Friday mystery object #419 answer

Last week I gave you a genuine mystery object from an archaeological dig in Dublin to have a go at identifying:

There were several suggestions, both in the comments here and on Twitter. They can’t all be right, so this seems like a good opportunity to look at the skulls of a variety of different species, so we can narrow it down.

Scale is important in this, since the mystery object is quite large, despite being just a section of the braincase from the rear of the skull, made up of parts of the parietal bones (on either side) and part of the occipital bone (the bone that forms the back wall of the skull). This is an area of convergence on the skull – a meeting point for the bony sagittal crest associated with attachment of the temporalis muscles (used in operating the jaw) and the nuchal crest associated with the nuchal ligament that connects the trapezius muscles of the neck (used in moving the head) to the skull.

1. Deer.

Deer skull
Deer skull

Cervids lack the well-developed sagittal crest seen in the mystery object. They also have a broad triangular scar for the attachment of the nuchal ligament – presumably relating to the high forces that the nuck muscles have to deal with due to the carrying of and fighting with antlers. In females the shape of the nuchal scar is very similar, although it’s less well defined. So the mystery, with its strong sagittal crest and neat occipital crest is not from a deer.

2. Bovids.

Sheep, cows and other bovids are similar to deer – with a broader nuchal scar (presumably for similar reasons to the deer). Their reliance on masseter muscles more than the temporalis muscles when chewing also means that their sagittal region doesn’t match our mystery critter, with the temporalis scars usually not meeting the midline of the skull:

Sheep skull

2. Pig.

In profile the pig skull looks like a pretty good match, with scars from quite well-developed temporalis muscles just behind the eye socket:

Pig skull

But the Suidae actually have a very distinctive spatulate shape to the rear part of their skulls, presumably for incredibly hefty nuchal ligament attachment to help power their rooting activity:

Pig skull

That results in a very distinctive shape in the dorsal view, so the mystery object is clearly not a pig:

Pig skull

3. Horse.

Horses can have a fairly well-developed sagittal crest and I don’t feel like I can entirely disregard the possibility that this mystery specimen may be from a mature Equid, although the shape looks somewhat off to me – a bit flatter and angled more downwards:

Horse skull

The horse specimens I’ve seen also have more of a nuchal ‘knot’ rather than a defined ridge in the midline of the occipital:

Horse skull

4. Camel.

Camels have very strongly developed sagittal crests, but this is parly due to the short and narrow area to the rear of the braincase, so the crest rises sharply. The nuchal crest is also much more prominent, forming a continuous sharp line right into the zygomatic arch:

Dromedary camel skull

The mystery object could be from a camel, but I think it lacks the strength of the camel’s nuchal region and the braincase seems broader than that of the camels.

5. Badger.

There was a suggestion of badger, but that can be ruled out simply because of the size. This section of mystery bone is about as long as a badger’s entire skull:

Badger skull

While the size is off, the suggestion does have merit in terms of morphology, as the broad braincase does hint at a member of the Carnivora and in Ireland there aren’t many large carnivores – at least not any more.

6. Seal.

One type of large carnivore still found around Ireland would be the seals. However, the need for extreme flexibility in their head movements while resisting drag from their watery environment gives them a very characteristic shape to their nuchal region:

Seal skull

7. Dog.

Dogs are always worthy of consideration in these instances. They can be small or large, their skull shape can vary hugely and they are found everywhere that humans are found.

Dog skull

This does seem a bit more like it, although size is still an issue. Even the biggest dog – and the skull shown above is from a BIG dog – struggles to be close to the right size. Also, the nuchal crest in dogs tends to taper to a point fairly evenly, whereas the mystery bone has a nuchal crest that has ‘shoulders’ for want of a better term. Dog is possible, but I’m not convinced.

8. Cat.

There is no way a domestic moggie could come close to big enough, but there are big cats that come surprisingly close:

Tiger skull
Tiger skull

The nuchal crests of lions and tigers have those ‘shoulders’ and a well defined occipital crest down the midline. They are also closer in size and the braincase and sagittal crest are about right.

9. Bear.

Of course, we can’t talk about lions and tigers without also considering bears.

Bear skull

Again, the nuchal crest ‘shoulders’ are there, the size is perfect and the sagittal crest and braincase are close. However, the occipital crest seems a little less well-defined.

So these are the species I’ve been considering and at the moment I’m thinking big cat or bear for this mystery object. I know there are other large carnivores, like hyenas, but they have an unmistakable sagittal/nuchal region:

Hyena skull

I will need to have the specimen in my hand with a good range of comparative specimens available to get a more conclusive identification. One significant factor will be that as animals mature, their muscle scars tend to become more rugged and this changes their appearance, so I will need specimens from animals of different ages and life histories to help consider those factors.

Sorry I’m not giving you a definitive answer this week, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the process!

Friday mystery object #419

This week I have a very real mystery object for you to have a go at identifying, that was recently excavated in Ireland by archaeologists from Irish Archaeological Consultancy and they very kindly let me take a look and share it with you:

I have an idea of what this is, but I’d be keen to hear what you think it might be.

You can put your thoughts in the comments below and hopefully between us we’ll figure it out!

Friday mystery object #374 answer

Last week I gave you this ‘unidentified bone’ to have a go at identifying:

wp-1579810719531.jpg

I say bone, but as was pointed out on Twitter, perhaps the label reads something else…

‘Boner’ would of course be an accurate slip, because this is clearly a baculum (aka the penile bone, os penis, os priapi, or oosik in the case of pinnipeds). I don’t think the slip was deliberate though, since I removed a piece of information from the label for the sake of the challenge:

label

I can only imagine that this baculum was found with some seal bones and was not recognised as being part of the skeleton and therefore removed. There’s no reference to where the rest of the seal bones are, which is bit of a problem if they are in the collection.

I’ve blogged about penile bones on several occasions, since as far back as in 2010.  Bacula are often quite distinctive, allowing species identifications based on their morphology. But this particular specimen has proven hard to find good specific comparative material or images (online or in publications) to do comparisons against.

However, from looking at the few seal bacula that do have illustrations in publications, and scouring the internet for articulated seal skeletons with bacula in place, I think it’s probably from male Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus (Fabricius, 1791). If so, this individual would have likely been aged 10 years or over.

This age suggestion is based on the length and robustness of the specimen, which in Grey Seals has been shown to correlate quite closely with age and maturity in the males (Hewer, 1964; Van Bree, 1972). This interesting bit of information aside, I unfortunately couldn’t find the clues that led palfreyman1414 to the Holmesian deduction:

…So, apart from the fact that they are right-handed, have been to Afghanistan, currently work as a haberdasher’s spool threader and have fallen on hard times, I got nothing.

But bacula are informative bones, so I’m sure there is a lot of additional information available from the specimen that I’ve not deduced.

All of you worked out what this bone(r) was, and several people recognised it as being from a seal of some kind, both in the blog comments and on Twitter. There was also a suggestion of Grey Seal from Conor Ryan:

I hope you had fun with this mystery boner! Oh wait, that sounds really wrong.

 

Friday mystery object #374

Recently I was looking at some skeletal specimens in the Dead Zoo stores, to help with a research enquiry. I came across a drawer of unidentified bones and as you might have guessed, I was delighted. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of these to get your thoughts on identifications.

To get started, here’s a good one:

Any ideas what bone this is and what animal it’s from? You can leave your ideas in the comments section below.

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #340

This week I have a mystery object for you from one of Dublin’s hidden gems, the Trinity College Zoological Museum:

It caught my eye when I was studying some of their Blaschka models for a project I’m involved in and I thought you might like to have a go at working out what this jaw might be from.

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #327

This week I have a mystery object for you that I expect you will find simultaneously easy and difficult:

20171130_153340-01.jpeg

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, I expect you’ll be able to work out what this bone is quite easily – however, you may struggle a bit more to work out which species it came from.

Cryptic answers are encouraged as always – but mainly have some fun with this one!

Friday mystery object #298

This week it’s back to bones. I’ve had a couple of very helpful work experience students photographing some specimens from the Dead Zoo comparative osteology collection and here’s a distinctive bone for you to identify. The Order should be easy, the Family simple enough, but the Genus and Species may prove more difficult:

mystery298

So if you think you know what this is please put your suggestions in the comments below. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #292 answer(ish)

Last week I gave you a final mystery object from the Grant Museum of Zoology to help me identify:

dsc06030

Part of the reason for that was because I knew I’d be starting my new job in Dublin where there is a great collection of comparative bird osteology that I thought I’d get a chance to look at in time to write this post.

Alas, I’ve had a whirlwind first week at Dublin’s Dead Zoo and although I’ve managed to take a look at a few sterna, I’ve not had much time to really think about them or consider the identification. I’ve also had limited opportunity to follow up on everyone’s very useful suggestions, although I have tried to use them as a guide to narrow down my perusal of the comparative collections.

However, I did get a chance to take some quick snaps of a range of bird sterna with my phone, so I’m going to provide you with a veritable feast of breast bones to compare the mystery specimen against:

You can click on each image to see a large version – hopefully this will prove useful for future identifications!

None of them quite match the combination of having perforations near the straight and truncated bottom of the mystery specimen, which sports a broad triangular flattening of the lower portion of the carina or keel. This may be a feature of the particular individual, or it might be diagnostic – herein lie the problem with using strongly functional features for identification, as a juvenile or zoo specimen may have differences due to developmental progress of lack of use of a feature. To illustrate, this keel from a Griffon Vulture from the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland shows a significant asymmetry (although it’s hard to see the deformation in the image due to the shadow – I’ll see if I can get a better image):

Griffon Vulture sternum

Griffon Vulture sternum

It’s also worth noting that the Grant specimen has had the top of the sternum cut off, so the overall shape is a little misleading. From comparing the sterna of a variety of bird groups I’m in agreement with the emerging group consensus that this is probably from a pretty large bird of prey.

Thanks for your input on this – I will check some more next week when I have a zooarchaeologist looking at the comparative bird collection and I’ll get the chance to dig out some more material.

Cheers!

Friday mystery object #286 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object to identify, found on a beach in Ireland:

mystery286

It led to a lot of great cryptic comments relating to marine birds and sternum keels, but Lena was the first to comment and was spot on with the species (or at least as far as I can tell!)

Bird sterna are quite distinctive, with overall shape giving an indicator of mode of life. Long narrow but well-developed keels like this tend to be seen in marine birds that use their wings to fly underwater. The shape of the bottom and sides of the sternum tend to be quite specific to particular genera and species, making sterna pretty good for identification.

Of course that depends on having good comparative material and I was delighted to find John Rochester’s very helpful Flickr page, that has a comparison of British Auks (in this case we’re talking about the geographical British Isles rather than the sociopolitical concept of Britain).

If you take a look at those images you’ll notice that one fits the shape very well indeed – the Guillemot or Common Murre Uria aalge (Pontoppidan, 1763).

1024px-common_murre_rwd2

Guillemot with its meat and feathers on. Image by Dick Daniels, 2011

So that’s the identification I gave to Emer, Ronan, Rory and Paddy who found it on their hols!

 

Friday mystery object #285 answer

Last week I gave you this unassuming bit of bone, that I found with no identification in the Grant Museum of Zoology stores:

mystery285

Daniel Jones and Daniel Calleri identified the element as a radius, but beyond that there was a general feeling that identification of species was a bit on the tricky side. Palfreyman1414 pointed out that it’s something approximately human sized, with Lena ruling out an ungulate, suggesting that it could be from a carnivore or possibly a marsupial.

I must admit that my mind immediately went to carnivores and I initially thought it could be from a Black Bear, since it’s fairly robust and about the right length. However, after checking the ever helpful Adams & Crabtree book I realised that bears are even more chunky than this.

It didn’t look right for a dog since they are straighter, have a flatter profile and a narrower distal end. However, it did look right for a big cat and I’m fairly certain that it’s from a Leopard Panther pardus (Linnaeus, 1758). If you want to compare a Leopard with a Dog radius you can see them compared in this paper, along with a good description of the bones of the Leopard forearm.

A bit of a tricky challenge – so next time I may try to do something a bit more distinctive!

Friday mystery object #283 answer

Last week I gave you this zoomed in picture of a specimen to have a go at identifying:

mystery283

It was a bit tricky, so I also gave you this bonus clue to help:

mystery283_bonus

I was impressed to see that, despite the limited information available from the images provided, many of you managed to work out that this shows the lightweight ‘honeycomb’ structure that supports the casque of a hornbill.

That was the first challenge but, as ever, I was keen to see if you could get the identification to species – far more of a challenge considering the lack of a side view of the skull and lack of a scale. To make up for that I’ve decided to provide the necessary image here:

Ceratogymna atrata skull

I won’t say what species this is in this post, as I normally would, just to give some more of you a chance to make the identification yourself. However, what I will say is that the very first response by Wood contained a link to an image of the correct species and later to a blogpost featuring this very specimen. In that post there is a discussion about the appearance of the casque, with speculation about whether it had been damaged during preparation, resulting in its appearance. However, as Richard Lawrence pointed out, this appearance is actually normal for the skulls of several species of hornbill.

I will also say that the discussion between Daniel Calleri & Dan Jones and Richard Lawrence about whether it was a hornbill from a genus starting with A or B was interesting and I initially thought it was an A, but am now convinced that it’s a C.

If you’re desperate to know which species it’s from, here’s a link to the skullsite.com page about it.

 

Friday mystery object #282 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object supplied by Dr David Hone:mystery282

This is the premaxilla of a fish, but that doesn’t narrow things down much, since there are 28,000 species of bony fish, leaving a huge range of possibilities.

There were several suggestions of Wolf Fish, which is what I originally thought it was myself, but that’s not what it is. Then the suggestions of various Wrasse species started cropping up – which is a lot more likely.

My first look at Wrasse teeth came when I tried to identify the fish used in the Horniman’s Merman:

SONY DSC

There are a lot of Wrasse, over 600 species in fact, so it can be hard to narrow down the species, especially when few comparative specimens are available.

One very helpful osteology resource for identifying fish from their bony bits is Osteobase which lets you pick a bone and start making comparisons. It’s worth keeping in mind that you need to really explore the taxonomic tree on the left of the page to get a real appreciation of how useful it is – so for example, after selecting the premaxilla, if you look at the Perciformes (the Order containing the Wrasse) you see a huge range of premaxilla specimens that help narrow down the bone you’re trying to identify.

This clearly shows that the Labridae is definitely the right family for the mystery object and the Mexican Hogfish Bodianus diplotaenia (Gill, 1862) is a very close match.

So congratulations to Richard Lawrence who I think has it right, especially since the specimen was found within the range of this species. I hope you all enjoyed the challenge!

Friday mystery object #282

This week I have a mystery specimen from Dr David Hone who showed me it when he came and spoke about Tyrannosaurus at PubSci the other night (if you want to see the talk take a look at the Periscope feed from the evening). Here it is:

mystery282

Do you have any ideas of what bone it is and from which family of animals? If you can work out the species I will be both surprised and very impressed.

As usual if you think it’s too easy, please be sure to leave a cryptic clue in the comments section below. I hope you have fun with this!

Friday mystery object #271

This week I have a mystery object for you from the Grant Museum of Zoology that’s either a bit too easy, or a bit mean:

mystery271a

If you’re not a fully paid-up bonegeek, you might like to have a bit of an additional clue; if so, click here.

Please keep your answers in the comments section cryptic, so everyone gets a chance to have a go at working it out without spoilers. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #265

This week I have a specimen that I’ve been looking at recently that you might like to have a go at identifying:

Mystery monkey

Mystery monkey

This was being used in handling sessions and needed a tooth to be reattached (huzzah for Paraloid B72), but I noticed that it lacked an identification beyond ‘monkey’ and I thought that could be improved upon.

Here it is laid out more usefully for identification purposes:

mystery265I know what I’ve narrowed it down to, but I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

Friday mystery object #264 answer

Last week I gave you a tricky mystery object in the form of a dusty bag:

Bag o-bones

Of course, I’m not truly that mean, so I also provided a characteristic part of the specimen:

mystery264

Despite being a bit broken, it’s fairly clearly the mandible of a felid, given the shape of that one molar and the limited sockets for the missing premolars, suggesting something with a very reduced tooth count – something that most of you spotted straight away.

The size is a bit small for a Tiger or Lion, it’s a bit big for a Puma or Cheetah and it’s not quite as robust as I’d expect from a Jaguar, leaving us with the likely identification of Leopard Panthera pardus (Linnaeus, 1758). So well done to joe vans and palreyman1414 for ‘spotting’ what it was (terribly pun, I know).

Here’s a nice Leopard skull from the Grant Museum of Zoology collections to give a sense of scale.

leopard

More mystery objects to come from the Grant next week, but if you’d like to see another specimen from the collection, my latest specimen of the week, that looks at the darker side of the Walrus might be of interest.

Friday mystery object #262 answer

Last Friday I gave you this pretty characteristic mystery object from the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde to try your hand at identifying:

mystery262

There were lots of great comments – I must apologise for not responding to many (and for posting the answer to this mystery object so late), my excuse is that I’ve had an insanely busy week finishing up my old job at the Horniman Museum and Gardens and then getting started in my new job at the fantastic Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London (more to come about my big move). I also got started on a really interesting project looking at Gorilla osteology and I’m feverishly trying to prepare a training workshop on identifying natural materials for next week.

Back to the object. Several of you noticed the presence of a baculum (or penis bone) which shows us quite definitively that this was a male animal.

Panda penis bone (baculum) from the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde

It also suggests that the specimen was prepared and mounted without the prudishness that many historical mounts were affected by (see Jack Ashby’s comments about this in his post on the Grant Muesum’s Ringtail).

Many of you also correctly recognised that the plantigrade (or flat-footed) posture, short tail and robust build suggested a bear of some sort.

Panda hind limb bones showing plantigrade foot

The distinctive sagittal crest was the final feature needed for identification for some of you to work out that this is the skeleton of a Giant Panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca (David, 1869).

Panda skull side view

Panda_skull_top

I tend to think of Panda skulls as looking like a cross between those of a Hyaena and a Gorilla, which makes sense when you consider the adaptations of the jaw musculature required for the Panda to process the large volumes of tough bamboo needed to provide enough energy for survival. The bone of the skull has to be able to manage the large forces produced by all this chewing, resulting in a big and robust sagittal crest, a thick and deep mandible and really deep muscle scars on the coronoid process.

These are all features you also see in big chewers like the Gorilla and Hyaena, but not in rodents and ungulates – I think this reflects the difference between groups that rely on temporalis muscle (which runs along the side of the braincase) in chewing compared to the masseter muscle (which attaches to the zygomatic arch or cheekbone).

The final clue to confirm that this is a Giant Panda is the ‘thumb’ on the front limbs:

Panda_thumb_1

Panda_thumb_2

This handy (excuse the pun) extra ‘digit’ is actually the radial sesamoid bone of the Panda’s wrist, that has been commandeered by evolution for use as a bamboo holder. There are a few other species that have done weird things with wrist bones to gain a digit, but this is clearly not a Mole or Elephant and Red Pandas have a much longer tail.

I hope you enjoyed some of the interesting bony features of this specimen – it’s great to have a chance to see under the surface of such an iconic animal!

Friday mystery object #261 answer

Last Friday I gave you this object from the Horniman Museum and Gardens to identify:

mystery261

It’s an odd looking bone, but that makes it distinctive, so I wasn’t too surprised that everyone recognised it as being from something aquatic. In particular, Ric Morris and joe va both recognised it as the radius of a pinniped.

The broad end that articulates with the wrist is lacking its epiphysis, indicating that this is from a younger animal. This also makes it a little harder to make a definitive species identification.

I think that Ric Morris’s cleverly disguised suggestion of Grey Seal is pretty good, although I’m leaning slightly more towards Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina Linnaeus, 1758.

The odd shape is of course one adaptation of the forelimb that reflects a change in biomechanical requirements away from the load-bearing limb of a terrestrial ancestor and towards the hydrofoil shape and drag-force-resistant flipper of an active aquatic pursuit predator.

Seal underwater by Chillum, 2007

I will never ceases to be impressed by the power of evolution as a mechanism to reshape bone to better suit new purposes!