Many pieces in our collection have writing on them, indicating all sorts of information about the bones. Over the course of our work at JonsBones, we had the pleasure of speaking to Kate, who is pursuing her BA in Anthropology. She told us she was taught by her professors to never trust these inscriptions. In her studies, she has encountered many inaccurately labelled bones, on both genuine and plastic reproduction bones.
What she said makes perfect sense. Anyone with access to bones can write anything they wish upon them. In our collection we have a skull labelled “Donna,” despite there being no evidence that this skull belonged to an individual by that name. We believe that this could have been a light-hearted attempt to humanize the skull. But beyond this bit of levity from a previous owner, writings on bones can also be earnest attempts at learning.
Given that every piece in our collection was part of the medical bone trade, a majority of the previous owners were students learning human anatomy, or universities providing learning materials to their pupils. As such, the writing on these bones may not always have been done by experts.
Kate even described an instance of plastic reproduction bones being inaccurately labelled by the manufacturer. A spine model had improper vertebral numbers impressed into the plastic. When disassembled, it would have been impossible to correctly reassemble if following the manufacturer's assessment.
Kate says that the best way to counteract this is to verify your bones with an accredited source. Either using a textbook, or a verified medical website can help accurately identify the bones you are looking at. But ultimately, the best way to verify bones is to consult an expert. Bone verification is the process of narrowing down possibilities, until you are left with the most likely answer. Never trust an inscription on a bone, because maybe the person who wrote it was learning, just like you! Always cross-reference, and verify with multiple reliable sources.