April 13, 2008

Ay Ay Pee Ay

I took some really random notes at the AAPA conference, from which I just returned. Some of the papers were interesting, but most of them just made me think about my own research and wonder what I could do better. Here's a sampling of my notes:

Session 9, Reconstructing Health and Disease
1:15 - H2O + sewage = spread of infectious diseases (assumed)
1:45 - Imperial Rome, Isola Sacra, Wilson bands, blah blah blah
2:15 - WTF is polster (trep disease)???

Session 16, Bioarchaeology
8:30 - quaTERnary
8:45 - max likelihood estimation = good, Bayesian method = bad; wtf is Bayesian method?
10:15 - 2 dist. waves of immig to Americas
10:30 - Roman Britans ate smoked food (ham?), maybe eggs, imported foods, NO millet (C4)

I did look up polster. It's a bulge of smooth muscle cells. Which doesn't make any sense. So maybe I have to look in a palaeopathology book or something. I don't care enough about Bayesian aging right now to look it up, although the topic came up in more than one conversation, so I probably should. I learned how to pronounce the word quaternary at 8:30 on Friday morning. And during my "volunteering" session on Friday afternoon, I learned way too much about things like sperm plugs during talks about primate genetics.

The two papers I liked the most were in my Saturday morning session on palaeopathology. One was first-authored by a researcher at Elon College in NC. She described the formation of a ridge in the olecranon process of the ulna as a transverse mid-trochlear ridge, and she figured out which muscles would have to act on the arms in what ways to form this anomalous ridge of bone. The odd thing was, she claimed never to have seen this bone formation before. At the end of the talk, someone piped up and said they're all over Eskimo ulnae. And someone else said, yeah, they're all over Native Americans. And yet another voice added Iron Age Europeans, and I added Romans. I've even seen this ridge in the Indian study skeletons we have at Cortland - just last week, while teaching a lab on arthritis to my students, someone pointed out this ridge, and I said it was normal. So it was interesting that no one has ever described a muscle marker that most osteologists don't think twice about. It does seem, though, based on her research, that this ridge is more likely to be found in people who do a lot of gripping-and-pounding activities, as the ridge forms along with the muscle to aid in elbow stabilization.

The other paper I enjoyed was by a newly-minted PhD who studied obesity in the corpses that came through the Body Farm. It's notoriously difficult to estimate body mass (weight) from just skeletal remains. But another piece of information is always useful for forensic anthropologists in trying to get a proper ID on a skeleton. So she studied the bones and particularly (at least for this presentation) looked at arthritis patterns. She found that obese individuals almost always had arthritis, and that they were more prone to DISH as well. Extremely overweight people also use their arms to raise themselves from a seated position, and she reasoned that the arms were becoming load-bearing and thus suffering from arthritis more than the arms of people who weren't obese. She also looked at the knees, as obese individuals tend to have either a knock-kneed or a bow-legged stance. In fact, only 10% of the people she looked at had a normal knee alignment. At any rate, it seems that obesity and arthritis are strongly correlated, but I don't think there's yet any good way to figure out from a skeleton if a person was obese.

Overall, it was a successful conference. I got to meet a lot of people who were interesting and interested in my work. I presented a paper for the first time at the AAPAs - it was well attended (perhaps 200 people in the room), but I was terrified. Somehow, I can lecture three times a week with no problem, but put me in front of a podium and 200 people, and I freak out. Ah well. Hopefully I'll get better and lose my nerves the more times I force myself to do this.

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