Friday’s mystery object was meant to be a bit of a challenge:
Post-cranial bones can be tricky to identify, especially if you don’t have much comparative material available.
The first challenge was to work out which bits of bone are present – something that Rhea and Jake managed very well. This particular specimen is composed of a broken portion of right mandible (showing the coronoid process, condyloid process and angular process), the left ilium, and the first three cervical vertebrae (which include the axis and atlas bones).
Identifying the species was a bit more tricky using just these few bits of bone, but several of you managed to get there. Henstridgesj was the first to suggest Dog or Canis lupus familiaris Linnaeus, 1758, but Rhea, Jake and Barabara Powell all came to a similar conclusion.
For me the real clue was in the mandible, since the arrangement of the various processes is distinctly carnivoran and the size of the remains and the shape of the ilium narrow it down to a decent sized canid. Of course, it helps when you have a collection of bones at your fingertips for comparison. It also helps when there is a label:
This specimen is part of a collection of British mammal material collected by John Cooper in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, which was acquired by the Horniman in 1974. The collection is important as it generally has good data and it provides very useful reference material for making identifications.
Some of the specimens are a bit scrappy – like this one – but even a scrappy specimen can be useful when you’re trying to identify new finds or if you want to get an idea about the past distribution of a species. For Dogs this isn’t so important, but for other species – like Water Voles, Coypu and Mink, it can be useful to track distributions in the past, to get an idea of how the populations are changing over time.
Hopefully the Cooper collection will be made available on the Horniman’s website later this year – I will keep you updated!