Preserving a skeleton: Part 2

After the bones are clean, they are marked and labelled to avoid being misplaced or lost, especially smaller bones, when they’re not properly labelled. The specimen number is then written onto the bone in pencil and onto a paper label (preferably a Tyvek label) which is then tied around the bone with string.

The species of the specimen, the name of the bone being labelled e.g. Lumbar Vertebrae, and the number of the bone (if more than one) e.g. “Lumbar vertebrae #1” must also be indicated on the label. It’s important to secure the label onto part of the bone so it does not fall off or separate from the bone.

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Here is an example of how to label the bones with Tyvek labels and string. Even though the Lumbar Vertebrae on Little Texas have fused together, it is important to label each of the bones separately.

Detailed photography of Little Texas keeps a visual record of the condition of each bone. The second stage of the recording process was completed once the bones had been photographed to provide an up-to-date record of the bones in the condition they were being preserved.

Packing of the specimen is the last step in making sure the specimen is safe and secure. Each specimen will usually be packed in one box or crate but unfortunately Little Texas had to be packed in 5 separate boxes which is why labelling is vital and these boxes must be kept together in storage. The bones of Little Texas are packed and protected by bubble wrap and acid-free tissue paper once in the boxes.

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The above photo shows the Pelvis of Little Texas, packed in a plastic box along with the sacrum, both labelled and ready for long term storage. The bones are resting on bubble wrap separated by acid-free tissue paper.

Every process, method and piece of equipment mentioned in this blog applies only to skeletal specimens and bone material. This is a rough guide and different organisations will have varying techniques as each specimen will require a specific preservation process depending on its condition.

Little Texas, for example, was not cleaned until the bone turned bright white as this would be untrue to the historic value of the specimen. The discolouration is part of the specimen’s history and trying to remove this would not only be harmful to the specimen itself but harmful to its historic value.

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The Skull of Little Texas does not need any preservation or cleaning as it was on display in a glass case at the Cole Museum of Zoology for many years. It has only been taken out to be packed away for the move across campus to the new Health and Life Sciences building opening at the University of Reading at the end of 2019.

Smaller museums must make-do with the equipment available as many are under-funded and rely mainly on government grants and donations from the general public. It is vital that we support our local museums so that they can carry out work on specimens just like Little Texas.

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