Friday mystery object #96 answer

On Friday I gave you this specimen to identify:

It’s from one of  two boxes labelled NH.83.1, which between them contained twenty unidentified skulls from a variety of different animals, ranging from fish to birds and mammals – several of which have been used as mystery objects in the past.

These boxes have been in the Horniman collections since the 1930′s and there is very little information available about the specimens, so it falls to me to make identifications. The comments I receive when using these specimens as mystery objects is always useful – it makes me double check my identification in light of the suggestions that you make – a form of review that I find very valuable. So thanks to everyone who attempted an identification, your thoughts have proved really useful!

From the outset the suggestions made were along the same lines as I’d been thinking – Prancing Papio FCD suggested a Maxwell’s Duiker, which is of similar size but has a narrower skull, smaller braincase and horns set far back on the skull, rather than originating just above the orbit like this one. This difference in the horn position and the relative size of the braincase rules out all of the Duikers in fact.

Jake suggested Dik-dik using a cryptic clue that I totally misunderstood – but this skull is a fair bit bigger than that of a Dik-dik’s and it has much longer nasal bones (Dik-diks have a bizarrely truncated nasal region).

Stephen J Henstridge suggested Steenbok, which is what I had originally thought it might be, since it’s almost identical, but a few little details of the palate, the horn orientation and the post-orbital process make me think that Stephen’s follow up suggestion of Grysbok is more likely – in particular the species that David Craven suggested, the Cape Grysbok Ramphicerus melanotis (Thunberg, 1811).

Stephen J Henstridge provided a very useful and interesting explanation of the various names for antelope that have appeared above, that I think are worth reproducing:

While we await the final revelation, those not familiar with Dutch/Afrikaans might be interested in the origin of some of these names.

Bok translates to ‘goat’, and gives us the English word ‘buck,’ but has been widely applied to any small horned beast. Thus we have Grysbok (Grey-Goat), Springbok (Jumping-Goat), and Steenbok/Steinbok (Stone-Goat).

Duiker means ‘diver’ and relates not to water but to their habit of diving into undergrowth when disturbed.

The Dutch ‘Hert’ is the equivalent of the English hart (stag) and changes its spelling, too, in Afrikaans. Thus Hartebeest is stag-beast.

Meanwhile, the English word ‘deer’ has its origins in the Dutch “dier” or German “tier,” both of which have the wider meaning of ‘animal.’

Other names of Dutch origin include Wildebeest (wild-beast), Aardvark (earth-pig), Meerkat (lake-cat), Klipspringer (rock-jumper) and Boomslang (tree-snake).

Dik-diks are, however, named for the sound they make: “zik-zik.”

I will try to put together a longer post with some images of the species I referred to for comparison above, which hopefully will help in future when presented with one of the many African small antelope. For now I’ll leave you with an image of one of these miniature bovids (they’re only about half a metre tall at the shoulder).

Cape Grysbok by Jimfbleak

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