March 3, 2018

Three Girls, a Dead Raccoon, and My Crockpot: A Photo-Essay

I was out of town giving a public talk last week when I got this picture along with a text from my husband: "Zooarch consult plz."

That's my 8-year-old, Cecilia, on the right along with her BFF. They were traipsing through the small patch of woods behind our house and found some... dead stuff. Squinting at my phone, I typed back that there was a turtle and maybe a small dog or something, but that I'd check it out when I got home. And to wash their hands well.

The girls gathered the bones-and-fur mess and tied it off in a plastic bag.

Once I got a look at it, and posted to Facebook for a consult, I realized it wasn't a dog but rather a raccoon. The next step was to separate the raccoon from the turtle shell and pick off the gross decaying fur. So I brought home some nitrile gloves from my lab.

Cecilia liked this part, and was excited to find some vertebrae still articulated:

She put all the bones into the crockpot that I brought home from my lab as well (which we keep for the express purpose of defleshing stuff that, well, still has squishy/hairy bits on it):

She filled it about 2/3rds of the way up with water from the garden hose (which she wanted to put in the watering can for some reason). Then, we had to add detergent. Biz was recommended to me by our resident faunal expert in the department, so I bought a small amount of it at Publix.

At this point, my 4-year-old, Linnea, wanted to help out. After Cecilia dumped in the detergent, she and Linnea took turns gently stirring it. (Linnea, by the way, was quite disappointed in the raccoon - she really wanted to macerate a bat, to see how its wing looked on the inside. But that's not gonna happen because of the risk of rabies.)

We put the lid on, turned the crockpot on to the low/4-hour setting, and left it alone.

Since we didn't start this quite early enough in the day, by the time we turned the crockpot off, it was getting dark. I decanted the sudsy water off carefully, and then dumped the rest of the water-and-bones out onto the cement patio. We collected the bones and set them on the metal table outside, and I let Cecilia and her friend scrub the bones with old toothbrushes to get the remaining fur off.

Once the bones were cleaned, I tossed them into a disposable tupperware bowl, dumped in all the hydrogen peroxide I had (maybe 1.5 cups), and topped the bowl off with water and capped it. I didn't take any pictures of this, but we left it on the kitchen counter for like 3 days, swirling it occasionally.

When we were happy with the color, we dumped the bones out of the hydrogen peroxide solution and let them dry on the table outside.


After the bones were dry, I printed out two diagrams of raccoon skeletons. I gave those to Cecilia along with the clean, dry bones, and let her puzzle out where they all went.

(Cecilia's labeling of the skeleton diagram.)

This is what we ended up with, once I helped identify and side the bones. (Those of you with better faunal anatomy skills, don't yell at me! I totally punted on the metatarsals and tarsals(?) but think I did OK on the major bones.)

Cecilia wanted to label the bones and put them in labeled boxes or bags, so I helped her by telling her the correct plurals where relevant.

And that's it! We finished labeling the bones this afternoon, and now they're in little bags and boxes, waiting for... well, who knows. I'm interested to find out what Cecilia wants to do with her raccoon!

So, if your kid brings home a random dead thing, all you need are a crockpot, some detergent, and hydrogen peroxide, and... voilà! A STEM-worthy project. 

February 6, 2018

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 49)

This latest entry in 'Who needs an osteologist?' was sent in by grad student Mar Vergara Martín, who happened to be looking for information on ulnar avulsion fractures and came across this WikiHow page on how to classify a radial fracture:

Mmmmm, nope.

It also says, "Distinguish the radius from the ulna. The radius is the larger of the two forearm bones. When the palm of the hand faces forward, the radius is the outer bone." Sure, the radius is larger at the wrist. But that last sentence is... very confusing. Couldn't they just have said the radius is the one near the thumb?

Also, I realize the bones depicted are the tibia/fibula and not the radius/ulna, but if the arm actually was in this position, the forearm bones would be crossed (that's why standard anatomical position is palm-up, to uncross those bones).

Now, most of us wouldn't trust WikiHow to help us diagnose a fracture (and I sincerely HOPE a medical doctor wouldn't either), but still...

Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

February 2, 2018

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 48)

Bioarchaeologist Kori Filipek noticed this amazing graphic on the Runner's World Facebook page this week:

And the original graphic, via Twitter:

I imagine it would take quite a while for a runner to get back on the road with a knee injury that involved.... a replacement of his leg bones with the elbow joint of a kid? 

There are a bunch of comments on the post from people who also noticed the error, but as of today, Runner's World has not fixed it. (If you click through, though, that graphic does not appear in the article.)

If you want to learn more about osteology, Kori is involved with Transylvania Bioarchaeology, which seems to have an amazing field school every summer!

Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

January 2, 2018

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 47)

Bioarchaeologist Sonia Zakrzewski was at London's Science Museum and snapped these images to share on Twitter:

And bioarch Twitter responded with predictable shock:

Here's hoping that the Science Museum takes a page from the museum at Roman Bath and quickly offers to fix their multiple mistakes!

Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

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!

Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

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)?

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 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).

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