After a sudden change in travel plans had me getting home from vacation nearly two weeks later than originally planned, my bones ended up soaking for a full six weeks when all was said and done. And what a difference it made!
I checked on the smaller deer bones first, since I was eager to see how they’d fared in their first-ever degreasing bath. Just from looking at the water I could tell that the dish soap had done a thorough job, and, with the exception of a few vertebrae and a couple of rib bones, everything looked and smelled clean! The handful of bones that still have some discoloration will go back into a degreasing bath later.
Next I looked in on the bigger deer bones I’d left to macerate, and noticed that most of them seemed to be cleaner, too. A few still smelled off, though, and several of the leg bones are still plagued with discoloration and patches of stubborn connective tissue stuck on the ends. I’m thinking I might try degreasing these soon, but for now I’m putting them back into a fresh maceration bath for at least one more soak.
Although I knew there would probably be almost no changes in my raccoon skull, I decided to check on that batch anyway… since I had only a few deer bones left to degrease, I thought it would be a good idea to consolidate my degreasing baths into one tub. That way, I would be able to use the other tub to finally start cleaning the mystery bones I got from my roommates back in April.
The raccoon skull looked virtually the same as it did when I left (which didn’t surprise me), and the scapulae seemed clean at first, with the exception of the slightly chalky-looking residue. Then, as they dried, I noticed a whitish, plaque-like substance stuck to the bones.
I’d never seen anything like this before, but a cursory Google search has me thinking that it could be adipocere, or corpse wax. According to Jana Miller on her blog, Bonelust, adipocere is “a crumbly, waxy, water-insoluble material consisting mostly of saturated fatty acids” and likes to form in very damp environments that have little to no oxygen (which made sense, as the scapulae had been living in an airtight plastic bag for a while when they were given to me). It can appear white, tan, grey, or anything in between in terms of coloration, and it’s resistant to bacteria – and, by extension, decomposition.
This makes adipocere tricky to remove. However, Miller says that it can be done either right after a maceration or peroxide bath, or after the bones have been degreased, whitened in peroxide, and allowed to dry. Apparently, adipocere becomes less brittle and more flaky after the bone has been whitened, and can be removed with a toothbrush or fingernail. I’ll have to give that a try once I’m ready to start whitening everything!
With the rest of my bones back in the garage to soak again, I could finally spread out and admire all of the bones that had gotten clean while I’d been gone. Sometimes it feels like making noticeable progress takes forever when it comes to bone cleaning, but seeing the collection laid out like this makes the waiting worth it.
So! Now that I’m finally back home, I’ll be able to check on my bones more frequently, which means more regular blog posts. The next big goal is to get all of the deer bones in the red bucket degreased and cleaned so that I can start working on the last bones from that set of remains: the jawbone and the pelvis, both of which were too big to clean at the same time as everything else. If they clean up quickly, I might even be able to start whitening some bones in early autumn… fingers crossed!