ROLF’S REMAINS: SCRUTINIZING LIGAMENT FIBERS
As we have just learned, the forensic scientist must take into consideration the state of preservation of body parts under examination. While the bones of Ethan Allen are in a rotted state, Rolf’s carcass has a different history. When he died in 1981, the policy of the Topeka Zoo was to donate the remains to the Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas, where they would be studied and preserved. As a graduate student in the museum at the time, I had the privilege of collecting Rolf’s carcass, and I assisted the zoo’s veterinarian in performing the necropsy and taking the tissue samples which the state health department requires. After we finished, I degutted the carcass, quartered it, placed the remains in several 50-gallon drums, and loaded them onto a truck. Once back at the museum, knowing that I would like to perform further and more detailed dissection of Rolf’s remains, I filled the drums with a mixture of grain alcohol and formaldehyde, thus embalming the carcass.
Rolf remained “pickled” for quite some time, as I had other projects on hand and thus did not finish with him until 1992. At that time I returned him to the
museum, when it was decided that we would attempt to recover his skeleton. This required “de-pickling”—not an easy or pleasant task—and I am grateful to Mammals Curator Dr. Robert M. Timm for performing a near-miracle in rinsing the embalmed carcass free of chemicals and then removing the muscles. It is normal in skeletal preparation to allow the deeper ligament layers, which tend to be quite tough, to remain on the skeleton. The last step is careful drying, which results in the mummification of any remaining ligament fibers, which are thus not evidence of abnormality or pathology.
Rolf's hock joint has normal but mummified ligament fibers.