Fantastic Mr Fox: The Excavation!

This week is our geology and fossils week so what better way to kick things off than with our very own excavation of our beloved fox, who we found on the side of the road and buried in our garden six weeks ago. 

Armed with latex gloves, trowels and brushes, we looked quite the part. Jenson's excavating technique however does need working on - the concept of gently, gently is lost on him. He has what you might call a rather heavy handed approach. We began by unearthing the plastic sack that we had laid over the fox to prevent too much soil from being deposited directly on top of it. The children were holding their fingers on their noses as I had pre-warned them the thing might not be smelling all that pretty. I needn't have worried because all that was left was the skeleton. I couldn't believe how quickly the fox had decomposed. 

It was hard to make out whether the skeleton was still in tact and complete, if it had been it certainly wasn't after Jenson had given it a good prod and a poke. We collected as many bones as we could find and washed them all in an old fish tank. We then laid them out to dry while I searched the internet for a diagram of a fox skeleton that Jenson could use to identify the different bones and reconstruct his own speciman.

Jenson's interest was simple curiosity to begin with. These were bones from an actual real life animal that he had helped to bury six weeks ago. Last time he saw the creature it was furry and had eyes. Now there was just the skeleton that remained. We talked about why that was and where all the fleshy bits of the fox had gone. 

Some serious reconstruction eventually got under way and Jenson did a really good job at laying out the different bones and matching them to those on the diagram. I helped to explain the names of some of them.

We reached a point where we realised we were still missing quite a few bones so went back outside to the grave to try and dig up some more. We found further pieces of vertebrae and felt we now had enough to complete the skeleton.

After a break for lunch, thinking we had finished digging up fox bones, Jenson decided he wanted to try and find some of the fox's tail bones. So for the third time today I found myself in that grave! To be fair, Jenson helped with the digging and the effort was worth it. We did more digging and found quite a few tail bones, which completed the picture.

I like the comparison below between the diagram and Jenson's reconstruction. He was easily able to identify the shoulder blade, ribs and jaw and even counted out the number of ribs he needed. He successfully matched up tibia and fibula sections and placed the hip joint in the correct place.

The whole process of finding the dead fox, collecting it, working out what to do with it, burying it, leaving it, unearthing it and reconstructing it has, I hope, been a memorable experience for Jenson. It will have encouraged his natural curiosity in nature and will have helped him to understand what happens to things when they die. It will have particular significance to him because our chickens got eaten by a fox last year. I hope it will help put that experience in context for him and aid his understanding of it further. He has learned a lot about skeletons and even asked at one point why our skeleton looks so different to that of a fox. I explained the fundamental differences about hip position and how ours allows us to walk upright on two legs and there was plenty of scope there to go further into evolution had I wanted to.  

Oh, and if you're wondering about the fate of the pigeon that is now in our pet cemetery, no doubt you will see a blog about it over the coming months!