On Friday I asked you to help me identify this mystery object:
Many thanks to everyone who made suggestions about what this sacrum and caudal vertebrae (the bones that make up the tail) could be from. There were some useful ideas that I intend to follow up on, but alas I must apologise to you all because I’ve still not managed to make a confident identification (as yet).
I always struggle with the identification of vertebrae without having good comparative material. Skulls are straightforward to identify as they tend to contain lots of diagnostic features, but with vertebrae there are fewer distinctive feature that allow a straightforward species level identification.
In this case I’m still not sure whether this tail is from a marsupial, a monkey or a mustelid, although I’m pretty certain it’s from a mammal.
I think I may have to mop up some of the loose ends of mystery objects that I’ve not been able to confidently identify at some point, by making a trip to another museum with a bigger collection of postcranial material than I have available at the Horniman.
Of course, sometimes you just have to accept that there isn’t enough information associated with a specimen to make a confident identification at all. Sometimes you also need to ask whether it’s worth the extra time and resources trying to get a good identification for a specimen with no other good data about where, when and by whom it was collected.
This kind of information can turn an interesting display or teaching specimen into an even more useful research specimen, that can be used to address questions about species distribution, population genetics and evolution – amongst other things.
With a specimen that lacks these kinds of data – and which isn’t particularly visually exciting for display – it becomes more difficult to justify going to special efforts to identify it. Nonetheless, I know this specimen will bug me until I work out what it is!