Bone collecting often comes with a bit of sticker shock. Looking at what’s available on the market, you may be led to believe that to get your first piece, you will have to drop thousands of dollars. I can tell you from experience that this isn’t necessarily true.

I started bone collecting with animal skeletons. When I was in high school, I was trying to find a rat skeleton for a still life study. I encountered so many roadblocks in sourcing one, from lack of availability to industry gatekeeping, to prohibitive pricing. Upon finally finding a source for getting a rat skeleton, it was much too expensive, so I decided that I would figure out how to articulate my own. I found a squirrel and was able to clean the bones by boiling them (there are much better methods of cleaning bones but I was just learning!).

Many collectors start with animal bones. There are many places you can get animal bones for very cheap, or free. Many hunters do not use the bones from their kills, and would be willing to give them to you. Roadkill is also free, just be sure to check your state or country’s laws regarding roadkill collection, you might require a license. Animal bones are a great way to understand mammal anatomy, and are the perfect starting point for the beginning bone collector. I personally believe that animal osteology is the basis of understanding human osteology, and is necessary to understand as part of being an informed and conscious collector.

For those wishing to start collecting human bones, the costs of full skeletons or skulls might seem prohibitive. My advice to the beginner is to start small. A rib or a vertebra is significantly cheaper than buying a skull and can provide equally valuable knowledge of the human body.

Rome was not built in a day, and my collection of human osteology was not acquired overnight. Building a collection of bones is a huge endeavor, and takes careful consideration. Don’t be discouraged! It’s important to start somewhere.