December 11, 2017

What surprises college students about human evolution?

Every time I teach our ANT2511 - Introduction to Biological Anthropology course, I include a fill-in-the-blank question on one of the last exams that reads as follows:

"List one thing you learned this semester about biological anthropology or human evolution that surprised you."

I make it worth a couple of points, and every student always responds to it. For me, it's both a way to gauge that they learned at least one thing from the course and a chance for me to take an accounting of what the state of undergraduate knowledge about human evolution is -- that is, what surprised them is generally something they were never taught before. In this way I can look at changes over the semesters to understand what kind of stuff they've learned in K-12 education. It also helps me understand what to focus on in my outreach to the general public.

This semester, I did a quick accounting of their responses. That is, I read all of them and created general categories into which their answers fell. Here's what that looks like:

#1 - The complexity of human evolution / number of species. There were 14 responses that I coded into this category. Most students were surprised that it took so many different physical changes to produce us, or that there were more members of the Homo genus than just us.

#2 - That Neandertal and Denisovan DNA is still around / that they interbred with modern human groups.  10 students commented in some form on their surprise that we are not completely different from these Middle Pleistocene populations and that their genes in fact appear to still exist in many populations around the world.

#3 - The lumper/splitter approaches to species. 6 students noted their surprise that not all biological anthropologists agree on how to classify species. This may reflect my approach to teaching the course (so YMMV), but since I tend toward the lumper side, I talk a lot about how they don't need to remember Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis, for example, and the reasons I see them as the same species. A couple of these students commented further that it was kind of exciting to see that this field is still learning, and our understanding changes over time.

#4 - That human culture is very old. Another 5 students said that they were surprised that human culture and/or society was so old -- some mentioned tool use, others cave paintings, others language and communication.

#5 - The agricultural revolution sucked for our bodies and cultures in many ways. This was a topic I covered at the very end of the semester, and 4 students were surprised by this. My favorite response here involved the sarcastic phrase, "Thanks a lot, *corn*."

#6 - Hobbits! 3 students were surprised that a small-bodied, small-brained hominin existed until very recently.

Other responses fell into categories like "just how closely we are related to apes," "race is not a biological reality," and "bonobos have crazy sex lives."

Any of you ask your students something similar? What themes have you uncovered? I'm curious if it differs across the country and across the world.


December 4, 2017

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 46)

Spoiler alert: this episode of "Who needs an osteologist?" has a special twist at the end.

This weekend, archaeologist Steph Evelyn-Wright posted the following to Twitter:
Steph noticed this display at the Roman baths in Bath, Somerset (UK), and immediately noticed that the clavicles are the wrong way 'round. Several of us concurred with her assessment, and an archaeologist further asked:
This morning, the Roman baths at Bath responded! I am pretty sure this marks the first time that "Who needs an osteologist?" has been acknowledged, with a promised fix:
So awesome that Roman Baths took this series of tweets seriously and are making their exhibit better. Some day, I hope to go back -- my husband and I visited for our honeymoon waaaaaay back in 2000.

Clavicles: nope, not like that. Thankfully, Roman Baths have
promised to fix them straightaway!

November 4, 2017

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 45)

Cecilia, my 8-year-old, came home this week with a packet of work she completed in 3rd grade. One worksheet attempted to teach them about the bones in the human body through math, which is pretty cool. But I noticed an error. Can you spot the incorrect question(s)?


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Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

October 23, 2017

Open Lab and UWF's MA Program in Anthropology

Unsurprisingly, given a hectic summer of launching a new research project in Italy while my family accompanied me, I have sorely neglected this blog. Don't worry -- we all made it back in one piece, and the girls miss gelato and insalata caprese like crazy.
My kids take a #Skelfie.
One of the tasks awaiting me when I returned was moving all my stuff into the lab space vacated by my retired colleague. It took a few weeks of hard work (mostly on the part of my graduate assistant, Madde Voas, that is), but it's finally in a state of decent organization. 

To celebrate that feat, and to open up the lab in a way that it never has been before, Madde and I organized an Open Lab Day. Like an open house, the doors were open from 9-4 today, and we invited students, staff, and faculty to see our 3D scanners and printers, our bone prep area, our research posters, and some Roman samples from Gabii and Oplontis. My new colleague Allysha Winburn had a forensic activity set up, and students from her class and mine came in and out all day. 

The star of the show, though, was this photo-op. I saw something similar on the UT Knoxville anthro Facebook page recently and *loved* it. So I found printable, full-size adult and child skeleton outlines at UT Austin's eSkeletons page. Madde carefully cut them out and glued them to a large piece of foam board. She then traced around the lines (to make them look less print-out-y) and cut out skull-shaped holes for people's faces. Finally, she did an amazing job on the background, making it look like the skeletons are hanging out at lovely Pensacola Beach (there's even sand glued to the bottom!).

In addition to dreaming up things to challenge Madde to do for the Open Lab, I handled the food and drinks. (Gotta encourage people to come in, right?) This meant I got to pull out my skull rolling pin and make skull-shaped cookies with skull embossing (that we put on a skull-shaped plate, so it was true skull-ception!). 

I think everyone had a good time, and it was nice to see my intro students outside of the big lecture hall. 

So, if you want to join in on the fun and are looking for an MA program in biological anthropology (or archaeo or cultural anthro), check out uwf.edu/anthropology. Each of us takes on new students every year, and there is funding available in the form of TA positions and out-of-state waivers. Deadline is January 15 for fall 2018 admission.

Check out the flyer below or the website for more info, and don't hesitate to email me or any other faculty to ask questions about our two MA programs (anthropology and historical archaeology).


July 19, 2017

Somewhat Homesick and Ethnocentric (Our Italian Summer - Dispatch 3)

Well, we all survived Munich, with a little help from cheapo pants from H&M so the girls didn't freeze their little legs off. Flew some random carrier called EuroWings (worked fine, but the legroom is less than zero), ate a ton of schnitzel, pretzels, and beer, and weathered some tantrums.

Pretzel as big as her head! We gave her money and sent her to the little stall
to buy this. She was SO excited to buy it on her own.
Our AirBNB was centrally located, and Munich's public transportation is great, so we saw a bunch of great stuff, like this awesome palace. The girls were pretty impressed that palaces exist in real life, not just on Sofia the First.

Nymphenburg Palace, Munich

There is a gelateria at the top of the hill, at least.

Yesterday, Cecilia had a minor incident in the garden. She fell off a razor scooter, banging up her knee and getting a surprisingly long thorn from a mysterious bush stuck just below her patella. She complained she couldn't walk this morning, and I fielded texts from Patrick about the state of her knee and where/how to find a doctor here for a couple hours. So far, it looks like it's mostly just banged up, as she's doing a lot better with the maximum daily dose of kiddie ibuprofen in her, so no doctor seems necessary. But it certainly added to the stress of not being in a familiar city and not understanding how best to deal with this.

There's definitely some homesickness and ethnocentrism going on in this apartment -- wishing that everything worked like it does in Pensacola and missing the comfort of a routine and the optimism that comes with being in a familiar place. But at least the food here is good.

These tomatoes taste like MAGIC. For real.
On Friday, we head back to the airport. This time, we're doing a weekend in Barcelona. (Did I mention we chose these getaway spots based on: 1) cheapest direct flights from Naples; and 2) countries Patrick and I have never been?) I think that Cecilia, with her love of art, will enjoy the city immensely. And both of the girls, with their love of food, will undoubtedly find something good to eat. Thus far, Cecilia is a major fan of pizza (in Naples) and schnitzel (in Munich), and Linnea would eat caprese salad and chocolate cookies three meals a day if we let her. I suspect they will both be sorely disappointed in American tomatoes and pasta sauce when we return. But at least they'll have their beloved Mexican food back!


July 13, 2017

Jetlag + Kids = Arrrgghhh (Our Italian Summer - Dispatch 2)

Sad at the Pantheon
Do I need to add anything to the title, really? ;-)

We arrived in Rome last Tuesday around 8am. After really no one slept on the plane -- just a couple hours for each of the kids. Cecilia had a major tantrum about not being able to sleep. The guy sitting in front of the girls kept giving us side-eye and then devolved into straight up yelling at me to control my (very tired) children whose seats he was fully reclining into.

But we made it to our AirBNB, and they let us check in early. The girls got gelato, we walked a little, and took naps. And then... like 5 days of whining and waking up at weird hours and complaining about the heat, the public transportation, the sun, and the fact we were only letting them get gelato once a day.

Still, by the weekend, the girls were pretty much back on their normal schedule (sleeping by about 9pm, up by 7 or 8 am). Just in time to take public transportation to Naples. With two enormous suitcases and 5 carry-ons. There was much crying. And tantruming.

But we made it to our AirBNB in Naples, which is a spacious 3-bedroom flat on Posillipo, a hill overlooking Naples with gorgeous views of the bay and Vesuvius. We were finally able to unpack the girls' clothes and, most importantly, their Legos. We found the gelateria by the bay, the grocery store, and the fruit vendor.

Since my husband and kids are all blonde(ish), they are fairly clearly non-Italian, whereas I with my dark brown hair and easily-tanned skin generally pass for local if I don't open my mouth. Naples is quite a friendly city, though, and people have been nice about helping me and my terrible Italian. And my husband and the girls get a lot of smiles and a lot of "dimmi qualcosa" from people trying to help them find stuff.

All. Of. This.
It's been interesting watching the three of them explore their new Italian surroundings. And they have had different experiences than I do. I always try to blend in as much as possible, perhaps because of my anthropological training, or perhaps because I'm usually doing this solo, and blending in is often the best plan as a woman walking alone. But the girls are, of course, not interested in that. So they bound around with their loud English, and it seems to work for them.

I'm not a big ice cream fan, so I take most of the
gelato-eating shots.
So far, the only major issue has been public transportation. It's not easy to get to site from Posillipo -- I take a funicular to a local train to a regional train. While the funicular runs regularly and on schedule, neither of the other trains does. Train schedules are a mere suggestion. Even late notices are just vague estimates of how late the train will be. In looking at schedules back in April when deciding where to live, I found that it should take about an hour to get from the apartment to site, to go 33 km. The first day, it took 3h15min. The second day, a little over 2h. The third day, about 2h15m. And coming back is worse because of rush hour.

It doesn't help that one of the train stops in Torre Annunziata, where Oplontis is located, is closed because of an apartment building that fell down near the tracks. Or that Mt. Vesuvius is completely on fire thanks to arsonists. Which means either taking a bus around that, or rerouting on the Circumvesuviana line. Many tourists are doing the latter, and the trains are packed. So packed that I got pickpocketed today -- but I managed to jump off, grab the guy's arm, call him a thief in Italian, and get a passing guy to help me. The thief gave me my phone back, I jumped back on the train, and all was well... Still want to avoid that in the future, though.

The girls are doing great with their babysitter, Giada. She is from Naples and has taken them to get gelato, taken them to the seaside, and even taken them shopping, where Cecilia bought half a dozen cheap souvenirs that she calls "treasures." Neither is learning any Italian, really, but Linnea made a little friend - a 2.5yo named Niccolo who lives in this apartment building too. The kids play in a little garden within the gated apartment, which is pretty nice to have.

We are off to Munich tomorrow for a 2-day holiday. It'll be nice to get out of the stifling heat and ash of the on-fire Vesuvius, but the girls also don't have any pants and Munich is promising highs in the lower 70s. Heh, oops!

June 30, 2017

Gearing Up! (Our Italian Summer - Dispatch 1)

Greetings, all! Behold my triumphant return to blogging at Powered by Osteons! Or, in emoji-speak: 💪💻💀

Today starts the first of hopefully many posts about my summer adventures -- with family in tow -- in Europe. We're leaving Monday for six weeks abroad while I work on skeletons from the site of Oplontis outside of Pompeii. This is the first time I've been abroad for fieldwork for longer than two weeks since my girls (Cecilia - 8 and Linnea - 3.5) were born. So, since my husband (Patrick) works remotely (for GitHub), we decided to pack everyone up for a change of scenery. That is, we're going from Florida - where it's in the 80s and 90s with 85% humidity - to Naples - where it's in the 80s and 90s with slightly lower humidity, but less A/C.

I'm spending today doing laundry and packing up all the scientific equipment I need to bring... and that involves checking with the TSA's rules about a variety of weird stuff. Here's the carry-on bag that I packed -- I was impressed with myself for figuring out a Tetris-like arrangement for everything. But when I posted it to Facebook, fellow archaeologists raised some concerns. Can you figure out why?


It's not the hundreds of little plastic baggies and sample vials, or the two 3D scanners, or the two portable hard drives, or the optical mouse. It's the trowel, the calipers, and the bamboo and metal dental picks (all of which are kind of hidden).

I've definitely traveled with a trowel and the metal vernier calipers in carry-on before, and had no problem. But that was years ago. I used the handy @AskTSA account on Twitter to check about the calipers -- sure enough, any tool over 7" long (and anything with something resembling a blade more than 4" long) cannot go in carry-on. So the spreading calipers, the vernier calipers, and the bamboo picks and dental tools are headed for my checked bag after all.

I did learn that up to 18oz of aerosol bug spray is OK for checked bags, though. Important to know since I hear that Pompeii and other sites have a mosquito problem right now. (And I find that Italian mosquito bites make me swell up like crazy.)

Still haven't figured out what to do with my DSLR. It's enormous, bulky, and might very well go into checked luggage, even though in practice I don't like to check equipment that expensive. We'll see if there's enough room in my "personal item" (a ginormous and awesome backpack that Victorinox donated to my project) to carry it on.

So, I plan to use PbO to blog regularly over the next 6 weeks. Stay tuned for posts about how great it is to take a 10-hour international flight (not!), and then schlep bags through Termini to the metro (ugh!), all while dragging two seriously jetlagged children (oh god what have I done?!). Cue panic attack in 5... 4... 

June 12, 2017

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 44)

Today's installment of "Who needs an osteologist?" comes courtesy bioarchaeologist Megan Perry, who was watching a Science Channel clip on the skeletons found in the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent at Teotihuacan.

Here's the clip: (if the embedded YouTube video doesn't work for you, this one might)


So, what did you notice? I rolled my eyes at the radii, which were upside down when being held, and the os coxae, which are mis-sided. 


Then raised my eyebrows at the overabundance of lumbar vertebrae. 


Then heaved a deep sigh for the incorrectly placed clavicles. 


Anything else I'm missing? Pretty sure those humeri have issues. And the foot bones. But it's hard to tell in the video...

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Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

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