October 30, 2008

Chairing and Writing

I just got an email asking if I'd like to chair a session at the upcoming Society for American Archaeology conference in Atlanta. Chairing isn't all that big a deal - it's a matter of making sure everyone's presentation starts, that people keep to the time limit as much as possible, and that you don't mispronounce people's names when you introduce them. But it's kind of nerve-wracking. At the last session I co-chaired, I ended up having to fix the A/V issues the paid A/V people couldn't fix, introduce people with thoughtful details, ask questions after their talks if no one else did, and give my own paper. I was a wreck by the end of the afternoon and rather screwed up the opportunity to talk to the woman who practically created the field of bioarchaeology. Can chairing at SAA possibly be worse? The session is tentatively entitled, Archaeology of Death, Space, and Identity in Europe, which honestly sounds quite cool. I suppose I should do it. I get my name in the program for chairing too!

And in second email news, I've been asked to contribute a paper to an upcoming Journal of Roman Archaeology volume on diaspora in the Roman world. This volume is growing out of a conference that I couldn't attend in England in September, but fortunately I get to add my own thoughts on migration to Rome in the Imperial period to the book. It won't come out until 2010, but my paper is due in late March. So between that, the AAPAs in late March, and the SAAs in April, my spring is going to be a mess. I need to get cracking on those strontium isotopes this weekend so that I can finish with the fuckers by the end of the semester.

So maybe things are looking up in the academic world at the moment. Now if I can just get a fellowship so that I don't have to teach next year...

October 24, 2008


Hopefully the boring strontium saga will come to an end soon. The five samples that I ran with the geochemist watching over my shoulder worked perfectly fine. I just have to exactly replicate what I did for those samples, and all should be well. Let's hope. But it means that I have 5 new results, for a total of 51 good results so far. That's about halfway there! Perhaps I will be finished with these by the end of the semester after all.

In missing bone news, I found the errant mandible. It had decided it felt more kinship with the plastic disarticulated cranium-in-a-box and was hanging out there underneath some parietals and a sphenoid. Thankfully, no need to worry my advisor with this news.

But the 3 versus 4 credit class issue has not yet been resolved, although that did involve emailing my advisor and making him deal with it. It's so disempowering to be a grad student sometimes. Well, most of the time. The student who was having a major issue with the lack of a fourth credit didn't even show up to class today, after badgering both me and academic advising for the past two days. *sigh*

And in I-knew-them-when news, Lara and Trey stopped by today to say hi! They unfortunately missed most of the class, who all absconded for the weekend early, but we had a nice visit.

October 22, 2008

Chew on This

One of my students today informed me that the mandible from his skeleton was missing. He'd seen it before, but hadn't studied it in a while. His lab partner piped up, "Yeah, I noticed it was missing a while ago." Aaaaand why didn't she say anything prior to today? Grrr. After a very quick look-see through the cabinets, I couldn't find their mandible. But I was in the middle of answering five different questions and imagining what my advisor will do to me if the mandible wandered off, so I should go back later and do a thorough sweep of the cabinets. It's possible that my advisor borrowed the mandible for some reason, but it's also possible that a student took it home to study one day and never brought it back. I wonder what the penalty is for stealing human remains? I know there is one if you steal remains from a cemetery or an archaeological site, but do the same laws apply to those in a teaching collection?

I also found out in class from 3 different students that the academic advising people don't think they're registered for the 1-credit lab. Even though it shows up on my faculty course listing, and everyone's in it. I'm pretty sure the department secretary failed to set up the course properly, since I had issues with this over the summer, which means I need to head over to academic advising at some point and attempt to clear this up myself. What a pain in the ass.

October 20, 2008

And again...

I stopped by to talk to the geochemists today. With little idea of what went wrong, I am quick-processing 5 samples to make sure my column procedure is correct. The enamel is drying in water right now. On Wednesday, I'll do columns and dry down the samples to get them onto the mass spec that night or in the morning. Hopefully, something along the way will jump out at the geochemist and I can find out what I'm doing wrong or what's going wrong. So yay, I get to spend most of my waking hours in the geochem lab this week.

October 15, 2008

Ugh III: The Ughinator

My samples aren't doing so well. Of the first turret, 9 samples failed completely and 5 were more or less saved. Of the second turret, 15 samples failed completely and 4 were basically fine. So now my record is 24 failed and 9 run, or under 40% success rate. That's not great. The third turret only has 2 of my samples on it: both appear to have run fine, as have all the other samples on it, some with the 3.5 M HNO3 from before August 14 and some with the nitric acid from after that date. So I don't think the geochemist knows yet what went wrong. If I'm lucky, I suppose it's possible that I suck at loading samples and have lost no work whatsoever. But he seems to think that's an unlikely scenario.

At any rate, of the 9 samples, only 1 is likely to be an immigrant. Everyone else is sitting solidly in the .7092-.7096 range.

October 12, 2008

Ugh II

Still no idea what went wrong. Fortunately, the geochemist rescued 4 of my samples. The data aren't great, but they're usable. One sample ran perfectly, ET42. Why? No idea. It went through columns the same day as other samples that didn't work. It was dissolved in 3.5 M HNO3 the same day as other samples that didn't work. It only contained 5.7 mg of enamel, and other samples contained more. Every sample was drilled with a hand-held dental drill.

Two Sr standards were loaded into the turret with my samples. One worked fine, but the other was a bit high. The geochemist said that the pressure on the mass spec was a bit low but that that shouldn't cause all my samples to fail. It's still possible that I suck at loading samples. If I failed to load the samples correctly, they might not work. Unfortunately, I loaded 25 samples the other day. Fortunately, we only load half of each sample, so I still have another half in reserve. Unfortunately, the geochemist thinks there was something wrong in the columns and not in the loading.


Ah well. Of the 5 samples that worked, one appears to be an immigrant, also from the .7085 area. Which just fits with my current prediction that 20% of the people I'm studying were born elsewhere (based on the first 35 samples I ran).

Let's hope that the next turret, which is currently loaded up with 19 of my samples, runs a lot better tomorrow.


So none of my samples appears to have run. Ugh. The geochemist told me that it's possible it's the mass spec's fault. He's running the Sr standard to see if that's the case. I'm kind of hoping it is, because the other options mean it's my fault. So the my fault alternatives are that I didn't run Sr columns correctly or that I didn't drill out enough enamel. And there's one other possibility: that someone made the 3.5 M HNO3 wrong. If it's the mass spec, all's well. They recalibrate it and rerun my samples. All the other reasons mean that I have to re-drill out enamel and re-run them through columns. Shit. This sets me back at least a month if it's my fault. And of course makes me nervous in the isotope lab that I'm fucking something up.

October 11, 2008

Endless amounts of Sr

I loaded 14 samples onto a turret on Thursday, and the mass spec started a barrel run last night. Today I headed in to run another 16 samples through columns and checked the printout. Other than the fact that it aborted on bead 10 because of some filament issue (and I have no idea if this is normal or if the machine basically crashed), the data look pretty damn normal. Everyone so far (only 6 people, since it bombed) is .709-.710, or a Roman. The last person that was run had blocks as widely varied as .709 and .706, so maybe that one didn't work at all. I'll know when I eventually get the data and run it through Tripoli, a computer program that I still know very little about. I'm trying to run all the Castellaccio data first since it has half as many people as Casal Bertone. With all the Castellaccio data, I might even be able to start a chapter of the diss. Woo!

In addition to columns, today I'm loading up another turret with 19 of my samples that should start running on Sunday. When the first turret comes out tomorrow, I can load another 19 samples to run on Tuesday, I think. *sigh* By fall break, I will have more data than I know what to do with.

October 8, 2008


Apparently there will be no water in the isotope geochemistry lab tomorrow. I'm not sure why, but it puts the kibosh on my plan to run 16 more samples through columns. Or to drill the last of my 17 teeth. Or to get anything related to isotopes done. Which is probably fine, as there are only 3 clean beakers and I'm not entirely sure when the next batch is coming off the hotplate. Yay for bottlenecks.

On the up side, though, I might have 38 more samples run through the mass spec this weekend (each turret fits 20 filaments, but one of those is a standard), now that the machine is done chugging its way through a crapload of lead samples. But on the down side, it means I have to spend hours loading my samples onto the filaments myself. Last time, I only got through about 10 in 3 hours because it's a painstaking process that involves using a ridiculous piece of plastic tubing to pipette out 2 microliters of acid onto the sample. So it could take me all day to load one turret. Fun! Maybe I'll learn how to change the giant cylinder of liquid nitrogen. That shit fumes and is all kinds of sciencey.

October 3, 2008

Drink from a Skull

Finally, someone has combined my two loves: skulls and vodka. Who wants to buy me new Crystal Head vodka? Please? Pretty please? (Even if it has an 8-min embedded infomercial starring Dan Aykroyd that liberally references the clusterfuck that was the latest Indiana Jones movie, it's still damned cool.)

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