October 31, 2012

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XXII

Roman skeleton news from the month of October, delivered just in time for Halloween!

Roman-era Finds

  • Rome. 18 October.  A man following a cat happened upon a previously unknown(?) catacomb underneath Rome near Via di Pietralata.  The underground burial chamber likely dates to the 1st century BC through the 2nd century AD.  Both cremations and inhumations seem to have been found.  No pictures that I could find.  I hope we'll hear more about this in coming months.
  • Rome. 19 October.  Investigations into the activity of tombaroli (tomb-raiders) in the Alban Hills led to the recovery of some ex-voto statues possibly dedicated to Juno.  In the tomb raiders' homes were also found some artifacts from Etruscan tombs.
  • Austria. 15 October.  Excavations for a road uncovered a child's grave dating to around the 1st century AD. It appears to have been an inhumation, as the presence of deciduous teeth is noted, and the grave looks like some kind of rock-cut tomb, interestingly enough.  
Roman-era child's grave found in Austria (credit)
  • England.  22 October.  Widening of a major road in Nottinghamshire has revealed a Late Iron Age / Early Roman settlement (1st c BC - 3rd c AD).  There are at least two human burials: one in a flexed position and one in an extended position, probably Iron and Roman age, respectively.  Some artifacts remained, but in general the graves were highly disturbed.
Iron Age flexed burial from Nottinghamshire (credit)
  • Macedonia.  September/October.  Archaeology Magazine has two nice features on graves from Scupi, Macedonia, dating from the Bronze Age through the Roman period.  The piece on the mass grave is particularly fascinating: at least 180 men were tossed into a large pit.  Most of them have evidence of trauma.  It's thought that they sustained injuries and died in the political upheaval during the 3rd-4th centuries AD.
Mass grave in Scupi, Macedonia, dating to 3rd-4th c AD (credit)
Post-Roman Finds
  • Vicenza. 16 October.  A skeleton dating to the Middle Ages was found in Vicenza, Italy.  It was apparently beheaded.  (Large picture available through link.  No evidence presented for the interpretation of decapitation rather than grave disturbance.)
New Techniques
Exhibits and Videos
  • TED-Ed has a cute little video written and narrated by Roman historian Ray Laurence called "A Glimpse of Teenage Life in Ancient Rome."  It's a day-in-the-life explanation and runs about 6 minutes.  Super cute.  Now if only Laurence would do one about teenage girls, older women, slaves, immigrants, and, well, people other than wealthy males.  The only visible people in this video are male (except the 7-year-old girl betrothed in marriage), and we know that females had much greater visibility than that, particularly upper-class ones.  It would be fantastic to see a series like this, each video focusing on a different age/sex/social class/ethnicity.
Still from Laurence's TED-Ed video
Stay tuned next month as I travel to Rome for a conference, a bit of cool research, and perhaps some thanatourism!

October 26, 2012

Presenting Anthropology

My graduate seminar in the spring is one of my own design: Presenting Anthropology.  Most of us of a certain age still remember slide decks and professors who droned on in semi-darkness to a semi-coherent audience.  Both students and the public, though, expect more from a presentation these days.  And people in a position to disseminate information -- journalists, scientists, media professionals -- are finding new and innovative ways to present that information.

So my seminar is going to be, in essence, Academic Project Runway.  Now, this class has been germinating for a while, long before the popularity of Academic Tim Gunn and the newcomer Academic Nina Garcia.  But there will be challenges every other week with themes like "kids" and "avant garde."  There might be a dreaded button bag.  Heck, there might even be an "unconventional materials challenge" (although I don't really want to grade a dozen macaroni pictures of a leaping Boas).  And we'll discuss the pitfalls of premature interpretation/publication of anthropological topics, learning lessons from such sagas as the Gay Caveman.

Here's a quick spiel I sent out through the department listserv and a quick flyer I made up to advertise the course:
Presenting Anthropology (ANG6002) will focus on the ways that we can use our anthropological training to present the subject we're most passionate about to a variety of different audiences using a variety of different tools. This class will move students beyond traditional notes-and-PowerPoint presentations and encourage them to think creatively about what constitutes a presentation of data or information. We will read book chapters and articles on the benefits of adopting new methods of presentation, as well as on the drawbacks inherent in a world where information is being published and news-ified rapidly. The major component of the course is a series of projects that will give students hands-on experience designing ways to communicate their own research or an anthropological topic - project themes will include social media (blogging, wiki, etc.), print media (e.g., poster, pamphlet), audio media (e.g., podcast, interview, parody song), visual media (e.g., iPad app, interactive website, traditional video), anthropology for kids (e.g., kids' book, board game, pop-up book), and avant garde (e.g., 3D printing, designing a lab activity, Choose your Own Adventure story). At the end of the semester, each student will turn in three projects as a portfolio. If this class sounds like the academic version of Project Runway, it kind of is!

I will likely be blogging the heck out of this course over the spring term because I'm just that excited about it. Perhaps that'll make up for my complete lack of posts this fall as I struggle to teachresearchwritepresent anthropology.

October 8, 2012

Bones - Season 8, Episode 4 (Review)

The Tiger in the Tale

Episode Summary
A couple whose car is stuck in a muddy ditch finds a body when the rear tire spins and flings bits of corpse at the husband.  The Jeffersonian team is called to the scene, and in spite of the flattened face that ended up on the husband's shirt, Brennan identifies the deceased as a white male in his late 20s from some tiny bit of cranium.  When the witness complains of having something in his throat, Brennan gives him ipecac and makes him hork up a tooth.

At the Jeffersonian, Brennan and Daisy go over the damage to the skeleton.  Trauma to the capitate, hamate, and styloid process of the third metacarpal is significant and suggests a high-velocity gunshot wound to the hand, likely from a 9mm, that happened around the time of death.  A crown on the lower left third molar suggests a trip to the dentist in the past 5 years, but additional fillings and heavy calculus on the remainder of the mandibular dentition suggest lack of very recent dental work.  Hodgins finds a plethora of stuff in the victim's boots and thinks he may have been at the fairgrounds recently.

Brennan and Booth visit the fairgrounds and talk to Juan, the foreman of a day laborer crew.  He looks at some of Angela's proposed reconstructions and thinks one looks like Jared Drew.  Drew's ex-wife took out a restraining order on him, so B&B talk to her and her new husband back at the FBI.

Meanwhile, Daisy is still working on the skeleton.  She reconstructs the skull and Brennan identifies the most hilariously shaped exit wound ever.  The size of the projectile trauma suggests a 45 caliber bullet and possibly two guns.  Daisy notes the beginning of asymmetrical arthritis on the skeleton, which is not a typical pattern of day laborers.  It's not normal arthritis, she finds; it's osteonecrosis that resulted from blood poisoning.  Linear striations on the lunate and trapezium suggest the victim was slashed so deeply that bacteria were introduced into his blood stream.  Saroyan's DNA analysis reveals the cause of the slashes was a Siberian tiger, a pure-bred animal that is illegal to buy and sell in the U.S.  She also realizes that the victim held his hand up to his face when he was shot with a hollow-point bullet, which explains the patterning of the trauma as well as the differences in size of the projectile trauma in the hand and head.

With a victim identified, cause of death revealed, and motive established, all that's left is finding the bad guy.  There were several farms nearby that could have housed a Siberian tiger.  Booth can't get a warrant, so Hodgins flies a WWII Spitfire replica model airplane around and homes in on a farm with cages.  Booth and Brennan pay the landowner a visit; he has a number of exotic animals, but the tiger-sized cage is empty.  Brennan follows some circling vultures and finds the decomposing remains of the tiger, which the landowner insists he had to kill in self-defense.  The guy who bought the tiger could tell that Drew was sick when he delivered it, but he knew there was another guy who stayed in the truck.  Booth and Brennan go back and talk to Juan, who was the middleman for the money, as he took an envelope from the tiger-buyer.  He claims he passed it on to Nibling, the owner of the exotic show-pet business that was just at the fairgrounds, and that Nibling asked him to send his best day laborer as well.  Juan realizes that Nibling had been illegally dealing in exotic animals, in spite of all his protestations that his business was legit.

Booth and Brennan confront Nibling in the FBI interrogation room.  Nibling isn't looking so hot, though, and Brennan realizes that he was injured by a piece of Drew's bone when he killed him, thereby causing blood poisoning.  Nibling insists this isn't true, but Brennan finds a fresh, festering wound on his right pinkie.  He gets charged with murder and, presumably, illegally dealing in exotic animals.

  • Forensic
    • Not much to go on for ancestry.  I guess there was some skin there still.  But not sure how the completely squashed cranium gave Brennan white male in mid-20s at a glance.
    • Saroyan notes that they've found cause of death: suspected homicide.  Technically, homicide is the manner of death.  Cause of death is consistent with projectile trauma (gunshot wound).
    • Daisy's reconstruction was pretty ludicrous - so complete, so perfect - and the exit wound on the skull was laughable (I actually lol'ed and jumped back to watch it a second time).
    • Daisy says "ulnar" instead of "ulna."  And yet can stay "styloid" and "olecranon" just fine.
  • Plot
    • One of my very first notes for this episode was, "Get that witness to a hospital now! Who knows what's on that tooth!"  And yet... for all the fuss made about septicemia, there was no mention of the poor schmuck who had a diseased tooth stuck in his throat.  Ewwwww.
    • Anyone else notice on the map of the generic Fairgrounds that it was in a small town called Romney?  There is a Romney, West Virginia.  But it seems unlikely to be a coincidence.  I expect the next episode to have an Obama, Maryland, or something.  Equal time!
    • Oooh, Brennan has an iPad just like me!  Hers may have nifty facial reconstructions on it, but mine has Anthropomotron.
    • I am pretty sure the FAA would have a problem with Hodgins' camera-laden plane. I know from archaeologist friends that UAVs are pretty highly regulated, but maybe his doesn't count as a UAV.
    • Did not like the whole "Brennan gets emotional about animals" thread.  I guess it kind of goes with her persona, but really, she deals with dead people all the time and doesn't seem to give a crap about them.
  • Dialogue
    • "I've never seen a presidential candidate ID remains before." -- Booth.  I'm gonna volunteer UWF to host the next presidential debate, and I will make both candidates figure out - at the very least - age and sex of a skeleton.
    • "She was wanted for murder, she took peyote with the Indians, and her dad was a hard-core criminal. I don’t think they should start printing up ‘Bones for President’ campaign buttons anytime soon.” – Booth.  And that is precisely why anthropologists cannot run for office.
    • "Yes, I took your excrement. I wanted to study it." -- Saroyan
    • "Is there anything else, or do you intend to berate me because we see the world differently?" -- Nibling, showing that Brennan is not always a great anthropologist.
    • "I give them faces, which is more and more just not the way to identify victims." -- Angela
    • "Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was a bartender? Grover Cleveland was a hangman. Andrew Johnson was a tailor. James Garfield could simultaneously write Greek with one hand and Latin with another." -- Brennan.  From the other room, my husband shouted, "Wrong.  It was TJ!"  Turns out, both Garfield and Jefferson are reported to have been able to write the two classical languages at the same time.  The more you know.
Forensic Mystery - A-.  I thought it was pretty good this week, actually.  Took some effort to identify the victim, the cause of death was moderately interesting, and the search for the murderer turned up some surprises.

Forensic Solution - B+.  Pretty good as well, but Brennan far too quickly and from far too little figured out the age, sex, and ancestry of the victim.  

Drama - C+.  The murder mystery was alright.  I'm glad that Sweets and Daisy broke up (actually, I thought they already had, so it was weird seeing them plan to move in together).  The Brennan-as-president plot line was a non-starter.  Not sure why Angela felt useless, especially since her facial reconstruction helped Juan identify the victim, but I guess it was to give her more to do.

Bones returns on November 5, which is good, since I need a bit of a break to finish up writing a new article!

October 5, 2012

Biohistory of Republican Romans (ASAS 2012)

I'm currently in Nashville, enjoying the heck out of a bunch of uber-science-y talks at the Archaeological Sciences of the Americas Symposium.  My poster on Sr/O isotopes from Republican-era Rome is on display today and tomorrow.  Here's a link to the handout-size version of it.

October 3, 2012

Cavewoman Jeweler Hoopla

Looks like the infamous Gay Caveman has a new friend: the Cavewoman Jeweler... the burial of a 45- to 60-year-old woman with traditionally-male jewelry-making equipment dating to the Bronze Age in Austria.

Surprisingly, this time the Daily Mail is not the one running with the anachronistic "cavewoman" designation.  Still, apparently someone has to keep reminding the media that the Bronze Age is not "caveman" times.

There's really very little news to go on, but it appears that the sex estimation was done based on the skull and mandible, which appear to be quite badly fragmented.  And although the tiny bit of skull that I can kinda sorta see looks maybe possibly female (the supraorbital ridges seem pretty gracile), I'd also hold off on "rewriting gender history" until confirmation of the sex of the skeleton through DNA analysis.

Bronze Age (c. 2000 BC) burial from Austria
(photo credit: Daily Mail)

October 1, 2012

Bones - Season 8, Episode 3 (Review)

The Gunk in the Garage
Episode Summary
As he walks to his car in a parking garage, a man finds an Ultra Gulp of product placement that blows him up.  His head lands, of course, on a No Smoking sign.  The Jeffersonian team gets to the scene and starts bagging all the smithereens of the victim.  There's no VIN or license plate because of the blast, so the identification of the victim is not straightforward.

Back at the Jeffersonian lab, Brennan finds that the skull was severed between the atlas and axis vertebrae. The bone density puts the victim in his mid-40s.  Angela creates a facial reconstruction, which gets a hit in the FBI database: Robert Carlson. 

Booth has been pulled off the case by Miss Julian, who wants him to do some accounting for his division and offers a promotion and raise, so the investigation is being handled by Sweets and Agent Olivia Sparling.  Sweets and Sparling visit Carlson's wife to tell her that he's dead, but then he shows up.   Booth wonders if Brennan made a mistake, Brennan passes the buck to Angela, and Angela blames Sweets for some reason.  Seems Carlson has an identical twin he doesn't know about.  Sweets suspects that interviewing Carlson about his life will give them pertinent information to figure out who the twin was.

Brennan goes over the victim's skeleton and sees old, healed fractures to the left 6th and 7th ribs and the first metacarpals.  Saroyan interprets these injuries as the result of a bookie or loan shark.  Hodgins finds a very special cockroach egg on the detonator wire, and Angela puts some information together to find the place the bomb equipment came from.  She also inputs Sweets' data on Carlson into a super magical computer database that includes the pictures, birthdays, and hobbies of every person in the US, and finds that the victim was Jerry Langella.  Langella's wife has an alibi, so they look for other suspects.

Angela continues to solve the case single-handedly, tracking Langella through the hotel security tapes and realizing that both Carlson and Langella were at the hotel at the same time.  Both were there for a Self Actualization Synergy meeting, even though neither man knew the other.  Sweets and Sparling talk to Carlson, who was planning to give up his life savings to live in Colorado with the Synergy cult.  They then question Carlson's wife, as she took out $20,000 and googled for hitmen, trying to off her husband before he gave away all their money.  The hitman made a mistake and offed Langella accidentally.  She also admits that the hitman is at that moment attempting to kill Carlson.

Based on a bit of hair embedded in tissue in the garage, Brennan and team deduce that the murderer was there in the garage when the blast went off.  The location of the goop suggests he was average height, and the hair is brown.  Booth gives up the desk assignment and races to the scene with Sparling and Sweets.  Brennan suggests they look for someone who is off balance due to an injury to the malleus and dislocation of the stapes -- a middle ear injury, which would leave the murderer off-balance.  She realizes the murderer is Steve Kaneely, the owner of the explosives warehouse who falsely claimed a break-in happened a few weeks ago.  He tries to give the bomb to Carlson, but Sweets grabs it and Booth and Sparling shoot Kaneely... and Sweets.  Oopsie.  This makes Sweets fall for Sparling, in spite of the fact he's still with the ever-offscreen Daisy.

  • Forensic
    • Did I miss where Brennan figured out the sex of the victim?  Or ancestry/race?  Angela seemed to have a really specific facial reconstruction considering she didn't know the sex or race.
    • Speaking of facial reconstruction... is it not at all precise enough to find identical twins.
    • Estimating age from the osteons is a pretty reasonable thing to do with really fragmented remains.
    • If someone had his thumbs slammed in a drawer, wouldn't the injuries be sustained to the phalanges and not the metacarpals?  Maybe I haven't watched enough mob movies...
  • Plot
    • Not that I was at all invested in the Sweets-Daisy relationship (love both actors, didn't much like the characters together), but they dispatched with it pretty quickly.  I guess now that Booth and Brennan are in the "will they" camp, they need some more sexual tension on the show.
    • I'm kind of tired of the "Brennan makes more money than Booth does" trope.  Seemed like filler in this episode.
    • Also, my notes for this episode end with, "Aw shit, the chick shot Sweets!"  Thankfully he didn't go the way of Vincent Nigel-Murray.  But this budding romance is not at all interesting, and I don't really like puppy-dog-woman-pleaser Sweets.
  • Dialogue
    • Hey, Booth mentioned Parker!
    • I do not buy that Brennan wanted an $800 stroller.  That's just insanity.  Even if it is cerise. (Kudos, Bones writers, for making me learn a new color.  That's saying a lot, since I worked at J. Crew in college, and I'd never heard it before.)
Forensic Mystery - B. Pretty good, since there was an identical twin.  It meant the victim wasn't immediately identified, but it also meant that the identification happened using magic computers.

Forensic Solution - B-.  Most of the forensic methods were reasonable, except the facial reconstruction.  I missed how they figured out things like sex and race, though, to input into Angela's magic computer database.  (Angela's magic computers were definitely a theme in this episode.)

Drama - C.  The murder mystery was alright.  The Sweets love story was dumb, as was the Booth-at-a-desk-to-make-more-money plot.

Next Week:  Brennan's presidential campaign platform would apparently include the death penalty for anyone who harmed a tiger.

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