Friday, October 23, 2015

Episode 287 (10-26-15): Water and the Human Skeleton

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:02)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 10-28-16.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of October 26, 2015.

MUSIC – 13 sec

This Halloween week, the opening organ from the song “Halloween,” by John McCutcheon on his 1998 album “Autumnsongs,” sets a spooky stage for connecting water to a vital human organ system that’s also one of Halloween’s most familiar spectres.  Have a listen for about 15 seconds to a mystery sound, and see if you can guess that organ system.  And here’s a hint: we couldn’t move at all, much less rattle around, without this remarkable framework.

SOUNDS - 13 sec

If you guessed the skeleton, you’re right!  The rattling you heard was from a plastic Halloween skeleton, accompanied by some creepy laughter from a talking skull decoration.  Since ancient times, human skeletons have been used in art, literature, and culture as symbols of danger, death, and dryness. In fact, the word “skeleton” comes from a Greek word meaning “dried up.”  But there’s nothing dead nor dry about a functioning human skeleton.  Our 206 bones contain active cells and tissues that continually take in and release calcium and phosphorus while producing new bone, blood, and fat cells.  Bone is about 25 to 30 percent water by weight, with the rest consisting of minerals plus connective protein fibers called collagen.  Water is the main component of cartilage, the flexible tissue between bones, in our nose and ears, and in the disks between the vertebrae in our spine.  In those spinal disks, cartilage fibers enclose a watery core, and this water’s resistance to being compressed helps vertebrae move while not being pushed together.

Ligaments, tendons, and other structures join bones and cartilage in the complex, multi-purpose skeletal system.  Aided by water, the skeleton supports the body; protects internal organs; produces cells; and provides levers, pivot points, and cushions to the forces acting on and within the body.  All that, and it’s a classic Halloween image!

Thanks to John McCutcheon and Appalseed Productions for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with a few more seconds of “Halloween.”

MUSIC – 11 sec

For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


"Halloween” and “Four Seasons: Autumn Songs” (1998, Rounder Records, Cambridge, Mass.), are copyright by John McCutcheon/Appalsongs and Si Kahn/Joe Hill Music, used with permission of Appalseed Productions. More information about John McCutcheon is available from his Web site,

Thanks to Gabe Minnich of Virginia Tech University Relations and to Jane Hellman for their assistance with this week’s sounds.


A skeleton theme was popular for Halloween items at this Blacksburg, Va., store in October 2015.


Used in Audio and For More Information about the Human Skeleton

Joseph Hammill and Kathleen M. Knutzen, Biomechanical Basis of Human Movement—Third Edition, Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, Md., and Philadelphia, Penn., 2009.

Harry N. Herkowitz et al., The Spine—Fourth Edition (Vol. I), W. B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, Penn., 1999 [at VT: RD 533 S68 1999]

W. Henry Hollinshead and Cornelius Rosse, Textbook of Anatomy—Fourth Edition, Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1985 [at VT: QM 23.2 H57 1985].

Evelyn Kelly, The Skeletal System, Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., 2004. [At VT: QM 101 K44 2004.]

On Examples of Use of the Human Skeleton in Popular Culture
“The Skeleton Dance,” 1929, by Walt Disney; see “The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts,” online at

Lakeland Community College, “The Skull and Skeleton in Art: Folk Art to Pop Culture,”

Katherine McIntire, “Skeleton Stories and Myths through History,” 10/23/14, Top Ten Reviews Web site, online at


The following episodes also cover water in biological processes:
EP93 – 12/19/11: “Pack of Neurons,” by Bob Gramann.
EP210 – 4/21/14: In “Woman Named Whiskey” by the Floorboards, What’s the Solution?”
EP236 – 10/20/14: Water’s at the Heart of Blood.

All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (


This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
3.4 - behavioral and physical adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
5.5 - cell structures and functions, organism classification, and organism traits.

Life Science Course
LS.3 – cellular organization, including cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems.

Biology Course
BIO.4 – life functions in different organism groups, including human health, anatomy, and body systems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at