Friday mystery object #174 answer

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.

4 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #174 answer

  1. Oh, I’ve never heard it being called the paramastoid process. It gets a bit confusing when switching languages, haha. I study in Sweden where we use only Latin for the smaller bits and pieces (I suppose no one cared making up Swedish names for them) and the books we used during the actual skeleton part zooarchaeology class were in Swedish or German (with the German book being in German/Latin. We only used it for the excellent pictures really). So what I know the “spur” as is Processus jugularis.

    Question though. What made you settle on the domesticated pig rather than a wild boar? I’m just curious.

    • My main reason for chosing Pig rather than Wild Boar is because we have hundreds of specimens from this collector, including plenty of bits of Pig, but there’s no Wild Boar in any of the material he collected.

  2. I’ve always found the form/function relationship interesting; unfortunately, most of what I know is in relation to fish. This FMO has been very interesting & I’ve learned much trying to work it out. Thanks Paolo.

    Well done to those who got it right!

  3. Dang, only 12 years too late haha I’ve been staring at this thing for the last 6 months (which broke off before I received the skull) while degreasing a previously boiled female domestic pig skull. I could identify it in my sleep.

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s