I'm reminded of another piece of bone; one we found at one of our campsites in Mongolia. It, too, fitted in my palm but was clearly a shard of a larger skull. Smooth and rounded; very old; stained brown where it had been partly buried, bleached and pale where it had been exposed; the cranial sutures resembling a wildly erratic ECG. When we rode away from the camp, I reached up from the saddle and placed the shard high in a tree, out of reach of the local dogs. I suppose it will eventually fall, but it seemed like the right thing to do, and I hope its owner understood.
You can dismiss these things as meaningless or as a refusal to accept the reality of reason and (the) enlightenment. You can discount this view as New Age piffle. More generously, you might accept that it can be considered metaphorical and perhaps useful from a sociological, psychological or evolutionary perspective—this kind of respect might have served to strengthen communities and so increase their members' fitness, blah blah, etc... So what do I believe? To be honest, I don't know, and at times I've believed all of these interpretations, from the arch sceptical, rationalist view to the insistent intuition that when I hold a small skull or a fragment of bone in my hand, I'm in touch with a life that still exists in a sense that's at least as literal as metaphorical. Sometimes one of these views seems more plausible than the others; later, I'll wonder how I could possibly have believed that. Faced with that sort of uncertainty—a pervasive doubt that leaves me wondering whether I can know anything at all—I'm tempted to acquiesce to the kind of relativism that says you can believe whatever you like. However, that seems simply too random—I know at least enough to know that some things are wrong. Wrong in the factual sense, but wrong in the ethical sense also.
Photo and words copyright 2005 Pete McGregor