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Six common myths about bone collectors


A friend of mine on Twitter who is my age and who also collects bones mentioned she was getting abuse at school because of her hobby. That got me thinking about a post about the myths and stereotypes about bone collecting, and putting them right.

So here are six of the questions I have been asked most often, and my answers to what my hobby is about to help some people understand what I do a bit better. (Tip: check out the chapter "Seven Golden Rules" in my book to find out how I believe bone collecting should be).

1. Why don't you leave animals to rest in peace ?

One of my friends asked me this question when I started bone collecting. The answer is simple. When animals die they don't rest in peace at all. When they die their bodies are ripped apart, pecked at, torn, dragged, ripped, left to rot, and animals poo on them to mark their territory, and others will gnaw at their bones to get calcium. So whatever happens to them, it's definitely not resting in peace. In fact, the only chance they will get to rest in peace might be on a shelf on in a box, carefully cleaned and looked after.

What is important is that you treat bones with respect, no matter where they come from.

2.  Isn't bone collecting a bit yucky ?

It can be.

When an animal is freshly dead it is not yucky. When they are bones, they are not yucky. But the bit in the middle certainly can be. I prefer to leave it at this stage to let nature take care of it, so I don't dissect or skin dead animals (although I might do later).

Most skeletons which have been outside will be cleaned by nature, but for any that have soft tissue attached I use rubber gloves, plastic bags or boxes, and hand gel. But that's just common sense.

3. Isn't a bit morbid ?

No, because bones aren't really about death.

The thing about bones is: they are a record of the animal's life, not its death. They tell you how old the animal was, how it lived its life, what injuries or diseases it had, and lots of other things as well. The bones live, change and grow while the animal is alive, and only become fixed when the animal dies.

So to look an an animal's bones is to look at how it lived its life, as well as how all its ancestors lived and survived to their environment. Skulls are about life, not death.

4.  Don't bone collectors want animals to die ?

There have been a lot of times when I have seen an animal alive, and then later seen it dead, and it is always terribly sad. I blogged about dad finding this roe deer trapped in a fence, and how it died of shock after being freed last year, and we both were very upset that he didn't manage to save it.

I would never want an animal to die just for its bones, and it is one of my seven golden rules in my book. People are so used to seeing deer heads and skulls mounted as trophies by the person who shot them that they forget that often deer die all by themselves.

5. Bone collectors aren't animal lovers.

Before dad put some red deer skulls on the outside of my shed, he asked one of my neighbours whether that would be okay. She said it was fine, but she wouldn't do it herself, "because she was an animal lover".

Well, I am an animal too I love seeing all sorts of animals, and I spend loads and loads of time in the countryside. I also like bones, and I don't see a problem with that.

6. Why can't you just be interested in live animals ?

I haven't actually counted, but I'm pretty sure I blog more about nature than I do about bones. 

For example, collecting red deer bones led me to watching the rut last year. After the rut I decided it might be a good idea to get a trail camera, to track red deer. The red deer helped me discover that there was a pine marten living nearby, and filming the pine marten has helped me discover lots of other things, like a stash of 150-year old pottery, and local history, and the owls and other rare birds that live near the wood. That's eight posts all about things other than bones right there.

It's very difficult to study bones without understanding the live animal too, especially for deer and foxes. Understanding how the animal lives and has adapted to its surroundings helps understand why animals have developed the skeleton they have.

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