Mystery bones in Sydney home fascinate experts

Historians and an archeologist are trying to figure out how a wide variety of animal bones ended up in the walls of a 19th century home in Sydney, N.S.

Animal bones found during renovations

A variety of animal bones were found in a wall at Liscombe House in Sydney. (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

Historians and an archeologist are trying to figure out how a wide variety of animal bones ended up in the walls of a 19th century home in Sydney, N.S.

"The explanation as to why those bones got there and how they got there, there is no easy answer," said Carl Getto, chair of the Sydney Architectural Conservation Society.

The bones were recently discovered during a renovation of Liscombe House, an historic property on the corner of Yorke and Charlotte streets. The bones were found in the walls around a fireplace.

Most of the bones were fragments, although one bone was about 32 centimetres long.

The medical examiner's office investigated the remains and determined the bones belong to several different animals including a moose, a cow, a large horse, a deer, fish and a chicken or a turkey.

"There was some very bizarre person who lived in that house, at some time, who had a macabre sense of humour," said Jim St. Clair, a community historian.

On further reflection, St. Clair said the bones were most likely intended as fertilizer.

"This collection of bones had been put aside so that the person could eventually grind them up in order to have bone meal as a nutrient for a garden," he said.

St. Clair said the bones may have been stored on a beam in the house and then fell behind the wall.

Getto has a different theory. He believes an animal — perhaps a rodent or a raccoon — is responsible.

"For some reason he had a fetish perhaps, that he liked to collect bone fragments and drag them inside," he said.

Experts share several theories

Jonathan Fowler, an archeologist who teaches in the anthropology department at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, said people often put items in walls to act as a form of supernatural protection.

"We do find objects deliberately placed in walls and they're typically placed around chimneys especially. You might think about it as a kind of white magic, the idea is to attract negative energy or perhaps the black magic to this place, this hidden little nook and cranny and trap it there," he told CBC News.

"Some people speculate that it has to do with fertility as well and there might be multiple reasons to do it."

The tradition, according to Fowler, began sometime in the 1600s and continued well into the 1800s.

"It came from Europe and it came to North America, it went to other parts of the world colonized by Europeans and it persisted through the 19th century and I'm told into the early 20th century," he said.

"This is sort of at the tail end of it. You've really got a Victorian house, it's kind of like the last gasp of a very old belief system but I wouldn't discount it."

None of the theories have been proven and all of the experts admit they're bewildered by the bones.