We found bones near a lake in Western Poland. There is a lot of forest nearby as well.

Since there are fox farms in the area, this is the first thing that came to mind.

Here are the photos, with a foot for scale :)

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

  • The jawbone is the interesting part, with extended canine teeth on both parts, so it is likely to be a fox, wolf or boar. – Weather Vane Sep 23 '20 at 19:28
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    @WeatherVane: boar and wolf would be totally different size and dental formula. (Fox still substantially larger and different dental formula) – cbeleites unhappy with SX Sep 24 '20 at 14:00
  • I agree, a boar's canine teeth are a different shape. – Weather Vane Sep 24 '20 at 14:01
  • @WeatherVane: and size. These are not deciduous. Acoording to de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildschwein#Gebiss, a boar's canine is usually 20 cm long. That's > 3 x the whole lower mandible we have here. Unless the foot is shoe size 90+, of course – cbeleites unhappy with SX Sep 24 '20 at 14:05

Definitely not boar, they have much higher numbers of teeth in the jaw and have flat chewing molars. These teeth suggest a carnivore.

From the foot scale I would say small carnivore. This narrows it down to small dog, fox, cat and badger or mustelid (polecat, stoat, weasel etc) in Northern Europe.

The easiest bones to identify are the jaws/teeth and skull for a novice. Luckily Google is an OK search tool for identifying objects such as this.

Mustelids (which includes badgers) all have pretty similar skulls and teeth - so have a close look at the ones at University of Michigan. You will notice that they have 4 teeth in the jaw besides the canine, and the teeth consist of 3 pre-molars and 1 molar. The premolars are pretty smooth in profile.

I also found a comparison of dog, fox, badger and cat jaws at ifeelitinmybones.wordpress.com (pdf), written by an actual zooarchaeologist in the UK. If you have a look at the jaws presented in figure 1, they show that dog and fox have a lot more teeth in the jaw and different placements than the above specimen. While the teeth look pretty similar to the ones presented above, they are not quite the same, being smooth on the leading edge and having an accessory ridge (I hope that's the right term) on the trailing. The teeth above have accessory ridges on both sides. This leads me to badger vs cat. In the pdf above, the badger is missing two of the pre-molar, so it should have 4 teeth, but the remaining pre-molar looks smooth, just like the other mustelids.

This leaves cat - now compare the cat teeth in the pdf to the ones above, they are very similar in form, each having 3 points, and having only 3 teeth in the jaw (besides canine) - two pre-molar and one molar. in addition, if you look at the angle of the mandibular hinge, you can see that it is reclined (~50 degrees) characteristic of a cat, whereas the other animals have a much steeper angle (closer to 90 degrees)

So, in conclusion or TL,DR: This is a cat skeleton.


I agree with bob1.

Here's a domestic cat lower mandible image with size indicated from http://www.boneid.net/product/lateral-view-domestic-cat-mandible/

domestic cat lower mandible

We wont't be able to distinguish domestic cat from wildcat here, they are too similar. However, Poland is not listed as currently having wildcats. And even in areas with wildcats, domestic cats by far outnumbers wildcats, so the odds are very much in favor of domestic cat.

Dental formula

The lower mandible in OP's image is easier, with ?(>=1)I 1C 2P 1M, the upper is ?I 1C 3P 1M missing.

Cats have dental formula upper 3I 1C 3P 1M and lower 3I 1C 2P 1M, so that matches. Compared to cats, "everyone else" (carnivores in Europe) has more teeth.

  • Mustelids all have at least one tooth more in the upper and lower jaw. Mustelids in general are bit difficult since different species there have different dental fomulae including varying numbers of premolars and molars. Smaller than polecat would be too small for this skeleton, though.

    Polecats have the next lowest number of teeth after cats. IIRC also 3I 1C 3P 1M upper, but 3I 1C 3P 2M lower teeth.

  • Otters have 5 premolars + molars both upper and lower, but I don't know how many premolars vs. molars.

  • badgers have 3I 1C 4P 1M upper/3I 1C 4P 2M lower: badger skull (source)
    A badger is anyways substantially larger than OP's skeleton, see below

    Martens have IIRC the same formula like badgers (and are smaller), but again I'm not sure about premolar vs. molar numbers.

  • racoons (not sure how far they've advanced into Poland by now) 3I 1C 4P 2M both upper and lower.

  • canids (dog, fox) have even more teeth: 3I 1C 4P 2M* upper and 3I 1C 4P 3M lower, but already fox would be too large.
    enter image description here (source)

  • since wild boar was mentioned in a comment (which would be totally off in size, anyways), they have 3I 1C 4P 3M both upper and lower


In addition to the teeth formula, also consider size. My guesstimate from OP's image is very much like the domestic cat mandible from boneid.net.

The next larger feline species after domestic cat and wildcat in Europe are lynx. https://dx.doi.org/10.11648/j.avs.20170501.13 reports mandible lengths ranging 9.1 -- 9.7 cm for male lynx from Turkey, so clearly too big.

  • A badger has ≈9 cm mandible length (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcz.2004.12.002), the minimum reported there is 8.5 cm. From the comparison with the toe, I'd put the mandible in the image at maybe 6 cm, so clearly shorter and very much in line with the cat mandible image above. Fox mandible is similar to maybe a bit longer than badger. A wolf's mandible would be maybe 20 cm in length. A wild pig skull is >≈ 30 cm before they're even finished growing all their teeth, so mandible length starting probably around 25 cm.

* I = incisor, C = canid, P = premolar, M = molar

  • thank for the research! – Thomas Sep 24 '20 at 15:32
  • @Thomas: welcome - it was great fun :-) – cbeleites unhappy with SX Sep 24 '20 at 15:41
  • Nice answer - yours is much better than mine. I suspect I'm going to go on a bit of a dive into the boneid site, that's really cool info and so well catalogued. – bob1 Sep 24 '20 at 20:43

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