Friday mystery object #242

Seasons greetings! Since it’s Boxing Day, I thought it would be appropriate to give you a box of bones from an archaeological dig to have a go at identifying:


Here are a couple of detailed images of some of the bones to help you:


And here is a detail of the non-bony object that’s associated:


You can put your questions, observations and suggestions in the comments box below and maybe we can work out what’s been dug up!

19 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #242

  1. Such is the power and lure of Zygoma that I find myself commenting before 9am this Boxing day morning when I should be having a nice lie in. I note there’s a lot of ribs and phalanges / metacarpal/ metatarsal bones and proportions put me in mind of a digitigrade mammal. The isolated view shows a metacarpal or metatarsal with a long thick bone which resembles one sharing the name of a geometrical proportion of a circle. The third bone is a second cervical vertebra, the one that articulates with a book of maps. That bone rather resembles one of a number of others which a friend dug up in her garden while accidentally exhuming a pet’s grave. The non bone object appears to me to be perhaps a musket ball. I could speculate whether this is an encounter with Man’s Best Friend which has gone terribly wrong? Perhaps the unfortunate animal had rabies and needed to be despatched quickly? Or perhaps Red Riding Hood’s rescuer has finished off the Big Bad one with a firearm rather than the traditional axe!

    • Yep. I was all excited, thinking “oh wow I can actually tell what all these bits are and might have a chance at being the first!”
      What Ric said. And he managed to disguise it far, FAR better than I would have.

  2. Okay, I’m an archaeologist but more of a tool/material culture guy. However, I love lurking on this site. My first thought was a dog and the bullet that put it down. However, that ball is something in the 100 caliber range so would not be an obvious choice to put down Old Yeller. Maybe the result of war?

    Follow-up, my partner, who is a faunal-archaeological person, just walked behind the couch and while hardly slowing down said, “what’s that you’re looking that? it looks like some sort of canid in a box?”

  3. O.k., the non-bone object is rather large for a musket ball (I would have guessed 200 caliber rather than 100!), and its not quite round. Suitable for a projectile with a lower “muzzle” velocity than a fire-arm? So maybe roughly Ric’s story, but the animal was put down by an emulator of David (you know: David of “and Goliath” fame)?

    • I’m unfamiliar with musket ball size calibration but it does seem a large ball. I might suggest that perhaps indicates it is a primitive firearm, in use before people had learned to properly match the size of a ball to firepower appropriate to the designated target. The non uniformity of the ball shape may support this conjecture. But perhaps it was the only weapon to hand? And an over-sized ball would certainly shatter the skull very effectively, and there seem few or no obvious skull fragments in the box. Most of all I’m impressed that Paleotool has read, or seen the film of Old Yeller. That was very much in my mind when I suggested the shooting of a rabid dog idea, but I thought it was a bit too obscure to use as a cryptic clue to the hypothesis!

  4. Some great observations here and I must confess that the ball is giving more trouble than the bones (unsurprisingly). It may help you if I say that from another angle the ball appears even less spherical, but not flattened as might be expected if it had hit something. Instead it projects slightly on one side – making me lean towards Allen’s David suggestion. I’ll see if I can upload an image.

    • I don’t believe there are any standard muskets at that caliber (ca. 100). There are a few hand weapons or “canoe guns” that would take something similar but I think that is running down the wrong rabbit hole. The “ball” needs hands-on examination. It looks like stone but perhaps it’s something formed in a more interesting way?

    • I’m not 100% sure. It’s not magnetic, it doesn’t appear to have left any marks on any surfaces and it’s very hard, so I’m pretty sure it’s not lead. It’s pretty heavy, but I don’t think it’s metallic, my best estimate is that it’s probably a silicate mineral concretion – maybe chert.

  5. I wonder about the “100” and “200” caliber. In the bad old days, a caliber 12 meant a gun that would take a bullet of such a weigth that there were 12 to the pound. Lead bullets and English Pounds. That holds for shotguns onto this very day. Cal. 12 being the normal hunting shotgun and 16 the ladies version. Then the transatlantic cousins started using cal. 45 — that is a caliber of 0.45 inches. And quite a cartridge.
    But invite good old Archimedes to have a go at the “bullet”. What is the weight in air and water — and what is the density? I do not think that anyone would put such a pear-shaped affair into any barrel. But sling is a possibility. Maidstone caste comes to mind. As I remember it, a lot of stones for slings. Have you any dating?

    • Jakob, a bit off track here but you are mixing up “caliber” and “gauge” in the mater of shotguns vs. other weapons.

      Even though I deal in Pleistocene stuff for the most part, we have to teach this historic trivia to our students as we are in a land where firearms have a big historic and archaeological impact (Northern Mexico and the American West).

      Even back in Britain caliber means the same thing. That rock or whatever we are looking at is about 100 caliber @ 3 cm. “Caliber” is easy to get an image of as it is just a measurement in engineering inches (unless it is in millimeters because engineers like to mix it up a bit over time). “Gauge” is a bit weirder and interestingly esoteric; that is what you are referring to above. “Gauge” is the theoretical weight of a sphere of pure lead that will fit into the barrel of the shotgun (12 ga. = a diameter that will hold a sphere of 1/12th pound of lead).

  6. Sorry, Maiden Castle — but a sligthly oblong shape seems to have been appropriare for fitting into the pocket of the sling

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