If you’ve seen Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, Django Unchained, you’ve seen a Bone Clone replica. It’s an amazing lifelike replica of a real body part. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character pontificates at the supper table about the old slave who raised him, while holding the slave’s skull — or rather, a bone clone.

Bone Clones is a Los Angeles-based company that produces lifelike replicas of animal and human skeletons, including some from our collection. They make molds and then from the molds make replicas to be used in medical, forensic, and science-related fields of study. We love that our collection actively advances science and education and many of the bones in our Footsteps Through Time exhibit are casts of our originals created by Bone Clones.

The replicas shown here, side by side with the original bones, are from our Hrdlička (her-lish-ka) Collection. This thousand-piece collection was gathered for the 1915 Panama California Exposition from previously looted gravesites in Peru. Our collection of bones is the second largest in the country, surpassed only by that of the Smithsonian. It represents the Museum’s very first accessioned items: its catalog numbers begin at 01!

I asked our curator, Tori Randall, if she would show me the “most awesome” things in her lab. Among them was a set of 70 trephined skulls which were scraped, drilled, or cut for medical or spiritual purposes in Peru. I was under the impression this method of medical treatment was no longer practiced; however, Tori said that the Kisii tribe of Africa still does it, and with a 90% success rate. She also said that when she shows this collection to visiting students she gets fainters. She’s managed to catch a few of them on the way down.

After appreciating the trephined skulls (without any fainting on my part), we took a look at regular bone specimens from the Boring Collection. Dr. Boring acquired bones from corpses, with permission, and boiled them in a mixture of bleach and water to remove the non-bone bits. I experienced the results of his methods when Tori rolled open a drawer of foot bones. A smell wafted up like a slap in the face – the bleachy, musty odor is unforgettable. 

I finished by asking Tori what her favorite part of her job is. She said she enjoys seeing environmental effects on the bones she works with. Lifestyle, behavior, location, and the point in history at which an individual lived all have visible effects.

Q&A with Curator Tori Randall

What’s your doctorate in and where did you get it?

Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge, England.

What has been your focus?

I used skeletal collections at the San Diego Museum of Man to reconstruct prehistoric life in southern California.

How does it compare with your undergraduate work?

My undergraduate experience was generalized, and I focused on the four disciplines of anthropology: linguistics, cultural anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology. My graduate work was very much focused on biological anthropology, with specialized research in osteology and paleopathology.

What do you do at the museum?

My job is very multi-faceted, which is what makes it fun! On one hand, I am responsible for making sure that our collections are safe, properly housed, and their data accessible. In addition, I curate exhibits which focus on the museum’s amazing collections. As a result, I am required to perform research on our collections in order to catalogue and exhibit specimens and artifacts. I also train interns from various colleges and universities in museology techniques and skeletal research, as well as make our collections available to researchers who will publish journal articles, theses, and dissertations focused on our collections.

What’s a surprising thing about the work you’ve been doing?

I am continuously surprised and amazed by the remarkably fabulous items in our collections. I think that I have my few “favorites,” and then I come across something else that I have to add to the list!

What would you recommend to others who want to do what you do?

Get as much education as you can. It is wonderfully fulfilling to continuously search for knowledge through things like books, classes, lectures, and traveling. Oh, and it’s a great idea to intern or volunteer at a museum!

What would you recommend to the lay person who wanted to learn more about what you do?

Ah, this is a tough one! There are so many recommendations. In a more educational light, I would suggest Archaeology Magazine. It provides readers with varied information concerning our human heritage. I would also recommend Anastasia: Dead or Alive, a PBS NOVA video about the disappearance of the Romanovs and the subsequent pronouncement that a woman in the United States, Anna Anderson, was really the missing Princess Anastasia. There’s also a good recent PBS NOVA series about human evolution called Becoming Human

The fun answer would be Star Trek: The Next Generation. To boldly go where no one has gone before? To make sure you don’t interfere with the development of other civilizations? To learn how to interact with other cultures? To travel to far off, exotic places! Yeah…I would definitely join Star Fleet!

What’s the biggest misconception about your work?

That we study dinosaurs.

What are your next steps?

Lately, I have been focused on re-housing some of our skeletal collections. I have also been working with a 3-D laser scanner to document as many of our specimens and artifacts as I can. There is always so much fun stuff to do! The possibilities are endless.


— Shannon Fogg, Marketing Associate