How to preserve a skeleton

Written by rachel moon
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How to preserve a skeleton
A preserved skeleton or skull can be an interesting decoration or exhibit. (animal heads skull bones image by david hughes from Fotolia.com)

A properly preserved skeleton is a trophy or keepsake that can last for many years. The process or preserving a skeleton can be tricky if you don't use proper care. It can also be dangerous due to the risk of disease transmission when handling animal tissue and brains that may be contaminated. However, if you are not squeamish about handling the carcase of an animal and take a few simple precautions, you can clean and preserve a skeleton yourself, allowing you to choose how to best display your trophy.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • Latex or rubber gloves
  • Animal carcase
  • Skinning knife
  • Wire coat hanger
  • Picks or dental tools
  • Enzyme-based washing powder
  • Cooking thermometer
  • Cooking pot big enough to hold the carcase
  • Stove or outdoor cooking fire
  • Colander or wire screen
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Clear-drying glue
  • Polyurethane spray

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Wear protective gloves. Remove as much flesh as possible using the skinning knife, taking care not to scrape or damage the bones. The more flesh you can remove now, the less work will be required later.

  2. 2

    Soak the carcase for six to eight hours in warm water. Straighten the wire coat hanger. Bend one end into a loop. Feed the coat hanger into the brain cavity and use a stirring motion to break apart the brain tissue. Rinse the brain cavity with warm water and repeat the wire stirring to remove as much tissue as possible.

  3. 3

    Fill the cooking pot with fresh water and heat it to approximately 32.2 degrees Celsius. Add 2 tbsp of enzyme-based washing powder per gallon of water used in the cooking pot. When the water is at the appropriate temperature, add the carcase.

  4. 4

    Check the carcase every 15 minutes, removing flesh each time using the skinning knife and picks or dental tools until the skeleton is clean. Strain the cooking water using a colander or wire screen to catch any small bones or teeth that may detach from the carcase.

  5. 5

    Examine the bones for any sign of a white, waxy residue. If you find this residue, degrease the bones using undiluted ammonia or a solution of dishwashing soap and steaming (not boiling) water.

  6. 6

    Prepare a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water. Soak the bones in this solution for up to three days to bleach them.

  7. 7

    Glue the bones together using clear-drying glue.

  8. 8

    Spray the skeleton with several thin layers of polyurethane spray. Allow each layer to dry according to manufacturer instructions before spraying the next coat.

Tips and warnings

  • To minimise odours, cook the carcase outdoors if possible.
  • Overcooking the carcase can damage the skeleton and even dissolve some of the bone.
  • In a dry climate, the bones may become brittle or cracked during drying if they have been soaked in water for too long. If ambient humidity is low, boil the carcase for the absolute minimum time necessary to remove all of the flesh and tissue.
  • Always wear protective gloves when handling a carcase, as tissue or raw brains can transmit disease.

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