Friday mystery object #448 answer

Last week I gave you these bones to have a go at identifying:

These are of course three toe bones (AKA phalanges) from a large artiodactyly. The staining of the bone suggests that it’s a fossil and the fact that I work at the Dead Zoo in Dublin might have offered a contextual clue…

Three Giant Deer (female and two males) at the entrance to the Dead Zoo Irish Room gallery.

This is of course the proximal, medial and distal phalanx (the distal phalanx also being known as the ungual) from the outer side of the right hind leg of an Irish Giant Deer Megaloceros giganteus (Blumenbach, 1799). Well done to all of you who worked that out (to any degree of accuracy!)

We have quite a lot of Giant Deer in the collections of the Dead Zoo, with over 600 records on our database, ranging from individual bones to complete skeletons. This offers an unusually large sample for researchers and artists wanting to work on these huge, extinct cervids.

This toe came from the female skeleton on display in the Irish Room of the Museum. The wire armature running through holes drilled through the bones that held it in place failed. This is likely due to a combination of factors, since the skeletons were mounted well over a century ago, and the armature is made of iron, which will have been gradually corroding over time.

I suspect there may also have been an element of ‘messing’ by a member of the public, since the skeletons are on open display and these toes were well within reach of young children or even in the bashing zone of a backpack if some decided to sit on the specimen’s plinth. Obviously we try to discourage this sort of thing, but on a busy day it can be hard to keep track of everyone in the space.

It’s a shame this happened recently, as we undertook an overhaul of the Giant Deer on display before we reopened the Museum earlier this year. Fossil preparator and conservator Remmert Schouten worked with me to build new sections of armature to remount a skull, he cleaned the specimens, and undertook a variety of small repairs (including replacement of an ungual on one of the other specimens) to get all of the Giant Deer looking their best.

I’ll leave you with some of the photos and a couple of videos, one with Remmert talking about the work and one with me setting the context and overview of the project. It was an intense week of work onsite, but very satisfying to see the transformation of the specimens!

3 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #448 answer

  1. Umm… The very dark — I’d say BLACK — color as well as your location SHOULD have suggested something from the peat to us! I assume other species are recovered from the same … matrix … but the Irish Giant Deer skeletons are the only fossils I remember ever seeing that were that color.
    (Confession: I didn’t get it.)

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