Kris Manser-Hart, a student in MTM’s Concept Art Diploma Program, is the main person constructing the Colt Skeleton, and he wrote this article.
When we got the bones back to the school at first they were stored away in the same containers and zip-lock bags we had put them in at the dig site. I had performed some work repairing the school’s real and replica skeletons over the Christmas break, and on the basis of that work, Tina approached me and asked if I thought I could assemble the horse bones.. Although I had never done any work with bones before, I accepted the challenge. I checked on the horse bones to see what I was dealing with and saw that there was still quite a bit of dirt and even some living bugs and worms in the bags.. plenty of moisture too. I decided the bones could not wait and began the long process of cleaning them.
The colt was so young when he passed, that many of his bones had not fused together yet, so the number of bones was far and above what I had expected. I had to do the cleaning in 4 phases. First, I merely unpacked the bones and scrubbed off the dirt with a toothbrush and paper towels. This alone took me 8 hours to do. Next, I used water, sponges, and more toothbrushes to remove any traces of dirt from the bones before their final cleaning. I had friends Andrea, Liza, and Kitty help me whenever they had a break. It took about 11 hours
The 3rd step was the most important and required the bones to be soaked in hydrogen peroxide for 2 days to sterilize them and stop any future decomposition. It wasn’t easy to find enough hydrogen peroxide to clean a whole horse because most drug stores only sell small bottles, and most larger containers require a license to buy them. After being turned away from many stores and hair salons ,I did find a retailer that would sell to me
I had my friend Liza help with the 3rd step: the bones were carefully laid out and sorted into a large plastic container and submerged in water . Once all bones were fully submerged in water the last step was to add a last bucket of water mixed with the full container of hydrogen peroxide. We used gloves when working with the solution. Soon after the solution was mixed into the container ,the water had began gently bubbling and boiling so we closed the container quickly and let it be for the day to be safe. A “NO TOUCHY” sign was taped to the lid.
I and Liza returned the next day for the last step, which was rinsing the solution off of the bones to stop the process. There was a strong earthy smell through the surrounding rooms as the peroxide had done its work overnight cleaning the bones. Although the bones could have been left soaking for days or weeks longer ,this would have resulted in the bones being bleached. But since they had a nice natural color to them we decided against this and stopped it at the disinfecting stage. We thoroughly rinsed the bones and laid them out to dry on shelves layered with paper. In an effort to prevent any warping or cracking while drying, elastic bands were placed over some portions of the skull and pelvis to close gaps, and a large sheet of plastic was loosely laid over the bones . We hoped that slowing down the drying process might help us fight chances of cracks forming. The bones, happily, dried very well and looked in good shape, so the following week we began the tedious task of sorting them all.
With so many bones and many of them not fused together, and difficulty to finding a reference that could help sort the bones together ,even a femur was a challenge. It was supposed to be a single piece, but in such a young colt it could be in as many as 4 pieces.
I eventually gave up trying to use books and pictures , and instead tried and sort the bones and started piecing them all together like a giant puzzle, working by size, shape, and even surface defects , one by one. After a few days I had the spine, legs, pelvis, and skull sorted out. I had no way of keeping them sorted so I simply taped any individual pieces that belonged as one bone together and made them ready for assembly.
All through the cleaning and sorting process there were multiple little field trips of MTM students passing through to see the work being done. Many were interested to see this new specimen of our school.
Here’s a photo of the skull:
Before actual assembly of the horse begins he needs the stand and box he will be contained in built (underway) . Soon actual assembly of the skeleton will begin! The process will be a lengthy process as each bone will need to be put together with wire, bolts, pins, glue, etc and will probably take weeks to do.
This is a picture of the laid out bones, minus the ribcage.
Although this was just a young colt he will stand nearly 5ft tall and 5 feet long! This has been a huge undertaking so far and I’ve learned so much from it already. When completed, he’ll help students of the school understand the skeletal structure of the horse. We already have one cat skeleton and two dog skeletons, so students will also be able to do comparisons.