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The unlucky roe deer and the interesting sheep skull


My leg plaster is on for at least another ten days, so this is a story about a walk I did about a month ago.  I went up to a wood I had explored before that was on the big moor near my house. The wood is a pine plantation with tons of roe deer that live there, and it can be seen from the deserted farmhouse I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Before I went I remembered it as being full of bones, so dad and I split up and went down opposite sides of the wood to search as much ground as possible. There weren't as many bones as I remembered, but I found some other interesting things instead.

Dad and I met up at the north-west corner of the wood at the bottom of the hill. The hill sloped down to a stream with farmland on the other side. Then I noticed this white dot near the stream which looked like a rib cage:

We crossed the scream and found it was from a roe deer with the spine from the bottom of the neck to the pelvis with the ribs still attached. 

It was still held together with sinew. It is interesting if you find one like this because you can see how the bones attach, but it's very tricky to clean off the soft tissue when it is like this:

A bit further up I saw how it had died. It had died when it's back foot got caught jumping over a fence. It died in the same way my dad had tried to save last week.

The wire had cut all the way through to the bone. The black spot a few inches up the leg are the other two hooves which don't normally touch the ground:

There was fur underneath the leg, where it had lay, but there were no bones:

The pelvis looked like was a male, so I looked for the skull but couldn't find it at all. I couldn't find the other limbs or neck either. They were probably carried away by foxes.

Dad and I went back into the wood and walked east along the north edge of it above the stream:

On the opposite side was a spot where the farmer had fires to burn farm waste. Through his binoculars dad noticed something that looked like a large skull. He thought it might have been a small cow. We crossed back over the stream and walked up to it. It was a sheep skull, but a larger one than normal:

It had a hole at the back of the skull in the middle.

The ground was soft and muddy and me and dad split up to search for the rest of it:

We found the lower jaws but they were smashed and not worth taking:

There were some other bones, but I didn't know if they were all from the same skeleton. The shoulderblade at bottom right looks like it was from a lamb:

This looked like the right scapula from the big sheep:

I brought it home to clean in my S6 cleaner but it wasn't big enough to fit in in one go, so I cleaned it one was round one night and the other way round the next:

Even though it looked pretty clean when I picked it up there was still plenty of muck that came out:

This is what it looked like when it was cleaned up and dried:

All my other sheep skulls came from hills and moors and this one looks much bigger. It is 29cm long (most of my other adult sheep are 24cm) and 15cm wide (my others are about 14cm). The eye socket is 5.3cm at its widest point (my others are about 4.2cm) and it feels a lot chunkier and rougher than my other ones:

The top of my other sheep skulls are smooth at the suture lines. This  one has a raised ridge in the middle, like a sagittal crest, which you see on animals with strong jaw muscles. I think this ridge has grown for muscles to attach onto:

This is the back of the skull around the hole where the spine attaches. The spikes either side of the hole are much more thicker and chunkier and blunter on this skull than on my other sheep skulls:

The whole of the skull seems much stronger and thicker than any other sheep skull I have seen:

I'm not sure what these tiny grooves were for on the skull, maybe for blood vessels ?

This was the hole I saw originally. It looks like a bullet hole but I think it was from a bolt-gun, because there is no exit wound, and isn't where you would normally shoot a sheep.

The hole is 1.1cm wide and if you look closely you can see tiny fractures going out from it:

I think these small holes along the inside of the teeth mean the skull was quite old. I think was an old valuable sheep of a different kind to normal which was kept near the farmhouse which the farmer killed himself when it got too old:

This wasn't what I expected to find on the walk but I think it's impressive all the same !

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Joanne said...

Hi Jake,

Your sheep skull is magnificent. I wonder if it's a Soay sheep? Take a look at the lovely skull in this photo which has a similar sagittal crest. http://www.flickr.com/photos/octobermoth/7281839588/
I can't find any other examples for the moment but will keep looking.

Jake said...

Cool horns ! The ridge on mine is a bit bigger, and I don't think it's a proper sagittal crest, just something that pretends to be one :-)

Kat said...

Hi Jake, I am starting to collect bones and I was wondering if you
can age a deer by it's upper teeth. We have quite a few deer in our area
but so far I am only finding the skull and not the jaw. I see that you collect (and probably see) many deer, so any insight you have would be very helpful. The sheep that farmers keep in my area allways have one "head" ram or sheep, that is older and stronger than the others. Maybe that is why your sheep has a crest?

Thank you,

Jake said...

Hi Kat ! I wrote a guide here: http://www.jakes-bones.com/2012/02/finding-out-young-deers-age-by-its.html It uses bottom jaws, but the top teeth would come through at the same time. Once all the teeth are through it is more difficult to judge age by the top teeth since they don't wear down as much as the bottom teeth, but the flatter they are, the older the deer is.

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