Friday mystery object #192 answer

On Friday I gave you this unidentified specimen from the Horniman’s collections to take a look at. I had already had a go at working out what it is, but it never hurts to get a second opinion.


It’s actually a bit of a generic looking overall shape, perhaps reminiscent of a owl or a maybe a pheasant of some sort. However, the nares (nostrils) are very small and round and set in a bill that is sharp, shortish and very solidly constructed, which is something you only really see in a few passerines, some parrots and the falcons. The skull is too big for a passerine and the bill is totally the wrong overall shape for a parrot, which leaves us with a falcon – a fairly small one at that.

From there the shape of the palate and the proportions of the cranium led me to a species identification that I’m pleased to say agreed with that proposed by Tony Irwin and Wouter van Gestel (who eloquently explained the indicative characters that I mentioned above). We all think that this is the cranium of a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #191 answer

On Friday we had this skull submitted by Dr Ben Swift for identification:


Now this is quite obviously a primate, as it has a bony ring around the orbit, a bony back wall to the orbit and just eight incisors as opposed to the twelve that forms the basal condition for mammals. The teeth also tell us that this is an Old World Monkey (Cercopithecidae), since these primates only have eight premolars instead of the twelve you find in the New World Monkeys (Platyrrhini). The small canines suggest that this is the skull of a female.

From there it starts getting a bit more difficult. The fairly small size of the specimen ruled out a few genera, but the main features that helped narrow down the possibilities were the very flat face, the heavy bony rings around the orbits, the flaring of the zygomatic arches (cheekbones) and the short and rounded braincase. Effectively the only way to consider these features is to look at a lot of comparative specimens (the excellent Mammalian Crania Photographic Archive proved very useful for this).

After a lot of consideration I found myself in agreement with the suggestion of something from the genus  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #191

This week I have a skull for you to have a go at identifying that has been submitted by Dr Ben Swift. Any idea what species this belongs to?

mystery191a mystery191b mystery191c

I’ll be trying to get an identification on this specimen myself and I’m not the best at primates, so your suggestions and comments would be appreciated – let’s see if we can crowdsource an identification!

Friday mystery object #190 answer

On Friday I gave you this skull to identify:


The animal it comes from is quite distinctive, with loads of character, so it’s no big surprise that so many of you managed to identify it.

So well done to Jake, Dave Godfrey, henstridgesjMieke Roth, Wouter van Gestel, Steven D. Garber and Crispin – this is indeed a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #190

This week I have a skull with character for you to identify. It will probably prove to be little challenge to some of you, but if you know what it is please try to use cryptic clues so you don’t spoil the game for others:


Put your thoughts below and I’ll be sure to make comments during the day. Enjoy!

Friday mystery object #189 answer

On Friday I gave you this skull to have a go at identifying:


I didn’t do a very good job of responding to comments I’m afraid, as I was rather busy at day two of this year’s Natural Sciences Collections Association conference at the Yorkshire Museum. Nonetheless, you managed to work out what this specimen came from without any input from me.

Jake spotted that it was the skull of a big reptile, more importantly, a big reptile with heterodont dentition (meaning it’s teeth aren’t all the same shape). That narrowed down the possibilities considerably. From there henstridgesj, Wouter van Gestel and Barbara Powell came to the conclusion that this is the skull of a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #189

This week I have another interesting skull that came up during one of our recent reviews:


Any idea what animal this belonged to? You can put your suggestions below and I’ll do my best to reply, although I will be at the NatSCA conference today, so it will depend on the quality of internet access on my phone.

Friday mystery object #187 answer

On Friday I gave you this somewhat odd object to identify:


My first thought when seeing it was Bowser from the Mario games:

Bowser. New Super Mario Bros. 2: © 2012 Nintendo

This probably isn’t the worst place to start the identification, since the animal with this feature was clearly big, scaly and toothy. This was obviously in the minds of Barbara Powell and Wouter van Gestel, who reached the correct conclusion that this is the structure from the tip of the snout of an adult male  Continue reading

Oddjects No.5

When someone is inexplicably silent you might ask them “Has the cat got your tongue?”. I have no idea where this saying came from, since cats aren’t renowned for taking tongues. I think it would be far more appropriate to change the phrase to “Has the Cymothoa got your tongue?” since the Tongue-eating Louse Cymothoa exigua has track record of tongue stealing, at least in fish.

Here are some of the odd little critters in a jar of alcohol in my office:


These bizarre animals not only eat the tongue of their fish host, but they then replace the tongue and take over its normal duties.

Here’s a video that shows a live Cymothoa found by a fisherman, if you want to see them in their leg-wriggling entirety.

Happy Year of the Snake!

Today marks the start of the Chinese Year of the Snake and tomorrow we start the Herpetology phase of our collections review at the Horniman. How very apt!

Here’s a specimen labelled ‘Boa Constrictor’  that came to light while we were preparing for the review that I thought you might like:


Have a very prosperous and healthy Year of the Snake!

Friday mystery object #186

This week I have an object for you that came through as an enquiry from Mark Ribbands via William Vine. It’s 190mm long and was found in the forest of South Thailand:


Any idea what it came from? As usual you can leave your suggestions below – I may not be able to respond during the day as I’m at a seminar on Natural Science Collections and the Law, but I’m sure that there will be some interesting discussion about this object from the regulars!

Friday mystery object #185 answer

On Friday I gave you this object to identify:


I thought it might have posed a bit of a challenge, since it’s part of a species of bird that you don’t find in Europe or North America. Of course, I was forgetting the skills of the Zygoma community. Everyone recognised it as the sternum of a bird with weak flight muscles and Wouter van Gestel spotted the species and was supported in his identification by Barbara Powell and Robin.

This is the sternum of a Continue reading

Friday mystery object #185

This week I have an interesting mystery object for you. It’s quite characteristic, but not necessarily very familiar, so it may prove a bit of a challenge:


Any idea what this piece of bone is and what it came from? You can put your thoughts below and I’ll do my best to get back to you. Good luck!

Oddjects No.2

Some interesting things have been coming to light in the reviews going on at the Horniman. Here’s an object that our Anthropology review team uncovered and asked me to identify.


It looks a bit like a bird of prey with a gimp mask, but it’s actually a charm from Nigeria.

Fortunately, I’d just gone through our bird skull collection and I immediately recognised this becowled bird skull as being from a Lappet-faced Vulture, so it was an easy identification – particularly since the skull is 18cm long and from Africa, which helped narrow down the possibilities considerably!

Here’s the Anthropology specimen compared directly to our Natural History specimen, so you can see what would be under the leather:


We’re also in the middle of our first collections Bioblitz at the moment, so expect to see a lot of activity on the @HornimanReviews Twitter feed!

Oddjects No.1

I’ve been running my mystery object for over three years now and I’ve decided to add another kind of post in order to share some of the odd and interesting objects that I come across as I work in the collections of the Horniman Museum.

To share these specimens I’ve chosen the name ‘Oddjects’ as a portmanteau of ‘Odd’ and ‘Objects’. Here’s the first:


This happens to be a Wolffish (Anarhichas sp.) specimen that was a mystery object back in 2010, but here I just want to use the specimen to capture the imagination and spark discussion rather than provide much in-depth interpretation.

What does this make you think of?

I hope you enjoy the Oddjects I plan to share – if you do I would heartily recommend also checking out the Twitter and Tumblr feeds for the Horniman’s collections review projects as they also share some great objects.

Friday mystery object #183

This week I have another genuine mystery object for you to have a go at identifying. I found a pair of legs in the collection and although I can think of a few things that they don’t come from, I’m a bit stumped as to what they did come from. Here’s one to give you an idea of what they look like:




Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Friday mystery object #182 answer

On Friday I gave you these objects to identify from Cyler Conrad, who came across them from an archaeological dig in San Francisco Bay:



I hasten to add that there is no certain answer to what these objects are, but I think there were some useful observations made by contributors and I will share my thoughts. Please feel free to continue the discussion in the comments below.

Barbara Powell and henstridgesj made some great suggestions, mainly focusing on marine mammals, particularly among the Otarids (Sea-lions and Fur-seals). Some of these large mammals certainly occur in the San Francisco Bay area (well, the Northern Fur Seal Callorhinus ursinus, Guadalupe Fur Seal Arctocephalus townsendi, Steller Sea-lion Eumetopias jubatus, California Sea-lion Zalophus californianus are all there) and they have femurs that are broadly the right size and shape as the bone in the top image – the humerus in these species is quite different, possessing a distinctive crest on the shaft.

However, I’m a bit thrown by the articular surface visible in the top image. In the Sea-lions and Fur-seals the femur has two distinct and narrow articulations with the tibia and fibula, since these animals bear weight on their hind flippers. The fact that the top specimen only shows one broad and fairly poorly defined articulation makes me think it may belong to a Phocid seal (which drag their hind flippers), which for this area would either mean a Northern Elephant Seal Mirounga angustirostris or Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina.

Given the size, I would think it would either be the femur from a large male Harbour Seal (although males are only slightly bigger than females) or a smaller female Elephant Seal, but unfortunately I can’t find comparative material to help draw a conclusion. What I have noticed is that the Harbour Seal does tend to have a relatively broader femur than we see here, but without an Elephant Seal femur for comparison I’m stumped.

The other bone looks like the first metacarpal of one of these animals and doesn’t really add much more information.

Alas, sometimes identifications are hard to make with confidence.

Friday mystery object #182

This week I have a bit of break from the norm. Rather than giving you a specimen from the Horniman to identify, I have a couple of guest mystery objects from Cyler Conrad for you to attempt.

These two bones were uncovered in an archaeological site in San Francisco, California, USA and they are proving hard to identify. Any idea what they might be from?



As always, you can put your comments and suggestions below, but please also feel free to engage in discussion about these objects – let’s see what emerges!

Friday mystery object #181 answer

On Friday I gave you this bird skull to identify:


I thought it might prove a bit of a challenge, since it belongs to a bird that isn’t found in Europe or North America. However, the skull shape and size is quite unique and I was forgetting the impressive skills of the Zygoma readers, so it didn’t take too long for Barbara Powell, Wouter van Gestel (who I believe may be involved in – one of my favourite web resources) and henstridgesj to narrow it down to the correct species.

This skull belongs to a member of the Cuculiformes, family Musophagidae (‘banana-eaters’) and to be specific it’s from a   Continue reading