On Friday I gave you a bit of a tricky mystery object to identify:
I thought it might prove a tricky one and judging by many of the responses I wasn’t wrong. However, I was impressed by the speed with which the archaeologists managed to work it out – in particular Lena, Pocki and Robin.
This piece of bone is the paramastoid process and occipital condyle of a Pig Sus scrofa domesticus Linneaus, 1758.
At first glance the groove looks like an articulation for a mandible (the glenoid or mandibular fossa) and the long bit looks like part of a zygomatic arch.
However, the angles are all wrong for that part of a skull (although it took me a little while to confirm that for myself by comparison with some unusual critters). When I finally realised that the bone was a process rather than part of an arch I thought it was the styloid process – a bony spur off the temporal bone for the attachment of muscles of the tongue and larynx and a site for the attachment of a ligament connected to the mandible.
Then I discovered that the styloid process is not present in Pigs and realised this process originates from the occipital bone rather than the temporal. This makes it the paramastoid process, which doesn’t always occur in Humans and when it does it’s small and barely looks like a proper process at all. This process provides an attachment area for muscles of the neck and back, allowing support, rotation and flexion of the head.
Because human heads are balanced on top of the neck rather than sticking out horizontally and because we tend to use our hands rather than our head for heavy work, it’s not surprising that in Humans this process is small or non-existent. Meanwhile, Pigs aren’t renowned for their ability to formulate complex vocalisations, so they don’t need the same level of fine control of their larynx and tongue as we do. However, Pigs do use their heads for some pretty heavy work rooting around in soil, hence their need for big paramastoid processes. I don’t know about you, but I find this relationship between form and function fascinating.