Info: Cleaning skeletons (bones)

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 7 Dec 1994 11:33:28

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Date: Wed, 07 Dec 1994 11:33:58 -0500 (EST)
From: Michael Williamson <>
Subject: Info: Cleaning skeletons (bones)
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From:	SMTP%"MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET"  7-DEC-1994 09:04:28.44
Subj:	cleaning skeleton
Date:         Wed, 7 Dec 1994 08:50:23 +1100
Reply-To:     Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Sender:       Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Comments:     Warning -- original Sender: tag was rbaird@SOL.UVIC.CA
From:         "C. Garrigue" <>
Subject:      cleaning skeleton
To:           Multiple recipients of list MARMAM <MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET>
To Cindy Driscoll, Sam Gentle, Genaro Sole, Gisli Vikingsson,
Beth Mathews, Thomas Kieckhefer and everyone who is interested
in cleaning skeleton :
        A few months ago I asked information on the way to
clean a skeleton (of small mammals) accross the MARMAN server.
I received a lot of information. Then somepeople ask me to know
about them; therefore I tried to compil the information in the
following text. It seems that a few methods are used all over
the world. Everyone seems to choose the one which is the most
adapted to his location and possibilities.
        First of all it is necessary to remove most of the flesh
before using most of the methods. With any methods used, be careful
to ensure that delicate parts (teeeth, elements of flipper, small
tympanic bulla, periotics and ear ossicles, pelvic bones, hyoid
one, caudal vertebrae) will not be loss or damage. For that, put
these parts in small nylon mesh pouches; to avoid loosing teeth
you can separte the two jaws and put bandage around each of them.
        The best way to clean the skeleton is to let nature do it;
there are two possibilties :
        1 - put the skeleton into something like a potato sac or
a cage and place it in the ocean, for example hang it off a dock
in the water. The invertebrae will clean it in a few weeks. Using
this method you need to be careful of the tidal movements, the
currents, storms and the sharks which can take out part of the carcass.
        2 - bury the skeleton. The time of the process depend on
soil quality and location (ambient temperature). Bones buried in
clay soils with little drainage can take months even years for
remaining flesh to decomposss; those buried in well-drained
sandy soils attract beetle larvae that clean the flesh off very
quickly (several weeks). An average time for this process is
between 3 and 8 months.
Don't forget to take off most of the flesh otherwise it can take
some years to decomposs a whole carcass with the flesh on it.
Avoid shallow burials where bones are suceptible to be loss from
predators or scavengers.
        Other methods can be used but the biggest problem with
these methods is the smell :
        3 - put the skeleton in tanks of water covered with a
lid to prevent flies and smell and leave it to decomposs. You
can cut off the skull and skeleton and divide the vertebral
column into 3 or 4 pieces. Put these pieces into a sack of
woven nylon. A string attached to the top allows one to pull
out the bag without emptying the tank. It will take 2 months
in warm temperature to be clean. You can also changes water
occasionally but it is not absolutely necessary. Another way
is to use running water.
Then the bones will be rinsed and washed more thouroughly in a
basin with some liquid detergent and laid in the sun to dry.
If some bones are still dark you can put them in the sun with
oxigenated water sprinkled over them. In one hour they will
be white. For exhibition after cleaning, put the bones in 4%
oxygenated water for 1 or 2 days.
        4 - boil the bones. There is different way to do that :
                - with a bit sodium carbonate in the water.
                - with a little quantity of detergent for washing
laundry for 2-3 hours.
                - with borax/soap mixture.
This will removes all the flesh and leaves the bones white.
Avoid to boil the flipper but put them in water. Be careful
because too much cooking will distort or crack some parts and
lead to lose them.
        Many thanks to everybody who sent me information
and good luck for the others.
          Fax : (687)26-43-26 Phone : (687)26-10-00
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