83. Dem bones.

When I was younger, about ten years old, I had a friend whose grandparents lived across the road from us. Every now and then during winter, they would go out hunting. I never went with them, but when they were done, they would come back with the spoils. They would arrive back with a huge Kudu carcass or two.

For some reason they look better this way.

For some reason they look better this way.

And then the fun began. The Kudu was unloaded onto a huge old wooden table beneath a spreading oak tree in the garden, and the whole extended family would gather to butcher the carcass up to make biltong. There were aunts and uncles, older kids and family friends, and all were armed with huge, vicious looking carving knives.

My friend and I were not left out. We were given small, vicious looking carving knives. We were put to work making “Predikant biltong”. “Pedikant biltong” was a special kind of biltong. It was made from the worst, most gristly, misshapen cuts of meat. It means “Priest biltong”. Traditionally, it was salted and cured with the good stuff, and then kept on one side for when the local preacher came calling. Because you didn’t waste the good stuff on him.

Care for a snack, father? or perhaps a new hairstyle?

Care for a snack, father? or perhaps a new hairstyle?

When the butchering was done, most of the bones and the offal were thrown away. But there were always a couple of odds and ends left lying around. A leg bone or two were left lying on the lawn for the dogs. Skulls with great, curling horns attached were popped up out of reach on roofs to dry. It was like a minor-league charnel house.

You can still see things like this in the right sort of suburbs of South Africa. As you drive around, you might glance up and spot a skull or two drying on the roof of a shed or nailed to a wall outside a house. It always makes me feel a little nostalgic.

There's always someone who takes things too far.

There’s always someone who takes things too far.

I’m not a hunter. Mrs 23thorns is very particular about her carpets, so bringing home dead animals just wouldn’t fly. But I noticed something odd today as I sat in my son’s room. I live in a bit of a charnel house myself.

My son’s room is festooned with dassie skulls. Or rather it is festooned with dassie jawbones.

We keep our festooning to the barest minimum.

We keep our festooning to the barest minimum.

We used to have a whole skull, but Mrs nearly burnt the house down by trying to sterilize it by boiling it on the stove-top, and then popping out for a nice relaxing drive. We came back to a house full of acrid, burning-dead-dassie flavoured smoke. The smell just never went away, so the skull had to go.

It wasn't because it looked creepy or anything.

It wasn’t because it looked creepy or anything.

But fear not. We are not completely deprived in the dead animal head department. Because we have a set of these;

We had our horns photographed by a professional. Or those aren't our horns.

We had our horns photographed by a professional. Or those aren’t our horns.

There’s nothing unusual about them. They are Impala horns. Impala are one of the most common buck in South Africa. What is unusual is that we have absolutely no idea where they came from. They are just here. They weren’t here when we moved in. We never popped out and killed ourselves a large horned mammal and brought its head home. They just appeared one day. And stayed.

They are not the sort of thing that guests would have brought with them, either. “Hi. Thank you so much for inviting us. We’ve brought some wine. And part of a dead animal. Should we just pop them down in the kitchen?”

We haven’t nailed them to the wall or anything. They would clash with our curtains. But we can’t bring ourselves to throw them away, either, so they just sort of lurk around. They will disappear for months, and then reappear in random spots in the garden or kitchen cupboards.

But the Impala horns are not the star of the 23thorns bone-show. This is;

What a diva!

What a diva!

It’s a giraffe leg bone. And it’s an awe-inspiring thing. It’s quite long, as you would expect, but that’s not the cool thing about it. The cool thing about it is its weight. Giraffes are quite heavy. And they’re quite tall. They are, as a matter of fact, rather well known for it. In order to carry all that weight around on such long, skinny legs, they need bones that are incredibly dense. Our giraffe bone is something of a party trick. It weighs a ton. Everyone who ever picks it up lets out a surprised “Oh!”

We know where it came from. We brought it back from the bush years ago. When the dogs saw it, their eyes lit up like birthday candles. They settled down to feast on the biggest treat any dog could hope for. They chewed on it for hours. And they didn’t even make a scratch on it. It’s just too dense.

And it’s worth its weight in gold. Every year, each of the kids has an animal themed show and tell. Other kids try hard, bringing in feather and porcupine quills and warthog tusks, and proudly showing them off to their friends. Until our kids stagger in, stumbling under the weight of our monster bone. For one week a year, we rule at show and tell.

They can only take it after two hours of drill practice.

They can only take it after two hours of drill practice.

And for the rest of the year? It’s out there with the impala horns, reminding the dogs that they are no longer wolves.

But as of last week, the giraffe bones lofty position in our household bone hierarchy is in jeopardy. There are some new bones in town!

These are elephant vertebrae.


We picked them up on our last trip to the bush. An elephant died of natural causes months ago, and the bones have been scattered but not eaten. Because elephants are quite heavy too. To support that massive weight, they need bones like steel girders.

We’re gonna rule at show and tell this tear. Again.

But until then, there’s a bit of a problem. They stink. Horribly. To get them back to our house, we had to strap them to the roof of the car. But home they are, and ready to became the stars of the show. And tell. Just as soon as we get rid of the smell. But don’t worry, we have a plan.

The rest of the elephant is still inside the shed.

The rest of the elephant is still inside the shed.

They’re up on the roof of the shed as we speak.

32 thoughts on “83. Dem bones.

  1. Spy Garden says:

    Love the bone collection. The other day I was chatting with my son and he said he would like to live in a “nice” house when he grows up, with, “you know, animal skulls and bones all over the walls.” HAHAHha We always find feathers and (much smaller) bones in the woods around here and keep them. Before we got our garden fence to keep the deer out I used to hang up bones from pork steaks thinking the smell would keep them out. It didn’t really work but the sight of bones hanging from twine in the trees next to the garden always made me laugh.

    • 23thorns says:

      Did you not wake up to find your garden full of wolves?

      • Spy Garden says:

        yeah wolves are pretty rare around here, mostly we have foxes and coyotes and the occaisonal bobcat. BUT it has recently come to my attention that there are mountain lions in our area (I think they are called pumas or panthers in your neck of the woods), which REALLy makes me cringe that I was doing that with the bones. Panthers and small children just isn’t the greatest combo. Hhaah though of course I’d love to spot one, just maybe not in my yard.

      • 23thorns says:

        We very occasionally get leopards turning up in suburbia in South Africa. They tend to leave people alone, but dogs start to go missing.

  2. katherinepage11 says:

    Reblogged this on Travel Agent Affiliate Program.

  3. Weirdly, I actually have practical advice! A friend was wandering about the moor and found a dead sheep (that’s Cornish for elephant btw) and brought the hideously stinking skull home for her grandson. Whereupon she packed it in salt and this apparently gets rid of the smell. There you go.

    The giraffe bone is AMAZING. It all makes sense.

  4. Eileen says:

    Love the photos, particularly your daughter carrying the giraffe bone! When we were new to the country, our eleven year old son was talked into swapping something electronic for a neighbor’s son’s raccoon skin. It began to smell, so he put it between the screen and his closed window. Every hunting dog in the neighborhood gathered in the middle of the night baying outside that window. Do lions hunt elephants? I hope not in your neighborhood!

  5. ssoldjasper says:

    I actually tried drying a skull on my roof. But the Chicago Police frowned on that.

  6. narf77 says:

    ROTFL! There I go again! Pinterest banned me for overpinning so I saved all of my pins that I wanted to pin and you just got every single on of them…you had best thank your lucky stars that I had only just started saving linkies…call it a freebie for when you get bored ;). That last post is apparently an amazing stand up verbal brawl between an elderly foraging woman and someone who thinks that road verge rhubarb might just be theirs…check it out, it’s hilarious… by the way, if you noticed that I misspelled the word “skeleton” not once, but twice, please pay no attention. I was merely testing you…I have been known to be severely testing 😉

  7. narf77 says:


    Crazy rhubarb lady

    There you go again Mr23 Thorns showing off! The best we poor Aussies (especially we Tasmanians who don’t even have dingo’s…) can do is the odd scungy possum skelleton that the feral cats left after an all night binge to fall back on…giraffe bones?! I can send you that possum skelleton if you like, I am sure that none of your progenies class mates will have one and even if someone else turns up all smug and knowing like with another giraffe leg bone at some time in the future (entirely possible seeing as you all live in Africa home of the giraffes or so I am lead to believe…) you will have a backup plan that NO-ONE can top. You have lots of worldly wise and weary readers who congregate here Mr 23Thorns. This blog is like hiding under the bed for we cynics of the world and I am sure that you would be able to take advantage of your worldy celebrity to get others to donate to a school show-and-tell grab bag of “other” bones. Possums and perhaps echidna (I know where there is an upside down long dead echidna on the side of the road doing it’s level best to resist both putrification and Earl’s daily passings to achieve imortality…) bones are merely the start…think Armadillos! Think coyotes and cougars…you might have some pretty amazing animals over there but some of our mundane and boring specimens would open up a world of whoop-ass on any potential wrester of your children’s show-and-tell glory.

  8. Jocelyn Hers says:

    Oh yes , perlemoen shells, supposedly clean….

  9. sisteranan says:

    One of those elephant vertebrae could be worked into a fetching pendant, you know… just as long as you don’t mind staring at your knees as you walk about…

  10. Lyn says:

    About the giraffe (presumably a non-hormonal giraffe) bone, are you sure people who pick it up will simply say, “Oh” in surprise at its weight? Surely it deserves at least “Eish! Yoh! Hau! Hayibo!” 🙂

  11. Hank. says:

    Smell, schmell. Hank once dug up a 6-month dead dolphin to retrieve the skull and other delights for a research project, and he can confirm that there’s nothing like dead sea creature–especially a dead sea creature’s melon and acoustic fats. On certain days, he can still smell it on his paws, remember the oily sheen that never really washed off. And whales? Now there’s a marvelous stink. That said, he’d love to take a whiff of African wildlife because elephants sound right up his alley. Walking whales sound delightful, in fact!

    • As a small girl person, I dug up a dead sea creature with my bare hands. I had the pleasure of riding home for hours with my very scrubbed and still pungent hands out the car window. There is nothing like it, indeed, although I had no desire to repeat the experience.

      • Hank. says:

        Yes! You know the eau. The “Oh!” the first (and second, and third, and fourth…) person who greets you next exclaims, with O’d eyes and O’d mouth, “…Oh! What is that smell?” Your greeter backs away then, a bit too fast, stumbling, as if she’s just happened upon a busy serial killer’s lair in the hot summertime.

        Oh, Harold. Why, look at that little girl practicing her jazz hands out that station wagon window just up ahead…isn’t that just precious. OH! What is that SMELL?!

    • 23thorns says:

      We had a friend who went away for a month, leaving a freezer full of frozen crayfish. The electricity tripped on the second day. It was horrifying beyond speech. He had to throw away the freezer. And burn down the house.

  12. Michael Lane says:

    Love this blog. Great writing, very humorous.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s