December 16, 2014

A very bioarchaeology Christmas tree!

Grades are in!  Department holiday party is over!  Sure, I'll be working the rest of the week on syllabi for my spring courses, but I decided to spend an hour today putting my own bioarchaeological spin on this book-Xmas-tree meme that's been going around... 


Merry (very early) Christmas from Powered by Osteons!  (Yes, I know it's actually the first day of Hanukkah today, but if I could figure out how to make a skeleton-book-themed menorah, I would...)

December 12, 2014

Bones - Season 10, Episode 10 (Review)

The 200th in the 10th 

So this isn't a typical episode of Bones, of course.  It's some weird fake-40s movie-within-a-movie-within-a-TV-show, starring every single semi-regular character.  Brennan is trying to be a detective and trying to impress her father, the chief of LAPD.  Booth is a jewel thief whom she tracks to Eva Braga's house.  He breaks into Braga's safe but finds only her smoking, dead body.  Brennan doesn't think Booth did it; she partners with him to clear him if he helps her solve the case and prove her worth as a detective.  Brennan asks Hodgins, Professor Actual Factual, to use his palaeontological skills to figure out information about the skeleton in the safe.

Hodgins and Edison figure out that the person was killed by blunt trauma to the skull before she was put on fire.  They then figure out based on the small shoes and short dress in Braun's closet that the skeletal remains were not hers (they were too tall). Angela helps with a facial reconstruction, and Hodgins figures out Braga was pushed down the stairs and that she was dead a few hours before the dynamite was set.

Aubrey, another jewel thief, has information for Booth but is stabbed in the back, and Booth is framed for his murder.  Meanwhile, Miss Julian, the owner of the Foxy Club, tells Brennan that Booth only stole jewels from people who made money from taking and selling Jewish internees' goods.  Then he gave the money from the sale to his friends who had PTSD from the war.

Brennan and Booth figure out that the murderer is actually Saroyan (the maid).  She stole jewels from Braga, ran off to Rio, met Aubrey there, and came back to LA.  Aubrey figure out she wasn't really Braga, though, and so Saroyan killed Braga and put her in the safe, knowing that Booth would be there to take back the jewels. She also killed Aubrey.  Brennan and Booth confront Saroyan, who takes Brennan with her to the airport to drop her into the ocean.  Booth manages to get into the plane, there's a struggle. Saroyan tries to push Brennan off the plane; she falls out.  Booth flies the plane. Brennan gets to head the division of forensic anthropology.  We never fade back to the 1950s movie stars in the movie, which means the whole opening sequence was pointless.

Stray Comments:

  • Oh jeez, the fake accents.
  • Those dial phones looked like they're from the 60s.  When is this supposed to be set?  After 1945 and before 1969 is all I could figure.
  • Forensic science wasn't invented in the 50s. It's much older, even the bone side (although it wasn't called forensic anthropology then).
  • What is up with Edison's skin color?  Is it a problem of makeup or lighting? (Or my TV?)  Seriously, he was a weird color.

December 4, 2014

Bones - Season 10, Episode 9 (Review)

The Mutilation of the Master Manipulator
Episode Summary
The Jeffersonian is dealing with the very fragmentary remains of an individual whose hand, foot, and upper leg were found in different parts of the greater D.C. area. From the femur, Brennan notes they have a Negroid male, about 6'2" tall. DNA confirms that all body parts are from the same person, but his DNA is not in any database. Angela figures out that the body parts were likely all from the same trash route and asks Booth to send a team out to a neighborhood whose trash hasn't been picked up to see if there are more parts.  In the neighborhood, Brennan gets the skull. More pieces are found in trash compactors around D.C., so the team now has the pelvis and thorax. The auricular surface of the ilia suggest the man was in his early 50s, there are numerous stab wounds, and kerf marks and striae suggest a reciprocating saw was used to disarticulate him. Angela manages to somehow get an ID through facial reconstruction - Randall Fairbanks, a professor of psychology at fictional Kenmore College, on sabbatical for the semester. Saroyan confirms that DNA suggested he was biracial. 

"Don't mind me, I'm just going to point my radical
'90s handset phone at these gooey remains..."
Aubrey and Brennan go to visit the victim's home. Brennan notices the pink hydrangeas, likely that color because of a change in the pH of the soil. She then sees blood-soaked soil. Hodgins comes out and finds that there is so much blood, there are blowflies. Aubrey suggests Hodgins do an experiment with soil composition and blood to see how long it would take the hydrangeas to change color, in order to get time of death. Hodgins and Bray note lots of blood in the garage/workshop, likely where the victim was dismembered. Aubrey finds a tablet with a woman screaming on it; but it turns out it was part of a psychology experiment. Fairbanks asked volunteers to administer test questions to someone outside the room; if the person answered wrong, they pushed a button that delivered a shock. The voice on the tablet was grad student Tabitha pretending to be shocked.  Tabitha insists she cannot give the FBI the names of the participants in the study because of doctor-patient confidentiality, which is utter crap.

Back at the Jeffersonian, another foot and leg come in.  The kerf marks make it look like the killer switched blades in the middle of the task. The thoracic vertebrae show multiple stab wounds, and there's chipping on the anterior aspect of the sternum. Brennan thinks the weapon went through the back and to the front of the body. Angela cross-references the participants on video from Fairbanks' files with student IDs from the college and lands on Alex Heck, who was upset following his participation in the study. Although the remodeled fractures to Fairbanks' mandible and ribs date to around the time that Heck got out of the study and was upset, it turns out Fairbanks injured himself in Brazil on vacation with Victoria Andrews, his previous graduate student. Victoria's relationship with Fairbanks soured, she trashed his lab and got expelled from school, then left the area. She recently moved back to work on and sell her art, and Fairbanks took up with Tabitha. The metal in the blades of a sculpture Victoria made matches the wounds found on Fairbanks, but she denies having killed him. 

The right ulna, radius, tibia, and fibula then come in to the Jeffersonian.  Bray notices bite marks on the right radius and scaphoid that appear to have been made by a woman. Brennan checks Victoria's teeth, but the diastemata are too wide to be hers. Angela pulls footage from the neighbor's birdhouse camera and sees the figure of Tabitha, just hours before Fairbanks was killed.  She admits to having snuck into his house, to do an olfactory experiment on him. He caught her, and they fought, but she left.  Hodgins notes the antifreeze on both of Fairbanks' hands, and Bray finds a curved abrasion on Fairbanks' finger; both of these, plus some of the food particulates Hodgins found earlier, are consistent with poisoned cat food. Brennan xrays the cat and finds bone fragments from a Buick's wren in his stomach. The wren is on the endangered list, which leads the FBI to question Fairbanks' neighbor further. She admits she was trying to poison the cat, who kept scaring away birds that she wanted to watch. Fairbanks caught her, they struggled over the poisoned cat food, and he fell backward onto the sculpture, impaling himself. 

Comments
  • Forensic
    • Initial forensic ID seemed reasonable, especially considering the lack of remains that existed.  Diameter of the femoral head can give you sex, and length of the femur is a good proxy for height. I'm not entirely sure what is meant by the "lack of curvature" of the femur -- platymeria is fairly common regardless of race. But I found at least one (not-great) source that suggests femora are "straighter" in people of African descent. And auricular surface is perfectly fine at giving you an age range; it's particularly good for older adults, as we don't have a lot of reliable methods for aging people over 50.
    • They could have done more with the sharp trauma, other than kerf and striae, like calling more attention to the fractures produced and noting how they figure out the blade was changed in the middle. But it all seemed to be in order.
    • I highly doubt that that woman had enough jaw strength to bite into a 6'2" man's wrist--through flesh, muscle, tendons, and into bone so cleanly.  Points for using the word diastemata on TV, though, in spite of the mangled pronunciation. 
  • Plot
    • Does anyone have metal trash cans anymore?  I haven't seen those in, like, two decades.
    • What IRB panel would OK this absurd psychological study?  And even if they OK'ed it in the first place, after that Alex guy went kind of crazy and had adverse effects from the study two years ago, don't you think they'd pull IRB approval?  Plus, this is a research study, not a doctor-patient relationship. I suppose there could be some kind of privacy or anonymity clause in the paperwork the participants had to fill out, but, yeah, no.
    • How did the crazy bird lady get the various body parts to various D.C. parts?
    • Was the sculpture still in the yard? I don't remember seeing it.  What did the crazy bird lady do with it?
    • Can hydrangeas grow blue in northern Virginia?  I ask only because we have them here in Florida, but my mom (from Virginia) hadn't seen them before and was curious to know how to get them.
    • The Hodgins experiment seemed... super fake and super lame.

Ratings
Forensic Mystery - B+. Not too bad this week, perhaps because the body parts kept rolling in, contributing new and interesting information each time.

Forensic Solution - A-. No major complaints. Could have done a bit more with all the evidence, though, to explain the forensics.

Drama - C. But instead of devoting more time to forensics, they had to focus on Bray getting a girlfriend. Which... eh. Whatevs.


December 3, 2014

Playing Osteology "Beer" Pong

For review sessions in my Human Osteology class, I often do Jeopardy.  I write a whole bunch of questions in three PowerPoints (oh, I do both Single and Double Jeopardy, along with a Final Jeopardy complete with doo-doo-doo think music!), and the students tend to get really involved.  I didn't feel like writing another set of questions for this week's review, and coincidentally Keith Chan* this week put up a blog post about his idea for a "Beer(less) Pong Study Session."  Would osteology "beer" pong work?  I was determined to find out.

First Step - Buying the necessary equipment.
Different beer pong shots. (via Wikipedia)
  • I stopped at Target and got a 6-pack of ping pong balls (about $3) and a 30-ct sleeve of 18oz red Solo cups** (about $3).  I also bought some dried beans, to weight the cups (as open drink containers are not allowed in my lab) (about $1.50).  And I got a stack of 3x5 index cards from the department supply closet.
Second Step - Game setup.
  • My TA and I measured out 8' on one of the lab tables (which seems to be regulation beer pong table length) and set up 10 cups on either end in a triangle, bowling pin-style. 
  • We gave each student 3 index cards and split the class into two teams.  (There are 15 students in my class.)  Each team consulted with one another to write questions to ask the opposing team.
  • The TA and I made a stack of half a dozen cards, to even out the numbers.  (That is, Team A ended up writing 17 questions, but Team B wrote 20.  So we gave Team A three of our questions.)  20 was a good number -- 2 cards for each cup.
  • The students decided which cards should go under which cup.  There's a bit of strategy here, as the middle cups are landed in the most, and the points of the triangle are landed in the least.  So students ended up putting harder questions on the easier-to-hit cups and easier questions on the harder-to-hit cups.
Third Step - Game play.
  • Play rotated from team to team, with each "thrower" ("ponger"?) getting 3 attempts.  If no ball was sunk, play went to the next team.
  • When a ball was thrown or bounced into a cup by the throwing team, the team whose cup it was asked one of the questions underneath it.  If the throwing team got the question right (as judged by the question authors, with me as referee/adjudicator), they got a point.
  • We didn't remove any cups (as I figured it would be easier to play if all 10 cups stayed there the whole time, moving questions if needed).
  • Game play continued until about 10 minutes before the end of class.
  • With time running out, we switched to Lightning Round.  All cards were collected from Team A, and 1 minute was placed on the clock.  Team B had the minute to answer as many of the remaining Team A-written questions as possible, or to pass on the question.  (A wrong answer put the question out of contention; a right answer earned a point.)  Then Team B's cards were read to Team A, which had a minute to answer as many as possible.
That's it!  We did this in a 75-minute class period, with about 20 minutes devoted to game set up and question writing, 45 minutes devoted to regular game play, and 5 minutes for the lightning round.  It was quite lively, especially considering their final papers were due today and many had stayed up late to put the finishing touches on them, and it attracted the attention of the department chair, the other biological anthropologist, and plenty of passers-by in the hallway.  

I'd definitely do it again, as I think having the students create the questions -- individually, but with consultation from a group, and aimed at an opposing team -- was educationally useful.  This worked much better than Osteology Pictionary and, I think, better than Osteology Jeopardy.  I'll put Osteology "Beer" Pong into regular rotation from now on!




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* [Have you checked out Keith's Anthropomotron? Incredibly useful and free stature estimation app for Android or iPad, or website!]
** [For more on the cultural caché of red Solo cups, check out this post by Krystal D'Costa of Anthropology in Practice!]

December 1, 2014

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival LXVI

Not too much Roman stuff this month, so I've thrown in some ancient Greek news as well...

Roman Stuff
Roman-era finger bones
via Archaeology.org

  • 3 November - Remains may have been rural Roman farmers (Archaeology). Two Roman-period skeletons were found in Worcestershire, England.  Possibly farmhands, both bodies seem to have evidence of hard work.  This pic of interphalangeal joint facets looks particularly rough. More on the find, with pictures of the hobnails from the female's shoes, at Worcester News.
  • 14 November - Latrines, sewers show varied ancient Roman diet (Phys.org). Loads of cool info on the average Roman diet is being found at Pompeii and Herculaneum.  This press release/coverage of a conference presentation is notable for a very bad picture of a deciduous incisor, which was found in one of the sewers of Herculaneum.
Greek Stuff
  • 22 November - Skeleton found at Amphipolis tomb site (eKathimerini).  No real details, except that more info was supposed to be presented at a press release on 29 November.  14 November - Member of the royal family of Macedonia (Alpha TV interviewed bioarchaeologist Maria Liston, and she can be seen talking in English a few minutes in). Liston, of course, says that everything is pure speculation at this point. And speaking of speculation, the Daily Mail (of course) claims that "analysis of the skeleton discovered in an underground vault [at Amphipolis] has revealed that the person who was buried there was male and was probably an important general. He was of medium height with pale skin and brown or red hair, they said, suggesting that the remains could could [sic] well belong to [sic] blue-eyed king."  Turns out, the Mail is conflating what researchers think some Macedonians looked like with what researchers found out about the skeleton (as we can't tell skin, hair, or eye color from skeletons).  And finally, breaking photos of the Amphipolis skeleton... from someone's crappy cell phone camera, in the dark, at a press conference.  Oh jeez.  If proper photos and information ever comes out about this skeleton, I will certainly cover it here.  But right now, it's all a bunch of ridiculous speculation.

November 22, 2014

Bones - Season 10, Episode 8 (Review)

The Puzzler in the Pit
Episode Summary
Some protestors at a fracking site found a body in the pit. The narrow subpubic concavity and irregularly lipped ventral margin of the pubic symphysis suggests the victim was a man in his 40s. His left ulna was fractured and he had a cast; a piece of fabric with blood on it was found caught in the cast, and there were clues written on it about vengeance. His bones were quite porous for his age. Saroyan and Brennan note that the remains have less flesh than they did when they were found, and Hodgins thinks someone added HCl to the pit. He pours baking soda on the body to stop the tissue decomposition. The entire body has similar pitting save the occipital, because it was a fake bone. Based on that, Angela finds that the victim was Lawrence Brooks, who had a severe injury during a boating accident. Brooks worked as a major national crossword puzzle creator and was known as somewhat of a recluse.

"Hey, look, I just gave birth to a 2-month-old!"
Booth talks to Amelia Brooks, his wife.  She didn't report him missing, ostensibly because he often stayed out to work on his puzzles, and suggests that his assistant, Alexis Sherman, may have been responsible. While Alexis was upset that Lawrence hadn't made her co-editor yet, she insists she did not kill him.  She plays a threatening voice mail for Booth and Aubrey and describes a man who came looking for Lawrence on several previous occasions.  Based on Alexis' description, Angela draws the face of Emery Stewart.  Emery was writing a book on Brooks, but his voice does not fit with the threatening phone call.  He suggests Donald McKeon, a one-time friend of Brooks' but more recently bitter rival.  McKeon was staying at the hotel to which Booth traced the threatening call.  He admits to having made the call, but not to killing Brooks.  He insists that Brooks stole one of his puzzles, and he was threatening legal action.

Back at the lab, Brennan and Daisy find remodelled fractures localized around the pelvis, ribs, ankles, and arms. An x-ray of his femoral shafts shows significantly thinning cortical bone. There is also bone bruising around the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints, suggesting he punched someone right before his death. There are also healed avulsion fractures from about two months ago, suggesting someone bent his fingers back. A tox screen of his bone marrow reveals Brooks had been taking a drug for Alzheimer's, and that drug caused the bone issues.

Booth and Aubrey talk to Amelia Brooks again.  She admits she knew about the Alzheimer's and that she was publishing Brooks' old puzzles, because they needed the money from his job for his treatment. She accidentally published McKeon's puzzle.  She didn't know where Brooks' money went. Angela tracks down Brooks' bank statements and finds he was doing gambling online. Aubrey finds the bookie, who admits to having broken Brooks' fingers but didn't kill him.  Brooks was bankrolling Alexis.  She admits to stealing his money, but did not kill him. 

Finally, Daisy finds bilateral neural arch fractures on C5, C6, and C7, suggesting cause of death was a broken neck.  Then her water breaks. At the hospital, the team realizes that Saroyan's partial match on the blood in the cast could mean the blood was from a close relative. Aubrey reads Emery's manuscript and realizes that he is Brooks' son.  In college, Brooks got his girlfriend pregnant; the girlfriend died in childbirth, and he gave up the baby. After Emery's parents died in an accident, he learned he was adopted and figured out Brooks was his birth father. He had arranged with Brooks to meet at a cafe to talk, but Brooks didn't show. Emery tracked him to his house, saw Brooks out on a walk, and confronted him.  Brooks claimed he didn't know Emery, and they got into a fist fight. Brooks fell backward down the hill and died. Emery decided to cover up the body.  Aubrey tells him Brooks had Alzheimer's--that's why he didn't remember Emery; he wasn't ashamed of him.

Comments
  • Forensic
    • They used the pelvis for age-at-death and sex this episode!  Woo!
    • As usual, I question their ability to find "microfractures" and "bone bruising" all over the place, but especially so since the bones were compromised by acid.
  • Plot
    • It seems odd that someone would bother to reconstruct the EOP and nuchal lines on a fake occipital.  Are skull prostheses really that detailed with respect to anatomy?
    • Amelia knew that Lawrence had Alzheimer's, and she didn't report him missing when he didn't come home?  And she knew that he had Alzheimer's, and she didn't bother to look into their joint accounts to make sure the money was being managed properly?
    • Hodgins was running around the lab with an erlenmeyer flask filled with red liquid.  Not king of the lab safety team, eh?
    • Hahahaha, another TV baby: cute, plump, pink 2-month-old.  And Daisy doesn't have to deliver the placenta.  And the nurse hands her the baby with a light blanket, rather than shoving a tightly-swaddled baby on her boob.  Oh, TV birth.  So funny.  At least it was too late for an epidural; that was realistic.
  • Dialogue
    • "I'm told my people skills are not very well developed." - Brennan
    • "A human being is trying to escape from her vagina." - Angela


Ratings
Forensic Mystery - B.  Solid enough mystery.  Some plot quibbles as above.

Forensic Solution - C. This episode relied on Angela to: find the positive ID, do a forensic artist sketch of the possible killer, and do forensic computing to find bank information. She's always doing crazy things, but this episode was egregious in how many hats they needed her to wear.

Drama - C+. Some solid pathos at the end from the guy who played Emery.


November 21, 2014

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 21)

One of my undergraduates pointed out today a Twitter post by Kathy Reichs, the author, of course, of the Temperance Brennan book series on which the TV show Bones is based.*  Reichs' post is a throwback Thursday picture of her working in the lab at the LSJML in Montreal:


My student noticed that the scapulae, humeri, and tibiae were mis-sided and not laid out in anatomical position.  Surely, she thought, Reichs would not post a picture of herself with bones in weird positions.  I harp on this in class all the time: lay out the bones in anatomical position. They have to be as close as you can get to anatomical position.

I am well aware that when you're working on a skeleton, bones get out of place and rearranged.  I've absolutely confused myself before by not paying attention and putting bones back in the wrong places, then wondering why there was suddenly a new fracture on the bone.  But Reichs' photo involves practically all of the bones not in anatomical position.  She was looking at the posterior aspect of the arm and shoulder bones? The tibiae got misplaced? Quickly staged photo op? (But how long does it take to lay out 20 large, unbroken bones... 2 minutes tops?)

So, who needs an osteologist today?  Apparently Kathy Reichs does.

*Full disclaimer -- as much as I rag on Bones in my reviews, I am a huge fan of Reichs and especially her book series (which is way, way better forensically than the TV show).  And thanks to Jennifer Waters for pointing this out - A+ osteological work!

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Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

November 18, 2014

A Dozen Ways to Make a Mummy

Tomorrow's lecture in bioarchaeology has twelve case studies of mummies from around the world.  Inspired by that (and by my constant foot-dragging when it comes time to write lectures), I give you A Dozen Ways to Make a Mummy, to the tune of Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.  (Apologies in advance to Mr. Simon, whose work I can't get enough of, even when random people sing Cecilia upon meeting my kid.)

A Dozen Ways to Make a Mummy

The problem is that a body tends to decompose.
The answer is clearer if you take time to repose.
I'd like to help you with this song I have composed.
There must be... a dozen ways to make a mummy.

Stick a hook up the nose, Mose.
Break the ethmoid, Floyd.
No need to be coy, Roy, just suck those brains free!
Take out the heart, Bart.
Get some canopic jars, Lars.
Pile on the nat-Ron, just listen to me.

You say, "I know about the ancient Egyptians.
But tell me more, please, without going into conniptions.
I'd like to hear you give some more descriptions
about the dozen ways to make a mummy."

Well, you can soak it in salt, Walt.
Spray it with tar, Edgar.
Float it in honey, Lee, like a Roman sweet.
Sink it in a bog, Dawg, to preserve that meat.

You say, "Why don't we both just think of this some more
for I believe that if we try, we can make a Mummy Corps
full of people who think that this gore of yore's no snore.
There's more than... a dozen ways to make a mummy.
More than a dozen ways to make a mummy."

With many thanks to everyone who contributed to my Facebook and Twitter threads, including: Phoebe Acheson (@classicslib), Alison Atkin (@alisonatkin), Katie Biitner (@kbiitner), Lindsay Bloch,  Lynne Goldstein (@lynnegoldstein), Bethany Nowviskie (@nowviskie), Joy Reeber, Laura Wagner (@TiLauraRose), and Erika Zimmermann Damer.

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