December 30, 2009

Double Dissertweetion

Before Christmas, I finished up two more chapters and slightly revised the chapter structure of the dissertation. What was planned as one 35-page chapter on the results of my migration study has turned into four: background on the methods (25 pages), cranial nonmetrics (10 pages), strontium (35 pages), and oxygen (unfinished). I have no idea how I thought I could cover that all in one chapter initially. For better or for worse, the dissertation is definitely focused on migrants now. In fact, I've retitled it Migration and Mobility in Imperial Rome. I probably need to work on this, though, as it pains me not to write Migration to and Mobility in Imperial Rome, which is technically correct but sounds labored. Anyway, on to the faux-tweets...

Chapter 7 - Methods of Assessing Mobility (25 pages)

I will try to find immigrants using inherited traits on the skull, as well as strontium and oxygen isotope analysis of teeth.

Chapter 8 - Morphometric Analysis (10 pages)

Statistical analysis of cranial traits shows differences between chronologically separated populations but does not help find immigrants.

December 9, 2009

South Cortland (NY) Cemetery

As one of the choices for my students' final projects in Intro to Forensic Anthropology at SUNY Cortland back in spring 2008, I had listed an option to map a local cemetery. The one that I had suggested was right across from the Wal-Mart in Cortland, along 13. There is no parking lot, it's sandwiched between two manufacturing facilities, and the gravestones appeared to be in disrepair as ground subsidence caused many of them to sit askew.

Only one pair of students took me up on this project, and I summarized their report here. What I found out from them was that this cemetery has been largely forgotten, with the last burial in the 1930s. The town is obligated to care for the property, which has no deed, so someone mows the grass. But they don't have money to repair the stones or otherwise keep up the cemetery. My students, Natalie and Jeremy, mapped the cemetery by plotting the center point of each headstone and each footstone (the latter of which were only in the eastern portion).

A few weeks ago, a local Cortland man, John Hoeschele, contacted me to see what I knew about this cemetery. It's not on the typical cemetery registries and has very little documentation, although Natalie and Jeremy found some things out at the local historical society. John has taken it upon himself to document this cool little cemetery, which is the final resting place for at least one veteran of the Revolutionary War. John has now taken his website,, live and you all should go check it out!

It's kind of cool that an assignment for a forensic anthropology course was useful for the start of a civic project. I hope that the residents of Cortland take up this charge to preserve their history and help John document and care for this cemetery.

December 6, 2009


I finished another chapter tonight. It's been about a month since I finished and faux-tweeted the first chapter, but I seem to have 65 pages of text scattered throughout the dissertation in addition to the two chapters - somehow - bringing my total to around 135 pages. My goal is to finish another short chapter this week, then one of the half-written ones by the end of the month because chapters are tangible progress whereas 65 pages of random text are not very useful for convincing an advisor and committee that progress is being made.

So here's the tweet of Chapter 8, which reports the results of my 87Sr/86Sr isotope analysis in an attempt to characterize mobility and migration to Imperial Rome...

Unsurprising: Rome composed of city slickers, suburbanites, foreigners. Surprising: Strontium and aqueducts distinguish among them.

November 18, 2009

Reviews Are In

Both reviewers liked my contribution to a forthcoming JRA volume on diaspora in the Roman world, which is good and should mean I'll have a peer-reviewed publication based on my dissertation data within the year. One had only minor comments (e.g., "I tried but could not find anything wrong with the bibiography" - apparently Roman archaeologists haven't yet heard of BibTeX) and the other had some helpful suggestions in regard to strontium, most of which I've already figured out in the time since I wrote the paper a year and a half ago.

What surprised me, though, was that they were both more interested in the few sentences I included about the health of the people at Casal Bertone and Castellaccio than they were about the mobility of the populations. Granted, a study on mobility has already been published at Portus Romae, but I'm using Sr isotopes and skeletons from Rome itself. I figured that since I am incredibly interested in mobility and in identifying and understanding phenomena like transnationalism and polyethnicity that we only get hints of in the historical record and since I convinced anthropological granting agencies to fund my research, everyone would be interested in mobility and migration. But no, the fact that the skeletons from Casal Bertone were so much healthier than the comparative populations I've read about is, in the words of one reviewer, a "potentially VERY important finding."

I suppose this means adding a dissertation chapter on palaeopathology. I had planned to smush together the C/N and dental pathology for diet and more or less gloss over the skeletal pathology section because I want to go into depth in the future with a study of disease ecology (and because I don't really buy the arguments that Rome was a cesspool and life in the city was nasty, brutish, and short). But I can't explain at this point why the people from Casal Bertone were so much healthier than other published populations, except by noting that the cemetery was in proximity to a nymphaeum and fullery/tannery that would have meant copious amounts of clean water. They didn't eat a very different diet than Castellaccio, they weren't of a higher class or demographically different - they just lived in a different place, one close to or even perhaps within the city walls.

After driving myself crazy trying to understand the complex geology of Lazio and the Italian peninsula, it's becoming clear that Italy has lots of different landscapes that often range over very small areas. Besides that, Rome has aqueducts - lots and lots of places where the average person could get clean water to drink, bathe in, and cook with. I'm not a landscape archaeologist, I am not a scholar of Roman water infrastructure, and I'm not even really a disease ecologist, but I'm interested to know what's going on: something allowed my skeletons at Casal Bertone to be healthier than others. Or maybe it's just interobserver error, and my report of palaeopathology at these two sites is skewed because I use different methods or have a different agenda than the Italian bioarchaeologists who published the comparative sites.

As always, though, I'm just pushing to write this dissertation. I collected a lot of data and was choosing not to deal with disease in the diss because it didn't directly relate to the argument I'm making about mobility in the Empire. But if palaeopathology is what my colleagues want, I suppose I should give it to them as soon as possible, right?

November 8, 2009

My Tweet Dissertation

Considering the length a dissertation has to be, you'd expect it would contain a ton of information. But most of the text deals with constructing an argument to convince others that you're right. If you remove all that and take the essential conclusions at face value, each chapter is really rather short. For instance, I can take the first chapter I finished (on archaeological background) and, in 140 characters or fewer, highlight the relevant parts, thus shrinking a 33-page chapter with 13 figures and 7 tables to a tweet. Ahem.

2 sites (CE and CB), 2 contexts (urban/suburban), 209 skellies. Urban peeps shorter but longer-lived than suburban ones. More men in city, women in suburbs.

And there you go. Chapter 4 of my dissertation in 131 characters. Stay tuned for the tweet of the next chapter, the results from my Sr/O isotope analysis of immigrants to Rome!

November 4, 2009

Donating Anthropology

Most of my freelance editing income goes into a PayPal account. When I discovered, I spent the majority of that extra income on the site, buying cute things for Chickpea and awesome bone-related stuff for myself. But then I found out that I could donate my PayPal balance at It's a cool site: teachers from all over the country post their needs (for specific projects, for equipment, for field trips), and people donate a little bit or a lot. Some of the projects have matching funds from local and national organizations. Thinking I could do some good rather than blowing my money on more stuff, I scanned the site for things related to anthropology and archaeology. A search for archaeology brings up 5 projects, and a search for anthropology brings up 4, two of which are for an LCD projector. That's an amazingly small number of projects considering how many have been posted (and fulfilled) on the site.

This experience makes me wonder if there is any kind of outreach going on to the K-12 set. My department does an annual Archaeology Day, and I think there's also an Anthropology Day. We often do mini-lectures and workshops through the planetarium on campus, which hosts weekend and summer programs for middle schoolers. I guess I just assumed that, since I was interested in anthropology as a middle schooler and since my department does a bit of outreach, that would filter down into the grade schools. I wonder if there are any sample curricula for grade school teachers, so they can impart an anthropological perspective in social studies, or do a miniature archaeological excavation project in science class, or study human or animal bones in biology. It would be really awesome to see anthropology brought to kids below the university level, to introduce the next generation to anthropology before they go off to college intent on being doctors/laywers/businesspeople and thinking that social sciences are useless. But it might also open up employment opportunities for anthropologists. If you think about it, academics with post-graduate degrees in other subjects can be licensed to teach the K-12 set: foreign languages, English, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, history, computer science, even psychology in some high schools. The fact that anthropology is never taught in the grade schools has always been surprising to me.

So I would encourage all the K-12 teachers out there to think about projects involving anthropology, and to reach out to their local anthropologist and/or to DonorsChoose. You don't really need a DNA sequencer or an LCD projector or an archaeology-in-a-box kit to teach kids anthropological methods. A few books and tools will go a long way, and I would love to donate them to you.

(For what it's worth, I ended up donating money to a classroom in NC that needs copies of the Iliad and the Odyssey. My other loves are, of course, books and classical culture, and too many schools have crappy books with only selections of ancient works rather than complete texts. Even if the kids are reading texts in translation, that's still cool with me.)

November 3, 2009

Work/Life Balance

Yesterday, I attended a talk sponsored by our Women in Archaeology colloquium series. Since I'm dissertating and only have 20 hours of work-week nanny time, I haven't gone to many on-campus functions this semester. I had high hopes that this talk would be about ways to balance a career in academia and a personal life. What I took away from the talk, though, was that: 1) I need to do more fieldwork to advance my career; and 2) I should do less committee and advising work (if I ever get a job, that is). The speaker's rationale was that tenure committees don't really care about the service side of anthropology and that, interestingly, it is the female professors who tend to take up the mantle of advising and outreach, which she implied is because of our nurture nature.

I actually like advising undergraduates and early graduate students. It's gratifying - and, I have to admit, flattering - when a student takes multiple classes with you and wants to model her future on what you've done. Since I had spectacularly bad advisors in college (one of whom told me I would never get into grad school in classics without an 800 verbal GRE score), I feel like advising is a sacred duty. I also like teaching. Sure, I'm a horrible public speaker and I'm always nervous the first week of classes, but once I get into a groove in the courses I love, like Osteo, Bioarch, and Forensics, I think I'm pretty good at teaching. I'm most effective on paper, which is how I've managed to get granting agencies to give me money, and that's a rewarding part of the job. But writing articles is definitely the hardest part, and is even harder now that I can't spend 12 hours a day for a week banging out a paper.

So I had hoped that the talk yesterday would give me some direction as a hyphenate: ABD-on-the-job-market-anthropologist-with-an-infant. Not to disparage the speaker, but her talk, on why she was 60 and still an associate professor, only vaguely touched on gender and didn't talk about a family balance, as she never married and had no kids. On the contrary, her advice to do more fieldwork is hard to follow with a young family. As departments like mine take graduate students who usually have an MA or life experience, and the average time to PhD is an additional 10 years, the majority of us are going to gain partners and families in grad school. Which means we (well, possibly more women than men, as we have more pressing issues of biology to deal with) have families when we start the tenure clock... if we can even find a job in this economy. It's not an asset for a woman to have a husband and kids when she's looking for an academic job, and if I get interviews, I won't mention the fact that I have both. (Of course, it's not hard to find out these facts, as I also don't feel that I should specifically hide who I am.)

My ideal job would be one in which I could ease into an academic role that so far I've only really taken on part-time (one class taught a semester, one research project focused on, small grants applied for, a student or two to advise). And, of course, I'd like a job where I won't miss out entirely on my daughter's formative years, because part of being an anthropologist is being interested in humans and their development. Academia needs to be more family-friendly, for both women and men, but the only way it's going to change is from within. Which means I need to find a job at a department that recognizes that all the experiences in my life make me a well-rounded anthropologist rather than worrying that they will lead to the demise of my career.

My mother-in-law asked me, perhaps facetiously, whether my being an anthropologist was nature or nurture. Probably a little bit of both, as a kernel of interest in dinosaurs and ancient Greeks grew into full-blown anthropology geekery with encouragement from my never-staid, boundaries-pushing parents. A large part of my work involves nurturing an anthropological perspective in the next generation... not only in undergraduates, but also in my daughter. That, to me, is a good work/life balance.

October 31, 2009

Ossa dei Morti

In completely separate research streams this week on Roman funeral customs and Halloween, I came across an Italian All Soul's Day tradition rooted in the Roman Lemuralia, or the festival honoring the dead. During the latter, the paterfamilias would fill his mouth with black fava beans, which he would take out one by one and throw over his shoulder as he walked through the house. The lemuri, or souls of the deceased, would stoop to pick them up (as fava beans contained the souls of the dead) and leave the house. When Christianity took hold, traditions such as this were frowned upon. The practice of purifying the house of souls with fava was transformed into ossa dei morti, cookies (sometimes called fave dolci) made with almond paste, that are shaped to look like finger bones (or, in some traditions, tibiae).

If only I had stayed in Italy another month in 2007, I might have found out about this tradition earlier (and gotten some awesome recipes from my friends' mothers and grandmothers). I am seriously considering whipping up a batch of ossa dei morti on Monday... or at least filing this away to start a family tradition next year when Chickpea is old enough to help out.

October 27, 2009

Girly Teeth

After 32 years of decent dental health, in which I had one occlusal lesion in my lower left first molar (albeit one that was filled three separate times because the first and second dentists did a crappy job), I suddenly realized yesterday that I had not one but two smooth surface lesions on my lower left premolars, both along the buccal gumline. Carious lesions don't just appear. It takes a while for the munchy little bacteria to eat away at the enamel, turning it yellow then brown. Somehow I had two surprisingly large brown spots on my poor premolars. As an osteologist, I look at my teeth at least once a day. Sure, I don't inspect every single millimeter of them with a dental mirror, but as they're the only inside part of my skeleton on the outside, I gaze at them more than is probably healthy. So it's odd that I wouldn't notice the classic signs of dental caries in my own mouth.

But then I thought back to the outrageous amount of information I read over the course of my pregnancy last year. There was always a warning about dental procedures: some people seemed to think they were harmful, particularly in the first trimester, and some felt that good dental health was necessary for a healthy baby. I didn't think about this too much and did what I'd always done: brush at least twice a day. No flossing, in spite the ravages of periodontal disease I've seen in ancient skeletons. No cleanings at the dentist, in spite of the nasty tartar buildup I've seen on every single skull I've ever examined.

It seems, though, that I'm not alone in my confusion about dental care during pregnancy. A 2008 article notes that dental care in pregnancy is misunderstood by even doctors and dentists. What I should have searched for was the effects of pregnancy on dental health. I would have quickly found this 2002 review article that has two key findings: 1) Pregnancy-related changes are most frequent and most marked in gingival tissue; and 2) Changes in salivary composition in late pregnancy and during lactation may temporarily predispose to dental caries and erosion. Granted, as spelled out in the article, it's not that pregnancy causes carious lesions, rather it creates a better environment for bacteria to multiply and attack teeth and gums. One of my pregnancy side-effects, as it were, was sensitive gums, particularly in my first trimester. Even with the softest toothbrush, my gums would bleed every time I brushed. I thought, however, that my gums would go back to normal soon enough with no lasting effects, much like how the rest of my pregnancy-related complaints disappeared within a couple weeks after delivery. Although my gums seem fine, the changes in gingival tissues (especially the periodontal membrane) I had during pregnancy (and possibly now, as I am still nursing) must have contributed to these lesions.

But it got me thinking... I don't specialize in dental anthropology, but I can't remember ever having read that females of childbearing age have higher rates of carious lesions (and their inevitable result in antiquity, antemortem tooth loss) on average than males. Or that females have a higher rate of periodontal disease, the bony reaction to untreated gingivitis. I've already analyzed my Roman dental data for these disease processes, but I didn't think to specifically examine reproductive-age females. In antiquity, the creation of a better environment for hosting oral bacteria would have meant far more carious lesions than it does for today's hygiene-conscious woman. We really should be able to see this increase in the skeletal record - provided, of course, that men weren't doing something similarly cariogenic with their mouths. I doubt we could say much more than that women in the population likely had prenatal and postpartum caries, because the etiology of caries is multifaceted and there are tons of variables affecting it, although it would be cool if we could isolate the women who had given birth using their dental remains.

At any rate, a dentist appointment on Thursday will confirm just how rampant the decay is and how many fillings I need. Yay, pregnancy. Just one of the many things veteran mothers don't tell you about.

UPDATE: No cavities here, oddly enough. It seems I brush too hard, and my gums are receding slightly in the area of my mandibular premolars, exposing a bit of the somewhat darker and more sensitive root. That's good news, but I still need to be vigilant so that I don't get root caries - and now I know why some osteologists advocate counting root lesions differently than occlusal and smooth surface caries.

October 13, 2009

Comparative Cemeteries

It never ceases to amaze me just how few Roman cemeteries have been published (at least, in terms of the skeletal data. It seems the exciting grave goods are always published). Consider that in 2001, Italian bioarchaeologists noted that over 3,500 skeletons had been excavated in the previous three years. I don't even know how to extrapolate from that, as there was a lot of construction work done in 2000 for the Grande Giubileo, but Rome is still putting in all sorts of metro and train lines, so I would assume there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 skeletons that have been excavated in the last 10-15 years. And these are only from sites that are under the purview of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma, so they are cemeteries from the city and suburbs of Rome. (I'm pretty sure, for example, that the cemeteries at Isola Sacra are curated by the soprintendenza for Lazio.)

The lack of publications makes it both easy and hard to figure out what my comparative populations are for my dissertation. I have counted 8 Imperial cemeteries that have been published on their own, plus 4 that have been published as comparative material (and thus have only summary data rather than raw numbers). But this includes other urban sites like Pompeii, Herculaneum, Isola Sacra, and the rural sites of Lucus Feroniae and Quadrella. If I really narrow my search to Imperial cemeteries from the city and suburbs of Rome, I get 3: Via Basiliano (about 1 km further from Rome than my Casal Bertone), Vallerano (just south of my Castellaccio), and Osteria del Curato. Basiliano had over 2,200 tombs, but only 142 skeletons are published. Vallerano had only 103 tombs, but they are all published. And Osteria del Curato seems to have had hundreds of burials, but 120 skeletons are published and another 100 or so are summarized.

It's probably silly to stress about this, as I'm picking comparative populations solely for demography (and possibly for basic palaeopathology of teeth and cribra orbitalia/porotic hyperostosis, as those are the diseases most often reported in Italian bioarch), which is background to my isotope studies. It's very surprising, though, that nothing close to raw data is published in the Italian bioarch articles I've read. There are percentages of males versus females, percentages for age-at-death, and average height of males and females. But in general, I have no idea exactly how many skeletons were assessed to come up with those percentages, and that is a bit frustrating and worrisome from a comparative standpoint. Even more difficult is the fact that more skeletons were found at each of my two study sites since 2007, so I don't have complete populations either, just a fairly large sample of each. This is probably a complication, though, of having a full ancient city underneath a modern one.

Mostly for the sake of my graphs, I think I'll compare my two sites with the cemeteries in the same (sub)urban radius, because putting them all on the same footing (as is often done in the literature I'm reading) will only minimize any differences between urban and suburban life. And there do seem to be differences, at least in terms of age at death and diet. But more to come on that in the future...

October 2, 2009

My Broken Family

My mom has always been supportive of my need to study human bones, as she's a nurse and thinks it's pretty cool herself. A couple years ago, she got me a DVD of the cardiac cath that my aunt had done. It was cool to see not only her heart beating but also the small bone spurs on her thoracic vertebrae. (Note: do not tell your aging aunt that she has evidence of minor arthritis in her spine, as she will freak out.) She also gave me a copy of a dental xray that my grandfather had, which was cool because he (unfortunately) has few teeth.

A few weeks back, my mom tripped while helping move some furniture and fell backwards - hard - onto her left wrist. It promptly snapped, possibly because this is the second time in her life she has broken it and possibly because she's getting older. But at that point, even in a fog of pain, my mom knew the drill: request copies of any and all tests that look inside her body. Here are a few of the images I pulled from the CD they burned for her, both when she injured it and after reduction and casting.

The first one is a lateral view of her wrist. You can see just how badly she fractured her radius because the nice strong white lines end abruptly, and the distal end is smushed sort of dorsally. Ouch.

Here's a dorsal view where the wrist doesn't look quite as bad, plus the same view after the doctor tried to manipulate the bone back into place before putting on a temporary cast.

Then last night, Patrick injured himself pretty badly at basketball. His right ankle was swollen and painful. This morning, it was still pretty badly swollen and there was a giant bruise that just kept getting bigger. As it's a Friday and we didn't want to risk an ER trip over the weekend, I got him an appointment to see a doctor this afternoon. The GP didn't think it was broken but sent us to a radiologist across the road to get an xray anyway. Definitely not broken, but I did get to see inside Patrick's leg. Here are three views: medial, anterior, and anterolateral.

The only weird thing is the distal tibia. To me, that looks like a line of epiphyseal fusion running horizontally, but Patrick is too old to have vestiges of that line... isn't he? Anyway, I find this all terribly cool, even if my mom and Patrick are a little freaked out about seeing their own bones. Maybe if these were reminders of my pain and discomfort, I'd be weirded out by them too.

September 30, 2009

Teaching Statement

I'm currently in the process of applying for jobs (a couple postdocs and oodles of assistant prof jobs, none of which I am likely to get being ABD), which means I actually have to sit down and think about my teaching philosophy.

There are some weird online quizzes that you can take to tell you what kind of teacher you are. In the land of PAEI, I am more or less equal parts behaviorist and liberal, meaning I like to convey knowledge for its own sake but I also like getting my students involved, with hands-on activities wherever possible. In the land of TPI, I am equal parts transmission and apprenticeship, which basically means half lecture and half hands-on. No surprises from either of these. But a teaching statement isn't just about how to you teach but why you teach. I do like introducing students to anthropology, as it's not a subject that's taught in K-12 education and therefore something new and different and exciting. Mostly, though, I like helping students who already have a glimmer of an interest develop into full-on anthropology geeks.

Without further ado, here are some pictures of the second forensic experiment with pigs that one of my (former) students has done. I would describe this project as adorable except for the fact that Heather can clearly inflict a lot of damage on bone... Can't I just include pictures of student projects instead of a written explanation of why I love teaching?

September 15, 2009

Roman Homelands

From de Legibus 2.5:

"I believe that he [Cato] and all men from the municipia have two homelands, one by birth and one by citizenship, so that Cato, who was born at Tusculum, received citizenship among the Roman people; since he was a Tusculan by birth and a Roman by citizenship, he had one homeland by place of birth and another by law. But that which is the common citizenship must stand first in our affection in the name of the state; for it is our duty to die for this and to give ourselves completely, to consecrate ourselves and offer up everything we have. But that into which we were born is not less sweet to us than into which we were adopted."

And here I thought the ancient authors had nothing to say on (trans)migration. Granted, Cicero writes about the elite (and only the male elite at that), but it looks like I need to go back and refresh my knowledge of what Latin literature has to say about migration, citizenship, and ethnicity. Also, Lomas' Roman Italy sourcebook currently rocks my world.

No Love

Teaching ANTH 101 is hard. I just got my (second set of) evals from my spring intro course. Basically, half the class loved me and half hated me. Or they hated the class. It's often hard to tell, as I don't think students separate instructor from subject matter. I find it incredibly easy to teach Human Osteology and even Bioarchaeology because they're topics that not many schools offer and are geared to upper division students. 101 is just difficult because it fulfills perspective requirements, so I had plenty of seniors (all business majors, oddly enough) who were more or less required to take ANTH 101 to graduate. Needless to say, they didn't like the class. At all. I guess I needed to sing and dance more?

I'm kind of glad I'm not teaching this semester, as it takes up a crapload of time and effort that is better directed at finishing my dissertation (or, you know, at least blogging about it). But I have some leads on classes I can adjunct in the spring. I don't really need a spring teaching job, but I might take on a class to keep busy and to put on my CV. I like to diversify my teaching portfolio - sure, I've taught Osteo and 101 twice, but I haven't ever taught intro to physical or any class that's close to my cultural-geographic specialty. It would be really cool to teach something new.

September 8, 2009

Urbanism Schmurbanism

I think I'm scrapping the idea of urbanism for my dissertation, as I can't really see it going anywhere exciting. What I do want to focus on are the immigrants I've found through Sr and O. My advisor suggested adding stuff on identity - I guess that's still the hot topic in anthropology these days. But without much archaeological or artifactual context, identity is going to prove a bit difficult as a topic around which to center an entire dissertation.

My thoughts at the moment relate to border crossings - both literal and figurative - as a way to conceptualize the diss and focus it on immigrants. I can't seem to find any good books or articles, though, that go beyond identifying physical limits - the Roman frontier or the various limites of the Empire. Maybe I have to go further in the literature on romanization to find what I'm looking for, or maybe what I'm thinking about doesn't really exist as an area of inquiry in Roman archaeology/history yet. But since historians of Europe have been writing about boundaries in terms of territory/space, citizenship, and identity for close to a decade, I assume that historians of Rome have started writing about it too. If not, it makes my dissertation that much easier to write - I can say something interesting about human mobility within a large space that was, at the macro level, physically almost borderless (up to the limites) but which had distinct cultural areas (such as the Britannii and the Alemanni).

Suggestions for things to read - particularly about space, borders, boundaries, movement, and mobility (e.g., migration, transnationalism, diaspora, military, tourism, trade) - are welcome.

August 24, 2009

O O O!

Although I cashed the PEO fellowship stipend for the semester, I'm not back to my diss full-time yet, not until the nanny starts September 3rd. But that doesn't mean that my work obligations will wait until then. I have a final grant report for Wenner-Gren due August 31st, and it requires me to discuss the results I've obtained using the money they gave me. I have yet to spend the remainder of the grant, though, as I'm waiting not-so-patiently on invoices from a colleague in England who is doing my oxygen isotope analysis. They had better get here in the next couple days, either by email or by fax, so that I can pay her and wrap up this phase of my research.

But this means that I did get nearly all of my O isotope results - 46 out of 60, to be exact. So far, they seem pretty interesting. After I figured out how to convert from one standard to another (δ18OVSMOW to δ18OVPDB for those interested), I compared my data to published data from ancient and modern Roman teeth. The range for locals was -4 to -6 ‰ in that publication. And my Romans ranged from... well, about -1.5 to -6.5 ‰. I did a quick histogram and found that the majority of people fell in the -3 to -6 range. But there is nearly a continuous distribution of people between -4 and -1.5. Are they immigrants or not? If I look at the isopleth map of rainfall in the Italian peninsula, there's nothing under -4 ‰. So several of my skeletons are from somewhere else... possibly northern Africa, as there is a published result of -2.9 ‰ plus or minus some error for Alexandria. This makes sense, as Egypt provided a lot of grain during the Empire and would have necessitated people traversing the trade route. What would be interesting to look at is whether or not these people were transmigrants: that is, people who engaged in cyclical or seasonal migration, or people who left a family at home and sent money or other resources back. But this is a question that's currently much larger than my dissertation, something I hope to work on in the future.

At any rate, I haven't had much time to crunch the O numbers or the δ13Cap numbers that came with it as a bonus. These latter numbers are also cool because they come from M1s and my C/N isotope data for diet that a colleague in Florida ran for me come from the femur. So I now have δ13Cap data from the first 3 years of life and the last 5 years of life for around 50 individuals. I'm not sure how useful this will be without the complementary N data, but I'll have to sort that out. So many numbers, so little nanny time.

Hopefully I can churn out these two book reviews in the next week and a half so that I can concentrate on doing dissertation work when the nanny starts. But it's hard for me to put aside all these glorious numbers in order to read papers about the archaeology of landscape in Italy and Roman Iron Age burials in France.

July 28, 2009

PEO, GTIS, and other random acronyms

I haven't exactly ramped back up my academic productivity in the past three weeks as I promised. The way I figure it, I only have one maternity leave, and I might as well learn all that I can about the baby in that time.

My original admittedly artificial deadline for the end of leave was August 1, since that's when the first lump-sum PEO check arrives to cover my fall semester expenses. But UNC doesn't start back until August 25. This seems like a reasonable date to resume my research, as the Graduate School gave me a tuition scholarship for the year, which is excellent news because PEO requires that I be enrolled but doesn't provide funding for it.

I am planning to spend the remainder of my leave attempting to work from home when given the chance and interviewing sitters so that I can work at least 20 hours per week on my dissertation for the next year. It'll be a bit hard to return to doing work when I've spent the last couple months catching up on terrible TV series while nursing and ministering to my tiny critter's every need, but I need to wrap up this project and start looking for a permanent job. Besides, my Wenner-Gren is extended only until August 31, which means I really need to continue to bug my colleague who's doing the oxygen analysis. Once all the isotope results are in, though, I should be able to figure out what they're telling me and write a dissertation about it. Right?

July 6, 2009

Endless Evals

So I haven't posted in a month because I haven't gotten anything done on my research, owing to my 3-week-old daughter. But as she sleeps more regularly and more often, I hope to start ramping back up to at least a semi-productive state by August.

Yesterday, I checked my university mail for the first time in about six weeks. The only interesting thing was my first round of evaluations for the Anth 101 class I taught this past spring. I say first round because I taught the course for the Friday Center for Continuing Education at UNC - and they had separate evaluations from the university at large. Of course, I didn't know this until finals week. I had already given out university evaluations on one of the last days of class (because you're not supposed to give out the evals on the final), when I found a pack of separate evaluation forms in my mailbox. After some brief emails back and forth with the Friday Center people, it was clear that they were truly interested in the results from *their* form and more or less demanded that I give them out, in spite of the fact I'd already asked for evaluations a week prior. At any rate, they just sent me the results.

Only 9 students out of 13 filled out the evaluation, even though everyone showed up to and finished the exam early. I ended up getting high marks in just about everything, with students "agree"ing or "strongly agree"ing on things like "demonstrates enthusiasm," "communicates clearly and logically," "promotes a climate of respect," and "is well prepared for instruction." Five of them strongly agreed that they would "rate this instructor as 'excellent'" (sweet of them!), and they all seemed to like the class and the subject matter as well. The free-form responses noted that I am "organized" (several times!), that I use "relevant cultural themes for college-age students" and that I'm "nice and relatable and not bored of teaching yet" (awwww). Really, the worst thing anyone said was that the class focused too much on vocab (which it probably did - it's intro).

No matter how many times I teach, evaluations always surprise me. For someone to specifically comment that I'm organized must mean that other instructors are really disorganized. I suppose I had those instructors in college too - and their classes drove me crazy. For someone to specifically comment that I'm not bored with teaching yet means that, sadly, there are instructors at UNC who go through the motions of teaching what should be their area of expertise, their main interest in life, to undergraduates. Teaching 101 this semester was a surprising amount of work, but I always felt like I was disorganized and wasn't really getting across all the information I wanted them to know. By the end of the semester, as I was having trouble standing and lecturing for 75 minutes owing to my ginormously pregnant belly and also having trouble focusing on anything other than nursery decor (and certainly not on cultural anthropology), I felt like I had totally let the class down. But I guess I didn't do so badly.

My goal for maternity leave is to work on my teaching portfolio, since I am going to try out the job market in the winter. Once I get the university evals back, I'll have everything I need to compile student evaluations for all the classes I've taught in the last 7 years. Then it's just a matter of, oh, writing up my teaching philosophy, crafting a super-spiffy cover letter, and updating my CV. I think I can get this done by August.

June 4, 2009

More editing graphics

I can't say I have any hilariously horrible sentences from the editing I've done in the past month (which has been considerable, since May and December tend to be my heaviest months owing to grad students wanting to graduate), but I did get another picture from the Russian ophthalmologist who is writing exercises to reduce myopia.

I found this image rather amusing for some reason. Perhaps it's because it reminds me of a weird "learn semaphore" type of webpage or maybe it should be in an online IQ test. Mostly, though, it's the stubby hand that gets me. The thumb is a bit short and fat, and the forefinger is just so... conical. I am sincerely hoping that Dr. Russian Ophthalmologist drew it himself.

May 27, 2009

Frustrated with FastLane

For quite a few years now, the NSF has used a website called FastLane for grant proposals. It has everything: submission guidelines, reporting functions, etc. It is supposed to be a convenient way to apply for and monitor one or more grants. In theory, FastLane works better than submitting a proposal on paper to a snail-mail address (yes, granting agencies still exist that want more than one hard copy mailed to them). But in practice, FastLane is impossible for graduate students to use.

Submission was relatively easy, actually. When I applied for my grant back in 2006, I just had to input my advisor's name and email as the principal investigator (PI) and submit the proposal as myself, the co-PI. I think the only signature to be gotten was handed over to my own Office of Sponsored Research, which they either scan and send or keep on file. Easy enough, but everything got weird from there.

As the co-PI, I didn't merit even an email from the NSF when my grant was awarded. I found out by email from my advisor, who had received word of the proposal's acceptance. UNC's OSR also emailed me a few days later to notify me. Getting money out was actually fairly easy, inasmuch as getting advances and reimbursement from the Office of Contracts & Grants is ever easy. All I had to do was submit receipts or a signed request for an advance, and they more or less ponied up the cash from the grant without the PI's signature. That worked well through 2007, but with multiple-year grants, the NSF wants to know what their money's been up to.

Since I spent most of the money in 2007, I was required to write an annual report in 2008. Problem was, I didn't know this because by this point, I was no longer allowed to access FastLane. Or rather, I was no longer allowed to access my grant. Previously, I had been able to check its status and print out copies of grant documents, although I couldn't submit reports. I have no idea why my access mysteriously disappeared. My advisor, however, as the PI was still on the grant and was receiving all the notices of overdue reports. Which he didn't realize weren't forwarded on to me. So the 2007 annual report was really quite late. This particular grant was set to last for two years, then expire around August 2008. Again, not something I knew because I couldn't access my grant on the website. Fortunately, my advisor did submit an extension request that time so that I could use the remainder of the money on C/N isotope analysis.

The grant is again set to expire in September of 2009. I met with my advisor a couple months ago to see what I needed to do in order to be granted an extension, just in case. Turns out, I couldn't apply for an extension immediately because my 2008 annual report was way overdue, again owing to the fact that I didn't have any idea when or if one was due. Fortunately, at this time, the department secretary who handles all the grant paperwork started forwarding me the notices from FastLane. So the NSF sends notifications to my advisor and to my department secretary, but not to me, the co-PI. (Don't get me started on how annoying it is to be merely the co-PI when I wrote the entire grant and benefit solely from it.)

I got another forward today: my annual report is still overdue. Not a good way to start the morning; I forwarded this report to my advisor a month ago. Now I'm waiting on an email from him to see what's up with its submission before I give up and call over to the OSR to see if someone there can submit the report for me. And while I'm at it, perhaps I can get myself reinstated on FastLane as someone who can actually take some amount of control over my own grant money. Granted, there's only about $400 left in my NSF account, but it's silly to waste it when I can spend it on oxygen analysis or another nice set of calipers.

Turns out, my advisor is waiting on someone in OSR to reset his FastLane password so that he can submit the report. Which makes me more frustrated, because I'm now waiting on someone waiting on someone else with no recourse for getting accomplished the one simple thing I need to do so that the NSF doesn't take away my remaining piddly amount of money. Grrr. I might call over to OSR anyway. It is my grant, after all.

April 24, 2009

SAAs - Day 2

Well, day two has basically been a bust. I made it in early to an 8:45 paper on lead isotopes in Roman Carthage, then snuck over to a session on urbanism in the more-or-less ancient world. Mostly, I've just been going to talks where I know the speaker or have heard of him/her. But after 10am, sessions started running long and talks were never at their appropriate time. Room scheduling wasn't as good as yesterday, and several sessions were basically standing room only, as I can't wend my way past 4 people to get an empty seat. At noon, I got some much-desired mac-n-cheese at the food court and headed back to the conference where... the only two talks I wanted to see in the afternoon were cancelled. Thing is, they don't post cancellations on the door where the info for the session is. So, since things were running over, I sat through a bunch of boring papers waiting for the one I'd come to see... to no avail. Twice. Needless to say, I'm terribly cranky and ridiculously sore. I do want to go to a couple things in the morning, so I'm gonna nap and eat ice cream and save my energy for that plus a 7-hour drive back tomorrow.

April 23, 2009

SAAs - Day 1

Apparently I am only capable of conferencing for 6 hours straight these days. I showed up for a couple papers I wanted to hear from my UNC colleagues around 9:45... but their session was way, way over time already and I didn't get to see them, so I had to sneak out... inasmuch as I am able to sneak anywhere these days.

I headed to my session, met two of the other presenters, and we waited for the previous session to be done. And waited. They went 15 minutes over, which meant I had no time to set up presentations and my lappy. Somehow, as soon as they left, I managed to do this, convening the session only 5 mins late, albeit in a rather frantic state. But then the first paper went 5 minutes over. *sigh* As usual, my presentation skills suck, which was complicated even more by the fact that I can't read properly because I get out of breath quickly these days and that there was a hiccuping fetus in my pelvis the entire time.

But several people responded positively to my work - it's weird to give a talk to archaeologists who mostly work in America. It's kind of a way to change their minds about what classical archaeologists do. And one of the presenters, whose surname is Grove, quipped, "It's rather intimidating being in a session where the chair is named Killgrove." That made me lol. In a professional conference. Oops.

So far, I'm not entirely impressed by the SAAs. They're much larger than the AAPAs, but somehow with less stuff to interest me. The majority of the archaeology is North and South American, with few Old World papers or posters. The papers are short, there's no time for questions, and I have been unimpressed by the quality of the slides and the talks. Granted, 15 minutes is not enough time to say much of value, and some people trip over their words (at least I'm not as bad as a woman who was talking about "the fibula, which is in the lower arm"), but I'd like to get something out of this conference. Other than talking to master's students who are suuuuper interested in what I do and want to know how to do it too.

As for Atlanta... it smells weird. And is really hot and humid. I'm not so much a fan of the city. But so far, the actual Atlantans have been great. Surprisingly friendly for such a large, diverse city. Or maybe that's just because I'm ginormous and people like to pry.

April 20, 2009

Applying for Fellowships Sucks

I probably shouldn't whine, but...

For the second year in a row, the UNC grad school deemed my research not worthy enough to merit a write-up/completion fellowship. I honestly don't get it. Granting agencies really like my research and are willing to give me money to do all kinds of chemical analysis on dead people, but the grad school is not a fan of mine, no matter how interdisciplinary I make my research (combining classics, anthro, and geochem is not exactly easy). It would be really lovely to be able to finish this dissertation and, you know, get a job. Not having a completion fellowship means teaching, and that (and even TAing) takes a ridiculous amount of time away from actual reading/writing/research.

So now I get to try to convince either the grad school or my department to pay my tuition for a semester or year, as the PEO award requires that I maintain enrollment - at a cost of $4k for the school year as an in-state resident. If the grad school screws me over again next year and insists I'm still out-of-state, that's $11k for the year. And there goes nearly the entire PEO award. Grrr.

April 19, 2009

Pole, Hole, or Optic Cup?

My latest editing task is a series of short webpages for a Russian ophthalmologist who is convinced he can cure nearsightedness with a few simple eye muscle exercises. The first documents he sent me were reasonably understandable, but once he got into the evolution of the eye, the English went downhill. In emailing back and forth trying to figure out what he wanted to say and how one would say it in anatomical terms in English, he sent me this cute drawing of the evolution of the eye. I've never gotten a drawing from one of my clients before. Once we figured it all out, he told me that he very much appreciated all my edits because I "made juicy fruits from dry branches." I think this is a lovely phrase. Maybe I can get it emblazoned on a business card.

April 8, 2009

Fellowships Are Fantastic

I was quite surprised today when I got a letter in the mail from the PEO Executive Office. It was a standard business-size envelope, and it's 3 weeks earlier than the notification deadline, so I thought for sure it was a rejection of my application for a dissertation completion fellowship. But I was wrong - I actually got the fellowship! Someone is going to give me a big, fat check simply to write about dead Romans. Of course, this will take some pressure off of me to find fall employment while dealing with a 3-mo-old infant, and of course it's yet another spiffy thing to list on my CV so that people will hire me. I can also hold it concurrently with a TA position, any sort of employment, and even another fellowship (like the UNC completion fellowship that I haven't heard about yet).

The annoying things are that it's a cash award (which means it doesn't cover tuition per se and I have to pay loads of taxes on it) and that I'm not supposed to graduate until after August 1, 2010. PEO has a strange notion of what a school year constitutes. I plan to graduate in May 2010, but they don't want to give me the award unless I graduate in August. Granted, my advisor will be happy to tell prospective employers that I have defended and will get my PhD before the fall 2010 semester starts, which wouldn't be a lie. But I wouldn't be able to walk in the May 2010 graduation because of UNC's rules. None of these things is a dealbreaker, of course, or I wouldn't have applied for this fellowship. $15,000 is worth a bit of dealing with bureaucracy.

But just so no one thinks I am completely enamoured of myself right now, I totalled up the amounts I've applied for in terms of grants and fellowships and the amounts I've received since 2005. My success rate at getting grants to fund my dissertation is 27%, which includes all the times I applied for and didn't get the Wenner-Gren but also the under-$1k grants I got from UNC. My success rate at getting fellowships is a lot lower - 14% - primarily because fellowships are worth more and are an all-or-nothing deal. Which brings my combined grant/fellowship success rate to 20% over the last 4 years. Academia sucks because you're constantly applying for money that you're likely not going to get, but a 20% success rate probably isn't all that bad, considering. Maybe I am completely enamoured of myself right now. Don't worry, though, it won't last. We academics tend to be bipolar, and I'm sure I'll hate my research and my life within a few days.

April 5, 2009

What makes one Roman?

As I consider this question in writing my SAA talk (ok, who am I kidding? in merely thinking about my SAA talk, since I haven't written a word yet), I'm wondering how people define the term "Roman." At the AAPAs, I saw a poster that compared an "urban" Roman sample (Casilina) to a "rural" Roman sample of skeletons (Urbino). The "urban" sample is even further from the Imperial city walls than my Castellaccio site, a site that I'm calling "suburban" - and that's probably generous. The "rural" sample is over 200km from Rome, close to the east coast of Italy.

In the early view of JAS (Journal of Anthropological Sciences, not to be confused with the much more well-known Journal of Archaeological Science), the article by Paine et al. is subtitled "Paleopathology of Roman skeletons," in which they discuss skeletons from Urbino. Can those people really be called "Roman"? Sure, there was extensive citizenship in the Empire, and all of these people would have been subjects to the emperor, possibly required to pay taxes to Rome and suchlike. But they didn't live in Rome, and there is no discussion at all in the article about what cultural or biological criteria constitute Romanness. Don't get me wrong - I'm excited that there is more published data coming out with which to compare my sites (although the unpublished stuff on Casilina would help more). But at the same time, it's largely uncontextualized data - at least in this article, which doesn't publish anything about the archaeological context. More importantly, though, the authors are assuming that these people are Roman simply because they lived in the Italian peninsula.

The connotations of Rome and Roman have been unchanging for thousands of years, but I thought scholars had started to shy away from these monolithic understandings of this massive preindustrial society. At least, I feel that classicists are starting to shy away from this idea and am very surprised that physical anthropologists are perpetuating a lack of complexity. Perhaps I'm reading too much into the article. But it annoys me when someone asks what I study, and I reply, "Stable isotopes in ancient Roman skeletons," and they ask me where my skeletons are from. Uhm, Rome - it's a geographic location, not a cultural affiliation. I'm not sure that my people are "Roman" either, because I don't really know what "Roman" was - but part of my dissertation involves trying to find out what being Roman meant to the people whose skeletons I am studying and to the people who interacted with them. After all, culture resides in individuals, but it only takes on meaning when shared by a larger community. Romanness likely had many different definitions in antiquity and a few shared features. I'm just more interested in creating a nuanced vision of how people in the Roman Empire lived their lives than attempting to find all possible commonalities in the vast cultural-geographical mess that was ancient Europe.

AAPAs - Day 3

So on Friday, I skipped the afternoon sessions of the meeting and hung out with my friend Tara, who did her master's at ECU with me. We had a great time reminiscing and laughed hysterically at dinner when she found a hair not only in her tandoori chicken but also in her naan. And we got some of the food comped.

I slept in on Saturday, packed, checked out, and headed to the poster session on forensics, where I ran into yet more people I met while in England last summer and found Lara for lunch. Then it was time for the afternoon bioarch session, which was better than I had expected based on previous days. Still, it wasn't a coherent session at all, ranging all over the world and all over subject matter - from a paper on musculoskeletal markers on clavicles to the Iceman to CT scans to labret use. Most were good papers, some were terrible.

The last few times I've been to the AAPAs, I've taken notes on collections or methods or theories that I felt I could use in the future. This year, I just wanted free wireless in the paper sessions so I could multitask and not feel like I was wasting time. Had I not been 32 weeks pregnant, I would have skipped most of this conference to sightsee in Chicago. The weather was actually pretty nice most days, in the 50s and sunny.

The trip back was fine. The plane ride was slightly more comfortable, we got in half an hour early, and I ran into a friend completely randomly at O'Hare while we were watching the end of the first NCAA semifinal game. Chickpea is glad to be home and not on a weirdly pressurized airplane, but I'm going to subject her to one final trip this Friday. Oofa.

April 3, 2009

AAPAs - Day 2

Yesterday's afternoon poster session was pretty uneventful. I ran out of handouts (all 50 of them) and didn't bother running to the business center in the hotel to make more - just gave out an email address and URL. I should check analytics to see if anyone's been downloading the handout. There were many more people at the 10am session than the 2pm session.

The paper sessions are truly awful, though. There's no real coherence to them. For some reason, there are more coherent poster sessions on ancient health and stable isotope analysis and such. So far, there have been no papers on stable isotope analysis, but there are some on palaeopath or bioarch that I've gone to. Most of the papers I've heard have been from students - and they're not interesting, groundbreaking papers. But at least half of the students have been funded by both NSF and Wenner-Gren, making me feel much less special and wondering if my research is as boring as theirs is.

And I've seen my fair share of terrible slides and posters as well. There are people who forget to put labels on their charts, people who use different fonts/colors/styles willy-nilly, people who don't change the Excel default colors, people who end each declarative sentence as if it were a question, people who can't make boxes line up, people who don't spellcheck their slides (the native speakers - I give the foreigners some leeway)... And then there are the people who think their work is the shit when they really aren't saying anything new at all. I just tend to walk out of those papers. But honestly, in all my years of conferences, I have never seen this large a number of paper slides and posters that are just visually arresting - in a very, very bad way. Are people opting for content over style? Is it a backlash against the over-staturation in our culture of visuals and media? Are people just lazy?

April 2, 2009

AAPAs - Day 1

Well, I'm already overwhelmed. My first task was to get my poster up - at 8am. I made it to the ballroom around 8:20, and my poster-mates had already set theirs up. Unfortunately, theirs is too large. (To be fair, mine is 2" too wide, because I misread the limits as 4' wide by 3'10" tall, but it's the other way around.) Theirs, however, is like 8" too wide. I couldn't find them anywhere, and there was no way my poster was going to be legible on the right-hand side, so I moved their poster. It was too large, after all. Now both posters are very nearly completely legible, although you have to kind of read around the curve of the posters at the end of the corkboard. I left a note. I'm sure it'll show up on the passive-aggressive notes website, but I didn't feel right *not* leaving a note. The worst part of it is, these people are colleagues of one of my friends.

So that was irritating, but then I started running into people. A British colleague expressed surprise and delight at my giant belly. An Italian colleague jumped off an escalator to come say hi to me - which was weird only because I'd only met him twice (and had to surreptitiously glance at his name tag), and it was well over 18 months ago in a completely different context (i.e., Rome), and I've gained a ton of weight since then. I returned my poster tube to the hotel room and decided to head to a paper session for an hour - unfortunately, it was completely full. Standing room only. And I just don't care enough about the papers to stand for an hour.

Mostly, though, it's weird to walk around a conference and have people staring at me. Seeing a woman 8 months pregnant at a conference is apparently not common at all.

March 23, 2009

Rotten Mellon

Well, I'm currently 0 for 3 on my fellowship applications. I got the rejection letter from the Andrew Mellon/ACLS fellowship this weekend. Granted, they got 900 applicants for about 60 fellowships. I can't say with any amount of honesty that I think my dissertation project is among the top 5% or so of all dissertation projects in the sciences, arts, and humanities. Learning about Roman migration is cool as shit, but it's not going to change the world.

So I'm back to plugging away at my manuscript for a chapter in an edited volume on Roman diaspora, to be published by the Journal of Roman Archaeology as a special volume some time next year (I think). I'm not quite sure how to spin this chapter, even though I'm nearly finished with it, because I'm trying to toe the line between being completely obtuse about the data I currently have and publishing all my strontium results. I have a pretty good idea what the strontium is telling me: migration to Rome was only about 5% in this population, and of the immigrants whose sex I could determine, all were male. The presence of kids (one as young as 8) indicates either the kids' families moved them to Rome or perhaps they were slaves sent to work in the fullery. Most of the immigrants have poorer-than-average skeletal and dental health, but I have no real metric to back that up other than my observations of the data set.

The real problem, though, is that I'm not sure I know my audience anymore. I read a fair amount of stuff on ancient Rome, but in the past few years, it's been focused on the more anthropological and statistical side of things: demography, migration, burial practices, any isotope or statistical analyses I can find in the ancient world. Sometimes I check out articles on fulleries, which might have a little about architecture or even art, but my interest in them quickly wanes. My skeletons are largely ahistorical, probably poor and lower class, which makes them incredibly interesting to me as an anthropologist. It means I can go all anthro-theory-licious as long as I contextualize them properly within Roman history. So I'm not sure quite what is expected of this chapter. If I add more snippets of history or information about aqueducts, the paper becomes unwieldy and panders to classicists. If I just run with migration theory at the expense of the context of the immigrants, on the other hand, my paper will only be read by the few other researchers who do what I do and not appeal to a broader demographic.

Maybe in a few years, after the diss, I'll have a better idea of how to mesh Roman archaeo, skeletal remains, and anthro theory. Right now, though, it's a lot easier to write a straightforward materials-methods-results-discussion paper for my first book chapter than attempt to guess what people want to hear.

March 17, 2009

Semi-annual Teaching Evals

After all my bitching today about how many students have dropped my class this semester (for the record: 6 out of 19), I was feeling pretty crappy about any sort of teaching ability I felt I had. I don't know if students realize that profs take it personally when they drop the class - but some of us do. I like to think that the workload for my course is reasonable (midterm, exam, 5-pg book review, a few quizzes) and that my lectures are, at least at times, interesting and relevant to their lives. It's anthropology, after all, which is hard to make boring.

At any rate, today I got my teaching evaluations back from last semester's Human Osteology course, and I was quite surprised. I felt like I was a cranky harpy the entire semester, fueled by pregnancy hormones and my inability to deal well with students who came in late or skipped class. I mean, really - if I could get my ass up at 6am to shower, take the bus to school, and set up a weekly bone quiz all before 9am while feeling like I had mono the entire semester, surely they could haul themselves across campus from their dorms. But apparently they liked me and they liked my class.

All my scores averaged over 4 (on a scale of 1-5), and all of them were consistently higher than the departmental average for anthro courses taught that semester. I got a few 3's (which are "don't know" or "not applicable"), but only one 2 (disagree). Unfortunately, it was in "The instructor treated all students with respect." I'm very curious about this; mostly because I'd honestly like to try to do better. If a student feels I am showing him or her disrespect, I'd like to change my behavior; but I have no way of knowing who it was or why s/he said that. My highest result was in "Overall, I learned a great deal from this course," which was a 4.7 average. Not surprising, as only a handful of students come in with a human anatomy class under their belts. My lowest was "The instructor provided me with helpful feedback on my performance," with a 4.0 average. And 8 of the 15 students checked Yes for "The instructor was one of the best I have had at UNC, fully deserving of a teaching award." Awwwww.

Fortunately, my lecture in 101 went well, and there wasn't a lot of bitching about midterm grades. The evals, though, definitely saved my evening from being really crappy.

March 14, 2009

Signs of the Apocalypse, er, Economy

In the past three months or so, I've gotten a steady stream of emails from wannabe authors who have written a novel and want professional editing help. I'm much more comfortable editing academic work - which requires a certain structure and language - but I've now logged my fair share of hours on shlocky fiction that has no hope of ever being published except by a vanity press. I've had a freelance editing website for at least a couple years now. It's not steady work, but my google page rank is fairly high: if you search for "freelance editor," I think I'm still in the top 5 hits on the web. So this spate of requests for novel editing is an anomaly. Are these authors unemployed people trying to keep their sanity by writing? Do they think that publishing a novel is a way to quick money? I'd love to see statistics on the number of manuscripts submitted to publishing houses before and after all the major economic misfortunes, and I'll bet that number has gone up recently. Regardless, this means a better economy for me - whenever I can find several days' worth of time to put into editing crappy fiction that doesn't distract too badly from my own writing - so I guess I can't complain.

March 6, 2009

Ironic Invitation

I am technically teaching Anth 101 for the Friday Center for Continuing Education at UNC this semester. As one would assume, most of these classes are taught either online or in the evening for non-traditional students. In my mailbox today, I got this invitation to an instructor appreciation banquet:

Yeah, see, I *teach* at 6pm. For you, the Friday Center. But I appreciate the thought of your appreciation? Maybe I should RSVP and explain that I would come but can't. In a nice way, not a snotty, passive-aggressive way.

March 1, 2009

Selection Sunday

I need to send off around 50 samples to a colleague in England for oxygen isotope analysis. Why 50? Well, at 30£ a sample, that's what I can afford with what's left of the NSF and the Wenner-Gren. (If the pound falls further, though, perhaps I can add another sample or two.) So, as always, my conundrum is... which 50 teeth (people) do I send? Here are the stats.

My MNI (minimum number of individuals) is 212 from two sites, split about 70/30. Each site has a generally normal range of individual ages, but there is slight overrepresentation of males. For strontium, I tested every individual for whom I had a first molar (n=112). I have immigration data, then, on just over half of everyone I looked at. But I had to send off samples for carbon/nitrogen analysis, and I had budgeted money to test 50 individuals. I had to send them off before I got the strontium results back. So I decided on a more or less stratified sample proportional to the population of each of the two sites. I sent off samples from at least one individual in each 5- or 10-year age range, and for adults, I made sure to send at least one male and one female from each 10-year age range if present. What I ended up with, then, are data from 112 people for immigration and 52 of those people for diet, some of whom are probably immigrants.

Now, oxygen is going to help me figure out the strontium results. And since I need to send off first molar pieces, my sample is going to be 50 out of the 112 for whom I did strontium. I will likely have to omit a couple people from analysis because of lack of remaining enamel (which is destroyed in strontium analysis), but for the most part, I can choose any of the 112 for oxygen. My strontium values are more or less continuous: there are about half a dozen outliers in the high or low range. So, what's my sampling strategy? I obviously feel like I should test the individuals who are more or less clearly outliers. And then the rest can be pulled from the pool of middle-range values. I suppose a stratified sample of age and sex would be useful as well. My choice is: do I choose a new stratified sample based on the strontium values, or do I just send the same people for whom I got carbon/nitrogen results? If the former, I will have some individuals for whom I know Sr and O but not C/N and for whom I know Sr and C/N but not O. If the latter, I will have 50 people for whom I have Sr, O, and C/N, and 62 people for whom I only have Sr. I'm leaning towards this latter option. Or, I could just ignore these strategies and go back through the database looking for individuals I felt might be immigrants based on the phenotypic appearance of their bones while I was analyzing them. But basing ideas about immigrants solely on visual assessment of what looks "different" is probably not the best idea, especially since I only looked at a couple hundred people. I guess I'll play around tomorrow and see if it makes sense to send all the Sr/C/N people off for O.

February 12, 2009

Not types of cheese: tufo, pozzolane, peperino

My task before meeting with the geochemist today was to find out the age of the limestones in and around Rome. Most of Rome is composed of volcanic rock, of course, but there is some travertine in the area as well. Turns out, both the limestones and the lavas are middle Pleistocene in origin. A very useful article on the travertines around Rome even told me that the Sr ratios all cluster in the low .708s. Even though I wasn't tasked with looking into the volcanic rock, I found that the stuff around Rome (Alban Hills, Monti Sabatini, Monti Volsini) is all in the .710s. I should, then, find that any "local" Romans would fall into the range between .708 and .710; but most of them should be more in the .710 area, since the volcanic area around Rome is huge in comparison to the small outcroppings of travertine.

Of course, the vast majority of my samples fall within this range. Interestingly, the pig samples I took from each site are .709-.710. Neither one is so low that I would suspect a travertine signature. (But if anyone wants to send me some rodent teeth from Rome, that would help greatly!) So there are still some outliers in the people. Unfortunately, only one is crystal clear: a guy at around .714. There is also a .712 in the high range and three in the .707-.708 lower range. What does this mean? Who knows. Well, I haven't figured it out yet. It's still entirely possible that these people with Roman signatures were from elsewhere: much of the west coast of Italy is made up of volcanic material. Two published Sr ratios from about 60km north of Rome show volcanic rocks that are .713-.715. So perhaps the .714 guy didn't come from very far. At this point, I'm looking into other possibilities, other places that geologically look like Rome, as well as a possible location for the lower .707-.708 values. The geochemist noted that lower values could indicate younger volcanic rocks, namely basalts, so I combed a map of Italy for an hour today looking for all the places that could have basalts or were similar to Rome. If I can find published Sr ratios for these areas (places like the Dolomites in NE Italy, and volcanoes like Etna and Vesuvius), perhaps that'll help.

The one major drawback of my project is that I don't have archaeological evidence to suggest that people came from anywhere else. Pretty much no one was buried with grave goods, and certainly no one was buried in a way that seemed truly anomalous. It's easier to test a few individuals from two groups of people you think are different than to test people with the simple hypothesis that surely some of them are immigrants. I had hoped that my sampling strategy - namely, to test every single person - would combat this problem, but one clear immigrant is far less than the 20% I had expected based on historical demography. Perhaps the people who were immigrating were the middle classes and the slaves who were bought by the upper classes. It's entirely possible that the lower classes were just Roman poor - or Italian poor who made their way a few dozen kilometers to the city to seek their fortunes. Hopefully, the oxygen analysis will find additional immigrants, and I might get to do some lead isotopes as well. Until then, I have to figure out what to say in my AAPA presentation about the Sr data but, even worse, in my SAA podium presentation about Roman immigrants. I think I left my abstracts just vague enough to get by, though.

January 20, 2009

Roman Diet

I'm sure that you, like me, have been waiting with bated breath to find out what my Romans were eating. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait a bit longer for full results. But today I found out the results from the dental apatite (the inorganic component of enamel) for most of my sample. Although it seems that there are a couple outliers (people who were eating different foods from everyone else), for the most part everyone falls within an average range (although each person is, of course, different). Unlike the Sr samples, the C/N samples were taken from cross-sections of femoral midshaft, which means the results represent the average diet a person was eating in the last 5-10 years of his/her life. What is very interesting about the δ13Cap results is that the people from Castellaccio seem to have been eating more marine foods and possibly more millet (a C4 food). I have to wait on the collagen results, though, to make more sense of the apatite and to find out for sure what contribution marine resources made to the diet. And then I'll set to work on figuring out if women and men, kids and adults, and immigrants and locals were eating different foods.

January 17, 2009

Might for Right

Patrick and I were talking the other day, and in response to something he said, I retorted, "Nobody bothers me!" He didn't get it. I kept on, "Nobody bothers me either!" I always forget that he never really watched TV as a kid, so he doesn't share in my bizarre childhood memories of local TV commercials and get my references. Somewhere in the 80s, I would guess, there was a commercial on what must have been a TV station out of D.C. for Jhoon Rhee's martial arts studio. I just forced him to watch it while I sang along (link above if embed doesn't work):

I loved that commercial. My brother and I would act it out whenever it came on. Apparently, Jhoon Rhee is still alive and *ahem* kicking. In fact, he has been a consultant to numerous presidents and pro athletes and created National Teacher Appreciation Day.

Please tell me someone else remembers this commercial so that I can continue to make my "nobody bothers meeeee" references.

January 11, 2009


A recently-accepted article in AJPA provides the first concrete evidence for the consumption of millet in Italy in over 20 years (Tafuri et al., Stable isotope evidence for the consumption of millet and other plants in Bronze Age Italy, AJPA early view). I'm a bit annoyed, as part of my dissertation involves carbon isotope analysis to answer the question of whether or not Romans consumed millet, contrary to historical sources that claim millet was only for animals. No one else had thought to do C analysis in Italy for this reason (or perhaps other studies came up empty of C4 plant evidence), and I was hoping to provide some good evidence that my lower-class people ate everything they could find.

Then again, the current evidence is that people in Italy in the Bronze Age (15th-8th century BC) and the Iron Age (8th-5th century BC) ate millet, and all samples come from sites near the Alps or very far south on the peninsula. There are still no data supporting this kind of consumption during the Roman Republic or Empire. At a time when diets were likely changing rapidly owing to immigration (and thus new foodways) and importation of grain and edible animals, it's still important to test whether millet, by all accounts a famine-only kind of grain, was being eaten, particularly by the lower classes.

So I guess I haven't really been scooped. I do really want to get my carbon and nitrogen results back, though, to see what kind of surprises the dietary data hold for the classical period.

January 9, 2009

The difference between archaeologists and geologists...

I was meeting with the geochemist today about invoices and analysis of my strontium data, and he starts out with:

DC: Hey, you're an archaeologist, right?
KK: Uhm, yup. Why?
DC: I was sent a picture of this object. It's a North Carolina artifact. But I'm not sure what it is, so I thought I'd see if an archaeologist or a historian could tell me.
KK: Sure, there are loads of NC archaeologists in my department who could help you. What is it, ceramic, arrowhead?
DC: It's metal. Here's a picture.
KK: Wow, that's huge. And... conical? It looks magnetic too.
DC: Yup, it's definitely magnetic. We analyzed a bit of the artifact using the SEM and found out [some technical stuff I didn't really understand] about the metal.
KK: Cool. Well, no one in my department really does historical artifacts, but someone should be able to tell you what it is or who else to talk to. So you said it came from NC?
DC: Yeah, this woman sent me the picture because she thinks it's from a UFO.

At this point, I just burst into laughter. "A UFO" is totally not how I expected him to end the sentence "She thinks it's from..." He tried to explain a bit more, but I just kept laughing. Surprised at how funny I found it, he started laughing too. After I calmed down, he continued...

DC: We get this kind of thing all the time here, actually. Usually it's people thinking they've found some rare meteorite, but occasionally we get people who think they have a trace of an alien world.
KK: So this woman found a chunk of metal and thinks it's from a UFO?
DC: Yeah. Well, she says she found it, and then the government came and took it from her. But they gave it back, and she sent me a sample. It looks to me like someone dug a hole and poured in molten iron. But I don't know why anyone would do that.
KK: Hm, that is odd. Well, I've never seen anything like it on any historical dig I've been on, and it doesn't look like the slag heaps we get in Italy.

So I got him in touch with one of our NC archaeologists to see if they can sort this out. Doesn't sound like the woman who found the "UFO artifact" will want to hear that it's, for example, the poured foundation for a post. She wants the SEM to find out that it's metal that's out of this world.

I wish random people would email me asking me to look at the alien skeleton they just dug up in their backyard. That would be awesome.


Back in September, I submitted an abstract for the American Association of Physical Anthropologists conference to be held in Chicago in April. It was the first time I submitted an abstract to AAPA with actual results in it. The year before, as I was still sweltering in Rome with little to show for all my work, I half-assed an abstract on health or something boring and got to present a podium paper at the 2008 meetings in Columbus. This year, I rushed to get my Sr data run on the SEM and interpreted in time to meet the abstract deadline, because AAPA supposedly only accepts abstracts if you have concrete data (kind of hard for archaeologists to get in September following a summer field session). So I'm a bit peeved that my abstract was only accepted as a poster this year. I had data and conclusions!

Posters can be fun, as you get to talk to people more informally, and random people come up to you and ask if you're doing aDNA (and if you want to, they have a lab that will totally not charge you a whole lot, yeah, right). But this year it'll mean attempting to bring my own chair somehow so that 7-months-pregnant me isn't horribly miserable for 2 hours standing around. And it means attempting to find a hotel room in Chicago in April that isn't disgustingly exorbitantly priced. And feeling bad if I fail to make it to the Field Museum because my back hurts.

It's still odd to me that this paper wasn't accepted for a podium presentation. I wonder if strontium isotope analysis just isn't that cool anymore, if I'd have to include oxygen or do another element entirely for it to impress the review committee. Unfortunately, isotope analysis is still a bit advanced for the classical meetings - although the AIAs have a BioArchaeology (sic) session this weekend in Philly, most of it is mortuary analysis and the one archaeological chemistry paper seems to be simply a review of the state of the art. So perhaps my research has fallen between the cracks of physical anthropology and classical archaeology, as it tends to do sometimes, and will land on the classics side within a year or two. At least now I can concentrate on making my paper for the SAAs, which are just three weeks after the AAPAs, that much better.

January 8, 2009

Data, data everywhere

Apparently I really was doing something horribly wrong a couple months back when at least three dozen of my strontium samples failed miserably in the SEM. One of the geochemists emailed me a crapload of data this afternoon: at least 50 new results. Only one sample failed, but he's rerunning it tonight to see if the other half can give good data. Now I have 111 unique data points from a combined population of about 215 ancient Roman skeletons. And I have no idea what to do with them.

If I put all 100+ results on a scatterplot, there are only 5 clear outliers: three lower than the Roman range, and 2 higher than that range. 4 of the 5 are males older than 30, 1 is a kid around 11-15. But there has got to be fancier statistical analysis that one usually does with these numbers. I mean, given that there was both short-distance and long-distance migration in Rome, the question becomes: how do I sort out the short-distance migrants from the locals? And given that Sr ratios vary more or less continuously from north to south along the Italian peninsula, shouldn't I expect my data to fall into a more or less continuous range? Maybe I'll do some cluster analysis tomorrow. Or just go talk to the geochemist and see what suggestions he has for analysis.

It'll be sad if I only get 5 immigrants out of 6 months of lab work and $5,600 of grant money, mostly because I really want to write a dissertation on immigrants, but also because these results don't bode well for future Sr analysis in Rome. If the largest Sr study ever done in archaeology only manages to find an immigration rate of 5% (when we know from ancient demography that it should be more like 20%) with 100% sample coverage, what hope is there for people who can only afford to sample 10% of their population?

January 7, 2009


Forget about giant scary nitric acid spills, I seem to be able to harm myself in my own home. Last night, I decided to make some tea, so I put the kettle on the stove and turned on the burner. I went into the living room to wait for it to whistle. After a few minutes, it seemed to be taking a long time, so I went into the kitchen to check on it. There on the front burner was the casserole dish from dinner, with a plastic serving spoon in it and a lid on top. The spoon was burning, sending plumes of nasty smoke into the top of the lid and out through the crack. I quickly shut off the burner, grabbed two potholders, and slid the dish to another burner. But the smell was pretty gross, and Patrick banished me from the kitchen while he helpfully dealt with my mistake. Somehow, I can manage to send off toxic fumes even in my own house, which is rather more worrisome than a little nitric acid on occasion.

Here's a picture of the spoon (upside down), still sitting outside on the picnic table with the casserole dish and top.

January 6, 2009


Yesterday, a UNC student in one of the chem labs on campus was injured by an exploding flask of acid... more specifically, nitric acid. She is fine - just has some cuts - and the lab apparently wasn't even evacuated after the explosion. So perhaps nitric acid isn't actually all that dangerous. The story makes me feel better about my exposure to nitric in the lab a couple months back but also makes me not want to run any more samples, seeing as how I'm not really trained to be in a chem lab.

All my samples should be done by Friday, though, so provided none of them fail, I'm done running Sr for a good long time.

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