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Cleaning a mummified fox skull.


This is really a story about two things - about cleaning a skull and about the amazing lady who gave it to me. At the end of August I came home from a day at my new school to find a lady, called Miss Ford, who I didn't know, was at my house. It was a big surprise !

She said that she read about me in the Telegraph Magazine in February, and she wanted to give some skulls to me. She only knew the village where I lived, so she had driven up from England and asked at my old primary school in my village, who phoned my home, and luckily my dad was in and invited her over.

Mrs. Ford was a amazing lady, she has lives all over the world and she is almost 80 years old and was keen on dermistid beetles. She knew a lot about plants and fungi.  She had dinner at ours and stayed the night and left to drive homein the morning. We have swapped a lot of of letters because she does not have an E-mail address.

She brought me a lot of interesting things like a mummified squirrel, some bird heads, a glass tank, the fox skull, and other things but this was the one I cleaned up first. It was from a fox that had died near her house. Miss Ford had taken the head off, skinned it then left it wrapped in kitchen roll. It had been like this for about 20 years.

 It was almost unrecognisable while the tissue paper was on.

When it was peeled off you could see it well.

Very gross image. Click and hold down to see the full picture or click here to see in a new window.

Mummification or dried skin makes it really hard to clean. What it means is when the skin dries, and without moisture the decomposition stops. Once it gets wet, decomposition starts again. While it is dry it is very hard to separate bone from skin. I have cleaned mummified bodies before, with Pharoah the fox and Donald the seal. With Pharoah I used dermestid beetles then burial, and with Donald I used a secret method. With this skull I decided to simmer it in a slow cooker.

I left it overnight to simmer in water and biological washing powder and it was really disgusting but most of the flesh came off:

I dried it in the sun then simmered it again overnight with more biological washing powder. This is what it looked like when it came out the second time. I pulled off the final bits of flesh with tweezers: 

When it was cleaned I took all of the teeth out in order and lay it to dry.

I had too scrub the teeth with a toothbrush to get all the gunk off, which was gross! Then I laid them out in the order they were:

I glued all the the teeth in order on a bit of paper when it was cleaned.

After it dried at room temperature for three days, I glued the teeth back in:

The one thing I am worried about is that the skull now seems far too white compared to my others. This is it on the right, next to another fox skull on the left:

This is another brilliant skull to add to my collection and all thanks to a kind lady from England who came a long way to see me !

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Darren said...

Looks great!! Awesome job mate!

Jake said...

Thanks !

Korihor . said...

The reason the skull to the left is more golden-yellow is that it is still greasy (may have some lingering fat or grease deposits within the bone). Sometimes a skull that still has grease will grow fungus much later, but such problems are rare. This newer skull looks very nicely de-greased and bleached!

Jake said...

I don't think it's grease in the yellower one, it isn't patchy and the colour is the colour bone usually is.

Little Bird said...

Do maggots eat the bones too? What do you do with the maggots once they clean the bones?

Jake said...

You can sometimes find them inside the longer bones, where they get in through tiny holes and eat the bone marrow. But they don't eat the actual bone themselves, and afterwards they either die or continue the life cycle and become flies.

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