Friday mystery object #34


This Friday I have a real identification challenge that I came across in the collections at the Horniman that I would like to share with you:

This is one of those oddities that crop up from time-to-time, which can potentially cause problems when they’re not identified and dealt with appropriately. Any idea what it is and what problems it may be associated (and what the appropriate steps might be to stop it from becoming a problem)?

As usual, feel free to ask questions below – I will do my best to answer them. Good luck!

43 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #34

  1. It looks like bone that has been calcified or has some sort of tumour growing on it. It also seems to have hair and no internal blood vessels or marrow.

    Is it an antler that has either been stored in a high or low pH environment or that has developed some form of bone cancer?

    • Fantastic answer – not correct (there is no hair and it’s not antler), but I really like your approach – some of your observations are actually remarkably close…

  2. I assume it is something perishable which will go off in an unpleasant way if left unattended.

    I’m going to suggest some form of subterranean fungus, such as a truffle.

    It may, of course, be ear wax from a large animal (possibly a bear), in which case you might be advised not to take any truffle containing food from me!

    • This piece has been left unattended for at least 100 years, so not much danger of it changing too much now if the environment remains stable.

      As you may guess, this hints against the earwax hypothesis somewhat.

      I certainly would be a bit wary of any truffle-based dishes you served!

    • Mineral and animal, although at some point there was probably some bacterial influence – where do bacteria fit into that classification scheme?

      • Yes, I guess that in the time of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General’, a whole number of microscopic organisms would see seen as ‘animalcules’.

        Adding all the kingdoms of life to the list doesn’t quite run off the tongue like animal, mineral or vegetable. 😉

  3. Genuinely sorry to lower the tone, but it does look like a frozen dogpile – coprolite? – in which case there could be all sorts of nasties if it’s thawed out, from worm eggs to bacteria. Although I suspect they wouldn’t survive that long, there are some plant seeds that can survive for an incredibly long time just in garden soil.

    I will ask the Lunch Club when they arrive – you’ll get sense from them.

  4. So, it’s animal and mineral with a splash of bacterial. Not antler, hairy, truffle, earwax, gallstone, coprolite or fossilized. Jim’s suggestion of a calcified granuloma went unchallenged. I’d have to agree – but what is the texture of the thing? Is it hard, soft, heavy, light, spongy…?

    • I suppose it is a granuloma of sorts (apologies to Jim for not confirming that – responding whilst in transit has its issues, being distracted is one of them). The material is hard and heavy, it is calcified, but only differs in composition to the adjacent tissue in its structure. Normally this kind of material has a very distinctive and characteristic structure.

  5. been having some problems with mobile reception in the pub, so apologies if this appears twice:

    A-M says bone deformed by leprosy, Neil concurs and Malcolm has gone to the bar having independently suggested most of the things you’ve already considered plus a few. He did miss the earwax.

    Much debate about whether bacteria are animal, vegetable or mineral, conclusion the question should be: “animal, vegetable, mineral or bacterial?”.

      • Like I say, animal, mineral, plant, fungi, protista, archaea, bacteria (and if you want to start an argument: virus), doesn’t have the same ring to it.

        Imagine the modern major general getting all that into his song 😉

    • I think it’s safe to say that we do not know the cause of the infection, but this object is the result of disease and is from a particular animal.

    • No atlas I’m afraid.

      So far the closest guesses have been by Gimpy, Jim, A-M (via KateKatV) and Cromercrox.

      It is a bit of diseased mineralised tissue, but what from?

  6. I think I’ll have to say I give up – only pausing to say how much I’m enjoying these Friday quizzes, Paolo. They’re really fun. Keep up the good work! Looking forward to reading the answer on Monday.

  7. Looking at the last picture enlarged it looks to have some finer, layered structure, adding the colour to the mix my next guess would be that this is from an antler or horn of some kind?

  8. OK… so it’s a hard, heavy, calcified overmineralisation.

    it has something to do with a bacterial infection or similar.

    it isn’t Pyrite Disease, Kidney stones or similar, Hair, Bone or Horn, but Antler is closer.

    so it is some kind of biological mineralised tissue but not one aleready mentioned, which leaves only three things (that I can think of), one being cartillage, another being keratin and the other being Hoof (can’t think what it is made of).

    so my third guess is that this is either an overmineralised hoof or nail of some kind, easily broken in life so easily infected.

    If not then I haven’t the foggiest.

    I wish I had found this blog sooner, this is really fun!

    Ben Brooks

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