Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bear bones

Did you know that when skeletal or mummified remains are found in the woods and presumed to be human, they sometimes turn out to bear paws? Without claws, bear paws exhibit remarkably “finger-like” features that mimic the human hand (1st image, skinned bear paw). Partial wildlife remains found out of context can cause concern that a murder may have occurred, as they did in Nebraska in November. There, the state police mounted a task force in the belief that the bones belonged to a woman who had disappeared 2 years earlier. Analysis by a 2nd radiologist confirmed that they were not human after all. As x-rays (2nd image) and a careful morphological examination of the skeletal remains (3rd image) show, the articular surface of the 1st phalanx of each finger is flat and smooth in a human (on the left) and deep with a v-shaped groove in a bear (on the right). According to an identification guide published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "There have even been cases involving skinned bear paws that had been deliberately placed in public areas to startle those who mistaken them as human hands." Iowa officials believe the "hand" that a passerby found in a ditch near the Des Moines airport this month may have been placed there as a prank.

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