No material compares. For instance, mud mushes. When it dries out, it crumbles. Limestone, granite, concrete, brick, and china were all once mud. They don’t crumble, but they are brittle and their weight and bulk limit their usefulness for building, especially for things that are supposed to move. Metal makes for lighter construction, and if you bend metal a bit, it springs back, which is usually fine. Bend metal some more, it stays bent, which can be bad. Plastics are environmentally unfriendly. Wood is good because it is a bit flexible, easy to join, relatively light weight, and biodegradable; but it can rot or burn.
All this leads to bone. Not only is it manufactured on site, it is also light weight, durable, and responsive to changing conditions. A bridge, once built, cannot double its length or carrying capacity. Bone can. Amazingly, bone also mends itself. Try getting a shattered brick or a broken spoon, be it made of metal, plastic, or wood, to do that. Not only is bone the world’s best building material, it is also the world’s largest import-export bank–a repository of vital elements on which our lives depend. Despite all of its marvels, hardly anybody has ever seen or wants to see living bone. So bone, living in seclusion, does not get the respect it deserves.
For example, what image pops into your mind when you think bone? Maybe a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe of cow skull toasting in the sun? That desert depiction—dry, white, timeless—does not begin to do bone justice. Furthermore, annoyance and even disdain for bone arise when one tries to get that last morsel of meat off a rack of lamb or a beef T-bone. Rushing toward dessert, you probably have never paused to marvel at that ring of bone centered in your ham steak, to understand why drumsticks are thicker at the ends than in the middle, or to ponder why some fish bones are rubbery and wishbones are brittle. Cynics who remain unconvinced that bone is the best building material may even ask, “If bones are all that great, why don’t snails any? Or bees?” I will answer these questions and many more as the story of bone unfolds.
I will compare bone to sewing thread, Tootsie Pops, licorice sticks, and jazz. Expressions such as hydroxyapatite, piezoelectric, and stress shielding crop up occasionally, but do not despair. I make sure that anybody can understand bone’s complete story, unfamiliar words and all. Learning should always be fun, which is easy when telling this story because bone is upbeat and happy, although in life bone is shy and disdainful of the limelight, actually any light at all. Living bone for the most part is concealed.
Conversely, after bone has finished serving and protecting its original owner from the inside, it is not at all shy and reveals itself in myriad places, although sometimes only after several hundreds of millions of years. Bone has much teach us about Earth’s history and the course of animal life on it. Then too, from the dawn of civilization man has repurposed bone to serve and protect him from the outside, even to inspire and amuse. Bone’s durability and ubiquity make its revealed state as interesting as its concealed state.
The blog is my opportunity to extol the wonders of bone as it supports life and captures history. Let me know if you have questions or if there is some aspect of this wonderful substance that you would like to learn more about.
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