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Housing Units for Skeletal Material


Skeletal elements generally are placed inside cardboard boxes without any protection from each other or the cardboard (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Interior condition of an acidic skeletal box.

The overcrowded situation coupled with acid attack has resulted in abrasion, crumbling, and overall physical deterioration of the materials. Stored on open shelves, the skeletal materials can also suffer from exposure to light, fluctuations in temperature and humidity, and dirt and dust accumulation. A new housing arrangement is proposed that can eliminate problems caused by improper storage. Stored inside an enclosed metal cabinet, the skeletal collections selected for this special treatment are provided with an optimal secure environment.


Mei Wan Campbell
Museum of Texas Tech Univ. 4th and Indiana Ave.
Lubbock, TX 79409 USA.
Tel (806) 742-2479
Fax (806) 742-1136



Eileen Johnson
Museum of Texas Tech Univ. 4th and Indiana Ave.
Lubbock, TX 79409 USA.
Tel (806) 742-2479
Fax (806) 742-1136 

Photographs: Nick Olson

Publication: 1992



In this system, each skeleton is rehoused in a properly cushioned full-size metal drawer; the skeletal elements are arranged separately in correct anatomical position (Fig. 2). 

Figure 2. Layout of a human skeleton in a padded, full-size metal drawer.

Individual compartments made of the lignin-free pH neutral paperboard can be used to house the skull and mandibles for greater protection. The proposed system is designed using standard-size metal cabinets and full-width drawers measuring 147.5cm wide x 81.3cm long x 7cm high.

Materials Tools Supplies

  • 100% cotton floss or 100% cotton twill tape
  • Glue gun and hot melt adhesive
  • Metal cabinet
  • pH neutral, interleaving paper
  • pH neutral paperboard, lignin-free, 2ply
  • Polyester batting
  • Polypropylene or polyethylene foam sheeting
  • Ruler
  • T-square
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife


  1. Line the inside of the metal drawer with a sheet of polypropylene or polyethylene microfoam sheeting.
  2. Place a 5cm thick layer of polyester batting over the microfoam.
  3. Cover the polyester padding with a sheet of pH neutral interleaving paper.
  4. If needed, make individual compartments from lignin-free paperboard. The size of the compartment is determined by the sizes of the skull or mandible. Allow 1-2cm space on all sides of the skull or mandible and at least 2cm greater than the measured height.
  5. Mark the lignin-free paperboard according to the diagram in figure 3 of Campbell,“Container and Support for Large, Relatively Flat Objects,” (this volume) with the measurements of the sides and bottom of the compartment.
  6. Score the marked lines half way through with a utility knife; it may be easier to lightly score the lines several times to get the desired depth.
  7. Cut all the way through short lines on the four corners that run lengthwise.
  8. Bend along the scored lines and adhere one long side to the two short sides with hot melt adhesive.
  9. Cut two strips of hook and loop tape approximately 7cm long.
  10. Adhere the loop (smoother) portions to the outside of the shorter sides, and the hook (rougher) portions to the inside of the remaining two corners. The side of the compartment that is secured with hook and loop strips can be opened flat to allow careful removal of cranial elements.
  11. Remove the bones from skeletal boxes and lay them out in the padded drawer according to their anatomic position (Fig. 2).
  12. Re-house the skull and mandible in the custom-made individual compartments.


The polyethylene or polypropylene microfoam sheeting in the bottom of the drawer can prevent the movement and migration of the polyester batting when the drawer is pulled in or out.

The thick layer of polyester batting provides extra cushion and additional support for the skeletal elements. The top layer of pH neutral interleaving paper eliminates the possibility of the bones being caught in the polyester batting, and can be replaced if it becomes stained from lipids from the in anatomical collections.

Infant skeletons that are small, fragile, and difficult to identify need special housing. It is unwise to house them directly in a padded drawer. Instead, each anatomical unit (e.g., foot, hand, upper and lower arm, etc.) can be placed on microfoam sheeting lined with pH neutral paper.

The bones can be secured on the backing with 100%cotton floss which can be easily untied for examination. The identity of each element can be noted properly with a tag attached to the floss. The cranial bones can be secured in the same manner, tied down with cotton twill tape.

When storing skeletal materials, it is important to take into consideration the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Public Law 101-601) passed in 1990, as well as other ethical and legal responsibilities.

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