I was working my way through a box of large ratite bone the other day and stumbled across this out-of-place object: Any ideas on what it might have come from and why it might have been in a box of Ostrich bits? As usual, you can put your questions, thoughts and suggestions below – if you think it’s easy then maybe try using a clue to give other people a chance of working it out for themselves. Have fun!
Last Friday I gave you this rather interesting looking object to identify, preferably using a rhyme:
Believe it or not the photographs show either side of the same object – on one side it just looks like a rugose lump and on the other it shows a rather nice natural spiral.
Aside from some great humorous comments by 4utu and Henrik Nielsen, there were some of you who worked out that this is the operculum from a marine snail and even managed to explain that in rhyme – so very well done to Barbara, Chris and especially Lee Post who upped the ante by writing a full verse:
oh purr Q lum from foreign shores
possibly from a near ites door
side door -back door does not exist
main door -strong door , built to resist
Flick Baker went a step further (taxonomically) by identifying that this operculum is from a snail in the genus Turbo with the rhyme: “Gives your engine serious puff, even when she’s running rough“.
More specifically, this operculum is from the South African Turban Shell Turbo sarmaticus Linnaeus, 1758.
The operculum is a part of many snails that is often forgotten about – it forms a protective trapdoor that the snail closes behind itself when it retreats inside its shell (‘operculum’ means ‘cover’ or ‘lid’ in Latin). This trapdoor helps prevent desiccation in land snails and helps protect against predators in marine snails.
When the animal dies the operculum will often fall off as the body of the animal decays or is eaten, so often it won’t find its way into a museum collection with the rest of the shell. However, opercula can be quite distinctive and are sometimes more useful for identifying a species than the rest of the shell – a handy point to remember.
Last Friday I gave you this object from the Horniman’s Anthropology collection and asked you to identify what it’s made from and what function it may have served:
The identification turned out to be the easiest question to answer, despite the modification of the bone. The shape of the end of the bone is a result of the epiphyses (the ends of the bone) detaching from the diaphysis (the midshaft of the bone), which tells us that the animal was a juvenile at time of death and that the bone is actually formed from two bones that have fused together down their length – which is why a similar pattern is repeated on the left and right side of the bone.
This sort of fusion is normally seen in the hand and foot bones of artiodactyls, which narrows down the possible species. Judging by the size and general proportions it would be from something the size of a Roe Deer, although a bit more chunky. The closest species I could find for comparison was the the Goat Capra aegagrus hircus (Linnaeus, 1758), although it may be from a close relative, the Serow:
As for the function, there were some great suggestions (from weaving comb to needle-case), but apparently this is the key to a set of handcuffs!
The variety of anthropological uses of bone is huge, and it’s always exciting to find something outside of our expectations – which this object most definitely is for me!
This week I have a specimen for you to have a go at identifying, that has come from a box of “mixed bones” that I’ve been working through:
It may look like some sort of Ewok weapon, but I’m pretty sure it’s also part of an animal. Any idea what critter this might be from?
As usual, you can leave your thoughts, comments and suggestions below. Have fun!
For my 250th mystery object I gave you this object from the collections of the Horniman Museum & Gardens to identify:
It gave me a bit of a challenge, but eventually I managed to work it out – and it looks like something similar happened in the comments!
We went from ribs, to hind limbs to jaws, which is where it started getting close to the mark. The suggestion of “Part of the zygomatic arch of something large?” by henstridgesj was on the money.
Allen Hazen broke down the observation a bit further, with an astute observation about the components of the zygomatic arch that are present “The jugal and squamosal components of the zygomatic arch (I’d say its the squamosal that has been cut open here)“. Allen also speculated that it may be from a Dugong – which was my preferred identification for a while.
However, Crispin and henstridgesj worked out that it was from an Asian Elephant Elephas maximus Linnaeus, 1758 – the same species that I had also concluded that it belonged to.
By narrowing down the identification to species I was able to search through the museum’s collections management database to find out whether this sliced-off piece of bone might be part of another object. As it turns out, it was!
So by being able to identify this piece of bone it could be reassociated with the specimen that it originally came from and now there is a record for it in our database, so that if the skull ever comes off display it can be reunited with its cheekbone.
It also made an apt object for my 250th mystery object for Zygoma!
This week I have a mystery object for you that had me stumped for a little while recently, after it didn’t match the comparative material I had to hand. I managed to work out what it is, but I thought that it might make for a fun challenge as the 250th Friday mystery object:
Any idea what this is and what species it comes from?
As usual you can leave your (preferably cryptic) observations, questions and suggestions in the comments section below. Have fun!
Last Friday I gave you this unidentified object to get your opinions on:
This specimen has puzzled me quite a bit. The internal structure is a dense honeycomb, that seems too tightly compacted to belong to a bird – plus it’s so big that the only birds it could possibly belong to would be a Moa, Elephant Bird or maybe Ostrich at a push, and I compared this against two of these three possibilities:
So, it’s mammalian and large. It’s also clearly a metatarsal or metacarpal, based on the shape of the articular surfaces.
It’s not shaped quite right for a one or two toed animal so the it seems that the variety of suggestions along those lines of Hippopotamus, Rhinoceros and Elephant are most likely to be in the right area.
I did compare this to Hippo feet and an Elephant hindfoot and drew a blank, so that leaves an Elephant forefoot or a Rhinoceros foot. My best guess would be the 4th metacarpal of a Rhino, although Elephant is still a contender – I will try to find some comparative material to confirm.
A massive ‘thank you’ to everyone who contributed ideas – it’s great to have some fresh perspectives and new directions to explore when you’re stumped!