Every human osteologist reaches a point in their life when they are forced to make a foray into zooarchaeology. My most recent brush with the world of skeletal fauna took place over the summer, when I spent a week visiting one of my friends at the Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine. My friend Cleo is head chef at the camp, so I spent most of my days volunteering under her watchful eye, slicing bread, washing dishes, preparing enormous trays of bacon, baking challah, and (admittedly unwillingly), rinsing enormous sinkfuls of kale.
In our downtime, after the bacon had cooled and the kale was rinsed, Cleo and I would head out to explore our rustic surroundings. Hog Island was brimming with coastal Maine charm: flora and fauna aplenty, majestic maritime vistas, and paint-by-numbers sunsets. The most memorable thing on the island, however, was a series of eerie tented wooden structures that cropped up on the paths traversing the local woods. Apparently a former staff member had spent several summers building these bizarre sylvan edifices.
These reminded me strongly of the creepy tripod totems from the first ultra-unsettling season of True Detective, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise that one of them was filled with bones:
I, of course, reacted to the situation with my customary thoughtfulness and gravitas:
I look so delighted because even though the bones weren’t human, I could make a pretty good guess as to what they were based on a fairly rudimentary knowledge of anatomy and some context clues. Here’s what they looked like when I arranged them in a roughly articulated fashion (though I have a sneaking suspicion that the pelvis orientation may be out of whack):
Here are a few alternate views of the elements, to help with your foray into fauna, with a quarter for scale.
One thing to keep in mind when making your identification is that the entire anterior half of the available cranium is missing. So, to successfully answer this non-human bone quiz, you need to be able to answer the following questions:
1. What type of animal is this?
(You can aim for a species-level ID, but my species identification is still only a guess at this point…)
2. Adult or sub-adult?
3. What elements are represented?
Good luck! Add your identifications as a comment to this post, and I’ll upload an answer one week from today. [Update: I completely forgot that I needed to post an answer key, so it actually went up on January 01 2017. Thanks to Ubi Dubium for the reminder!]
Image Credits: The photos of me gleefully examining the mystery bones are courtesy of Cleo Bell.
ANSWER BELOW THE JUMP
Hmmm. I’m totally an amateur at this, but here goes. I can’t really see the skull detail, but it looks like a short and very pointy snout. So maybe a rodent?
And then we have large shoulder blades, and the humerus and femur that look like it had short but very powerful legs, so I think this is a swimming animal, not a runner. And then a vertebra and part of a pelvis that I don’t get much from. I think I see the ends of the bones are fused so I don’t think this is a juvenile. And we are suspiciously missing the teeth and any of the foot bones, and I’m thinking that maybe that’s because their presence would make this too easy.
And this is also a pretty sizable animal. And you’re in the eastern U.S. So … an adult beaver?
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