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Condition Reporting

Antler and bone

cross section of antler
Antlers are true bone, and have a harder outer layer and a more spongy, coarse interior.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

large drawer with compartmentalized antlers and bones
For small items and archaeological materials, it can sometimes be difficult to tell antler from bone from ivory from tooth. If you’re not sure, just describe the features you see and indicate your hesitation with qualifiers like “maybe”, “perhaps”, “looks like”, “could be”, “likely”, and so forth.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection

close up of inner spongy part of antler
This whale bone has a piece cut off. There is an unnaturally flat area and the inner lattice-pattern of the cancellous spongy bone is exposed. Along the top edge, the spongy bone is exposed from wear.

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection

close-up of bone with a crack
This bone has a large, open crack beginning in the center and extending to the edge of the bone.

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection

mostly whole whale skull
Bones often have complex shapes with elaborate technical vocabulary. Where to start with this whale cranium? Keep in mind basic ideas, like this cranium ought to be more or less symmetrical. What is missing? Is anything loose? Without knowing much about this item, we can say it has significant losses, wear, and cracks overall. There are localized spots of orange and brown staining. It would be a great idea to take several photos from different angles to allow future comparison with the present condition.

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection SJ-VI-A-4

side profile of a bear skull
This bear skull looks pretty nice. But what about the bone around the eye? Is it supposed to have that gap? What about the diagonal crack across the cheekbone? A quick peek at the internet will tell you that both are normal and natural, not the result of damage. You could lose an afternoon down in a rabbit hole coming up with terminology, but unless you are experienced with skeletal material, taking supplementary photos will be the best way to enhance your condition reporting.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection I-B-484

dark jaw bone
This incomplete jawbone is stained an overall grey color, missing the back end, and has many longitudinal cracks. The teeth are damaged and cracked. Note if any are loose. Note how many teeth are present, and if there is an empty socket note that too. There are minor spots of rust-colored staining.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection UA/UC-325G

spongy face mask
This kind of mask is typically made of whale bone inlaid with ivory and baleen eyes. There are other artifact types made from this spongy bone, and it is very common for there to be minor flaking and crumbing with bits of sand-like particles falling out of the many small holes. Look for big cracks, which can be hard to see but indicate the item might be at risk of breaking.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-7118

broken dagger made of bone
This is the handle of a bone dagger. The small, dark, longitudinal lines that look like little black dashes are “Haversian canals” and these are a telltale feature that indicates bone. They are related to the blood supply for the bone. Not all bone items show this feature, but if you see it you can be more confident the material is bone. The snout of the creature is completely detached, and we can see from the yellowed adhesive residues that this has been previously repaired.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2003-15-1

close-up of bone with rectangular blemish near end
The unnatural horizontal blemish on this bone is the likely location of a previous label.

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection SJ-VI-A-3

mammoth leg bone
This mammoth bone is very darkened and has a long prominent crack. In this case, I would note the approximate length of the crack to the half-inch or so. From the image, it looks like the larger end of the bone might be slightly crumbly. It is hard to tell from the photo, but the surface is slightly shiny, which suggests it is likely coated or has been treated in the past. This could impact future analysis or treatment and should be noted. Also, even though this is a very old bone, it has not fully fossilized or become stone. Bones get mineralized over time to become fossils, and there are many stages of sub-fossilized material.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection UA/UC-181

net gauge made from bone
This net gauge is likely made from a rib bone, and its surface is stained brown, suggesting an archaeological context. The item has significant surface flaking, revealing lighter material underneath. This kind of flaking is unstable and the item is at risk of losing more surface.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-432

net gauge made from bone (view of opposite side)
Here is the same net gauge flipped over. This side looks stable. There is a region of natural spongy bone on the handle.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-432

close-up of antler velvet
When growing, antlers are covered with velvet, a soft furry layer that is scraped off around mating season. This layer has blood vessels in it, and when it is removed sometimes there are branching shallow grooves in the antler surface where the velvet had been.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

Man stands in front of antlers, as though he's wearing them on his head.
This image is just to indicate that antlers can be HUGE so keep that in mind when you are trying to determine if an item might be made of antler.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

many antlers attached up the length of a tall pole
This signpost in Haines Junction is mostly made of caribou and moose antlers. REALLY big, right? There are a few horns at the top.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee