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Strange bones #8: The Autumnwatch mystery !


This is another special post about being filmed for BBC Autumnwatch, and I need your help !

When Chris Packham came to talk to me, he showed me a bone that had been sent in by an Autumnwatch viewer who lived in Warwickshire in England. She didn't know what it was and Chris asked if I could help. It had been found on a farm years ago, and she thought it was maybe from a reptile. He showed me the bone while I was being filmed and it's going to be part of the programme on Friday night.

It is about 14cm long and slightly curved. It looks like seven different pieces held together with something.

The underside of it looks about the same. Some of the bone has worn down on the edges.

My best guess....

The first thing I said when I saw it when I was being filmed is that it looked and felt like cartilage, which is like bone but not as strong and it doesn't last as long. Human noses are cartilage which is why human skulls don't have them, even the nose is a bit hard. 

One of the other places animals have cartilage is down the middle of the chest to hold together the rib cage and this is what I think it is. This bit is called the sternum and humans have it too. Here is Julie, which is a roe deer skeleton in my collection that I found in February 2010, and the photograph shows how she was when I found her. You can see the spine from the axis bone (second bone) on the right to where the shoulders and ribcage are on the left. The arrow shows where the sternum goes.

In that bit of the filming I was next to one of my cases with spare bones, so I used that to compare the bone on the day. This sternum is from a young red deer I think, but it is not labelled.

This picture below is from Julie the roe deer again, and shows the whole sternum and how it is held together with muscle. The head end is nearest the left.

Usually the tissue rots and it falls apart into pieces. This is a picture from when I found Roger the red deer stag, and if you look carefully you can see the sternum is in pieces.

Can you help me figure out what the mystery bone is, whether I got it right, and which animal it is off ? It is much much thicker than the roe or red deer sternum, so I think maybe a farm animal like sheep, cow or pig. Post a comment if you can help, and hopefully we can let Chris know if we've solved it for Friday's programme !

UPDATE: (Thursday morning): Thanks to everyone who has responded in the comments below or by email. Everyone seems to think it's from a sterum. My friend Catherine at Alder Archeology thinks it could be from a sheep, goat or pig, but most likely to be sheep.In the comments,  Paolo who works at the Horniman museum (and who runs a brilliant boney Mystery Object on his blog each week) thinks it is a young pig, or maybe a sheep. Lucina at CAHID who I met here thinks it is likely to be a sheep.

On the Facebook fan page for my blog, Mikolaj Lisowski posted a picture of the way to tell the difference between sheep (at the top) and pig (at the bottom) sternums:

Barone, R. 1976. Anatomie comparee des mammiferes domestiques. Tome premier, osteologie, fascicule 2 Atlas. Paris

Here's the picture of it again, flipped so it is the same way:

I think it's maybe a sheep but I'm not sure. What do you think ?

UPDATE 2: It's now definite that my bit will be on Autumnwatch Unsprung on BBC2 at 9.30pm it's been moved to Autumnwatch Live, BBC1, 8.30pm Friday 25th November ! If you miss it you can watch it on iPlayer at this page.

UPDATE 3: You can see my clip at this page now !

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Anonymous said...


How exciting being filmed for TV!

I think that you are right and it is the sternum of an animal. I think it is the sternum of a sheep.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jake,

your very own Mystery Object!

It's certainly a mammalian sternum and I'm pretty sure it belongs to a young pig (or possibly a sheep).

It will be a young pig because although it's quite big and well developed the sternabrae (the bits of bone that fuse to make up the sternum) are not fused.

Cows have seven sternabrae, while pigs have 6 like you have here. Sheep can vary between having 6 or 7, so it could be from a sheep, but I think theirs are less robust than this.

Great stuff getting on Autumnwatch!

Katy said...

Could it be a rattlesnake rattle ?

Max said...

I would say it's a young pig or young sheep

Jake said...

Thanks everyone so far ! I have added what you've said above. Katy - I don't think it is a rattlesnake rattle because it is too big but it does look a bit like one !

Anonymous said...

i typed in deer sturnum and i foud one of a roe deer that ooks just like yours! it has seven links and every thing! i hope im right!

to:jake (the best person ever)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jake,

that illustration of the pig and sheep sternum is very useful!

I would agree with you in saying sheep rather than pig based on that.

Nice one!

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