March 30, 2015

Bones - Season 10, Episode 11 (Review)

Welcome back, everyone, to the second half of this season's Bones.  The premiere happened while I was hanging out with real biological anthropologists at this year's American Association of Physical Anthropologists conference, so I didn't have time for my favorite fake anthropologist last Thursday.  I hope to get to the rest of the season's episodes in a timely manner, but I also have a real job so things might slide a little bit.  Without further ado, let's see if I remember how this is done...

The Psychic in the Soup
Episode Summary
A park ranger tasked with cutting down a tree on which lovers carve their initials freaks out when his chainsaw slices through a dead body and blood spurts everywhere.  The tree is taken back to the Jeffersonian, where Brennan retrieves an os coxae from the blood-decomp sludge and estimates the victim was a 30-something female based on the size of the pelvis and the uniformly coarse granularity of the auricular surface. The blunt nature of the anterior aspect of the mandible suggests she was African-American. Scoring and abrasions on the cortical surface of numerous bones reveal that scavengers preyed on the body, and fungal growth gives Hodgins time-of-death of a month prior. The middle of the skull was obliterated by the chainsaw, and Fuentes is tasked with reconstructing it from the tiny shards in the blade of the saw.  Angela quickly IDs the victim from her skull as Justine Simmons, reported missing two weeks prior by her father.

Aubrey brings in Pastor Simmons to the FBI for questioning. He suggests that because Justine caused a car accident that injured her father, he may have wanted retribution.  But the pastor insists he was happy that Justine had started coming back to church and they were starting to reconcile. Their relationship had soured because of her job as a psychic.

Booth and Brennan visit Justine's apartment and are joined by Avalon Harmonia, another psychic.  The landlady shows them in, where they find a broken computer with blood on it and a big envelope full of cash.  Avalon thinks that another psychic, Anthony Taylor, may have been the killer because he and Justine used to be partners.  The landlady confirms she heard them arguing. Aubrey interviews Taylor at the FBI, but it seems he is just a fake psychic and not a killer. He reveals that Justine was using background information on her clients to blackmail them.  Angela does forensics on the computer and finds that it crashed at a specific day and time, which likely gives them time-of-death. Meanwhile, Fuentes notes the Monteggia fracture on the proximal ulna and concomitant dislocation to the radius, along with fractures to the metacarpals, suggesting Justine fought back against someone. 

Booth runs the serial numbers on the wad of cash from Justine's apartment and traces the $3,000 in hundreds to a small local bank.  The teller was able to tell him that Alana Jackson took out the money, so Booth and Aubrey go to see her.  Alana reveals that she and Justine were in a relationship, unbeknownst to Alana's husband or Justine's religious father. Meanwhile, Saroyan finds ecchymosis on a piece of scalp that Fuentes matches to the occipital.  He also notices a blunt force injury there, made from a semicircular object that was likely made of something light, like wood.  Aubrey brings the pastor back in to check his cane.  He again denies killing his daughter and lets Aubrey know that he knew for years that Justine was gay and that he has always supported her.  The pastor's cane does not match the reconstructed head and blunt force injury.

From some of the bugs on the body, Hodgins finds windshield wiper fluid, suggesting someone dragged Justine's body onto the hood of a car to put it into the tree.  He also finds grease and adhesive used to install flooring, which leads the team to question the landlady again. The flooring and her mallet tested positive for blood.  The landlady admits to overhearing a conversation Justine was having with someone and getting upset because she was also in love with her.  She confronted Justine and threw her mallet at her head.  Justine fought back, injuring the landlady, but was alive when the landlady left.  Fuentes meanwhile notices a small blunt force injury in the middle of the larger blunt force injury and suspects that Justine was hit again in the same spot. If a subdural hematoma caused by the mallet ruptured, it could easily have killed her.  Within that wound, Hodgins finds bicycle chain grease. 

Aubrey and Booth bring Alana Jackson back in, as her daughter's bike chain tested positive for blood.  Alana unfolds the whole story.  Justine came over to break up with her, but wanted a goodbye hug.  Alana did not want that and pushed Justine away.  Justine fell, hitting her head on the bike, and died.  Alana decided to dispose of the body inside the hollow trunk of the tree in which they'd carved their initials.  She is hoping she does not get charged with murder.  Booth thinks the landlady will get manslaughter while Alana may get a plea deal.

All of this happens on what would have been Sweets' 30th birthday.  Booth buys doughnuts as a celebration, and Avalon gets a psychic vision about a thumb drive in Sweets' car.  She and Angela find it, and it has his book on it.  He has turned his profile of Booth and Brennan's professional partnership into a love story.  Christine is excited to hear it, as she has been playing with her imaginary friend Buddy, who wants to eat cake and wants to hear a love story.

  • Forensic
    • I don't understand the physics behind the body's fluids pooling in the hollow tree and not, say, seeping out, particularly when it's cut and transported back to the Jeffersonian.
    • As usual, the demographic ID is incomplete.  Or, rather, shorthand.  I hadn't heard of the blunt mandible trait being used to estimate ancestry, but then again, I do bioarchaeology and therefore practically never look at the skull for ancestral markers, so I don't know them all.
    • Oh, the skull reconstruction from teeny little bits is hilarious.  I also like that all the scavengers that preyed on the skeleton (according to Brennan) didn't remove any of the tiny little pieces, leaving a complete skeleton.
  • Plot
    • So Justine was sitting at her computer when she was hit in the head with a hammer, and her head bashed into the laptop?  I don't get the mechanism of the computer damage.
    • Since Alana had an alibi for the day that Justine was hit in the head (and the computer stopped), does that mean that Justine was killed a different day?  If so, why did Justine not clean up the computer?
    • Oh, right, and Fuentes is smuggling prescription drugs into Cuba to help people out.  Saroyan catches him because he is inexplicably trafficking them through the Jeffersonian rather than, you know, his home or a P.O. box.  Then Brennan takes the drugs and gets someone at the FBI to smuggle them instead.  What?
    • It is always nice to see Cyndi Lauper (mostly because it reminds me of Time After Time, one of those songs that always gives me goosebumps).
  • Dialogue
    • “You praying to your god is no different than Christine giving Buddy a piece of cake.” “I don’t have a tea party with god. So now the whole transubstantiation of the host is a tea party?” “Yes.” -- Brennan and Booth
    • “Psychics and fortune tellers represent man’s basic need to make sense of the unknown, while rigorous, evidence-based science is much more difficult than believing in magic.” -- Hodgins (although someone should tell him we use "human" now instead of "man")
  • Just tell us who had the prettiest dress this episode, sheez.  Although it's usually Saroyan, this week's nicest outfit was Angela's black-and-white Tory Burch dress (pictured above).  I covet it.

Forensic Mystery - B-.  A reasonable mystery, but with some really random stuff thrown in (e.g., what was the deal with "Leatherface" at the beginning?) as red herrings.

Forensic Solution - B-.  Reasonable forensics, unreasonable positive-ID-from-skull-reconstruction.

Drama - C.  The Sweets stuff got tiring.  Fuentes' drama was both too light and too heavyhanded at the same time.  Oh, right, and the case of the week was eh.

March 25, 2015

Twerking, limericks, and 3D printing: PbO at the 2015 AAPAs

This Saturday, from 9:15-10am, I'll be presenting (with my grad student, Andrea Acosta) a poster about teaching Human Osteology.  It's in a session called "Triumphs and Tribulations in Teaching," and it's sure to be a fun session and discussion (that part starts at 10:15).  I'm looking forward to visiting St. Louis for the first time, seeing lots of old friends, and making new ones.

Here's an image of the poster we're presenting (click to embiggen). If you're desperate for a PDF, here's a link to the full poster via google drive.  Hope to see you all there!

P.S. This likely means that I will have to put off blogging about the return of Bones until I get back.  Who decided to schedule the return during the AAPAs?  Sheez.

March 19, 2015

Hominin Iron Chef

The way I've set up this semester's upper-level Human Origins class includes an in-class lecture on Tuesdays and then an in-class lab period on Thursdays.  For most of the semester, we've been poring over hominin skull casts, but that's gotten a bit repetitive and the students and I are all fatigued by the varying sagittal crests, supraorbital ridges, and foramina magna positions.  To shake things up, this week I asked the students to create dishes to bring to a pot-luck hominin dinner party.  Here's the lab:

Lab 7 - Australopithecines to H. habilis 

Exercise 1 – Hominin Dinner Party!

To illustrate both hominin diets and the first use of tools in food processing, we are holding a hominin pot-luck dinner party! Invited to the party, which will take place over a 3-million-year span, are: the early australopiths (A. anamensis and A. afarensis), the robust australopiths (A. robustus and A. aethiopicus), the gracile australopiths (A. garhi and A. africanus), and the habilines (H. habilis and H. rudolfensis).

As the party is pot-luck, each group needs to bring a dish. The host has allocated dishes based on the primary component of the group’s diet. The four groups will prepare four dishes as follows: 
· Early Australopiths – Dessert. As their diet was largely frugivorous, complemented by nuts and seeds, this group needs to create a dessert made out of fruit and nuts. [For this, I bought an assortment of unshelled nuts, a coconut, a watermelon, a pear, and a plum.]
· Gracile Australopiths – Vegetables. These species ate a wide variety of foods, including vegetables. This group therefore needs to create a vegetable dish out of the available ingredients. [For this, I bought cabbage, broccoli, and carrots.]
· Robust Australopiths – Starch. The robusts ate a lot of fruit but also a lot of hard tubers and root vegetables. This group is therefore creating a starchy, carb-heavy dish, much like the modern potato salad. [For this, I bought sweet potato, potato, yuca (yes, I know that's New World), and shallot.]
· Habilines – Meat and Marrow. While there is evidence that earlier species also scavenged meat, we are fairly confident the habilines were comfortable processing and eating meat. This group will therefore butcher a chicken and extract marrow from bones. [For this, I bought a small chicken and some large soup (beef) bones with marrow.] 
All food will need to be prepared with the stone tools at your disposal. All group members will need to take an active role in food preparation, as hominin species likely had no sexual division of labor and everyone had to pull his or her own weight. If there are leftover ingredients, you may share among groups to make your dish more appetizing! (But you probably shouldn’t eat what you’ve made, as you never know where those tools have been…) 


1. What ended up being in your dish? Write out the approximate “recipe” including amounts (e.g., two pears) and instructions (e.g., using the chopper, bash open the coconut). 
2. What was in the other dishes? Whose dish looked the tastiest and why? Which dish would you prefer to eat as a habiline? Would your preference change if you suddenly evolved and were able to cook your food? 
3. Using the group that you were in, do some further research about the diet of those hominins (your textbook, wikipedia, and the internet will help). How closely do you think your dish approximated what your hominins would have eaten? In what ways could you make the dish more closely match those hominins’ diet? 
4. Before you started, how easy/difficult did you think it would be to process the foodstuffs you were given with the stone tools? After you did it, were you right or wrong? Which group/individuals had the easiest/most difficult time using the tools and why? Discuss your experience processing food using the stone tools and what you observed of others trying to use the tools.
The students seemed to like this activity and did some things I didn't expect... like use the marrow they'd extracted to make a "cheese" ball, rolled in crushed nuts, and hollow out a watermelon to hold the fruit salad.  There was even scavenging and bartering between groups!  Only a couple cuts (for which I had band-aids on hand).  If I do this again, I'll bring a ton of hand-sanitizing wipes (I only had the kind you clean your house with).

Enjoy this slideshow of class this morning (there are photo captions that you may have to click to turn on):

March 5, 2015

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival LXIX

February brought a ridiculously huge number of announcements about new bioarchaeological finds.  For all the stories, you should follow Powered by Osteons on Facebook.  Here I have collected last month's Roman and Roman-adjacent finds:

Roman Provinces
The "oldest brain's"
original home (York Archaeo)
  • 21 January - Britain's oldest brain (York Archaeology). While not exactly Roman in date, this preserved brain goes back to the 6th century AD, which is all kinds of cool.  Can't wait to read about what they find out from this organ!
  • 31 January - About the funerary ritual of Sanisera's necropolis (Sanisera Blog).  Sanisera is a Roman port city on Minorca, and excavations have been underway for a number of years on its necropolis.  This blog post does not have much information but highlights the re-use of tombs, likely by family members, over time.
  • 3 February - New mummies discovered floating in sewage in Upper Egypt (Daily News Egypt). It seems that two mummies of women from the Roman era were found, along with their sarcophagi, floating in sewage near a small village.  Officials think some unauthorized digging caused the discovery and destruction of the mummies.
Student excavating at Ipplepen (BAJR)
  • 10 February - Skeletons uncovered at Ipplepen reveal major Roman cemetery (British Archaeology News Resource). Around a dozen skeletons were found at this settlement in Devon. Notably, there are some skeletons that date to the post-Roman period, suggesting continuity even after Roman rule was over.
  • 12 February - The GPAT neighborhood with Megan Perry (GPAT).  Bioarchaeologist Megan Perry has an interview with a local TV program on her work at Petra in Jordan that is well worth listening to!
  • 25 February - 'Unique' Roman tombstone found in Cirencester (BBC). Not sure why 'unique' is in scare quotes because it is -- this tombstone was found with the skeleton to whom it referred, a woman named Bodica who died at age 27, which makes it really, really unusual if not completely unique.  I wish we had more tombstone-skeleton combinations because there's a whole bunch of historical-bioarchaeological stuff that could be done (that I can't do with just skeletons).
    Skull of Bodica, whose tombstone was found
    in Roman Britain (BBC)

Italy and the Roman World Writ Large

January 30, 2015

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival LXVIII

Some cool new finds, and some interesting new published research this month.  Let's hit it!

New Finds

Tomb of a woman from the 3rd c AD.
Photo by Adriana Romanska.
  • 12 January - Roman link to local cemetery (Luton Today). Seven Roman cremations were found during a dig at a modern cemetery in England (30mi north of London). No more has been reported, though.
  • 28 January - Huge burial site from before 2 thousand years will be analyzed by specialists (Science & Scholarship in Poland). Over 120 burials from the 1st-4th century AD were found in Poland. Burial rituals appear to vary considerably, and there were plenty well-appointed burials. Bioarchaeologists plan to do Sr/C/N isotopes and aDNA analysis.  It would be great to have these data for this part of the Roman Empire!

Amphipolis Updates

  • Becker, M.J. 2014. Dentistry in ancient Rome: direct evidence for extractions based on the teeth from excavations at the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum. International Journal of Anthropology 29(4):209-226. tl;dr - Carious, extracted teeth found in a drain during the excavation of the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Forum suggest use of the space by a Roman dentist.
  • Manzon, V.S. and E. Gualdi-Russo. Early view. Health patterns of the Etruscan population (6th-3rd centuries BC) in Northern Italy: the case of Spina. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. tl;dr - "The analysis of porotic hyperostosis and osteoperiostitis allowed [us] to determine the general health status of this group, and the analysis of osteoarthritis to hypothesize a gender[ed] division of labor. The results suggest a relatively high left expectancy for the time as well as good health and quality of life."

January 26, 2015

Who needs a classicist? (Installment 3)

Alright, I know I've been remiss in posting... anything.  But the spring semester started on January 6 (yes, really! I don't know why it's that stupidly early), which left me pretty much zero time between semesters to plan for my courses, particularly given the kiddos' daycare/school was closed at the same time.  At some point, I will dig myself out of the insanity of the start of the semester--oh wait, my teaching classroom flooded last week, so it might be a while--but until then, here's a quick installment of the occasional series "Who needs a classicist?"

First up, from The Atlantic (Dec 2014, p. 22):

Oh no, that's... that's not Greek.
I mean, it is an ancient Greek aphorism in origin, but the Greek is γνῶθι σεαυτόν.  This is the Latin translation.

And next, Slate's culture blog (along with a host of other media outlets) covers a movie I have never heard of, the J-Lo vehicle The Boy Next Door.  J-Lo stars as a high school teacher of classics, and her titular paramour apparently gives her a copy of the Iliad, to which she responds, "Oh, a first edition!" Unfortunately, I can't find a clip of that.  More unfortunately, I watched a trailer for the movie and it looks... wow, yeah.

There you have it.  The Atlantic and whoever wrote The Boy Next Door need a classicist. (Maybe they should hire Arum Park, since she pointed both of these out to me!)

January 2, 2015

PbO Year in Review - 2014

It's time for me to take stock of my year in blogging and see what was most popular, but also what I most enjoyed writing and what I want to write about in 2015.

I wrote 82 posts in 2014 and got 181,504 page views this year. Here are some Top 3 lists in a variety of categories, along with stats on number of views, as I'm still planning to argue for the importance of blogging as part of my tenure case.

Most Popular Posts Written in 2014*
  1. Where did Roman babies poop? (3,535 views)
  2. How long was the average Roman foot, and what size shoe did they wear? (3,422 views; also picked up by Smithsonian Magazine online here)
  3. Philip who? On the recent reanalysis of skeletal remains from Vergina (2,945 views)

Most Popular Posts Last Year Not Written in 2014*
  1. Lead poisoning in Rome: the skeletal evidence (10,882 views last year, 56,662 all time views)
  2. Why is anthropology needed? (4,898 views last year, 15,453 all time views)
  3. Teaching skeletal anatomy to kids (4,161 views last year, 15,661 all time views)
Most Shared Posts on Social Media from 2014*
Top Pedagogy Posts of 2014
Most Popular Bones Posts of 2014
  1. Season 10, Episode 1 (6,079 views)
  2. Season 9, Episode 12 (4,649 views)
  3. Season 9, Episode 13 (4,622 views)

[* Excluding Bones reviews.]

Blogging Resolutions for 2015
  1. Find a good way to track views, social media shares, and comments to better demonstrate the impact of my blogging.
  2. Finish posts I thought about or started on in 2014, including: Amputations in Bioarchaeology, Roman Time and Space, and Roman Dentistry.  (A new article is coming out soon on the last topic, so I will write about that as soon as it's published.)
  3. Blog more about my own research.  (I've got three articles that are forthcoming, so I will blog about those as soon as they're out as well, and try to get some media coverage of them.)
I've been blogging about bioarchaeology since 2007, and I've seen my audience grow every year.  While I haven't had the kind of time to write long-form pieces that I did in 2011-2012 (since I got a full-time tenure-track job), I am still enjoying writing Powered by Osteons and like the direction it's evolved into, with regular features like Who needs an osteologist? and the Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival. I also get to share teaching-related posts here and have met a whole bunch of people -- students, fellow researchers, and people interested in skeletons -- through blogging and social media.  Thanks to all of you for making Powered by Osteons a success!

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival LXVII

It was yet again a slow month in Roman bioarch news, so here's the month of December to kick off your new year...

Roman Empire

  • 3 December -- Shackled individuals found in Gallo-Roman cemetery in southwest France (Past Horizons). Well, this is a super interesting find.  Among several hundred graves found in a
    Shackled Gallo-Roman
    (via Past Horizons)
    cemetery in France were a few skeletons with metal shackles around their necks and/or legs -- four adults had shackles on their left legs, and one of those also had a metal yoke collar, and one child had metal encircling its left wrist.  The archaeologists have not yet hazarded a guess as to why these individuals were shackled or what it means (which is honestly a nice change from the typical craziness of unwarranted conjecture as soon as something interesting is discovered).  If these are indeed remains of slaves, they add considerably to a bioarchaeological understanding of slavery in the Roman world, since for the most part slaves were buried with or near the families they served and were not typically shackled in this way.  That is, it's hard to find concrete evidence of slaves because they were not really treated differently or separately in death as, for example, slaves in the US South were.
  • 5 December -- Anatolia's bone collection sheds light on history (Hurriyet Daily News). This is a short piece on the very large collection of skeletons held by the Hacettepe University Anthropology Laboratory, where over 10,000 remains date from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages. Most notable is that the lab has a huge number of Neolithic remains, as this was an important time period for the origins of agriculture in the region and the possible origin of Proto-Indo-Europeans.
  • 16 December -- Million-mummy cemetery unearthed in Egypt (LiveScience) and Million mummy discovery disputed in Egypt (Huffington Post).  A group of researchers at Brigham
    One of the supposedly million
    mummies at Fag el-Gamous
    (via LiveScience)
    Young University have been digging a 1st - 7th century necropolis at Fag el-Gamous in Egypt for three decades. The reports vary, but they seem to have found one mummy amid a cemetery of mostly jumbled bones. It is an important cemetery, as it likely represents the remains of the lower socioeconomic classes who couldn't afford mummification, but the report that there are a million mummies seems to have been fabricated.  The team has excavated 1,700 burials, but it's not clear how many of them are mummies.  To add to that, the Ministry of Antiquities is upset with BYU's announcement, likely because it opens the cemetery up to massive amounts of looting.  So, there are a lot of burials -- skeletons wrapped in textiles -- and likely more to be found.  I do question the extrapolation of 1 million bodies, because there's simply no cemetery in the world that's that well-preserved, but given the six-century time span, I suppose with perfect preservation and taphonomy, it's possible.  Anyway, it'll be interesting to see where this goes, whether BYU gets their excavation permit back, whether the cemetery is looted, etc.
  • 20 December -- A monkey in the Late Roman Army (Strange History). Not a new find per se, but renewed interest in the purposeful burial of a barbary macaque (a monkey even though it's often misnamed the "barbary ape") at Iulia Libica in the Pyrenees. The young male was likely brought or traded far north of his usual habitat, and his diet was not particularly good. There is a publication on this, although not easily obtainable for free (reference here).
  • 27 December -- Researchers try to answer mystery of saintly skull (Past Horizons). The relic skull from medieval Denmark was supposed to be that of St. Lucius, who died around 254 AD. Researchers recently did C14 testing to reveal that it actually dates to about a century or two later. Further, strontium isotopes suggest that the individual may have lived near Rome, where medieval envoys tasked with finding an appropriate relic for St. Lucius may have chosen this one (which itself may have been from any of the massive catacombs snaking underneath the city).  An interesting story of modern scientific detective work.
St. Lucius?  Nope.  (via PastHorizons)

Around the Web
"What do you mean? This is always how I study skeletons..."

For more news stories on bones in the new year, please follow Powered by Osteons on Facebook.  I post all skeleton-related news stories I find there, not just Roman ones, along with cartoons and other fun things.  Plus, there's a growing number of people commenting smartly on the posts, so come join us on Facebook!  I hope you all had... 

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