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!
Thank you for another fun and challenging game. I can call elements but speciation is very hard. #133 taught me about juvenile pelvic breakage, thanks to Jake and the carnivoran mandible formation and pelvic shape thanks to you, Paolo.
Thanks Rhea, I’m so glad that you enjoy the FMO and find it useful. It’s great that the collections are being useful even when they’re not on display (or even of display quality).
I always learn something new from the FMO. This week I learned:
1. That breaks in bones of young & old animals look different (I really should have known this, as I had a ‘greenstick’ fracture of the tibia when I was 6 — I assume this is the feature on the ilium to which Jake refers).
2. The names of the processes of the Dentary bone (mandible). I’ve now looked these up on Wikipedia to see which is which.
Thanks Paolo, I really appreciate the time and effort you take each week on the FMO.
Glad you find it useful – it makes the time and effort worthwhile!
I think the break of the ilium that Jakes spotted is slightly different from the greenstick breaks of young bone – it’s more about the unfused sutures of the different bony elements of the pelvis. In an adult the ilium is fused to the sacrum, ischium and pubis to make a solid element that will tend to fracture where the bone is thinnest. In the juvenile the pelvis will disarticulate into each of the separate bony components, since they are not properly fused.
Ah, yes, I see what he meant now. Thanks.
I’m currently studying for my practical zooarchaeology exam (identifying bones of Scandinavian domesticated animals to be exact) and took a break to poke the internet and maybe be able to identify a bone fragment I found on the beach yesterday (no luck, bur bringing it with me to uni tomorrow to check the reference collection) and I stumbled upon this lovely blog! Going through the FMO posts still makes it feel like I’m on a break while I’m not! Getting to use my knowledge, see what I actually know and then going to the books to figure out why I did not recognize something or why I thought it reminded me of something else.
Made me so happy (and somewhat proud) to be able to go “That looks like a canine atlas!” when I got to this post (means going through the atlas pictures earlier today had some impact), also made me realize I need to look at the pelvises of dogs and cats in the collection (no pictures in my book!)
So thank you for making today’s study session much more fun!
I’ve already bookmarked the site. Need to keep my osteological knowledge alive when I can’t be handling the precious bones (aiming for a degree in osteology but there’s so much non-bony stuff to do as well), and mystery objects seems like the perfect way.