November 30, 2011

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival IX

Not much on offer for this carnival as we head to the cold, rainy season punctuated by holiday merriment.

New Finds

One of the Cirencester skeletons (photo credit)

  • 17 November.  A Romano-British cemetery was recently discovered in Cirencester, dated based on pottery to about 70 to 120 AD.  The significance of this cemetery is that it may very well be the earliest example of an inhumation cemetery in Roman Britain.  Inhumations aren't common until after 200 AD, so the cemetery is quite interesting (although I would argue that just because cremation was the "norm" doesn't mean there weren't plenty of people inhuming their dead for religious or financial reasons).  Earlier excavations at the site in the 1960s revealed several dozen cremations, suggesting a change in burial tradition from inhumation to cremation over time.  There are a ton of interesting details in the news reports about pottery and jewelry, and excavators even found a decapitated skeleton, with its head between its feet.  I can't wait to hear more once the analyses are complete.
  • 15 November.  An Etruscan tomb dating to the 6th century BC was found near the archaeological park of Vulci, apparently just ahead of some tombaroli who wanted to loot it.  There's a neat video at the link above (an Italian news report) as well as a bunch of pictures of the pottery recovered from the tomb.  No skeletons or bone fragments, though.


Individual 15A.
Copyright Natural History Museum 2011 (found here)

  • 17 November.  The Manchester Museum is running an exhibit until March called "Grave Secrets: Tales of the Ancient Nubians."  One of the specimens on view is the skull of individual 15A, whose healed wounds suggest he was knocked down, but he got up again (you're never gonna keep him down!).  Also on offer is a giant-cell tumor of a humerus, a rare instance of cancer identified in skeletal remains.  The remains were uncovered at the turn of the 20th century by Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, an anatomist and early proponent of the study of palaeopathology, but there's no indication in the brief news blurb about when specifically the skeletons date to.
  • 22 November.  Seen over on one of my favorite blogs, Street Anatomy, photographer Thom Atkinson got permission to photograph some very interesting medical artifacts from the Wellcome Collection in London, including preserved tattoos, a wax model of a decomposing body, Charles Darwin's walking stick, and these assorted Roman votive offerings (below).  One of these days, I want to write a post on Roman body part votive offerings and disease.  Until then, check out Thom's work at

Assorted Roman Votive Offerings.  Copyright Thom Atkinson.
Beyond the Romans

  • 18 November.  Over on History in an Hour, Liam A. Faulkner writes about the Plague of Athens (430-426 BC).  It's a short summary of our understanding of this disease epidemic based on the writings of men like Thucydides and Plutarch, as well as the Hippocratic Corpus.  One day, we may start finding more cemeteries in the Greco-Roman world whose skeletons yield evidence of various plagues and help us reconstruct history better than the eyewitnesses who didn't understand germs or disease ecology.

November 22, 2011

Cranial Vault Modification or Alieeeeens?

As usual, a Daily Mail article caught my attention with its first line, "A mummified elongated skull from Peru could finally prove the existence of aliens."  The purpose of this kind of opener, of course, is to get people to read the tripe the Mail peddles.  According to the article, "three anthropologists agree: it is not a human being."  Well, if three unnamed Spanish and Russian anthropologists agree, then it must be an alien.

Alien?  Uh, no.  (Photo: The Nation)
Without even reading another line, though, I knew the subject of the article: cranial vault modification, a common practice around the world but particularly associated with ancient peoples of the Andes.  And yet headlines from not particularly good news sites range from "Mysterious, triangle-shaped alien skull found in Peru" to "Malformed mystery mummy stuns world!"  Cranial vault modification (CVM) is a pretty easy thing to accomplish, though.  By applying continued pressure to certain areas of the still-forming skull, the bones of a child's head grow in a certain direction.  Common methods of producing CVM include putting pressure with a board or other flat object on the occipital region (back of the head), the frontal region (front of the head), both occipital and frontal regions, and along a transverse axis.  These methods generally result in flattening of the skull.  Another method involves encircling the head with bands of fabric, which results in an often dramatic elongation of the skull as seen in the Peruvian mummy in this news this week.

An example of CVM from Cuzco (Credit)
Although the practice used to be called "cranial deformation," it has been renamed in light of the lack of evidence for any sort of pathology associated with it.  That is, there may be minor anatomical abnormalities associated with CVM, but the practice does not seem to have interfered with brain growth or functioning in any way (Ortner 2003).  CVM wasn't limited to the people of ancient Peru - the history of the practice has been traced back to the Old World, where a female skull with an annular CVM was found in Iraq dating to the 5th millennium BC (Gerszten and Gerszten 1995) - but it is perhaps best known in the mummies from the Andes.  Theories as to the purpose of the practice range from reshaping heads to look more god-like (e.g., the maize god of the Mayas or the pathologically deformed head of the Egyptian ruler Akhenaten) to indicating a certain status or kinship, as shown in the following historical documentation of the practice by Martín de Murúa among the natives of the Colca Valley (Peru) in 1590 (quoted in Cook 2007: 13):
The Collas…still use the practice of forming the heads of children in diverse manners or figures with much superstition, and in some places they make them very long that they call cayto uma, making them thin, and making them come to the form of a narrow and long bonnet that they call chucu; in other places they make the heads flat and wide in the front. That is called paltauma; of these they are generally from Cabanaconde…
Photo: ANDINA/Percy Hurtado
So let's take another look at the new child mummies found in Peru.  The best coverage - and the best pictures (see right) - of the Andahuaylillas mummies that I found comes from the Peruvian news agency Andina.  Anthropologist Elva Torres, head of the anthropology service at Cusco, studied both mummies. One isn't very well preserved and represents a child of less than one year old.  The "alien" mummy is actually that of a 3- to 4-year-old child with a classic annular type modification, and Torres even notes that it's possible to see traces of the deforming pads on the skull.  As a result of the modification, the child's eye orbits are larger than normal and the fontanelle (soft spot) hasn't yet closed.  The rest of the skeleton, though, has evidence of normal growth.  My Spanish isn't great, but it seems from the article like Torres is blaming the museum's director, Renato Davila Riquelme, for telling the press that the mummy is non-human.  (Davila is indeed the one quoted in the Daily Mail story.)

Why are we so fascinated by cranial vault modification (CVM)?  After all, we do weird things to our bodies and have for at least thousands of years - from the tattoos of Oetzi to the Chinese practice of foot binding to piercing our skin, most of us have modified our bodies in a permanent way.  What's interesting about CVM, though, is that it was performed on young children who had no choice in the matter.  Rather than a marker of personal identity like a tattoo or a piercing, CVM indicates that a person belonged to a certain group, it's a way of marking someone as belonging to you and your community.  And that just doesn't sit well with contemporary American ideas of personal agency and choice.

Can you see the "deformity" on the left? (Credit)
The thing is, we still do reshape our childrens' heads.  Anything other than a perfectly round, perfectly globular head is pathologized as Positional Head Deformity (PHD), and I'm sure many of you have seen small children wearing these head-shaping helmets at the park.  PHD is on the rise because doctors have discovered that placing infants only on their backs to sleep is safer.  Without the ability to roll over, many infants who lie on their backs will develop a flattened occipital bone.  It's unclear from my quick review of the literature whether this condition is associated with an actual pathology, like muscular torticollis.  But it's clear that PHD can cause facial asymmetry, perhaps severe enough that the child's bones would not eventually reshape themselves once the child became mobile and able to hold up his own head.

Adorable child with a "cranial remodeling orthosis" (Credit)
There's honestly little difference between the ancient practice of cranial vault modification and the contemporary practice of modifying positional head deformity: it's done for primarily cosmetic reasons.  If an ancient Inca child didn't have a modified head, he may not have been accepted as part of his social group.  If a modern American child doesn't have her PHD corrected, she may not grow up to uphold the impossible standards of bodily perfection we enforce on our population.

Insisting that the skeleton of an Inca child is "non-human," "otherworldly," or "alien" demonstrates a complete lack of ability to think critically about one's own culture.  The things we do to our bodies today are not natural - they are cultural.  The way we dress, the way we talk, the actions we perform are all external indications of "self" - humans are a fascinating mix of biological and cultural traits, and we constantly and often subconsciously signal to anyone and everyone our most salient features, a short-hand for who we are and what we want.  Body modification is an important concept in understanding the relationship between the individual and the group, and it would be nice if journalists recognized that CVM is simply one of many things humans have found to assert their identity.


Biggs WS (2003). Diagnosis and management of positional head deformity. American Family Physician, 67 (9), 1953-6. PMID: 12751657.

Cook, ND (2007).  People of the Volcano: Andean Counterpoint in the Colca Valley of Peru.  Duke University Press.

Gerszten PC, & Gerszten E (1995). Intentional cranial deformation: a disappearing form of self-mutilation. Neurosurgery, 37 (3). PMID: 7501099.

Ortner, D.  (2003).  Identification of Pathological Conditions in Human Skeletal Remains.  Academic Press.

(Special thanks to Matt Velasco for his interesting lecture on cranial vault modification in my Health and Disease in Ancient Populations class on 11/17/11.  This post is a mixture of his summary of the practice, my notes, our lengthy discussion after class, and additional source material.)

November 21, 2011

Let's Talk about Evolution

Back in June, teh internetz were ablaze with criticism for the Miss USA contestants, who had a chance to respond with a prepared comment to the question "Should evolution be taught in schools?"  And they horribly, horribly failed.  I wrote about the story in my post "Miss USA Contestants Are Idiots," but my favorite coverage was a satirical video called "Should Math Be Taught in Schools?"

A few months ago, I was invited by the members of the SCOPE project to contribute a short talking-head video about the importance of evolution, and the 6-minute end product has now been posted.  The SCOPE Team notes that:
This video was produced to allow scientists to explain, in their own words, the importance of evolution to science -- and the related importance of teaching evolution in schools. Our goal is to convey the fact that evolution is an amazing, uplifting discovery that has served as the genesis of countless advances in many fields of science. We also wanted to highlight female role models in the science community.
Each individual video will be posted to the SCOPE project's YouTube channel soon, and you can view my full 2-minute video here. You can catch me in the project's video, though, around the 5-minute mark.  Fair warning: I am not an actress, but I say neat things.

November 17, 2011

Bones - Season 7, Episode 3 (Review)

The Prince in the Plastic

Episode Summary

Two antiques dealers are scrounging through a trash dump for treasure when they stumble across a body wrapped in plastic.  The Jeffersonian team determines that the sun probably fused the polyethylene plastic to the body like a sausage casing, trapping the moisture and decomposing tissue.  Brennan, Saroyan, and Daisy drain the package before cutting it open to reveal the body.  From the skull, Brennan determines the victim was a female, and the state of cranial suture closure indicates she was in her 30s.  She was also buried with a Prince Charmington doll.

Hodgins doesn't get any bugs or larvae, but decomposition puts the victim's time of death at about two weeks prior.  Daisy looks into the skeleton and notes that the victim had remodelled perimortem and postmortem injuries, including compound fractures to the 7th thoracic vertebra, spine of the right scapula, posterior aspect of the humerus, and anterior aspect of the left ulna, suggesting she was beaten.  Further, she had healed fractures of the patellae, femoral necks, pelvis, and most of the ribs that likely occurred when she was a child.  Brennan notes bilateral Colles' fractures of the radii that occurred perimortem, indicating the victim fell before her death.  Based on some skin traces on the plastic, Angela discovers that the victim is Debbie Cortez, who was reported missing by her brother.

Booth and Sweets bring in the brother for questioning.  He explains that Debbie and their parents were involved in the crash of a small plane when she was 9.  She was the only survivor and spent a year convalescing from her injuries.  Booth also visits Debbie's work, a toy company called Dillio, where she was a vice president in charge of toy development.  He questions Bianca (Morgan Fairchild!), who owns the company, and Lawrence, a VP who was jealous of Debbie's success.

Back at the Jeffersonian, the team finds a small piece of metal lodged in one of Debbie's vertebrae.  They reconstruct Debbie's position at death, finding that she was likely face down on concrete when she was struck.  Based on Angela's reconstruction, Brennan guesses that Debbie wasn't hit by a bludgeon that someone was wielding, like a bat or a 2x4, but may have been hit by something quite large that caused all the perimortem fractures at once.  At Dillio, Booth and Daisy discover a partly damaged door in the prototype lab and traces of blood on the floor, guessing that Debbie was killed when the door fell on her.  The shard of metal in her vertebra is the same as in the door, which was propped open with a car jack.

Daisy does an autopsy on the Prince Charmington doll, which leads her to notice that his leg had been ripped off.  This doll was a collector's item and was worth around $10,000, plenty of motive for murder.  Angela discovers that Debbie has been emailing with someone about selling stolen toys on eBay.  The IP address is traced to her brother, who admits to stealing and selling the toys but denies killing his sister.  He recognizes the Prince Charmington doll as the last thing their mother gave Debbie.

Hodgins finds a piece of the victim's nail and some glue attached to it.  There are epithelial cells between the nail and the glue, which are DNA matched to Brock Vorback, who plays Prince Charmington in real life.  He and Debbie were in a relationship that they kept secret from Bianca, who didn't like workplace dalliances, and Debbie was planning to leave Dillio.  But Hodgins also discovers the material that caused the chemical burn to the Prince Charmington doll: lead sulphate from a car battery.  He does an isotope analysis of the berber wool fibers, which indicate the material was made in Modena, Italy - specifically, a trunk liner for a Maserati.  Booth and Brennan confront Bianca, who owns a Maserati, and find traces of blood in her trunk.  Bianca explains that Debbie's leaving would have caused Dillio's stock to drop.  When she confronted Debbie, she tripped and fell and the door came down on her.  But Brennan points out that Debbie didn't die immediately - she was suffocated, and Bianca didn't try to help.

On the drama side of the episode, Sweets wants to get licensed to carry a gun, but Booth isn't sure he's cut out for it.  Sweets puts in time at the shooting range and eventually passes a test, gaining the respect of Booth.  Angela spends the episode talking about baby toys - first trying to get Brennan to play with dolls, then trying to put together a walker for Michael.  Brennan ends up going to the toy store with Angela and Michael, and she picks up two foam-ball-shooting guns, rounding out the episode playing with Booth in his apartment.  While I appreciate when TV shows have thematic elements and call-backs, the toy/gun/toy gun subplots were all too neatly tied together.

Forensic Comments
  • Cranial sutures are a terrible way to tell age at death.  They usually return an age that's too old.  Brennan should have confirmed with the pubic symphysis.
  • Yes, Daisy actually notes that the victim had "remodelled perimortem and postmortem injuries."  I rewound and listened to it three times.  Perhaps the script read "unremodelled" and Carla Gallo just flubbed the line and no one noticed (except me)?
  • Daisy doesn't describe the location of the victim's fractures very well. For example, "posterior aspect" of the humerus is the whole back side of a very large, very long bone.  
  • If Debbie's fractures at age 9 had remodelled, it is weird that Daisy could tell they were specifically "impact fractures."
  • What kind of isotope analysis would tell you the source of berber wool fibers?  I guess perhaps Sr, if it's in sheep's wool, but isotope values are not nearly precise enough (or unique enough) to source organic material.
  • Angela is skilled at reconstructing bodies and other three-dimensional objects, but she can't put together a baby walker?  That's just weak writing.  Also, doesn't Brennan know Chinese?  Why didn't she help Angela put together the toy?
  • Is it just me, or is the new Bones title sequence really weird?  And rather cheesy.
  • I'm with Brennan - playing with dolls is weird.  (I never got the hang of it and have no clue what I'll do when my daughter wants me to do something other than put her doll to bed.)
  • I'm also with Brennan on the charms of the mixed-breed plush dogs: I could see using them to demonstrate genetics somehow.
  • Lawrence, the Dillio VP, told Booth that "my wife and kids were in Florida with their inlaws."  Did he mean "with my inlaws" or "with my parents"?  
  • Brennan's baby's calcaneus is kicking her spleen.  (Been there, probably described it like that, actually.)
  • At the end, Brennan is reading "The Childrearing Habits of South Asian Tribes in East Indian Literature," which is a cute take on the titles of cultural anthropology books and a fitting book for Brennan to be reading.
  • It still strikes me as odd that Booth calls Brennan "Bones" and that Angela calls her husband "Hodgins."
Forensic Mystery - C.  Fingerprints ID'ed the victim quickly.  She was clearly important and powerful, so there was no real mystery about why someone would want her dead.  The brother, boyfriend, and other VP were obviously not the murders.  The special guest star clearly was from the minute her name flashed in the credits.

Forensic Solution - B-.  The forensics were more or less reasonable, although cranial suture closure is a crappy way of figuring out age.

Drama - C+.  I didn't like the writers' attempts to beat us over the head with toys and guns this episode.  But I did like the way Brennan was written today; she wasn't too robotic and was just the right amount of social awkwardness, cluelessness, and anthropologist.

Next week: Clark and ischial tuberosities (which Brennan pronounced wrong in the brief preview)!

November 16, 2011

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival VIII

I'm surprised at the lack of skeletons found in Italy this month.  It's the rainy season, so perhaps there's not as much excavation going on, but at the same time, rain has a way of unearthing skeletons on its own.  At any rate, most of the news for this carnival is from yours truly...

Santa Croce Camerina skeleton
  • Nov 9 - MIT's William Broadhead has developed a new theory about the Roman Republic, namely that it must have been pretty demographically diverse.  I addressed Broadhead's theory with some Sr/O data from Republican skeletons in my post "Demography of Republican Rome."
  • Nov 11 - In Calabria, excavations at Santa Croce Camerina revealed a 6th century AD skeleton near the Byzantine church of Pirrera.  The skeleton appears to be male.  Oddly, they also found three skulls in or near the burial.  The news item doesn't specifically say that the skulls were human, and since they were found near an amphora I'm going to guess they were faunal.
  • Nov 11 - My newly launched Roman DNA Project got covered on CNN and Forbes because of the "99% of ancient Rome" angle.  I was thrilled to get the attention, and the pilot phase of the project is now fully funded.  Over on the project's blog, I put up a post about our research goals.  We'll start analysis in January, hopefully getting results before summer.
New Analyses/Summaries/Articles
Evidence of crucifixion
(Maslen & Mitchell 2006)
Field Schools

November 11, 2011

Roman DNA Project Funding Success!

Thanks to an amazing piece at the CNN blog Light Years by Ed Yong, the outpouring of support for the Roman DNA Project today has been astounding! 

In financial news, we have actually exceeded our $6,000 goal, after just 10 days. That goal was to fund analysis of at least 20 individuals (the immigrants to Rome that I found through Sr/O isotope analysis). Of course, we are accepting donations through mid-December, so additional funding will be put to good use – studying more ancient Romans!

And I’ve received a dozen or more emails today from people as excited as I am about this project, offering their encouragement, lab services, expertise, and knowledge about the ancient world. I will respond to all of them, I promise, but it might take a few days!

Again, thank you – all of you reading this – for making this project a reality!

[Cross-posted from the blog of the Roman DNA Project.]

Roman DNA Project Update

I posted just 10 days ago about my new endeavor - the Roman DNA Project.  With a group of 48 other scientists, I put together a crowdfunding proposal and put my ideas out there for the public to consider.  And, boy, have you responded!  We've already raised over $2,600 for ancient DNA analysis, and we've attracted the attention of international news agencies and blogs.

Check out the links below and, of course, consider making a donation so that we can reach our funding goal and test all the immigrants to Rome to see where they came from.
The official Roman DNA Project logo!
We appreciate all the press and shout-outs from people around the world.  It's really exciting to see so many people interested in this research.

November 10, 2011

Bones - Season 7, Episode 2 (Review)

The Hot Dog in the Competition

Episode Summary

Brennan and Hodgins are called to the scene of a murder, in which a female in her early 30s was thrown through a terrarium.  Her body is covered in rats and, it turns out, filled with a python (who'd eaten a rat, who'd eaten her distal phalanx).  Death came as the result of a piece of glass puncturing her L1 vertebra, which would have severed the posterior spinal vein and arteries.

Back at the Jeffersonian, Brennan tests the new intern, Finn Abernathy, and asks him to describe the victim. Based on the sternal rib ends and the state of fusion of the medial clavicle, he narrows her age to 30-31.  He further discovers sharp trauma to the ribs, posterior ulna, humerus, and supraspinous fossa (of the scapula).  Brennan notes that there is partially chewed food in the victim's teeth.  The team further notes that the victim's mandibular fossa is shallow, allowing the condylar process to slip - she could dislocate or unhinge her jaw.  Abernathy discovers an extra piece of bone in the victim's abdomen and thinks it's fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva.  Angela gets a match from her facial reconstruction to Tina Thomas, a competitive eating champion, and Saroyan finds a piece of human tissue in Tina's teeth, which she sends out for DNA analysis.

Booth has narrowed down the suspects to the victim's husband, Brian Tobin (PR at Hankfurter Hot Dogs), and Mitch Clancy, Tina's coach.  The husband denies killing his wife, in spite of the fact that neighbors heard them arguing all the time.  Clancy noted that Tina was done with competitive eating because she would throw up, which is a no-no in the sport.

This leads Brennan to check Tina's teeth, which show evidence of increased stomach acid.  Rather than assuming the vomiting was the result of Tina's competitive eating, Brennan thinks that she may have been pregnant.  She notes some diastasis of the pubic symphysis and concludes that the widening of the pelvis indicated Tina was 8 weeks pregnant.

Angela and Abernathy recreate the attack, estimating that the attacker would have been over 300 pounds, which rules out Tina's husband.  Booth can't figure out if the attacker was Tobin or Clancy, but Brennan discovers eggs from a parasite on a distal phalanx.  Hodgins finds out that the parasite was Paragonimus westermani, which is endemic to freshwater crabs in Japan.  While Tina hadn't been to Japan, Clancy had - he was trying to set up a tour with Tina as the star.  When she told him she was out of the competitive eating game, he got mad.  Clancy shoved Tina but their weight disparity did not work in her favor - she was pushed into the terrarium accidentally.

Forensic Comments
  • Another episode in which Brennan is written as the most clueless person on the planet rather than, duh, an anthropologist.
  • The new intern already annoys me.  He's supposed to be from NC, but clearly doesn't have any sort of accent coach.  His accent is all over the place, none of it from NC.  (And trust me, I've lived in NC for a decade and have heard the range of accents in the state.)  When Brennan identifies the chicken bone, Abernathy says that he should have recognized it, since he "grew up on barbecue."  If that were true, he'd know that barbecue is made from pork, not chicken.  Is it too much to ask for a writer who's spent any time in the South?  And finally, it's hard enough figuring out what the other characters are saying (since they often mispronounce words) - add to that a fake NC accent, and the technical terms are, at best, garbled.
  • Why doesn't anyone ever wear a mask?  Saroyan in particular always works on gross, drippy bodies and never wears a mask.
  • Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva is an incredibly rare condition, and diagnosing it based on a tiny fragment of bone is absurd, especially when that bone is in the abdomen (and is from an animal).
  • Morning sickness doesn't start immediately with pregnancy, and it isn't always all that frequent, so I'm incredulous that Tina's teeth would show any evidence (demineralization, e.g.) from throwing up.
  • The determination that Tina was pregnant was ridiculous and got the first "WTF?" of the season in my notes:
    • First, they had her lower abdomen (and genitalia) - did Saroyan not do her job well?  Sure, the fetus is only about half an inch long at 8 weeks, but there would have been a growing placenta and swollen uterus, etc.  How was that missed?  And wouldn't a standard set of blood tests reveal that Tina was pregnant?
    • Second, the pelvis doesn't separate that early into a pregnancy.  By the end of the third trimester, around the time the baby "drops," there's a definite relaxing of the cartilage at the pubic symphysis and a widening of the pelvic inlet in preparation for birth.  Widening too early means pelvic instability.
    • Third, even if the pelvis did separate, Brennan would not be able to see that from measuring... well, what exactly was she measuring?  She just waved a ruler in front of disarticulated ossa coxarum.  Just ridiculous.
  • At least everything else seemed fine.  In spite of Abernathy's horrendous accent, the description of age at death, traumatic injuries, and Tina's ability to dislocate (sorry, "unhinge") her jaw all seemed reasonable to me.

  • "At the height of the Roman Empire, some contestants would gorge until they die." It seems like I should know this, but were there eating competitions?  Sure, there were banquets and symposia.  But often people use evidence of "vomitoria" to incorrectly claim people were binging and purging.  Vomitoria were just passageways under an amphitheater, not special rooms to go to vomit.
  • "He's using the Valsalva maneuver to increase thoracic pressure."
  • Brennan's delivery in, really, all her lines was super wooden tonight.  More so than usual, it seems.  Between that and the fake-Nawth Cackilackian intern, I was not too happy with the dialogue.

Forensic Mystery - C.  It was pretty obvious what killed the woman, and she was ID'ed quickly.  So it wasn't really a forensic mystery as much as it was a police mystery.  

Forensic Solution  - D.  The main way the team discovered the killer was by figuring out from bones that the victim was pregnant.  Very low marks for that silliness.

Drama - D.  I was not at all invested in this episode.  The plot was boring, and the new intern annoys the crap out of me.

Next week:  Daisy's back!

AIDS and Ancient Ideas about Disease

In my class on Health and Disease in Ancient Populations this semester, I talk frequently about the epidemiological transitions - the times when people started coalescing into cities and increasing their risk of disease, then realizing that hygiene was important and began curbing disease, and finally where degenerative diseases and long-term issues are the major killers.  We've made it through the third epidemiological transition - most people are felled by heart disease and cancer, not infection.  But this epidemiological transition also means that some old diseases are returning and becoming antibiotic resistant (like tuberculosis), and new diseases are arising, like AIDS.

In talking to my class about disease among ancient populations, I also explain that, before germ theory, people didn't understand how disease was spread.  Lots of strange explanations arose.  The Romans thought that "black bile" caused cancer, for example, and the medieval Italians said that "bad air" (mal aria) could lead to disease.  We marvel at how silly these people were and how advanced our understanding of disease is through modern medicine.

Today, I came across this excellent 2006 New York Magazine timeline of the history of AIDS and had to share some of the highlights.  My first memory of AIDS was the media coverage of the illness and death of Ryan White in 1990, and then the discovery that Magic Johnson was HIV positive in 1991.  I was a teenager and assumed that doctors had it all figured out.  The timeline is truly eye-opening (really, you should go read the whole thing right now), particularly in the 1980s.  It shows how little we knew about a brand-new disease, how certain populations were blamed for its origin and spread, how medical professionals ignored symptoms because of preconceived notions of how the disease worked.  Some of the 80s entries show just how far we've come in understanding HIV and AIDS:
  • October 31, 1980. French-Canadian flight attendant Gaetan Dugas pays his first known visit to New York City bathhouses. All of the city’s early infections would be traced to Dugas, since dubbed “Patient Zero.”
  • January 1982. “Gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID) gains currency, though the name becomes obsolete when straight Haitians show up with symptoms in Brooklyn hospitals. (Hemophiliacs would soon join them in the public’s mind as the third H group seen to be at any real risk.)
  • December 1982. Dr. Arye Rubinstein submits a study to the American Academy of Pediatrics finding evidence of AIDS among five infants in the Bronx. It’s rejected—based on the belief that the disease is confined to gay men.
  • September 9, 1985. Queens parents launch a school boycott after the city allows a second-grader with AIDS to attend classes.
  • September 29, 1986. Early results show that the drug AZT can slow down progress of HIV. Jubilation breaks out—prematurely. “After six years of having nothing to do for people but hold their hands and watch them die, I got my patients on it ASAP,” recalls Dr. Howard Grossman. “We didn’t know that AZT on its own is only good for six months before resistance sets in.”
  • June 2, 1987. Mayor Koch calls for mandatory HIV testing for visitors and immigrants to the U.S. Those with HIV should be denied entry, he says.
  • January 1988. Cosmopolitan magazine says women can have unprotected sex with an HIV-positive man without fear. “Most heterosexuals are not at risk,” the magazine says, adding that it’s impossible to transmit HIV in the “missionary position."
It's stunning how little was known about this new disease, and yet, even with the knowledge doctors have gained over the last 30 years, people around the world are still ignorant of HIV/AIDS.  In 2006, South African ex-deputy president Jacob Zuma, for instance, reported that he showered after sex with an HIV-positive woman so that he wouldn't contract the disease. On the other hand, this recent LiveScience piece on Magic Johnson does a good job of explaining how the former basketball player has survived for 20 years in spite of being given what many people at the time thought was a death sentence.

AIDS education has a long way to go, but we have already started to look back on our early, flawed understanding of the disease.  The 2006 New York Magazine timeline shows that thirty years ago, we were no smarter than people who blamed syphilis on the disenfranchised and foreign or people who thought that malaria was caused by bad air.  Fortunately, it has only taken us a couple decades rather than a couple millennia to learn how to manage and cure most modern diseases.

Like my posts?  You'll love my new research!  The Roman DNA Project seeks to study the genetics of people who were buried in Rome during the Empire.  It also needs your help, so please click through and provide some financial and/or moral support.

The faster I raise money, the sooner this notice goes away.  It's like an NPR or PBS fund drive, but instead of a lame tote bag, you get pictures of real Roman skeletons!

November 9, 2011

Demography of Republican Rome

I don't talk a lot about the Roman Republic.  It immediately preceded the Empire, which was set in motion by Julius Caesar (and got him killed) and presided over by Augustus as the first emperor.  I've always been most interested in the Imperial phase of Roman history - after all, they had flush toilets, a complex aqueduct system, awesome poets, an international army, massive building programs, and tons of geographic mobility.

This morning, I ran across an interview with MIT's William Broadhead, a Roman historian.  Broadhead puts the fall of the Roman Republic into context and explains his new theory of what precipitated the change to Empire:
[H]istorians have debated why the republic failed — and how Caesar was able to raise an army that backed him rather than the senate and magistrates of Rome. “These were effectively mercenary armies, loyal to the individual general rather than the city-state,” says William Broadhead, an associate professor of history at MIT. “How did this situation arise?”
Using a variety of sources, from ancient texts to new archaeological evidence, Broadhead has crafted a novel hypothesis about how Caesar — as well as Sulla a few decades before, and Augustus several years later — could march on Rome with his own legions.
“My interpretation is a demographic one,” Broadhead says. “Ancient Italy was a place of high geographical mobility, instead of being a place filled with sedentary peasants, which is the stereotypical image.” People in towns throughout the Italian peninsula, from whose numbers the Roman Republic traditionally recruited its army, often traveled either to the newly conquered outposts of the Roman world, or throughout Italy, in search of better living conditions.
What's cool about Broadhead's theory is that it's testable!  (What's not cool is that there's no mention in the article that it can be tested.)  Using skeletal remains and isotope and aDNA analysis, we can find out more about geographical mobility in the Republic.

And guess what?  I've already started this work.  Admittedly, there is not a lot of information about skeletons from the Republican period, in large part because cremation was the preferred rite for most of that time.  But I did study 28 skeletons from two pre-Imperial periods from Castellaccio Europarco, a cemetery in the Roman suburbs, although only 4 of them had first molars appropriate for strontium and oxygen isotope analysis.  The Phase 1 burials dated to 4th-3rd centuries BC, and the Phase 2 burial dates to the 2nd-1st century BC.

Let's take a quick look at what the skeletons told me about mobility in the Republic.  Here's the Sr/O isotope map from my dissertation (Killgrove 2010, Appendix B):

The black box represents the local limits of the city of Rome.  People within this box have isotope signatures characteristic of the soil and water of the greater Rome area (including the suburbs and the origin of the aqueducts), and those outside the box have anomalous ratios, suggesting they were not born in the area.

Amazingly, 3 out of 4 people I tested were not from Rome, and 2 out of 3 people from the early Republican period came to Rome from somewhere else. Pinpointing homeland isn't really possible, but the isotopes suggest that ET82 lived on young geology (such as the volcanoes around Naples) and that ET70 and ET85 lived somewhere slightly warmer and more humid than Rome.  Really interesting is the demographic break-down of the immigrants: ET82 was a 30-something male, and both ET85 and ET70 were 40-something females.  Yes, these are only a few data points, of course, but they raise a lot of questions about the demographics of immigrants to Rome and the structure of population movement in the Republic.

These samples may come into play in a fascinating way with my upcoming Roman DNA Project.  I plan to start by testing the Imperial samples, since they have better context and are better preserved, but if I raise enough funding, I'll start testing the Republican samples too, in order to figure out at least what their mtDNA haplogroups were.  It might also be time to take a closer look at the remaining samples I have from the Republican phases of Castellaccio - I didn't test all of them for Sr/O/C/N/Pb, but it might be worth finding the funds to do so.

One of the reasons I love working in the Roman world is that scientific testing, humanistic theories, art, and literature can converge to answer our questions about the past.  It's interesting to see, though, that the people at the forefront of this movement are historical demographers (Walter Scheidel, Rens Tacoma), anthropologists (me, Tracy Prowse), and archaeologists (Nicola Terrenato, Jeffrey Becker) - not classicists in the traditional sense.  We've got to get the art historians and literary experts on board with skeletal remains, and try to engage them in understanding and using this new line of evidence about the Romans.

Like my posts?  You'll love my new research!  The Roman DNA Project seeks to study the genetics of people who were buried in Rome during the Empire.  It also needs your help, so please click through and provide some financial and/or moral support.

The faster I raise money, the sooner this notice goes away.  It's like an NPR or PBS fund drive, but instead of a lame tote bag, you get pictures of real Roman skeletons!

November 4, 2011

Line on the left, one cross each: Bioarchaeology of Crucifixion

As a researcher of the classical world, one of my favorite movies is Monty Python's Life of Brian.  An irreverent take on the swords-and-sandals perception of the Roman Empire, it takes place in Jerusalem in the early first century AD and focuses on an accidental prophet named Brian.  Anyone who's ever taken Latin has probably seen the portion of the film mocking Brian for his poor grasp of the language of power or the scene in which the leaders of the rebellion answer the question "What have the Romans ever done for us?"  But the movie also satirizes the pugilistic, callous nature of the Romans in a crucifixion scene:

The Romans practiced crucifixion - literally, "fixed to a cross" - for nearly a millennium.  Like death by guillotine in early modern times, crucifixion was a public act, but unlike the swift action of the guillotine, crucifixion involved a long and painful - hence, excruciating - death.  So crucifixion was both a deterrent of further crimes and a humiliation of the dying person, who had to spend the last days of his life naked, in full view of any passersby, until he died of dehydration, asphyxiation, infection, or other causes.  The Roman orator Cicero noted that "of all punishments, it is the most cruel and most terrifying" and Jewish historian Josephus called it "the most wretched of deaths."

Although crucifixion seems to have originated in Persia, the Romans created the practice as we think of it today, employing either a crux immissa (similar to the Christian cross) or a crux commissa (a T-shaped cross) made up of an upright post (stipes) and a crossbar (patibulum).  Generally, the stipes was erected first, and the victim was tied or nailed to the patibulum and then hoisted up.  Usually, there was an inscription nailed above the victim, noting his particular crime, and sometimes victims got a wooden support to sit on (sedile) or to stand on (suppedaneum) (Retief & Cilliers 2003).

The process of crucifying someone varied greatly, as recorded by Seneca in 40 AD:
I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with their head down to the ground, some impale their private parts, others stretch out their arms.  -- de Consolatione ad Marciam
But often crucifixion involved driving nails into the wrists and the feet.  Long, square nails (about 15cm long and 1cm thick) were hammered into the victim's wrists or, occasionally, the forearms, to fix him to the crossbar.  Once the crossbar was in place, the feet may be nailed to either side of the upright or crossed.  In the first case, nails would have been driven through the calcanei (heel bones), and in the second case, one nail would have been hammered through the metatarsals.  To hasten death, the victim sometimes had his legs broken (crurifragium); the resulting compound fracture of the tibiae may have resulted in hemorrhage and fat embolisms, not to mention significant pain, thereby causing earlier death (Retief & Cilliers 2003).

Since the Romans crucified people from at least the 3rd century BC until Constantine banned the practice in 337 AD out of respect for Jesus and the cross's potent symbolism for Christianity, it would follow that archaeological evidence of crucifixion would have been found all over the Empire.  Surprisingly, though, there is almost no direct archaeological evidence for crucifixion.

Several reasons can explain this lack of evidence:
  1. The wooden crosses don't survive, having degraded long ago or having been scavenged and re-used by others.
  2. Victims of crucifixion were criminals and therefore not formally buried, likely exposed or thrown into a river or trash heap.  It is therefore difficult to identify their bodies, and their exposure to scavenging animals would have hastened the destruction of their bones.
  3. Crucifixion nails were believed to have magical or medical properties, so they were often taken from a crucifixion site or victim.  Without the smoking gun of a nail in place, it becomes difficult to interpret whether skeletal remains show evidence of crucifixion or were otherwise subject to taphonomic processes, like scavenger activity.
  4. Injuries sustained by a person who was crucified were largely soft tissue in nature.  However, if the person was subjected to crurifragium or had nails driven into his hands and/or feet, there would be osteological evidence of the practice in the form of perimortem tibia fractures and metatarsals or calcanei with clear sharp trauma (puncture wounds) to them.
Only one bioarchaeological example of crucifixion has ever been found.  In 1968, Vassilios Tzaferis excavated some tombs in the northeastern section of Jerusalem, at a site called Giv'at ha-Mivtar.  Within this rather wealthy Jewish tomb, Tzaferis came across the remains of a man who seemed to have been crucified.  His name, according to the inscription on the ossuary, was Yehohanan ben Hagkol (Tzaferis 1985).  Based on osteological analysis (Haas 1970), Yehohanan was about 24 to 28 years old at the time of his death.  He stood roughly 167cm tall, the average for men of this period.  His skeleton points to moderate muscular activity, but there was no indication that he was engaged in manual labor.  With good dental and skeletal health, Haas (1970:55) suggests Yehohanan was "the Hellenistic ideal ephebe."  A facial reconstruction was carried out based on cranial measurements with a good helping of artistry, and Yehohanan looks back at us two millennia after his death:

Facial reconstruction of Yehohanan ben Hagkol
Figures 4 and 5 from Haas 1970.

Of course, the most interesting feature of Yehohanan's skeleton is his feet.  Immediately upon excavation, Tzaferis noticed a 19cm nail that had penetrated the body of the right calcaneus and the sustentaculum tali of the left calcaneus before being driven into olive wood so hard that it bent.  Because of the impossibility of removing the nail and because the man was buried rather than exposed, we have direct evidence of the practice of crucifixion.

Calcaneus transfixed by an iron nail, from a 1st c AD Jewish
tomb at Giv'at ha-Mivtar. Figure 1, Maslen & Mitchell 2006.

Drawing of the calcaneus with nail. Figure 6 from Haas 1970.

Interpretation of the method of crucifixion is quite interesting.  Haas (1970: 56-8) first thought that the lower limbs were in an "open" position, with the two calcanei crossed and fixed in the middle by an iron nail.  Upon restoration of the bones, Haas changed his interpretation to suggest that the feet were adjacent, with the right foot first to receive the nail.  Further, the right tibia and left tibia and fibula were all broken towards the distal (foot) end; the right tibia showed a comminuted, perimortem fracture, but the left tibia and fibula had simple oblique fractures.  The right radius also presented a small "scratch" on the distal third of the interosseus border with the ulna.  Haas interprets this as sharp trauma inflicted perimortem and suggests that it represents a nail having been driven through the lower forearm/wrist.  In short, Yehohanan had been nailed to the cross - both arms and feet - and had been subjected to crurifragium.  He likely died an extremely painful death, although one that was faster than most crucifixions.

Although celebrated osteologist Vilhelm Moller-Christensen (1976) backed up Haas's interpretation, a reanalysis of the skeleton by Zias and Sekeles (1985) took issue with Haas's interpretation of the position of the calcanei, suggesting that the nail was only 11.5cm long and that the bone material Haas interpreted as the left calcaneus was instead a portion of long bone.  They further suggested that Haas was overly optimistic in his interpretation of sharp trauma to the radius, noting that it does not seem to have been traumatic in nature.  And finally, Zias and Sekeles found no evidence to support Haas's suggestion that Yehohanan had been subjected to crurifragium - the bones were simply too degraded and fragmentary to conclusively show that kind of perimortem trauma.  With no evidence of trauma to the arms, Zias and Sekeles reconstruct the position of crucifixion as follows:

Reconstruction of the crucifixion of Yehohanan
Figure 1 from Zias and Sekeles 1985.

The bone material from the Giv'at ha-Mivtar ossuary is unfortunately no longer available for analysis.  It was reburied after the studies by Haas and Zias and Sekeles were completed, probably in the mid 1980s.  All osteologists involved seem to have thoroughly documented the evidence and their interpretations, but it would have been nice to have saved the sole example of crucifixion ever to have been found.

A lot of rather random chance is involved in the creation of the archaeological record - from weather conditions to sociocultural customs to rodent activity.  In spite of the potential problems involved in the preservation of evidence of crucifixion, the case of Yehohanan ben Hagkol illustrates that it is possible to gain insight into the practice of crucifixion through bioarchaeological evidence.  Some victims were clearly given proper burials, skeletal injuries were sustained, not all nails could be removed and sold as talismans, and even fragments of wood can survive two millennia of burial.

In the first century BC, during the revolt of Spartacus, there were reports of over 6,000 crosses with crucified victims on the road from Capua to Rome, and in the first century AD, Josephus reported that up to 500 Jews were crucified every day during the siege of Jerusalem (Holoubek & Holoubek 1995).  The bioarchaeology of crucifixion is therefore a bit of a conundrum: it makes sense that finding evidence may be difficult because of the vagaries of taphonomy, but the sheer volume of people killed in this way over centuries should have given us more direct evidence of the practice.  Going through the literature on the practice has convinced me that those of us who work in the Roman world need to be on the lookout for archaeological and biological evidence that may suggest crucifixion.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

N. Haas (1970). Anthropological observations on the skeletal remains from Giv'at ha-Mivtar. Israel Exploration Journal, 20, 30-59.

J.E. Holoubek & A.B. Holoubek (1995). Execution by crucifixion. History, methods and cause of death. Journal of Medicine, 26 (1-2), 1-16. PMID: 7561527.

M. Maslen & P.D. Mitchell (2006). Medical theories on the cause of death in crucifixion Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99 (4), 185-188. DOI: 10.1258/jrsm.99.4.185.

V. Moller-Christensen (1976). Skeletal remains from Giv'at ha-Mivtar. Israel Exploration Journal, 26, 35-38.

F.P. Retief FP, & L. Cilliers (2003). The history and pathology of crucifixion. South African Medical Journal , 93 (12), 938-41. PMID: 14750495.

V. Tzaferis (1985). Crucifixion - the archaeological evidence Biblical Archaeology Review, 11, 44-53.

Zias, J., & Sekeles, E. (1985). The Crucified Man from Giv c at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal. The Biblical Archaeologist, 48 (3). DOI: 10.2307/3209939.

Like my posts?  You'll love my new research!  The Roman DNA Project seeks to study the genetics of people who were buried in Rome during the Empire.

November 3, 2011

Bones - Season 7, Episode 1 (Review)

Welcome back, Bones fans and anti-fans!  When we last left our team of Squints and Goons, the writers had decided to uncharitably kill off my favorite character - Vincent Nigel-Murray - and decided to end the will-they-won't-they dynamic between Brennan and Booth by having them sleep together while grief-stricken, which of course involved unprotected sex, which of course resulted in a baby.

The premiere episodes of Bones are always more focused on the drama than on the forensics (see last season's premiere review for an example), so let's jump right in to this seventh season, abbreviated because of the real-life pregnancy of Emily Deschanel...

The Memories in the Shallow Grave

Episode Summary

A group of paintball players stumbles on a dead body eroding out of a shallow grave.  The team is called to the scene, and Brennan notices from the pelvis that the deceased was a female in her late 20s or early 30s.  Hodgins finds Megaselia scalaris, better known as coffin flies, which means she's been dead about a week.  Brennan thinks that the woman was killed by sharp trauma from a weapon that went through her mouth and into her brain.  Back at the lab, Wendell and Saroyan further inspect the victim's soft tissue for evidence of trauma, and Hodgins finds beetles in the brain that may have eaten particulates on the weapon, which was likely sharp and metal.

Before defleshing the body, Brennan and Wendell scope out the other trauma to the victim: blunt force injuries that occurred to the clavicle, acromion process of the scapula, and frontal bone about 6 months ago, based on the state of remodelling.  Hodgins discovers that the victim was lying in linseed oil and reveals that the beetles show she had been taking Lorazepam, an anti-anxiety medication.  Angela's quick facial reconstruction gets a hit in the missing persons database: Claire Sorrano, whose husband filed a report 6 months ago and then a couple weeks ago.

In talking to the husband, Sweets and Booth learn that Claire had amnesia and was in a fugue state, a dissociative disorder that can last for months, after which the person recovers earlier memories but generally does not remember what happened in the fugue state.  The victim's husband also reveals that she was being treated by Dr. David Yasrik, a specialist in neurocognitive disorders.  Yasrik tells Sweets and Booth that another patient, Trevor Kwan, was obsessed with Claire, since he'd lost his wife in a plane crash and suffered from aphasia.  Booth discovers linseed oil in Kwan's violin case, and Hodgins determines that something made of canvas was removed from the grave before Claire was buried, but there is no evidence to tie Kwan to the crime.  Kwan suspects the victim's husband.  Charges of abuse filed by Claire against her husband appear damning at first, but because of her amnesia, she would get confused and attack her husband, thinking he was a stranger.

At the Jeffersonian, Brennan shows Saroyan the spiderweb fractures on Claire's frontal bone and notes discoloration along the seam of the fracture.  The injury was actually perimortem, on top of an old head injury, so the particulates in the wound could help them identify the murder weapon or the murderer.  Wendell re-xrays all the bones and notices a bullet fragment lodged in a long bone.  Claire was shot, but the injury was not life threatening and happened about 4 months ago.  Saroyan suggests that the bullet was not fully removed by a non-specialist, leading the team to think that Claire may have been on the run from the law during her fugue state.  The striations on the bullet help Angela find the gun that fired it.  The gun belonged to a homeowner who found a man and a woman breaking into his home in WV.  The cops arrested the man, Ricky Duvall, who ended up in a halfway house.  Meanwhile, the particulates from the perimortem trauma to Claire's skull reveal a special kind of paint manufactured in Germany for the German military.  Hodgins suspects the murder weapon was a field spade whose other end is a 175mm saw blade.

Booth goes to visit Ricky Duvall, who knew Claire as Brenda and encouraged her to rob the house in WV with him.  He also told her about his secret stash of money in Hamilton State Park - $80,000 in a canvas sack.  Sweets and Booth pore through Dr. Yasrik's records of Claire's treatment and notice that he has no notes about her fugue state.  He's also jotted down codes related to gambling, leading Booth to suspect that Yasrik may have found out about the cash and killed Claire.  Although Yasrik's bank account does seem to turn over quite often, suggesting he had a gambling problem, there is no solid evidence to tie him to the murder.  Brennan thinks it's important to xray the paintball splatters at the crime scene and finds what she's looking for: a piece of gum underneath the splatter.  The impression of the teeth in the gum match the dental records of Dr. Yasrik.  Booth arrests him, and Yasrik admits that he did so much for Claire, she owed him that money.

On the drama side of things, Booth and Brennan are splitting their time at one another's houses.  This produces tension, which is not helped by Brennan's pointing out that she makes a lot more money than Booth.  By the end of the episode, after a lot of pregancy-related talk about emotions and hormones, Brennan and Booth decide to get a new place together and start a family.  Generally, I'm cynical about these sorts of sap-fest plots, but there's just something endearing about two damaged people coming together and trying to make a better life for their child.  Aaaaand now I sound like a Hallmark card.  Onward!

Forensic Comments
  • Overall, a solid episode.  The age/sex estimation is reasonable, the team did good work identifying all the blunt trauma, they reasoned out the type of weapon that would have been used to make the injuries, and they figured out time of death and pertinent information about the victim through entomology.
  • I wasn't so happy with the hand-waving about "particulates," which is always a bit lazy of a convention on the part of the writers.  Also, why would there have been "particulates" in a perimortem wound on a skeleton that had already been fully defleshed?  Did they deflesh it by boiling?  Using dermastid beetles?
  • I'm surprised that the team couldn't tell from the soft tissue and bone that the murder weapon was serrated.  It should leave different marks on both the tissue and bone than a non-serrated blade would.
  • The gum in the paintball is a little silly.  Why would a murderer leave behind gum with possible DNA and dental indentation in it?  This man is a doctor, he's not dumb.  And is a partial dental impression really enough to convict a person?

  • I kind of liked Brennan's discussion of the matrilocality/matrilineality of the Iroquois.  Wonder if it'll come up in a few months when the baby is born?  I'm guessing the kid will either be a Booth or will be a hyphenated Brennan-Booth, but it would be pretty cool if she gave it her last name.  (Anyone notice that Booth called the baby "him" at one point?)
  • Hodgins and Angela brought their baby to the lab, which was lame, but Hodgins at least got to call Michael a "very small bipedal primate from the Hominidae family."
  • Also interesting is the way the writers are going all out to talk about pregnancy in a medical, anatomical way.  Generally, the overuse of clinical terms for no good reason (e.g., when Brennan talks to Angela, for example) annoys me, but in this case I like that, even though many of the usual pregnancy tropes are present, they're at least given proper terminology.  For example, Hodgins mentions that Brennan is producing chorionic gonadotropin.  Seriously, in what other show will you hear the words "chorionic gonadotropin"?


Forensic Mystery - A.  The victim actually had quite a good back story, which was revealed little by little to the team, just as her past was revealed little by little to her through her work with Dr. Yasrik.

Forensic Solution  - A-.  Other than the imprecise "particulates" and the discovery of them after defleshing, the episode seemed pretty solid on forensics.

Drama - B+.  I didn't hate the Booth-Brennan tension; it absolutely makes sense for these characters in this situation, and it was nice to see the tension resolved by mutual understanding that each of them had rough childhoods and are scared rather than stubborn.

Next week: murder at a competitive eating championship!

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