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Lisa, my old red deer hind skeleton


Lisa is one of the first skeletons I ever saw. Me my dad and my friend Innes were walking in Dougal's Cairn in April 2009 and we had found a fantastic amount of skulls from a gamekeepers pit, including my first red deer stag and my first fox skeleton. 

At the south edge of Dougal's Cairn wood there is a deer fence which you can cross into the valley at the north end of Suicides Graves, and from the other side of the fence I could see the white bones and the spine. Here is a photograph - see how young I look four years ago !

We had so many bones to carry that day that we didn't take any of Lisa's which I regretted doing because the bracken grew and we completely lost where the skeleton was until a year later in April 2010 when the bracken died down. Here was the skull and the pelvis:

This shows part of the spine and the ribs and how difficult the bones were to spot:

Here's more of the lower spine, the femur and the tibia:

This is the metacarpal and phlanges (toe bones) from the front right leg:

Lisa was a good find because she had tons of pathology (clues) on her bones. We didn't find her all, with parts of the legs missing. She is different to all of my other red deer skeletons because she was quite old when she died. Here's her skull. If you look closely on the lower jaw you can see there is a lump on it.

The bone round that part is honeycombed and hard and not smooth. It leaves a big gap around the M1 and M2 (molar teeth). It looks like there was an infection in the lower jaw at the gumline. This can happen in deer because as they get older their teeth get flat and wear down to the gumline. The thin bit of brown you can see shows the tiny bit of tooth left above the gumline. Deer have to do a lot of chewing and grinding to get all the nutrients out of grass, and if there was infection she would be in pain a lot of the time, and she could have even starved.

This is the M2 molar, and you can see how close it is to the gumline ! This was a very old animal.

I want to write more about the skull in a different post where I'll compare Lisa's skull to that of younger red deer hinds to see the differences.

This is the front right leg. This bit shows three bones, the humerus (shoulder to elbow), and the radius (upper one at the bottom) and the ulna (lower one at the bottom) which both go from elbow to wrist. The bones could all fit together well and there was no arthritis or other bone growth there that wasn't normal. But the bones felt more light and hollow than normal:

Normally the radius and ulna are two separate bones but here they have fused together along the last half of the ulna. The older the animal is, the more the bones fuse together. Sometimes it's good, because it gives strength between bones, eg the plates in the skull, but sometimes it's bad if it makes the animal more stiff:

The two bones weren't yet joined together at the elbow joint end.

Even if you only found those two bones, you could see they came from an old animal.

When we found Lisa, the spine was still all together in a row. Here are the lumbar (lower back) vertebrae which fir together tightly for strength. The bone on the far left is the sacrum and tailbone, near the hips. The odd thing was that all the arms of the lumbar vertebrae were chipped at the end on the left hand side. I think this was caused after death, then animals like foxes were pulling off meat, and she must have been lying on her right side so the other side was protected. I don't think it happened before death because there is no sign of the bone regrowing.

There is something similar on the side of one of the cervical (neck) vertebrae. I think it was caused the same way:

The same thing could be seen on the thoracic (shoulder) vertebrae, again from foxes biting the meat off.

The sacrum has lots of extra bits of bone growing showing that was starting to fuse with the next vertebrae. This would have meant Lisa had a very stiff lower back.

This is the underside of the sacrum and cocyyx (tail bones). Officially this is three or four bones, but they join together very fast. A bit is broken off the right hand side of the sacrum where it meets the pelvis.

If you look at the very first pictures in 2009 these bones were fused together when I found them, but they've become broken since. Again she would have been very stiff in her lower back which would have made jumping difficult.

Here's the pelvis. It is joined together which happens when animals age. When they are very young, the pelvis is in four pieces, when they get older it's in two pieces joined down the middle, and in old animals it's just one piece. A bit is broken off at the lower right which probably happened after death.

There were a couple of caudal vertebrae from the tiny tails that red deer have.

These were the first two ribs which were very unusual. They were broken a few centimetres from the top. and there was lots of bone growth all over them which wasn't on any other ribs.

Here's a close up of the rib heads:

The extra bone growth was like a honeycomb and it is both inside and outside the bone. I don't know whether this happened pre or post mortem (before or after death):

The other ribs were mostly fine but one or two had lumps or wider parts at the chest end:

This is the cartilage from the sternum which is the front middle of the chest on a human, or the underside of the tummy in a quadruped animal.  The sticky out bits connect with the ribs and make the rib cage. Cartilage is much lighter and less strong than bone:

This is the metacarpal, with the three phlanges. In a human, these bones go between wrist and fingertip. A deer (like sheep too) stands on two of these toes on each foot with two smaller toes higher up on the leg.

These next bones are from the back right leg. In humans they are between the ankle and first tow knuckle, but deer walk with their ankle way above ground. The tibia (shin bone) would have come in at a right angle, the same angle as my arm here:

and closer in here:

Here are the same four bones spread apart: the end of the metatarsal on the left, then one of the tarsal bones (another is missing), then the ankle joint like a figure of eight, then the hock, which sticks out of the leg. Again there were no signs of old age or arthritis.

I only found one shoulderblade and it had a hole in the middle. This was a puzzle because scapulas (shoulderblades) are thin but strong. It could have been from a fox bite after death. Another one is that it could have been an entry would from a gunshot from a gamekeeper. She dies on the edge of two woods, and the wood on the north had a full time gamekeeper. If she was obviously old or thin from finding it painful to eat because of the abscess in her mouth, then most gamekeepers would automatically shoot her.

However she died, she had lived a long and happy life. She had some signs of old age, but all her joints were still good. I don't know for sure, but I think she was probably 15-20 years old. She was a good find.

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Ric_morris said...

Great deductions as ever, Jake, well done!

Alberto Mesta Ortega said...

It's a great job. I encourage you to read something about Dr. Federico Oloriz Aguilera. It was an anatomist and anthropologist with a dedication as special as yours (although much older). If you do not give your fans a great future awaits and science will benefit from your achievements undoubtedly. Since you have said that you are a very special young man. Do not doubt that for a moment. You have many things to contribute to science.

Jake said...

I'll look him up now ! Thanks for all the nice things you said !

Psydrache said...

It's interesting what you can read in bones!

Jake said...

It's nice when the skeleton tells a story about the animal's life.

Jake said...

Thanks ! She was an interesting skeleton.

abbietheowl said...

hello! I was looking at your bird skulls and the three unidentifed skulls I think I have an Idea of what they might be, The first is probably bunting, the second a thrush and the last look very much like a quail.
hope you find this useful. :)

Jake said...

Cool ! Thanks !

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