You may notice in our blog posts, our videos, or our online store that we refer to some pieces as “articulations.” But what is an articulated skeleton? 

According to an article by the Bone Man on their blog, skeleton articulation is the process of converting a dead animal or human into a cleaned and articulated skeleton. 

An articulated skeleton is held together with wires, hardware, and many other materials to replicate the way the skeleton functioned in a whole living body. When a skeleton is cleaned, with processes such as beetle cleaning with dermestid beetles, maceration, chemical processing, and sun bleaching, it will then have hardware installed. This hardware performs the function that muscles and sinew performed in life: keeping the bones in the right position. At JonsBones we focus on human osteology, so when referring to skeletal articulation throughout this article, human anatomy is what we will be referencing. 

A disarticulated skeleton is not assembled, and is presented as loose bones. Articulated and disarticulated skeletons both had places in medical education, but serve different purposes. A disarticulated skeleton would allow for study of individual bones, while an articulation demonstrates the way the skeletal system functions as a whole. An articulated skeleton might include cuts to allow for further investigation of the skull, painted sections to indicate muscles, hand-lettered labels of bones, holes to accommodate hanging hooks, or hardware on the skull to allow for movement of the jaw. 

Here at JonsBones, we find the hardware of articulations of particular interest. Given Jon’s background in industrial design, hardware can tell us quite a bit about the piece that we are looking at. Based on the metal used, the shape of the latches, the way that bones are wired together, all of this can be used to determine the original articulator, the era of the piece’s articulation, and more. Pins on the metacarpals, screws and rods on the pelvis, felt disks between vertebrae, paper-mache to replace cartilage sternum, all of these factors differed by manufacturer, and allow for us to investigate the history of these articulations more deeply. 

Articulated skeletons are not just scientific objects. They are works of true craftsmanship that are meant to be unobtrusive to study. A bad articulation, much like bad taxidermy, will be disconcerting and unnatural in appearance. Because each individual human being is built differently, there is no uniform way to articulate a skeleton. Each was approached with consideration and care, at the discretion of the craftsperson.The craftspeople who articulated these skeletons created work that is not meant to be noticed, because it imitates life in a way meant to limit distraction from the form. 

Articulations help us understand how the skeleton is supposed to function, rather than having to make sense of a jumble of bones. They are also fabulous clues into medical history. If you would like to acquire an articulation for your own education, you can find one on our website here.