Human Bones Make Ritual Music

18-01-23 kangling from Musical Instrument Museum




Trumpets made from human thigh bones and drums crafted from human skulls are integral to traditional Tibetan meditation rituals–ones that stress the fleeting nature of life and material existence. Having read about the rituals considerably, I am not sure that a Westerner (at least me) could ever acquire a deep understanding of their meaning, so here I will just describe the instruments. That way you will be able to focus on the spiritual gist of the ceremony if you make a pilgrimage. Read more

Musical Bones

18-01-16 armadillo uke with neckIn Phoenix for a meeting last week, I had a free afternoon and felt the urge to see some bones. So where could I go? Sure, Arizona has lots of fossils scattered in remote spots, but I just had a few hours, which I blissfully filled at the Musical Instrument Museum. I never guessed I would see an armadillo “ukelele.” Read more

Thumb Reconstruction II: Borrowing

18-01-02 composite ao and po pollicizationOur thumbs contribute to everything man-made. Without a thumb, hand function drops to 40% of normal. Three main reconstruction techniques are available to restore this critical part, either missing from birth or from injury. The first one, discussed last week, entails slowly lengthening the thumb remnant. I nickname it begging. This week’s post discusses the second method, which I call borrowingRead more

Thumb Reconstruction I: Begging

17-12-26 thumb recon beg borrow steal cropped for blogOur thumbs are amazing. Their independent movement allows them to swing away from the palm and face (oppose) the other fingers. Our thumbs contribute to everything man-made. Various languages celebrate its function. Shastin Farsi means both 60 and thumb, signifying that it constitutes 60% of the hand’s function. In Turkish, thumb is bas parmak—chief finger. And in Latin it is pollex, which is derived from pollere—to be strong. Isaac Newton marveled, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” Read more

Bone or Ivory? A Cautionary Note for Collectors


17-12-19 ivory backscratcher for blogBecause of its alluring properties and relative scarcity, gold is more precious than silver. The same used to be true for ivory when compared to bone. Although it is easy to distinguish gold from silver, it is not necessarily the same with ivory and bone, yet the implications include legal ones.

Should you come across an irresistably beautiful crafted white object in an antique store, can you trust the dealer’s word regarding its composition? Museum curators and the US Fish and Wildlife Service also have vested interests in bone vs. ivory. How can you tell them apart? Read more

Bone Beads–A Lesson in Creative Destruction

17-11-28 hair pipe necklaceLittle did itinerant merchant Joseph Sherburne and Ponca Chief White Eagle know, but their trading in corncob pipes would ignite a fashion frenzy lasting 30 years. Sherburne had obtained a license to trade with this group of Native Americans, who in 1878 were living in Indian Territory, which is now Eastern Oklahoma. Among his trade goods were pipes fitted with bone stems. They quickly sold but without comment from the purchasers. When Sherburne next visited, Chief White Eagle showed him an elaborate neck ornament Read more

A Clear-Cut Case of Child Abuse?

17-11-28 brittle bone xrays forearmsThe emergency room staff was immediately suspicious. His father said that Peter, just over six months old, was pulling himself up to a standing position by grasping his pant leg. Peter fell back, screaming. The extreme distress, entirely unusual for Peter, continued until some Tylenol helped him fall asleep. The next morning Peter was again screaming, and his mother took him to the emergency room. Read more