December 31, 2012

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XXIV

Pretty sleepy in the world of Roman bioarch this December.  Let's see what we have (some of which was from the end of November, oops!)...

Finds and Excavations
  • 26 November.  The Museum of London's excavation is now complete at the 8-10 Moorgate site.  Portions of the Roman-era (1st-3rd c AD) town were uncovered, along with at least one human burial.  No pictures, sadly.
  • 30 November.  Workmen installing a spa in a house in Teesdale (England) found Roman coins, pottery, glass, and a roof tile with a handprint on it dating roughly to the 2nd century AD.  No bones, it seems, but I do love finds of Roman hand- and footprints. Again, sadly, no pictures.
  • 24 December.  Although this isn't totally Roman-era, I was interested to learn that a portion of Phillip II's skeleton would be studied further.  Phillip of Macedon was the father of Alexander the Great, and Greek archaeologists think that the remains they found at Vergina are indeed his.
  • 24 December.  Large-scale excavations under London are also revealing the city's Roman past, among other eras.  So far, archaeologists have found "hundreds of skeletons," although there's no indication what time period they date to.
A few of the "hundreds of skeletons" found recently under London. (Photo via BBC.)

Articles and Reviews
  • 28 November. Bos et al. in PLoS One - Yersinia pestis: New Evidence for an Old Infection.  There's been a rash of articles about the Black Death lately, but this one is noteworthy because the authors attempt to pinpoint divergence dates for various strains of Y. pestis.  One happens to coincide with the dates of the so-called Plague of Justinian in Late Antiquity (6th-8th centuries AD).
  • 23 December.  The "bambino di Fidene" (a 2nd century AD Italian child whose skull has evidence of a trepanation) gets a nice write-up in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.  This individual is being exhibited as part of a new(ish) exhibit at the Museum of the History of Medicine in Rome.  The news piece is almost an osteobiography, taking the reader through the possible reasons the child was trepanned and the palliative care for the child who had to undergo such a traumatic procedure.
Odds and Ends
  • And finally, a cute little Roman bronze skeleton dating to the 1st century AD, part of the collection of the Getty in Malibu:

That concludes your Roman bioarchaeology news for 2012.  Join me here each month next year for more!

December 30, 2012

Best of Powered by Osteons - 2012

Last year was definitely better for blogging than this one, as I had more time on my hands then as an unemployed scholar.  I've only been able to post half as often in 2012 as in 2011, due in part to my new academic job, and many of those posts are my Bones reviews.  There are some half-finished (or not even started) posts hanging out in my drafts folder that I'd hoped to get to write by the end of the year.  But I will be looking forward to writing those in 2013.

The good news is that thanks to all you readers out there, traffic to Powered by Osteons has risen 50% since 2011!  Here are some rough stats of pageviews by month and year over the past five and a half years of blogging:
Powered by Osteons pageviews (including incomplete data in the summer of 2010
because I'm a doofus and hadn't enabled something I needed to enable). Click to embiggen.

Without further ado, the Top 5 posts I wrote in 2012 are... drum roll... (excluding Bones reviews...)

1.  Lead Poisoning in Rome - The Skeletal Evidence (20 Jan 2012).  This post explains an article on which I was a coauthor in 2010, providing some of the only data on lead concentration in human skeletons in the Roman Empire.  My post was syndicated by PastHorizons in February.  (Incidentally, this post is the most popular of all time on the blog, narrowly beating out the Bioarchaeology of Crucifixion from late last year.)

2.  Childbirth and C-Sections in Bioarchaeology (13 March 2012).  In this post, I review some of the bioarchaeological evidence for burial of mother-fetus dyads, or women and their babies who died in childbirth, and I end with questions about childbirth practices in the Roman Empire.

3.  From Birth to Burial: The Curious Case of Easter Eggs (20 March 2012).  After summarizing the longstanding symbolism of the egg to both pagan and Christian traditions, I discuss in this post the curious practice of burying children with eggs in the Roman Empire.  This post was syndicated by PastHorizons in April.

4. Recipe for a Roman Diet (2 May 2012).  While I was writing and revising my latest academic article, I wrote this post as both an explanation of the variety present in the Roman diet and a way to test my own recipe for a Roman(ish) dish.

5. Teaching Skeletal Anatomy to Kids (30 Jan 2012).  Based on a question from a colleague, I asked around and got loads of suggestions for how to teach human skeletal anatomy to the elementary school set.  This post compiles all the activities my social-media-friends and I thought up when trying to make anatomy fun for all.

I hope you all have a wonderful new year!  Please continue to check back with Powered by Osteons for new posts and Bones reviews throughout 2013.  And don't forget that you can "like" PbO on Facebook, where I post news and links about bioarchaeological discoveries around the world several times a day.

December 4, 2012

3D Printing in Bioarchaeology

So, one of the things I bought with my start-up funding was a MakerBot Replicator 2.0.  I've been interested in 3D printing for a while now, really ever since I saw the results come out of a printer at my husband's CS department at Duke University back in the early 2000s.  This seems to be the year of the desktop 3D printer, though, with a huge variety of offerings from different companies at very reasonable prices.  I decided to go with MakerBot, since they were well-reputed and printing was supposed to be pretty easy.
My MakerBot setup
Unfortunately, so far it's slow going.  I'll admit that I haven't contacted their support team yet, but I expected the manual and other instructions with the printer to be much more thorough than they are.  Trouble-shooting the printer is a bit out of my wheelhouse, since I'm not particularly mechanically inclined and am very likely to use percussive maintenance on anything that isn't working the way I want it to work.

Printing linked chains
The printer is doing alright at printing linear objects, particularly the sample files that come on a little SD card with the MakerBot.  So the comb worked well, the shark, and even the linked chains (which impress a lot of people).  After a few tweaks, I got the stretchy bracelet to print, which my 3-year-old was delighted by (and promptly broke).  Printing anything else that's even remotely circular, though, has been problematic.  The extruder that lays down the hot plastic seems to hit a snag at least once in every print.  In a linear print, this isn't too much of a problem, as the extruder moves on.  But in a circular print, it seems to throw off the entire object, and often I have to cancel the build because a bit of plastic has broken off or is dragging around the platform. After my latest attempt to test the printer, it just stopped spitting out hot plastic, so perhaps I need to unload and reload the filament.
Success! Bracelet!

My ultimate goal here is to digitize some bones in our collection (ideally, the pathological ones) and print replicas of them.  Maybe even digitize some Roman bones.  These replicas can be used for teaching without worrying that they'll be damaged or lost.  Or they can be scaled up, so that it's easier to view small pathologies on small bones.

I've got a grad student working on learning the 3D scanner and helping me trouble-shoot the printer.  But I thought I'd blog about this, first, to start talking about what I'm trying to do with the hopes that others may have helpful hints, and second, to start encouraging prospective master's students to apply to UWF to work with me.  As I just started, I don't have any of my own grad students, so if you're interested in things like 3D printing, new ways of presenting anthropological information, or dead Romans, drop me an email!

December 3, 2012

Bones - Season 8, Episode 9 (Review)

The Ghost in the Machine
Episode Summary
The Jeffersonian team and the FBI find a largely skeletonized body in a greenhouse.  Based on the shape and placement of the eye orbits, Brennan thinks the victim was male.  Based on the partial fusion of the distal radius and acromion of the shoulder, she estimates him at 13 to 14 years old at death.

*smoke fade!*

Close your mouth, Tempe.
At the Jeffersonian, the remains are xrayed, and a bunch of old fractures are found to the wrists, elbows, patellae, and coccyx.  Although his long bones suggest he was small, his muscle markers show that he was well-built and athletic.  Angela finds that he had symmetrical features and good teeth, although he ground them at night.  Hodgins estimates, based on the wasp's nest found in the skull, that time of death was around 2 years ago in the autumn.  Angela reconstructs the face and finds out it's Colin Gibson.

*another smoke fade!*

Further analysis of the skeleton reveals perimortem abrasions to both patellae and tibiae, damage to the metacarpals, scaphoid, and lunate, a Colles fracture to the left radius along with a hairline fracture to the left clavicle, a shallow vertical gash to the sternum, and a fracture of C2, which would have snapped his neck.  The skull also has some areas of discoloration that puzzle Brennan.  A paint chip found with Colin's body helps Booth narrow the car down to a 1987 Chevy El Camino, which Colin's father just happened to own.  

*seriously, is a Dementor coming to get me?*

The wasps also tell Hodgins that the body was moved, as they live above ground and not below.  He traces the paper fiber in the wasp nest to Betula uber, the round leaf birch, and helps Booth and Brennan find a location that the body could have been dumped initially.  Brennan finds three small holes in the pump house that match up with the discolored areas of Colin's skull.

*I start making the Wayne's World bee-dee-dee-boop sound*

Angela helps reconstruct the events leading up to Colin's death.  They try some scenarios in which Colin is getting hit by the car, but then Brennan realizes Colin was surfing on top of the hood.  The driver hit a bump, stopped, and Colin fell off and broke his neck.  Booth brings in a bunch of kids for questioning - Miranda, whom Colin had a crush on, her boyfriend Sean, and some kid named Carl we haven't seen yet.  Sean admits he was driving and admits to having moved the body because Colin was haunting him.  Booth notes that the three(?) boys confessed and Miranda had nothing to do with it.

*oh yay, last one!*

With the help of psychic Cyndi Lauper, the mix tape Colin gave to Miranda on the day he died is played, and she realizes he loved her.  His spirit is spirited away.  Everyone cries.

  • Forensic
    • Although it's sometimes possible to estimate sex from subadult remains, it's very poor form to do so.  Especially in the field rather than in a laboratory setting.  And since Colin was small for his age, it likely meant he hadn't started going through puberty, the event that serves to most strongly differentiate male from female skeletons.  Personally, I'll go as young as 16 if the morphology is clear.  I wouldn't estimate sex on a 14-year-old.
    • The prop people need to get a fake adolescent skeleton.  In one closeup, when the wrist was projected on a screen, there was a line of partial fusion of the distal radial epiphysis.  But the rest of the skeleton (the femoral heads, the iliac crest, the xiphoid process, all the other things that wouldn't be close to fused at 14) was, of course, fused.  The skull (which we saw reflected in a mirror at the pump house and at the end) was definitely adult, strongly male, and looked nothing like the skull of a 14-year-old.  Seriously.  Is it too much to ask for them to have fake skeletons of a variety of ages, sexes, and ancestries?  I mean, we have those in our teaching lab, even though we don't have a crapload of money because we're not a wildly popular TV show.
    • Unless Brennan's home is a secure forensic facility, I don't think she should be taking human remains home with her.  You know, chain of custody and all that boring police stuff essential for catching a murderer.  At least when the brought it to the pump house, there was a big EVIDENCE tag on the bag/box the skull was in.
  • Plot
    • There's an El Camino in the middle of the lab?  Really?
    • Who were the three boys that were supposed to have been hanging out with Colin?  We met Sean at the beginning, then the Carl kid showed up at FBI questioning out of the blue.  Not sure who the third was.
    • The conceit of this show was awful.  Just awful.  Only crazy people (and TV forensic professionals) talk to skulls.  Not seeing the bones made this pretty boring and reliant on exposition.  Also hard to interview potential suspects when you have to think of a semi-plausible reason to have a skull at the FBI for questioning.
  • Dialogue
    • Brennan: "I'm uncomfortable defining sex with just the skull."  You literally do it ALL THE TIME on this show!  And this is the one time you should be uncomfortable, yet you do it anyway.
    • Brennan pronounces "integral" like "in-TEE-gral."  (I don't care if Merriam-Webster says it's a variant pronunciation.  No one pronounces it like that.)
    • I finally figured out what it takes for Brennan and Booth to call one another by their given names: tears.

Forensic Mystery - D.  We didn't really learn that much about the forensic mystery, since information about Colin's injuries was touched on only briefly at the beginning and the end.

Forensic Solution - C-.  Well, they did ID the remains, based on... well, Angela's facial reconstruction got a hit in a missing person's database?  I'm assuming, since it was never spelled out.  But the forensics in tonight's episode were pretty terrible.

Drama - F.  I simply do not need to see close-ups of everyone's faces as they talk to a dead person.  Nor do I need to see Brennan crying two or three times in an episode.  Yes, we get it, the writers want to rehabilitate her emotional state.  Can we dial it back a notch now?  The ridiculous conceit of the show ("through the victim's eyes") meant major limitations in the plot, and the incessant smoke-fades made me want to hurl my remote at the TV.

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