I’m inclined to go for is as ammunition for a sling.

All a bit speculative I’m afraid, but that’s how the game sometimes works out. Thanks to everyone for your input!

Friday mystery object #242

Seasons greetings! Since it’s Boxing Day, I thought it would be appropriate to give you a box of bones from an archaeological dig to have a go at identifying:

mystery242a

Here are a couple of detailed images of some of the bones to help you:

mystery242c

And here is a detail of the non-bony object that’s associated:

mystery242b

You can put your questions, observations and suggestions in the comments box below and maybe we can work out what’s been dug up!

Friday mystery object #241 answer

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

mystery241

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.

mystery241b

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:

mystery241

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:

mystery240

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…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiO1OOY80VU