Friday mystery object #298 answer

Last week I gave you this bony mystery object to identify:


There was a request for a side view from jennifermacaire, so here you go:


The suggestions were all suitably cryptic, with some nice puns thrown in for good measure, but the gist of all of them was clear that this is the sternum of a bird. After that point, the suggestions started getting a bit more varied, including reference to marine birds.

Responses on Twitter were a bit more varied, ranging from ‘part of a human face’ to an essentially correct answer (admittedly after a bit of Q&A).

If you’re a regular reader you may recall that I featured a sternum a few months ago from the Grant Museum of Zoology, that had a disappointing answer, but nonetheless an answer that provided a number of sternum images that may have helped with this object.

In particular this specimen may have helped:



The long lateral trabeculae (the mystery specimen is upside down, so they’re the side bits that point upward on either side) with a deep gap between them and the carina (the central keel area)  is very distinctive to the Galliformes, as you can see in this Chicken sternum.

Sadly, there is no comprehensive repository of sternum images available online (if I’m wrong please correct me!), so expecting a species identification on this one was a big ask. Instead I’ll just tell you that it’s from a Hazel Grouse Tetrastes bonansia (Linnaeus, 1758) and this one was collected in Russia and accessioned by the Dead Zoo in 1929.

Hazel Grouse, by kallerna, 2009.

Hazel Grouse, by kallerna, 2009.

These secretive birds occur across Eurasia, from Japan to as far west as eastern parts of France. They live in coniferous forests and feed on plants and insects, like most of their pleasantly pheasanty family.


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:


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.


Friday mystery object #213 answer

Last week I gave you this interestingly shaped piece of bone to identify:


Jake, Elisa, henstridgesj, Hew Morrison, Robin Birrrdegg, Daniel Jones and Daniel Calleri all made a correct identification of this being part of a sternum, a sternebrae or more specifically a manubrium from a fairly large (yet possibly juvenile) ungulate. This was all correct and the final piece of the puzzle is the species, which is actually a smaller Deer than most people were expecting. It’s from an immature male Fallow Deer Dama dama (Linnaeus, 1758) collected from Knowle Park in Kent.

Here’s what it looks like with the rest of the sternebrae (which are the individual elements of bone that make up the sternum, like vertebrae make up the spine) that I could find for the specimen:

Sternum of immature male Fallow Deer Dama dama

Sternum of immature male Fallow Deer Dama dama

So it was indeed the manubrium – the top sternebra which in humans articulates with the top ribs and clavicles, but which here would only articulate with the top ribs, because ungulates don’t have clavicles (as I’ve discussed before). Here’s a human sternum for comparison:

Human sternum

Human sternum

So well done to everyone – I hope you enjoyed the challenge!