tibia_mod: David Duchovny as Hank Moody with a surprised expression. (Moody Freakout)
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I like bones.  I collect skulls.  I've got a pretty good collection going, here's part of it:

Here, I've got five coyotes, two foxes, a raccoon, an opossum, a muskrat, a skunk, a pocket gopher, an ermine, and a pine marten.  Not pictured, I have another fox, a bobcat, two coyotes, and a badger.  I've got another box of them somewhere, but I don't remember what's in that box. In any case, now that I am dog-less, I've been getting my skulls back out to display proudly. 

Unfortunately, the five coyotes pictured here smelled TERRIBLE when I opened their box.  I decided to take them down to my workshop and wash them off, since I could still see prominent bits of flesh and dried meat on them.  Heck, one of them even had large, waxy yellow chunks that I had to cut apart to get out of the braincase.

This isn't really for the squeamish, as meat is involved, and it does get a bit grody.  Also, if you plan on using this as a tutorial for cleaning your own skulls, a few warnings: I'm cleaning these for me, and I'm doing it in the way that gives the result most pleasing to me.  I am in no way, shape, or form responsible for what you do to your own skulls, and if they get damaged.  Washing bones makes them soft and fragile, do it at your own risk. 

First thing I did was go after the nasal membranes, which I've also heard called nasal coral.  Some people value this as the sign of an intact skull.  I think it's fascinating, and I do have intact nasals on other skulls.  However, those skulls don't smell like week-old bologna, and aren't yellow, waxy, and putrid-looking. 

I do not find that makes for a fine display specimen.  I'd much rather have a non-odoriferous imperfect specimen, especially when I have people over.  I didn't get a picture of the cleared nasal passage, but there are fragments left in the very back of the passage.  I wanted to get the fleshy bits out, and I did.  Speaking of fleshy bits, I find another culprit is the holes where tendons attach the muscles to the bone.

Definitely not as meaty as the nasals, or the fella with the chunks still in his head, but undesirable just the same.  It'll usually flake off pretty easily, I also dig into the holes gently with a dental pick.  Another culprit is the base of the skull, where the vertebrae would attach.  There are a lot of nooks and crannies there, and those bulbous areas tend to hold flesh and occasionally hair.  

If I can pull the teeth by hand before washing, I do.  I prefer to keep the teeth with the skull they belong to, and being denser than bone, teeth can soak longer.  If the teeth are tight and secure, I won't force them.  I'll use the dental pick to clean around them, going after any last bits of gums and skin.  If you're working with skulls that someone else already processed, the teeth may even be glued in.  Depending on the glue, it may or may not be something you can undo.

The molars were tight, so I left them alone.  This particular batch had the left and right lower jaws glued together by white glue.  White glue is good.  It comes undone fairly quickly in warm water, and cleans up rather easily.  It dries naturally, and doesn't really stand out.  I also use a toothbrush, so I brush the empty sockets and the remaining teeth in the jaw just like I do to my own teeth.  If I can get them out, I definitely prefer to scrub the teeth individually, though.  Here's the teeth right out of the skull:

Some dirt, and the yellow is dried flesh.  These teeth ended up being pretty fleshy.  I got quite a bit of stuff off them by just soaking them, once I scrubbed them with the toothbrush, they were gorgeous.  The water got pretty soupy when I was soaking, though.  I've had chicken noodle soup with less meat.

This is the top skull about ready to go into the water.  The nasal membranes have been removed as far back as I could, and the teeth were pulled.  This particular beast had lost a few incisors in life.  The bone was grown over the sockets, but still porous.  If you look closely, you can see the left three incisors are missing.

Here's something I find infinitely more desirable and interesting than intact nasal membranes.  That dark bit next to the hole is a small chunk of lead.  There's another small smear and a crack on the back of the skull.  It may have been the killing shot, I really don't know.  Someday, I hope to learn enough to be able to tell, but in any case, it's still quite interesting to me.  I made a point of being careful cleaning this one so I could preserve that.

Finally, we have them drying.  I laid sheets of cardboard down on the shelf.  The skull closest to me had the top nasal bones broken off.  I ought to be able to glue them, if I can't hide the repair, I've wanted to use clay to make monster skulls.  Whatever happens, it'll be used and loved.  I'm probably going to go down to my shop tonight, but I don't know if I'll touch the skulls again before the weekend.  I want them to dry very thoroughly.  One will need to be whitened again, and I've got some repairs to make.  I'm also going to secure the teeth a bit.  I'll cover that in a different post, though.

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