Worry Bones

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  • C O N T E N T S

    Introductory Letters


    Worry Bones

  • Dear Everyone,

    Thank you for picking up this book. If you are reading this, you are likely at a show of my work, or you know a little bit about what I do. Or maybe you dont. Maybe you have never heard of any of this. Maybe you are a stranger. Maybe you are a friend, even a close friend, to whom I have never really mentioned my work. If the first is the case, hello, and I hope you enjoy! If the latter is the case, I am sorry for the omission, and I hope that this will serve as an introduction to everything that I have been working on as of late.

    This book is about bones.

    Last year I became fascinated with bones as artifacts, as tools, and as a reminder of mortality. I began collecting bones slowly. Some were given to me as gifts, some were found in forests and fields. I enjoyed the feel of them in my hands and the way their shapes changed as they were held and handled. Serendipitously, a few months ago I discovered that my father also used to be a bone collector. I will let him explain...

  • Cow skeleton with flag found as is in box after 20 years in parents garage

  • Dear Rose,As a student of archeology working on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan we were excavating 900 AD fire pits dug by first nations peoples. They lived on a sandy ridge next to a creek and overlook-ing the St. Clair River and Lake Huron. When they were done with the fire pits the holes would be filled with refuse from the village. It was in these long forgotten pits (now a city park) that I first encoun-tered pieces of bone left over from meals eaten 1200 years ago. In order to tell the story of these Woodland peoples we began to re-construct their diet. To do this I needed to figure out which animals were represented by these bits and pieces of bone. Thus began my collection of modern day (1975) animal bones to which I could compare the bones from the fire pits of old. My synoptic collection. A diet of deer, beaver, muskrat and fish soon revealed itself. We also encountered the skulls of mans friend the dog and the sacred black bear.I continued to collect the bones throughout my undergraduate and graduate years in College. My Masters thesis was based on iden-tifying the fish, birds and mammal bones excavated from a pre-historic fishing camp on the banks of the Kalamazoo river in west-ern Michigan. Here the people would meet each spring to harvest

  • from the rapids 300 lb lake sturgeon as they headed upstream to spawn. At first I thought the bones left behind at the village were turtle bones and started forming in my mind the story of the tur-tle eating people. However, when visiting a fellow zooarcheologist from Michigan State and comparing the bones with his synoptic collection we determined the plaques of bone were the exoskele-ton from Lake sturgeon and the story changed.For the most part I found dead animals along the roadside hit by cars. I was also a fisherman and hunter. For me the easiest way to turn the carcasses into clean skeletons was to bury them for a year or so in the back yard then dig them up. I continued to collect the specimens throughout my professional carrier. When I started to work more with biologists many of them had skull collections of which they were most proud. Most were amazed when I showed them the boxes containing whole skeletons.The remains of these critters traveled with me for 35 years from Michigan to Illinois and finally Iowa. I thought perhaps when I retire someday I might get back into faunal analysis so the collection was kept in tact and con-tinued to grow slowly throughout the years.It struck me when you discussedworking with your mentors Sarah and David, and fellow intermedia students on the beaver

  • lodge project that the bones (at least the beaver skull) may have some interpretive value. When you took me along documenting your transitional pieces I was struck by the transformative proper-ties and spirits of the faunal remains. Some may turn to dust. Oth-ers may become an abstract representation of the past or future.

    So with a happy heart I pass on the remains and perhaps the spirit of MY SYNOPTIC COLLECTION to the next generation of keepers. I look forward to seeing what will become of them along your path.Yours truly,


  • My father, left, teaching anthropology class, 1978

    Note:Skull on table next to podeum

    Sign instructing students to empty ash trays before leaing classroom

  • My father and mother with their anthro crew (Steve Sanderson and R. David Hoxie) in 1982

  • Yes, Angela, I have stories to tell - some of which the statute of lim-itations hasnt run out on!

    Yes, the drowned flying squirrel story is a good place to start. We were working on a 3-lobed burial ridge in the woods of Perry County Ill. The ridge overlooked a major stream & its bottomland. There was a 25 foot steep drop from the ridge to the bottoms. Mis-sissippian stone-box graves were on the middle of theridge over-looking the bottoms while the western lobe had a Late Woodland burial mound on it and the eastern lobe had a long row of double post molds which may have been a funeral structure. When we excavated the burial mound we covered our excavation units with plastic before we left for the night.

    One morning we arrived to find the dead flying squirrel in a pud-dle of water because the plastic sagged in the middle & the sides were too slick for the squirrel to climb out. A few days afterwards the god of flying squirrels retaliated against us. A hillbilly collector climbed the steep face of the ridgecarrying a large Bowie knife and started stabbing at the ground by a stone-box grave, ignoring the archaeologists on site. Your dad wasnt around so Bobby Calhoun ran over to the mound where I was & told me what was happening. Bobby & I ran back and yelled at the guy & chased him away with

  • shovels. It was the squirrels revenge.Another time your dad & I got lazy and left a dead snapping turtle laying on the ground for a few days behind a house in Kalamazoo that was being used as an anthropology lab.Flies laid their eggs in the carcass and after awhile the eggs hatched into tens of thou-sands of maggots which pulverized the turtles carapace from with-in. Thats how we learned that turtle carapices were designed to withstand pressure from the outside, not the inside.

    A young couple actually lived in the house next to that lab and they had a St. Bernard. The couple went on vacation, leaving their dog in the care of a friend who promptly lost the dog. Your dad & I were boiling a deer carcass for the bones when the couple returned from vacation. When they couldnt find their dog they came outside and asked us if wed seen it. Your dad used a stick,lifter the deer hide out of the boiling water, and said no, we havent seen your dog. Their eyes got real wide, they didnt say another word, and they ran inside their house. That deer hide looked just likethe hide of a St. Bernard! They thought that one, or both of us had killed their dog! They eventually found their dog. Your dad sure scared the shit out of them!Steve

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