Scottish deer bones – episode 2

This is the second part of my adventure, experimenting with how to produce high quality bones which will be suitable for aulos making.

It was only a month ago that I found out that Barnaby was looking for someone to take on that task.  In my innocence I said “Yes, I’ll do it”, thinking it was maybe just a case of throwing some bones into a bucket of water, waiting a few months, then sawing off the ends.  How wrong I was!

It has been a steep learning curve, but I am really enjoying the challenge.

My first batch of bones arrived on 28th October. They had been well scraped and there was very little flesh on them. I didn’t have a bone saw at that time, so I decided to put the (previously frozen) bones into water until I was able to cut off the ends.  I was able to correspond with craftsmen who were possibly going to use them and they advised me about which part they wanted.  I thought it would be best to saw off the ends and extract the marrow to speed up the maceration process as the cold Scottish winter would slow down the process.

Bones after macerating in water for two days.  Even with the cold weather, something is happening.

Bones after macerating in water for two days. Even with the cold weather, something is happening.

My saw arrived two or three days after the bones had been put in water, so I set to cutting off some of the bone ends.  Even after that short period of time they were pretty smelly.  The bone was quite difficult to cut but the marrow could be extracted quite easily.

Sawn off knuckle showing the marrow.

Sawn off knuckle showing the marrow.

I was in the process of doing this when Barnaby phoned to say that some bones which he had been macerating since July were looking beautiful and not to bother sawing any more.  Was I glad to hear those words!  I stopped immediately.  We arranged that I should collect these bones and bring them back to my house to finish them off.

On my way to collect the bones I stopped off in Kirkintilloch to collect some hydrogen peroxide which I would use to give them a final clean and to improve their appearance.  The box of bones was ceremonially photographed and transferred into my car (see episode 1) and I felt things were really progressing rather well.  They may have looked good, but they still smelled rather awful.

The next day I decided to cut the ends off some bones to check if the marrow had rotted away and to see what they looked like close up.

With the first cut, stinking water came dripping from the inside of the bone.  After both ends had been sawn off I tried to extract the putrid paste which was in the marrow cavity.  The stench was overpowering and the marrow really difficult to remove, making the whole process quite the most horrible thing I have ever done in my life!  A heavy duty face mask and an electric saw are on the shopping list for tomorrow!

So far I have learnt to saw the ends off the bones as quickly as possible after receiving them – while still frozen in fact.  I’m sure the process would be much quicker and the bones take up much less space that way.  A lot more pleasant for me as well.

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