On April 1 in 1890 Franklin Pember collected the wishbone of a Ferruginous Hawk in Riverside, California. He attached a handwritten tag describing his find and on the back wrote "collected by F.T. Pember." He collected a specimen just a few days earlier on March 27 and perhaps this is from where came the wishbone. Additionally, we found in our collection six other wishbones and one mysterious bone. None of them were tagged like the hawk. Side photos are available upon request. If you know which birds belong to these bones or even our mysterious bone, please contact the museum educator.

Per Wikipedia - The furcula ("little fork" in Latin) or wishbone is a forked bone found in birds and some dinosaurs, and is formed by the fusion of the two clavicles. In birds, its primary function is in the strengthening of the thoracic skeleton to withstand the rigors of flight.

Ever wonder where the breaking of the wishbone comes from? Matthias Caryofilles researched and wrote an article for the Pember. 

            The breaking of a wishbone is practiced at many Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States and at various other gatherings in different countries around the world. Over many years, it has become a common practice to break a wishbone and subsequently make a wish. To begin, two people hold a wishbone and simultaneously pull it in opposite directions; whoever breaks the biggest piece off is then allowed to make a wish. If the wishbone is broken in such a manner the two halves are equal, then both participants are able to make a wish. However, there is a story behind the breaking of the wishbone, and that story is derived from a civilization in the ancient Mediterranean Sea.

            In the eighth and third centuries BCE, there was a civilization called the Etruscan Civilization (Cartwright, Mark. Etruscan Civilization. http://www.ancient.eu/EtruscanCivilization/  published on February 24, 2017). The Etruscan Civilization was formed in 750 BCE and located in central Italy. This civilization was separated into independent city-states and united by one common polytheistic religion via which they worshiped a great number of gods, with the belief these gods influenced events, places, and many aspects of everyday life. Their religious text was called the Etruscan Diciplina. This book was read at ceremonies and rituals and also provided signs of omens. The Etruscans were a very superstitious people who considered their sacred text very literally. An ancient writer, Livy, observed and described the Etruscan people as “A nation devoted beyond all others to religious rites.” In their religion, two main features included reading omens from birds and interpreting certain weather conditions, for example, storms. In one of their rituals of divination, similar to manipulating an Ouija board, they used a chicken that was placed in a painted circle with letters of their alphabet placed at specific locations. On each letter there was a piece of corn the chicken would eat. The letters the chicken pecked at were recorded and priests, in turn, used the words for their predictions of weather and to read messages from their gods. After the ritual the chicken was killed and the furcula, or “wishbone,” was taken of the bird and laid in the sun to dry. Those who wanted to benefit from the ritual and remain close to their religion would stroke the bone, but not break it, to make a wish. This is where the true name “wishbone” came from (Sanguinarius. Origins of Popular Superstitions. http://sangi.sanguinarius.org/creative/OriginsOfPopularSuperstitions. pdf) In the Etruscan Civilization, the next 200 years in the third and fifth century BCE was spent at war with its neighbor, the new, growing empire, Rome.

            Rome eventually conquered the Etruscan Civilization after many years, and the last city of the Etruscan Civilization, Cerveteri, fell in 273 BCE (Cartwright, Mark. Etruscan Civilization. http://www.ancient.eu/EtruscanCivilization/  published on February 24, 2017). The Roman Empire then enslaved the Etruscan people and adopted many of their principles of culture like their architecture and components of their religion, along with a lot of their superstitions. The Romans adopted the Etruscan divination ritual and soon the Romans took the idea of the wishbone and applied it to the breaking of it to make a wish (Sanguinarius. Origins of Popular Superstitions.  http://sangi.sanguinarius.org/creative/OriginsOfPopularSuperstitions.pdf)

            The Roman Empire grew to be the largest, and most powerful, nation at the height of its power in 117 CE, controlling lands from what is now the United Kingdom to the region where now Israel is located (Mark, Joshua J. Roman Empire. http://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Empire/ Published on April 28, 2011). After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, the people of what is today the United Kingdom adopted the idea of the wishbone, and by the time of the voyage of the pilgrims to the Americas, the breaking of a wishbone had been established as a common practice prior to making a wish. The pilgrims then applied the breaking of the wishbone to Thanksgiving. (Sanguinarius. Origins of Popular Superstitions. http://sangi.sanguinarius.org/ creative/OriginsOfPopularSuperstitions.pdf)

This tradition then continued throughout American culture.

            The story of the wishbone is very extensive, dating back to the Etruscans Civilization in central Italy in 750 BCE and continuing through modern day in many cultures around the world. It evolved from a ceremonial practice in a ritual to what it is now as a friendly Thanksgiving custom.

Sources Cited

Source 1Cartwright, Mark. Etruscan Civilization. http://www.ancient.eu/Etruscan_Civilization/ published on February 24, 2017

Source 2:Sanguinarius. Origins of Popular Superstitions.  http://sangi.sanguinarius.org/creative/OriginsOfPopularSuperstitions.pdf

Source 3:Mark, Joshua J. Roman Empire. http://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Empire/ Published on April 28, 2011  

It's 1890, what would be Pember's wish as he broke a wishbone with Ellen Pember?

We would love to hear your thoughts.

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Pember wishes exhibit for website

 

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