OK, I didn't want to waste peoples' time if the "stand up" technique was
commonly known among Zooarchers. It was, I think, the first thing I ever
learned from old Claude Hibbard -- but he was a vertebrate paleontologist.
So what you do is very simple. Go to your comparative collection and get
out one skull each of specimens that are known to be horse, zebra (any of
the three species, or all of them), ass, half-ass (no this is not your
supervisor, and yes, there are three species of these as well), and mule.
If you don't have the whole array, horse vs. donkey will do to begin with.
Take them to a level table, and stand the horse skull up on its occiput.
It will stand without any tendency to tip over forwards. Try to do the
same with the donkey, and you will find that it will not stand on its own.
So will all zebras and MOST half-asses. The half-ass (hemione) most likely
to stand is Equus kiang, the form that comes from the Himalayas. Mules
will SOMETIMES stand too; depends how much they take after their horse
parent, and how much natural tendency to arch there was in the neck of
that horse, and how open the throatlatch.
Now, what the neck has to do with it is this: an equine cannot have the
bone structure that creates or supports an arched neck, nor either an open
throatlatch, if it has a collapsed basicranium. If you will go look up the
old "Stripes Do Not a Zebra Make" paper from Systematic Zoology
(239(2):271-294, 1980), you will see a figure that presents equine skulls
in lateral view. Notice that the posterior temporal area, i.e. the
triangular area of the skull that lies between the glenoid fossa of the
jaw joint and the external auditory meatus, is most widely exposed in the
In other words, it is as if that part of the skull works like a Chinese
fan: it can develop so that it is spread wide open, or it can be nearly
fully collapsed. When open, of course, this displaces the occipital
condyles backwards relative to the inion; and when this is the case, and
you set the skull up on the occiput, the condyles will in turn displace
the snout to the rear in terms of their relationship to the centerline of
vertical balance, and hence the horse skull does not tip over forward. The
donkey is the opposite: it has the most fully collapsed temporal area, and
hence its occipital condyles are tucked in, well forward of the inion if
the skull is in horizontal orientation, and such that, if you try to stand
it on its occiput, both the condyles and most of the forward part of the
skull lie on the same side of the line of balance, so that it will not
And what this has to do with an arched neck and an open throatlatch is
simply the same thing considered in its effects upon the neck: the more
wide-open the temporal area of the skull, the more rearward displacement
of the occipital condyles, the more rearward tilt of the occiput, the more
the natural and most comfortable orientation of the upper three cervical
vertebrae will be horizontal. In donkeys and other equines that have a
tucked-under basiocciput, the only possible configuration of the upper
part of the neck will be to make an acutely-angled connection with the
back of the skull -- in other words, the neck rises upward to its junction
with the head, without there being much or any "turnover". Horse breeders
often have done things to many parts of the skeleton, effecting changes on
a much more global basis than the one characteristic they thought they had
been breeding for. So hence, if you have horse skulls in your comparative
collection that are of known breeds, you will find even within the range
of Equus caballus some skulls noticeably more widely open than others.
If finding the old Syst. Zool. paper is hard, then you can see much the
same diagram reproduced in the "Mammalian Species" paper that is running
online at my website, www.equinestudies.org. Click on "Knowledge Base",
then click on "Mammalian Species", and it's a free PDF that you might like
to read anyway for other reasons.
And if the skeletal effects in the living animal are of interest to you,
my 20-year-old "Principles of Conformation" books are still in print and
not very expensive. There -- in a popular work where I was really trying
to raise the old animal husbandry skill of "conformation judging" to the
level of an actual science, as did the greater lights Horace Hayes and
Gustav Rau long before my time -- you will get the full explication of
what the "neck telescoping gesture" is, with pictorial examples drawn from
my conformation analysis column that ran for years in Equus Magazine. Or,
you can also go to "Knowledge Base" and download the three papers whose
buttons lie on the right-hand side: "Lessons from Woody", "True
Collection", and "The Ring of Muscles". -- Here's to the continuing
fruitful dialogue between people who have real experience with animals,
and we who call ourselves scientists -- Deb Bennett
> I remember reading something about this, but cannot for the life of me
> remember what to do and which is which.
> Please elaborate!
> I have a very destroyed (melted) skelly, and maxil. teeth rather than
> mandibular, as well as some measurable phalanges and metapodia.
> On 23 Feb 2009, at 10:13, [log in to unmask] wrote:
>> Salima, you probably know how to tell MOST horses from mules, and all
>> horses from donkey or zebra, by the "stand up test"? It's a simple
>> very effective if you have nearly complete skulls. And it works on a
>> of morphological characteristics, or you might say the
>> configuration, of
>> the auditory part of the basicranium, which can easily be seen and
>> evaluated even where all you have is the broken back end of a skull.
>> "character states" are explained in my (now antique, and much argued)
>> paper "Stripes Do Not a Zebra Make" in Systematic Zool. If you want
>> explanation of the "stand up technique", write back; others here
>> might be
>> curious about it as well. -- Deb Bennett
>>> Dear All
>>> I have some literature on the horse vs donkey stuff, but would
>>> appreciate any bibliography that you can point me to so I do not
>>> overlook anything important. Measurements particularly welcome. Have
>>> tooth info.
>>> Salima Ikram (Dr)
>>> Professor of Egyptology
>>> Egyptology Unit Head
>>> American University in Cairo
>>> [log in to unmask]
> Salima Ikram
> Professor of Egyptology
> American University in Cairo
> [log in to unmask]