Boneland: Building a Skeleton Part 3

Greetings anatomy enthusiasts! The past few months have been productive for the project – the skeleton is now fully assembled and ready for display! We are going to break up the remaining information in a few blog posts so it isn’t too intense – plus it is fun to add a bit of suspense 😊.

Before getting into the bone assembly process, I would like to describe our experience with fixing the broken bones. Sometimes you will find some chipped or cut bones when looking through parts of a skeleton; this can be caused by anything between wear and tear from transportation to damage that was incurred during the necropsy (an animal autopsy). Here are examples of what you may see:

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A severed transverse process (the lateral bony projection) on a lumbar vertebra
Pieces of the back of the skull that were cut out with a saw, probably to sample the brain. Bone on the dolphin’s left upper jaw is also chipped

The methods and mediums we used for repairs were rooted in two priorities: a cost-effective project and permanent display. There are other types of materials out there that are museum grade and/or are reversible so that you could break down the skeleton again to its bony bits if you wanted. We were on a school budget and our goal was to have it be aesthetically pleasing with no future plans for data collection and research (considerations that are common in museums and nature centers).

The majority of our repairs were reattaching the transverse processes that were cut during the dolphin necropsy. First, we sifted through the bony bits to match up which parts belonged to which vertebrae. To find the right match, it was helpful to compare the width and thickness of the pieces.

To prepare for the reattachment process, we cut several 2 in. long sections of 18 gauge wire (two of these are needed for each process that needs reattaching). Next, we inserted a wire on each side of the free end attached to the vertebra (stick the wire into the spongy bone and push until about an inch of it is in). Then we aligned the end of the free piece and pushed the wires in until the two separated ends came together. We then put 5-minute epoxy glue in the space and waited it to harden for about 15 minutes. After, we pressed glass micro-beads into the semi-hard glue and let it cure for at least a day. Finally, we covered the break with apoxie sculpt clay and smoothed it until the clay was continuous with the bone surface. You can sand down any lumps and bumps in the clay after it cures for a few days.

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A severed transverse process (the lateral bony projection) on a lumbar vertebra
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Two wires are fixed into the process edges to secure the two pieces together. Epoxy glue and glass beads fill the spaces and any cracks
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Apoxie sculpt clay cover the bony broken ends, the glue, and glass beads to give a smooth, continuous look to the surface

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the vertebrae in our collection that was damaged didn’t have a transverse process match, so we sculpted one ourselves! We placed two wires into the sides of the broken end attached to the vertebra (like the step described above), except this time we used the wires to mold the outline of a transverse process that mirrored the undamaged side. Then we used apoxie sculpt clay to fill in the spaces between the wires and mimic the right width, thickness, and length of the process.

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Sculpting the missing transverse process.

 

Apoxie sculpt clay was also really useful to repair part of the jaw that caved in when the front teeth were removed during the FAU HBOI necropsy! To repair the jaw, we used a good chunk of this clay, a pen, and an awl. We built up clay to reconstruct the tooth sockets, and pressing the end into the sockets to give it a natural look with just about the right size for a tooth. The awl was used to make cavitations in the clay to give it a nice bone look.

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Apoxie sculpt clay built up the jaw margins that had caved in.
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Reconstructed teeth sockets
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The finished product of the upper jaw reconstruction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is all for now folks! Stay tuned for the next blog on how we solved the problem of missing teeth and gave the dolphin “dentures”! 😊