Strange Bones

Fourth Tower, Corfe Castle, about 600 years ago. Somebody got some deer bones from the royal kitchen and arranged them like this.

336 Jun91 022


336 Jun91 023

We found them during an archaeological excavation in 1991. The long bones were taken from a pile and laid side by side. Around them we found a scatter of knuckle bones.

Any ideas?

5 thoughts on “Strange Bones

  1. My guess would be that it was simple disposal. I bury deer bones like this to clean them. They are dug up after a year, cleaned, bleached with peroxide, drilled and used as beads (the smaller toe bones that is). There are lots of things you can make with these lower leg sections of grazers and browsers, like glue, sinew, ornaments etc. but nothing most people would bother with. The bones are full of nutritious oil, but again, few people would bother to skin them, cut or crack them, and cook them. So, what to do with them? dig a hole. The placement seems a little odd, but maybe stuff got scattered around? Just a possible explanation.

    • Hi Steve, thanks for your thoughts, very interesting. The strange alignment was sat on top of a floor surface in the guard chamber and had a new layer of rubble on top we assume for a new floor on top of that. You are the first to suggest it maybe just disposal other ideas have been games, a pot trivet, and the usual ‘ it’s ritualistic’ 🙂 We find most of the bone we excavate has been smashed or broken to extract the marrow, interesting to hear about glue and oils as well. Talking about making beads from the small bones reminds me that I made and use to ware all the time a necklace with (probably) Neolithic pigs toe bones. When working on Maiden Castle we had a couple of trays of finds from the causeway enclosure trench, that lost their labels, so we shared out what was there as souvenirs, as without a context they would not be kept. Must look them out and restring 🙂

  2. Yes, many thanks. The idea we had that it might be a game was because of the regular arrangement of the bones but it didn’t seem quite the answer because as you can see in the top photo the bones of the central limb are still joined and therefore had some flesh on (therefore a game played with rotting meat.. not very pleasant). Your suggestion based on your knowledge and experience seems more sensible,

    • Yeah, well, it’s hard to prove anything, so it’s just speculation all around I guess. Best not presume our assumptions are anything but! ritual makes sense in a way because of the odd location, but it certainly is an overused explanation for the unexplained. And, right, if there is evidence of the bones having been buried attached, then that would probably rule out any real “use” The only thing I ever recall using a whole lower deer leg for is having it stick out my coat at a party like it was my hand when I was introducing myself to people 😀 I’ve thought a lot about using all of the parts in the lower leg of a deer and have written about it and taken apart innumerable of them. And I’ve found little use for whole deer legs. The oil in the bone is very useful for dressing leather and is basically the same as neatsfoot oil. It liquifies at a low temperature. I’ve cooked up the bones with the sinews and I can’t say they are very gastronomically appealing. There is no muscle at all, just connective stuff and bones. Even in a context where marrow was valued (most or all times until now I would imagine) I could see this part being skipped over, especially in times of plenty or by the wealthier members of a society. The scattering of the smaller bones is odd I have to say, if that top picture is as actually excavated. I’d still probably lean toward disposal as the most likely explanation, but who can really know. I also see very few of the lower small toe bones and the pointy bone that goes inside the hoof. I’d be surprised if anyone kept those for much of anything. Basically, outside of industrial processing, i.e. the glue boiler, this would probably be seen as more or less of a waste product. In neolithic and back, that’s another matter. There’s a virtual hardware store of stuff in there. There is sinew for string, the skin can be cut into a thong or used for other small work, the sinew and skin can also be boiled for glue, the sinew making a very high grade glue, the small bones make neat ornaments. I’ve seen fish hooks made from the small toe bones, the needle bone can be drilled for use as a lacing needle, the long bones are very dense, relatively thick and very strong, and the oils is edible, or makes a good addition to any leather dressing. But thats an entirely different way of life. If I slaughter a goat or lamb I’ll almost never use any of the lower leg these days. If something doesn’t drag them off before I get to it, I’ll usually bury them in a shallow hole under a tree.

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