This has been a fascinating journey. Really. Also a rather rank one.
I'm currently taking Sannion's Toys of Dionysos class. (If you're interested in finding out more, you can check out Sannion's book Spirits of Initiation. There may also be future classes.) One of the Toys is the Astragaloi, or knucklebones, which were used as dice. I decided to try some bone cleaning to see if I could get some sets together.
After some research into bone cleaning, I decided the smart thing to do was to pick up an old slow cooker at the Goodwill, grab some enzymatic detergent, and set it to simmer in the garage.
The bone cleaning page above is from the UK, and suggests that it's very easy to find "biological washing powder", but of course we label things very differently in the US. After some more research, I ended up with Seventh Generation Clean and Clear natural detergent, which has three different enzymes.
That's an old crockpot from the 70s, btw, and the stoneware pot doesn't come out, so it can't be washed easily. It's now a dedicated bone cleaning pot, and won't be used for anything else.
Now, I knew that knucklebones come from sheep or goat feet. I didn't, however, know that there are two different types of bones used (the kneecap and anklebones), or that there are only two anklebones per foot. I thought they were toe bones and there were four. This page set me straight, though.
The bones labeled 7 are the knucklebones.
I started with four feet, picked up at my local halal shop, which was about a pound. They were frozen, so I thawed them in the fridge overnight, then dumped them in the crockpot with maybe 2-3 tablespoons of detergent, set it on low (you can't let it boil, or the fat sinks into the bones and makes them yellow and greasy), and let it go for 24 hours.
I came back, and the smell in the garage was... not exactly terrible, but overwhelming for sure. If you've made stock from scratch, you're probably familiar with the smell of rendering collagen. It was that, plus mutton, turned up to eleven. Wow.
The contents of the pot looked disgusting, but nearly all the tissue had already fallen off the bones. I poured off the yuck and as much water as possible into a dishpan, added fresh water and some more detergent, and left it overnight again. (I didn't get pictures of the cooking process. I might next time, but it was pretty nasty looking.)
This time there was much less yuck. I just poured it off and collected the bones. I rinsed them thoroughly to get rid of the detergent, four or five times. They were basically completely clean, but I gave the knucklebones a good scrub with a firm bristle toothbrush and some dish soap and warm water, just to make sure. Then I rinsed them again.
I rinsed the bones the same way I wash rice: submerge them in a bowl of warm water, agitate a bit, see how cloudy the water gets, drain it, repeat until the water's mostly clear. Again, four or five times. Then I laid them out and let them air dry.
They came out much whiter than I expected.
Set of four bones, one fore and one aft foot (as best I could make out), each showing a different side of the die. The sides should be numbered 1, 3, 4 and 6, with opposite sides totally 7. Unlike the kneecaps, there appears to be no standard way to number these bones, but instead the numbers would be marked, the same on each bone.
I also ended up with an assortment of other bones, some of which are quite nifty looking. Not sure yet what I'll do with them.
And that's it. My boney adventure.