July 27, 2008

DBAP Patrons and Their Lovely Clothing

Patrick, Juline, and I went to see the Durham Bulls play the Louisville Bats on Saturday night. It's not that we care about the sport in the least, it's that we really wanted tasty fried and sugary foods. Mmm, giant orange sno-cone and huge bag of cotton candy. While Patrick mostly watched the game (and the sneering baby), Juline and I watched people. Soon we were rewarded with this t-shirt, which was being worn by a seemingly harried father of two.

Me: Juline, check it out! That guy's shirt is bizarre!
Juline: Wait, what does that even mean?
Me: I dunno. Do you think he knows what beer goggles are?
Juline: Or that it's terribly inappropriate to have a picture of a kid there? Is that his kid?
Me: Jesus, what a horrific shirt. Patrick, get a picture of it.
Patrick: You guys did notice that "responsible" is misspelled, right?
Me and Juline: Hahahaha, no, we didn't!

So beer goggling is not technically in the Urban Dictionary, but beer googling is. It's when you get really drunk and surf the internet and find progressively unattractive women. Either way... why is there a photo of a (male?) child in Speedo goggles on the back of a shirt that glorifies drinking until you lose all sense of attractiveness and sleep with the first person who shows any interest? And is the typo ironic and purposeful or simply lame? For what it's worth, the front of the shirt had the name of a brewery or bar in Durham, but I can't find more info on it. If I could, I'd go by one of these shirts. You know, for Dress Like a Douchebag Day.

July 25, 2008

Edamus, bibamus, gaudeamus!

My Roman immigrants (and locals) are headed on a new journey, to a world they never knew existed: exotic southern Florida. In between my trips to the geochem lab today to check on their enamel counterparts, my Romans yielded their midshaft femora to my whims. I used my trusty Buehler (which just happened to come with a "bone chuck") to slice off a sliver of femur from each of 52 individuals from my two sites. I chose these individuals to represent a cross-section of the population, from babies to old folks, although I'm testing more people from Casal Bertone than from Castellaccio to make a nod to proportional sampling. At any rate, here's a picture of them nestled all cozily in plastic bags, ready to be boxed, shipped, and destroyed for the sake of figuring out the ancient Roman diet. (You know what they kinda look like?)

Their bone collagen and apatite will be digested (very appropriate) and run for isotopes of carbon and nitrogen, which will indicate the proportion of the diet made up of meat, legumes, fish, and vegetables. For the babies, I might even be able to tell when they were weaned. Although this analysis is destructive, fortunately I only had to send a couple grams of bone for each person, which means I still have most of the samples I took. Ave atque vale, Romani.

July 22, 2008

Radioactive Cows

Jenn, the geosciences lab goddess, told me today that the procedure they follow for analyzing strontium isotopes was created following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Days of releasing radiation into the environment have led to numerous cancers and diseases, but even after that cleared, the food chain was still contaminated. People who drank milk from cows that had eaten affected grass, for example, stored up iodine in their thyroids and got cancer. So for over a decade, scientists have been testing milk in the area for radioactive iodine, plutonium, cesium, and strontium. They are able to test the milk quickly and efficiently, and as a result I get to run my enamel samples quickly and efficiently as well.

July 21, 2008

Anatomy and Word

I was digging through my data collection diary that I wrote in Italy last year while examining skeletons. It ended up being nearly 200 pages of notes and thoughts about Roman skeletons, Italian bioarchaeologists, food, and public transportation. I was looking for any entries that suggested a particular skeleton was special or important, or that it needed to be analyzed for Sr, C, or N isotopes. After a couple dozen pages, though, Word flipped out. It seems to have absolutely no knowledge of biological or anatomical terms and gave me the error message below. I think Word should come standard with a dictionary that knows words like "pyogenic osteomyelitis," "spondylolisthesis," "sphenooccipital synchondrosis," and "ischiopubic ramus." You know, common terms.

(Incidentally, there were only about a dozen typos in the entire document. Because I'm that good - in spite of my tarnished reputation in the Woodbrook Elementary 3rd grade spelling bee, when I succeeded with "psychology" but inexplicably failed to spell "quarter" correctly and Jamie Maupin won. Not that I'm bitter.)

July 19, 2008

Bizarro Latin

Oh, Bizarro. Don't you know better than to use the first "free online English to Latin translator" you find on Google? Is it really that hard to find an underpaid classicist who will be so offended by the resulting sentence that they will fix it for you? I expected more from Dan Piraro. Then again, I haven't seen the comic posted on his blog yet. Maybe he'll defend his terrible translation there. Or at least get excoriated by disgruntled Latinists who think this kind of joke is better left to Henry Beard.

July 18, 2008

Grist for the Mill

After you follow my how-to video and get some lovely tooth sections, the next step in the increasingly long process of running strontium isotope samples is to drill out enamel. The enamel that forms earliest in life is closest to the junction with the dentine, as a tooth grows in both directions - enamel laid up into the crown, and dentine laid down into the roots. The dentist working with the geochemist here at UNC feels that the best enamel for strontium analysis to find migrants is located about 50 micrometers from the dento-enamel junction. That's 1,000 times smaller than a millimeter. In order to get enough strontium for analysis in the mass spec, I have to drill out between 5-10 mg of enamel. With sample weight this low and precision at the DEJ essential, it means using a micromill - a microscope/drill attached to a computer. Using the software installed, you can draw a line on the sample where you want the drill to go. So I can map the area 50 µm from the DEJ, tell the drill to make any number of passes, and give it the appropriate depth.

On Tuesday, I managed to affix my samples (the middle section of 5 teeth) to glass microscope slides with resin, and I affixed the slides to the removable micromill platform. On Wednesday, I loaded the platform into the mill and learned how to use it from a geology grad student. The interface is pretty easy, and in no time I was drawing lines and watching the mill at work. The grad student, however, had told me the settings she used on the mill - she'd set it to make one pass at a depth of perhaps 15 µm. It took me 4 hours of milling one sample to get enough material (10mg) appropriate for strontium analysis. And then it dawned on me - the grad student had mentioned that for her analyses, she needed 5-10 µg of material. I need 1,000 times that! So on Thursday, I set the micromill to 3 passes at 250 µm depth each - and got much better results. Since each tooth section is precisely 3mm, I can go much deeper to get all the enamel I need. Which will be important when I'm drilling teeth that are incredibly worn and lacking a lot of enamel.

This whole week, then, amounted to learning how to do a bunch of stuff, from affixing samples to slides (resin really doesn't work too well, and I ended up having to re-stick the teeth with Duco cement, the osteologist's best friend), to working a micromill, to realizing that µm was not 10 times smaller than mm. Today I get to pour nitric acid on my samples and dry them out, and next week I'll learn about "columns" ... whatever that means. In the meantime, here's a short video of the automated goodness of the micromill.

July 17, 2008

Cutting Teeth

The first thing I have to do in order to prepare the ancient Roman teeth for strontium analysis is to section them. So I learned from a very nice dentist at the Dental School at UNC how to use a saw to do this - without having to embed each tooth in plastic or resin. The point of obtaining a thick section from the middle of the tooth is that I can theoretically get at the "good" enamel - the stuff at the dento-enamel junction, and therefore the stuff that will help me tell if an individual was originally from Rome or not. Once I get the middle section, I have to affix it to a slide and use a micromill (a very precise drill hooked up to a microscope and computer) to drill out 5-10mg of enamel. The micromill is automated, so the sample has to be nice and flat and held tightly to the moving platform. Since I was sectioning some teeth today, and since I will undoubtedly have to teach other archaeologists who want to do strontium analysis to section teeth, I documented my afternoon.

My last osteological movie on chopping ancient femora in half was a raging success, so I decided to make a video demonstration of sectioning ancient teeth using the spiffy saw I found a couple weeks ago. This is my first attempt at stitching together several smaller movies into one big movie - complete with title slide and credits - so let me know what you think (but be nice!). It's about 7.5 minutes long and includes an audio narration by me (plus the appearance of my ugly elbow and giant hands).

So the next time you find yourself cozied up to a lab saw with 200 old, dry teeth and seven days to kill, you too can cut them into thirds. Without further ado, allow me to present to you, "How to use a Buehler Isomet 1000 to section teeth." Break out the popcorn and enjoy!

(If the embedded video doesn't work, it means that google sucks. So click here instead.)

July 10, 2008

Indy Films

I just came across this hilarious summary (in the form of a script) for the fourth Indiana Jones movie. I am not ashamed to say it actually made me lol. If you hated the movie as much as I did, read on. (This writer did not have as many problems with the egregious treatment of "natives" in the movie as Laura and I did and is more annoyed with the stupid plot.)

July 8, 2008

Articular Paths

I just got an email that my endlessly-revised journal article was accepted by Southeastern Archaeology! I was honestly despairing of ever publishing my master's thesis from ECU (written and defended waaaaay back in 2002), so much so that I've been referring to it as, "my never-to-be-published article on biodistance." Here's why.

Summer 2002. Immediately after graduating, I started revising the project for journal publication, which my committee strongly encouraged. But it was my first semester of teaching college, so revising was put on the back burner.

Fall 2002. Started a completely different PhD program at UNC. Biodistance was forgotten in favor of Rome and Latin.

Spring 2004. After a switch back to a PhD in anthropology, I finally got some time to talk to my former-and-current advisor and revised the article, which I sent to the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Winter 2004. About 8 months of waiting, and the article was rejected. Not "revise and resubmit," but outright rejected. Seems that, in spite of the editorial leadership at AJPA of one of my committee members, biodistance and nonmetric cranial traits were seen as passe. In retrospect, I was merely applying methods to what I considered to be an interesting research question rather than generating new methods of my own. But I was still pissed.

Fall 2005. Annoyed at the length of time it takes to get an article reviewed, I spent another 8 or so months turning the article around, and this time I was talked into sending it to American Antiquity, another highly-regarded journal in my field and very friendly to bioarchaeology papers. This did, however, involve taking into account all the previous reviewers' comments, addressing them, running some new stats, and rearranging and reformatting the headings and bibliography.

Summer 2006. So by this point, I'm half moved to New York and half staying in North Carolina for fall teaching. I got a rejection from American Antiquity, although it was a tentative revise-and-resubmit. That is, the reviewers weren't outright rejecting the article, but both wanted to see a load of changes and complete resubmission to them. In retrospect, I probably should have pursued this avenue, as it's a good journal. But I decided instead to revise and submit to a different journal.

January 2007. Before I headed off to Rome, I decided to take one final stab at this unpublished research that had been hanging over my head since 2002. I revised the article based on reviewers' comments from AJPA and AmAntiq, reformatted, and sent it off to Southeastern Archaeology, my last hope before sending it to a NC-specific journal.

May 2007. In surprisingly fast turnaround time, I got a letter from the editors of Southeastern Archaeology that I needed to revise and resubmit. Poop. One reviewer had some major issues with my work - issues that I wasn't willing to tackle for this article, issues that involved methodological problems that I didn't create and didn't know how to solve, issues that, were I a mathematician and statistician, I would write an article discussing. I really meant to work on the revisions while in Italy, but Roman skeletons and gelato were much more interesting.

January 2008. After getting back to the US and catching my breath before teaching forensic anthropology in the spring, I decided to give it another go. I badgered a statistician at Cortland, who agreed with me that the reviewer's comments weren't entirely valid, and I began revising the article and crafting an argument for why I didn't need to include a multidimensional scaling graph. Added some acknowledgments, had Patrick whip up a lovely map of coastal NC, and sent that sucker back to the editors.

July 8, 2008. Got an email from the editors saying the article had been accepted! Woo! I need to make a couple minor revisions (change the cluster graph to greyscale, e.g.), but it'll be printed in the Summer 2009 issue of Southeastern Archaeology.

So, that's the path of an article from conception to birth. Apparently academia is on a seven-year gestation cycle. Or maybe that's just me.

July 3, 2008

Skull Map

Andy sent me a link to an article in the London Times with an interactive Google map showing "several" of the thousands of skeletons uncovered in London in recent years. If you click on one of the darling little skulls that marks the location of an ancient skeleton, you can get time period and museum accession number. Some of the bodies have a bit more information. One skull represents a Roman graveyard dating to the 2nd century AD near the Liverpool Street underground station. A Black Death cemetery close to the Thames included 420 burials. The map isn't nearly as populated as it could be, but commuters could still think about all the bodies they pass by on their trip to work. This map was created to promote the upcoming exhibit at the Wellcome Collection, Skeletons: London's Buried Bones. I would be interested in seeing the exhibit, as Americans don't generally display skeletons in museums (largely because display of Native American remains is strictly prohibited) and because the Brits are starting to use skeletons as storytellers - creating individual histories from all the data available, a sort of forensic archaeology where the individual rather than the collective is of interest. It's an approach that I will undoubtedly play with as I write up my dissertation for publication: using individuals as a way to humanize the past and get the public excited about dead Romans.

July 2, 2008

Buehler? Buehler?

This morning, I met a geology undergrad at the department so that we could figure out together how to use their crappy little wafering saw. It was in sorry shape - the blade was nicked, it was damn near impossible to change out the water, and it was really not right for sectioning something as precision-worthy as two-millennia-old teeth. It's a tiny little gem saw, the kind that people who are way into geodes use to cut up rocks. After half an hour of fucking around with this thing, I gave up and resigned myself to spending $257 on a blade to use the dentist's saw.

Then I happened to stop by my advisor's lab to get the MNI of this skeletal collection I'm analyzing for him. Turns out, he has a super spiffy saw in his lab. I didn't see a blade attached to it, but he's convinced he has one somewhere. Which means... I can do all my sectioning at the bioarch lab! For free! Well, plus the cost of water, I suspect. The geochemist told me that I don't need milli-q water (simple distilled will work), but he suggested ultrasounding the blade in between teeth. I'm not yet sure what that means or how it would prevent cross-contamination. I do also need to buy some wax and plexiglass or some sort of stick so that I can attach the tooth to the stick and lower it onto the saw blade like the dentist showed me. But that can't cost too much.

So... who wants to learn how to section teeth with me?

July 1, 2008

Adventures in Micromilling

I met a geology grad student at their department today so that she could show me how to use the micromill, a microscope/drill that'll help me extract enamel powder for Sr isotope analysis. The lab was locked, so it took her a few minutes to go find a key. Then she asked me what kind of containers I had. I was clueless and just showed her the teeth. So she got her advisor, who was quite unhappy to be dragged from her desk to deal with an anthropologist who clearly knew nothing about geochemistry. It seems that I need a few more pieces of the puzzle: I need to know what kind of containers to collect the enamel powder in, what size drill bit to use, and the procedure for cleaning the drill and platform so that I don't cross-contaminate samples. Unfortunately, the geochemist I'm dealing with is out of town for the rest of the summer. Fortunately, it should only take me a few days or a week to micromill all 110 teeth once I figure out the other issues.

But before all that happens, though, I still need to section the 110 teeth. I contacted the dentist again, and he said I could use his saw... but his chair wants me to buy a new wafering blade. Which appears to be about $250. Oofa. I'm not happy about spending an additional $2 per sample to cut the teeth in half, since this is a new step in the Sr analysis procedure that seems rather pointless to me. But it's supposed to produce better results, so I guess I need to suck it up and buy a wafering blade.

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