Monday, October 31, 2016

Spooky Scary Skeletons? : a Brief Introduction to Bones

"Know why you're wearing bones, boy?
All dressed up for All Hallows Eve, but you don't know why, or what, or even from where!"
-Clavicle Carapace Moundshroud, The Halloween Tree (Ray Bradbury)

This Halloween, I would like to post a brief consideration of bones. This will be the first in a short series about bones, that will explore them from a variety of angles (see a list of some topics below). It seems appropriate to begin a series of posts about bones on Halloween, and continue them into the beginning of winter. I am roughly planning that my last post in this series will be on the Winter Solstice.


There are a variety of beliefs and opinions about bones around the world, ranging from the mundane to the morbid to the bizarre. Most people don't like to think about bones, and the reminder that their own (or anyone else's) bodies are completely full of them can sometimes be disturbing (if you really want a story to make you feel like jumping out of your bones, check out Ray Bradbury's Skeleton To many, bones are a reminder of death, the impermanence of life, a reminder that one day we will all be skeletons. But we are already skeletons, and our bones are much more than a collection of organically formed rocks that lend structure to the living tissues that cover them. For example, did you know that all of the blood in your body was created by the marrow inside your bones?

To me, bones are a reminder of life, and of the fact that after we die something of us will remain, something that is wholly unique to each of us. Because every skeleton tells a story. Bones can, and frequently do, tell us many stories, but the first story they tell us is always of their owner. From the length of your tibia to the shape of your iliac crest to the depth of your retinacular ridges, your bones are unique. Our bodies form our minds, and our minds form our bodies. And nowhere else is there such a concrete reminder of that than in our skeletons. 

So what are some of the kinds of questions bones can answer for us, why does a biologically-deposited calcification bother so many people, and why do I think they are so fascinating? We will explore all  of these things in subsequent posts.

In the meantime, here are some of the things we can learn from bones:
  • What species was their owner? 
  • What sex? 
  • How old were they? 
  • How did they live? 
  • How did they die?
And the more interesting questions: 
  • What kinds of activities did they participate in? 
  • Were they active? 
  • Were they healthy? 
  • Did they have diseases, and if so were they taken care of? 
  • What did they eat? 
  • What did they look like?


Some upcoming topics about bones (in no particular order):
-Cultural considerations of bones
-Treatments of bones / rituals and taboos
-Distinguishing species by bones
-Determining activities from bones
-Biology and growth of bones


So next time you come across some bones outside, maybe stop and take a look. And remember, 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mushrooms, mushrooms, everywhere... a brief view of the 'shroom

  •  A Brief View of the Mushroom… 

    Mushrooms appear to be individual plants, but in reality they are neither plants nor individuals. In fact, they are the fruiting bodies (reproductive organs) of fungi. Although fungi are frequently studied with plants, they are more closely related to animals. DNA studies show that fungi share more DNA with humans than with plants! And most of a single individual organism exists underground. Although there is debate about how to define an individual organism, one common definition is “a group of genetically identical cells that communicate and act as one”. Using this definition, the largest living organism (known) on Earth is a honey fungus in the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. It covers 3.7 square miles, or about 2400 acres of land. It's at least 2,400 years old, and could be as old as 8,650 years. So it's not only the largest organism, but also the oldest!

    Fungi exist as large entities (mostly) under the ground and interact with the roots of plants, helping to move nutrient between plants (other fungi, bacteria, etc.) using what has been termed the "Common Mycorrhizal Network" (or CMN). It's estimated that over 80% of all plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungi, via this network. Plant roots transfer nutrients to the fungus, and vice versa.

    Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the fungi, and only appear during reproduction. Some of the ways they manifest their presence can be surprising:
  • Despite their “soft” fruiting bodies, some species mushrooms can push their way up through asphalt/ concrete.      
  • Fairy rings growing are rings of mushrooms, and at places like Stonehenge can be so large that they can best be seen from airplanes.       
  • In the Amazon rainforest (and other forests), mushrooms even affect the amount of rainfall by releasing spores high into the air, creating the surface for water to condense on to, triggering rain (article at PLOS/ONE).