How do I clean a horse skull I found?

Submitted by Jennifer T on 02/20/2004 at 02:14. ( )

I went hiking yesterday and found a horse skull, Owning live horses intrigued me to bring this home to learn on. I found it in the wash, some slight teeth marks by coyotes but still very intact. Most of the meat is gone except some stray meat/fur on the outside and still a fair amount in the skull cavity. It looks maybe a week old, nothing fresh, mostly dried (Arizona weather). Some teeth are cracked, how can a clean it to not risk loosing the teeth and without boiling it (Hubby says no heads in the house) I don't need it super clean, or whitened, I'm not mounting it, it would be in an aquarium for my learning use only and for (showing friends). How can I do this without loosing teeth? Also I can not set things outside as my Labrador would think it was a great chew toy, I plan to clean, keep it in our Arizona room. Please email me with suggestions

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Info I found on the net.....

This response submitted by Tim on 02/20/2004 at 04:40. ( )

Here is some info I found on the web for cleaning a Javelina Skull. Im sure it will work for a horse skull. Hope this helps.....

1 Old non-aluminum pot
1 Coleman Stove
1 Bottle hydrogen peroxide 3% solution (available at Wal-Mart etc.)
1 Cup Sal Soda (Sodium Carbonate) available at most taxidermy supply houses. This product is helpful in dissolving meat, fat and grease when boiling skulls and antler plates. A great substitute is Arm & Hammer "Super Washing Soda" (it's main ingredient is Sodium Carbonate & fragrance). It's available at most all "X-mart" stores, and costs a couple bucks.

Super Glue For securing any loose teeth after boiling.

Tongs/Coat Hanger Dipping and grabbing skull.

Preparation steps
1. Remove all hide, hair, and as much flesh that is reasonably possible from the skull with a sharp knife.
2. Place enough water in the old pot to cover the skull. Bring water to simmer. Note: excessive boiling or heat can cause teeth to crack.
This should be done outdoors, using a Coleman type stove, it will create a small mess. A coat hanger or tongs are handy for raising and lowering the skull into the simmering water
3. Lower the skull into the simmering water and allow to "cook" for several minutes.
4. After simmering the skull for a few minutes, add 1 cup of Sal Soda/A&H Super Washing Soda. Sprinkle the powder into the water a little at a time until all the powder is in the pot. Note if using a lid on the pot, after adding the powder, the water may foam and boil over. Simmer the skull for about 45 minutes (if using a small pot reduce time). After the initial 45 minutes of cooking, remove skull and cut, pull, and scrape away loose tissue and meat. Return skull to simmering water, adding a 1/2 cup more Sal Soda/A&H Super Washing Soda, simmer for 15- 30 minutes at a time until its cleaned. This process may take approx. 3 - 5 "cooking's" and cutting/scrapings before completion. Be sure and add a bit more Sal Soda/A&H Super Washing Soda each time.
The meat should nearly fall off the bone. The Sal Soda/A&H Super Washing Soda in combination with simmering makes the meat take on a "jelly" like consistency. If the meat is hard to remove add more Sal Soda/A&H Super Washing Soda
Use a coat hanger to poke and dislodge material in the brain and nasal cavity. Thoroughly clean the nasal cavity and brain cavity.
A garden hose can be used to spray off and flush out the brain and nasal cavity (sprayed with high pressure)
5. After all meat is removed, rinse with cold water. Let skull sun dry for a day or two. It will take on a whitish-bone color.
Note: the above cleaning process can be used on Mt Lion, Bear, Coyote, etc. skulls.
Remember, "bleach" is a term only, do not use bleach, use Hydrogen Peroxide (3% solution).
To "bleach" out a skull after "boiling" and sun drying, soak the skull in hydrogen peroxide for 12 - 24 hours, rinse, and allow the skull to bleach out white in the sun for one to two days.
A large coffee can works well as a "bleaching container". To save money, and reduce the number of bottles of Hydrogen Peroxide needed to cover the entire skull, pack the top of the skull/container with cotton balls. They will wick up the liquid and help ensure complete coverage of the skull.
Re-attach any loose teeth with glue.
Annotate the bottom of the skull, using a fine tipped indelible marker, with Skull Score, Date & Method of Kill, Hunter Info, etc.

Tim (I live in AZ too )

Easier and Safer

This response submitted by Raven on 02/20/2004 at 09:01. ( )

Put it ina container large enough to hold it and add a bunch of water. Let it soak for a week or two - checking every thrid day or so and using an old toothbrush to scrub off anything that will come off.

This process is called maceration and utilizes the development of natural bacteria to dissolve the flesh. You actually want the teeth to come out as that way you can clean the fleshy material around the root of the tooth.

Any kind of heat can actually set oils into bone. Once in the bone they may turn rancid, then acidic thus doing permananet damage to the bone. Any sort of soad (such as sal soda) should be avoided. The sodium in the soda can replace the calcium in the bone making it weaker..

After soaking it for a period long enough to remove flesh, then soak it in a DAWN degreasing detergent. Take new water and a bunch of DAWN dish soap and let that sit for a week or so. Then add the bone to a peroxide solution. 3% stuff like used on scrapes etc is my prefered concnetration as it will whiten it somewhat - but more importantly to me - disinfect it thoroughly. The teeth can/should be reomved before whitenning if you dont want them to whiten. A good scrub with a toothbrush and detergent should get them clean enough to reinstall into the skull.

Then allow it to dry. You may want to apply a layer of clear acrylic top coat over this just to aid in regular clean up. It will make dustina lot easier. Low gloss or high gloss or somewhere in between - the choice is yours but all will help.

Hope that helps =)

Badly cracked teeth & a thank you!

This response submitted by Jennifer on 02/20/2004 at 13:10. ( )

Some of the molers look like they are probably only held together by some dirt. They are really loose/broken, I fear once they start coming out by the soak I wont be able to puzzle them back together well enough to look real. Could I maybe start by just cleaning the cracked/broken teeth then coating them with something so they dont just come out in a bunch of pieces?

Thank you so much for sharing your knowlege! I don't think you guys get enough credit for helping us newbies.

I'm so excited about this skull, Once I get it cleaned I'd love to share a picture of it!


This response submitted by Raven on 02/20/2004 at 17:02. ( )

What yous hodul probably do then is extract one tooth at at time. Do what we do with fossil preservation and 'consolidate' the tooth. Use a couple of carefully placed drops of superglue in the cracks of the tooth and allow it to fully harden for a couple of hours. Dont let it get on teh skull at all - like where the tooth and skull meet. ONce a single tooth has major cracks glued - use a pair of stout pliers wrapped with tape (to prevent scratching the tooth) and extract that one tooth. If it comes out intact - finish gluing it up so its VERY secure. Put it in a ziploc bag and label the location it came from in the skull. Then go on to the next tooth and repeat those steps. Then proceed with cleaning the rest of the skull. This way you reduce the amount of damage done to each tooth as you pull it, can easily repair any damage as it's coming out, and once labelled you can easily find its proper location again.

And for my part - Im glad to help =)

To change or not?

This response submitted by Jennifer on 02/22/2004 at 01:39. ( )

Should I change the water when I go to clean the skull every few days? Also how babdly will the water smell? So I know how far to keep it from the house.


This response submitted by zach on 03/05/2004 at 16:12. ( )

it probably will not smell and if it does than you should just spray the H2O with lysol. If u ever find another 1 make sure you r careful because u CAN get dieseases. Try just letting a skull just set in bleach for 2 weeks. If it has a lot of meat on it still then see if u can find some flesh eating beetles. look to your left and click search and type 'buy beetles'. GOOD LUCK

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