July 22, 2014

How long was the average Roman foot, and what was their shoe size?

Archaeologist Eric Poehler just keeps coming with the questions about Roman walking and feet.  Today, he wanted to know the size of the Roman foot.  In my last post, I'd kind of given up on the idea of figuring out foot size, since I didn't think I had any foot measurements.  Then I remembered this morning that of course I have calcaneus maximum length.  The trick was to find a formula using calcaneus maximum length to approximate foot size.

Sandaled foot from the Augustan period (Met Museum)
This was more difficult than you'd think.  There are a metric TON of articles that relate shoe/foot size to stature, but you have to have the shoe/foot (these are useful in forensic contexts, of course).  So I could use long bones to calculate stature and then use stature to calculate approximate foot size, but that would introduce one more level of error than I need.  It seems like no bioarchaeologists care about estimating foot size from foot bones, which surprised me because I'd assumed at least comparative primate morphologists would be interested in this.  (Now, of course, there is growing interest in Roman walking because of databases like Stanford's ORBIS.)

I did find what I was looking for, though, in literature related to lower leg changes in polio: Anderson, M., M. Blais, and W.T. Green. 1956. Growth of the normal foot during childhood and adolescence. Length of the foot and interrelations of foot, stature, and lower extremity as seen in serial records of children between 1-18 years of age. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 14(2):287-308.  This article is helpfully available for free via PDF here.  If you scroll through to page 306, there's a handy chart that gives you the percentage of the foot made up by the "calcified os calcis" (what we now simply call the calcaneus).  Taking 18-year-olds (as the authors have concluded that the foot is no longer growing at this point), we find that the calcaneus makes up 30.2% (+\- .1) of the male foot and 28.9% (+\- .1) of the female foot.  Spiffy!

Now, we take the maximum calcaneus lengths from the population I studied at the Imperial-era Casal Bertone cemetery, 2km east of Rome. The male average was 80mm (8 cm), and the female average was 75mm (7.5 cm).  Using the power of multiplication, the average Roman male foot was 26.5cm, and the average Roman female foot was 25.9cm.  If you want to go a step further (ha!), this means the average Roman male from Casal Bertone wore a US 8.5 / EU 42 shoe, and the average female a US 10 / EU 41 shoe.  Boom -- calculating calcanei!

The female numbers seem too long, honestly, but I can believe the male numbers.  If you recall my previous post, the average male stature from this site was about 167cm, and female stature was 157cm.  So (using Imperial measurements now, sorry, but I'm American!) a 5'6" man could easily wear an 8.5 US shoe.  But a 5'2" woman would not wear a 10 US shoe.  I'm 5'9" and I wear a 10.

If there really aren't equations other than this to approximate foot size from calcaneal length, I suddenly have an MA project in mind for an interested student... And the correlations between bone length and shoes (as from Vindolanda) have lots of potential as well!

July 18, 2014

How long was the average Roman stride?

Eric Poehler (@Pompeiana79) posed this question on Twitter this morning. Katy Meyers (@BonesDoNotLie) and Keith Chan (@ChekeiChan) commented that there are formulae to estimate stride based on height. The forensic articles I found were actually going in the reverse -- from footfalls/strides to height (which makes sense if you want to find a murder, for example).  Keith suggested exercise medicine articles, and the most often-quoted article, Hatano, Y. "Use of the pedometer for promoting daily walking exercise." International Council for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation 29.4 (1993): 4-8., suggests two factors for calculating average step length: .415 for males and .413 for females (times height in centimeters).  Note that this is step length not stride; in exercise research, step length is the distance from, say, the left heel to the right heel (or left toe to right toe), whereas stride is the distance between the heel of the left foot to the heel of the left foot (two steps).

So using stature data from my dissertation, I calculated that the average Imperial Roman male (from Casal Bertone, 2km east of the walls of Rome) who stood 166.6cm would have a step length of 69.1cm, which means a stride length of roughly 140cm. Females in the population stood on average 156.7cm, so that's 64.7cm step length and 130cm stride length. There is plenty more stature data in my diss if y'all want to do more calculations, of course!

If I were to go full-on XKCD What If?, I'd look not only into the differences in stature among the Roman population (again, see my dissertation), but also into foot size from both foot bones and from the ginormous shoe cache at Vindolanda to refine the estimate. But I didn't measure any Roman foot bones at any of the sites I've worked at, and most of this research and writing was done on my phone during the 20 minutes my 9-month-old napped on me this morning.  Checking the Vindolanda research and looking into Troy Case's work with the bones of the feet are good avenues to go in.

And, of course, as the Rogue Classicist (@RogueClassicist) points out, all of this is largely theoretical anyway because people would have been wearing different things.  That is, the stride factors above are probably for modern Americans in comfy workout clothes, not for Imperial Romans wearing stiff togas or heavy armor.

But this is just another example of the fun of Twitter.  Just like with my "Where did Roman babies poop?" question a few weeks ago, we collectively had a random research question asked and partly answered, with lots of follow-up and collaborative potential!

July 15, 2014

Presenting Anthropology - New Links to Others' Cool Stuff

Ever since I taught Presenting Anthropology, a graduate proseminar, in the spring of 2013, I've been thinking about new and different ways to do public outreach and have been saving links to clever projects by others.  Here are a few links I came across this morning and had to share:

  • Drunk Archaeology -- Two students in my Presenting Anthropology course (Zach and Andy) created a Drunk Archaeology video on analogy with Drunk History, starring fellow grad student Will.  Because they are all students and want jobs someday, they did not feel comfortable having the video on the very public internet, which is understandable.  Fast-forward to this month, and archaeologist Andrew Reinhard has created a tumblr/podcast/Twitter/etc. called Drunk Archaeology.  He plans to interview archaeologists while drunk (duh) and is also interested in archaeology-themed drink recipes (which Presenting Anthro student Becca did for one of her projects).  Do check out Drunk Archaeology to see what Andrew and others get up to.  I think this outreach effort will mostly reach other archaeologists, but since the Drunk History videos have such wide appeal, perhaps the general public will be interested as well.
  • An Evolution-Themed Nursery Rhyme -- This is a really clever idea that I'd never thought of, in spite of having two little girls myself.  NPR's Tania Lombrozo enlisted some help to put together a short-but-sweet nursery rhyme/song about the natural selection of cute violet spiders.  I can't wait for my 5-year-old to get home from school so I can show it to her:



  • And finally, Let's Mummify Barbie.  My 5-year-old thinks that everyone who dies turns into a mummy (which I confirmed by mentioning her recently-deceased great-grandfathers, whom she says are mummies now) because we haven't ever gone to a funeral but have been to a variety of museums and have seen a lot of mummies.  If your kid wants to mummify his or her doll, there are instructions at the link for that.

June 29, 2014

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XLII

Such a slow month for Roman bioarchaeology.  As I suggested last month, I'm guessing everyone's mum for now, waiting until they have time to analyze finds and announce them. Here are your paltry links for this month.
1st BC warrior burial
in England (via TVAS)
  • June - A really interesting issue of Archaeological Dialogues reintroduces the question of "romanization" and how to talk about population interaction, particularly in the Roman provinces.  I found the articles fascinating, particularly since I study immigrants to Rome and look at ways they might have "acculturated" or "romanized" once there. While these articles are intriguing, almost all of them still lack a good solid anthropological perspective.  And bioarchaeology.
But if you want more to read about Romans, check out my latest posts:

June 27, 2014

Where did Roman babies poop?

Today in "what has been bugging Kristina for no good reason..." I started thinking about Roman babies (as I am missing mine while in the field) and wondering if the Romans had diapers.  After all, by the Imperial period, they'd invented flush toilets, so why not pinned cloth diapers?  But my internet connection at work is not terribly reliable, and I couldn't wait to get back to the apartment, so I posted the question to Twitter and Facebook.

A slew of classicists responded on Twitter, and Facebook gave me more of an anthropological view -- namely, in many parts of the world, today and in the past, babies simply didn't wear anything. They pooped and peed when and where they needed to.  Not to be ethnocentric or arrogant on the part of the Romans, but considering Imperial Rome was huge and urban, and considering their understanding of toilets, hygiene, and the like, I didn't think mothers (or nurses or slaves; probably not dads, of course) would go for the always-pooping infant.

Here are some of the bits I gleaned from crowdsourcing this question... no definitive answer, but a bunch of directions to go in:

Jane Draycott (@JLDraycott), Roman historian and archaeologist, chimed in with a bunch of tweets:

  • "The Roman Toilet Handbook has sections on chamber pots, children's toilet habits, & a photo of a child's potty!"
  • "The most recent research on Roman swaddling: [by Emma-Jayne Graham] http://www.open.ac.uk/people/eg4439 ."
  • "Soranus talks about the correct form of swaddling, and there are lots of swaddled baby votive terracottas."
Caroline Wazer, a PhD student in ancient history at Columbia (@CarolineWazer), found an image of a nursing mother on a Roman sarcophagus: "Here's a nursing mother & baby on a 2nd c sarcophagus at the Louvre. Tunic/diaper combo? pic.twitter.com/C76NdTL6of."



And Sarah Bond (@SarahEBond), a Roman historian, offered: "Oh wait! I remember the Greek word: spargana. Also, Pliny talked about diaper rash one time, I think. I can't remember the book/chapter."

I echo what classicist Liz Gloyn (@LizGloyn) said on Twitter: "Watching @DrKillgrove sourcing information about ancient Roman baby nappies = another reason classics!academic!twitter is brilliant."  But I also wonder what else we don't really know about the Roman world... clearly, we need much more feminist research into classical antiquity.  Asking what Roman babies pooped in is a deceptively simple question, but one that classicists (who tended to be upper class males for the last couple hundred years) and the ancient historians themselves (who tended to be upper class males, of course) haven't seemed to bother with.  What other questions about the lives of babies might we be able to answer?

June 25, 2014

Ever wonder if you could get an implant of an ancient Roman tooth?

... because I spent hours thinking about this the other morning.  Fortunately, I met a dentist-turned-classicist and learned some random stuff.

Etruscan bridge. See, I'm not the
first to think of this!
First up: Theoretically, could you implant an ancient Roman tooth in your jaw... you know, to screw with future bioarchaeologists?  According to the dentist (who shall remain nameless, because I don't need to drag him into my crazy) -- yes.  But the root would need to be coated in titanium.  And even then, the body would still probably reject it.  He said that there have been attempts to implant a person's own tooth (that was knocked out, for example), and it hasn't worked well.  The person often develops a gross, festering ulcer that doesn't heal.  In terms of the technology, though, a dentist could attempt to implant an ancient Roman tooth into a modern person's mouth.  So, you know... #yolo.

And second: I asked if mandibular and maxillary tori run in families.  But apparently they're super common. Dentists often have to break your jawbone to fit you with dentures, if you have one of these tori.  I also got a detailed explanation of how to break the bone and remove it to fit dentures.  Coming so soon on the heels of my root canal... I shuddered.

   

If any of you all have random questions related to ancient teeth, let me know.  I am trying to up the ante, but I don't know if I can top the ancient implant question.

June 10, 2014

Stupid left mandibular first molar...

While I normally love seeing xrays -- of my own body or others' -- this was not fun to get this afternoon:


So that's my left mandibular first molar, the one with the crown (which I got after the tooth cracked from being drilled-and-filled three times), and there's some nice inflammation of the periodontal ligament and a teeny little abscess forming. I hate this tooth; it's the only one I've ever had problems with, but boy have I had problems with it.

Root canal is scheduled for Monday morning.  Wish me luck.  Yecch.

June 2, 2014

Who needs an osteologist? (False Alarm Edition)

I posted a link to the article "Skeleton may be Irish Viking king" (BBC News) to the BioAnthropology News group on Facebook the other day.  This picture caused bioarchaeologist Lesley Gregoricka and me to start a conversation about whether it should be featured on Who needs an osteologist?

Image from BBC News.

Here's our edited-for-relevance back-and-forth, which was eventually solved by the discovery of a high-res photograph at Past Horizons.

LG: Is that the ulna placed where the clavicle should be?

KK: No, that looks fine.  The scapula fragment is oriented weirdly, though, or possibly missided.

LG: Really? I could swear that's the styloid process oriented medially, with a missing proximal end (oriented laterally). The curve of the diaphysis also doesn't look particularly clavicle-like. Still, it's difficult to assess from this photo.

KK: It is a strange curve. But the ulnae in the picture look like ulnae, and I can see some clavicle-like morphology.  And I think the inferior aspect of the clavicle is superior in the picture.

LG: Ah, I only saw one ulna (L arm) but two radii (L and R), and thought perhaps the R ulna had been erroneously placed.

KK: Ohhh, yeah. Man, it's hard to see on a smartphone. Will try to find a better picture to examine in detail.  [...] Past Horizons has a better pic.  You're right about the radii, I am about the clavicle:

Image from Past Horizons.

LG: Thanks for finding that expanded image. MUCH clearer that the medial clavicle was, in fact, broken (hence my thinking the projection was the styloid process)!

So there you have it -- Who needs an osteologist? outtakes!

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