January 31, 2013

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XXV

We've got tumors, tombstones, and tablets this month...

Pre-Roman Period
Roman Period
Roman tombstone found in
Muslim grave in Turkey

  • 7 January - Ancient pills found on a cargo ship that wrecked off the Italian coast in 140 BC were analyzed.  The tablets were zinc-based and were likely used as eye medicine.
    Facial reconstruction
    of a 2nd c AD Romano-
    British man
  • 7 January - LiveScience covered the AIA paper of my good friend Beth Greene, whose research focuses on the footwear of the inhabitants of Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall.
  • 9 January - An ancient tomb was discovered in Avellino (in Campania), probably dating to the Roman period.  No additional information seems to be available.
  • 18 January - Forensic analysis was performed on a skeleton dated to about 200 AD discovered on the University of Wales, Newport campus.  A facial reconstruction was done, in the style of a Fayum mummy portrait, and is being shown at the Caerleon Museum.
Ovarian teratoma from Roman Spain
  • 21 January - The skeleton of a woman with a teratoma was found in Spain, dating to the late Roman period.  She was buried in the cappuccina style.  The teratoma included several teeth and was likely present in or near her ovary.
  • 29 January - Another story about the discovery of a 1st-2nd c AD Roman sarcophagus in someone's backyard.  They had no idea it was worth a great deal of money.

January 28, 2013

Bones - Season 8, Episode 13 (Review)

The Twist in the Plot
Episode Summary
A group of tourists segueing through the forest stumbles upon a dead body when one of the group goes face-down into a giant nest of beetles.  The Jeffersonian team investigates, and Brennan notes signs of rodent predation.  There isn't much tissue left, but from the browridge, Brennan estimates the dead person was female and Caucasian.  Wear on the mandibular teeth suggest she was in her early 30s, and lacerations and avulsions on the radius and ulna point to homicide.  As Brennan brushes dirt away from the skull, she finds a second body.
"Looking at the infraramicular sulcus tells me the victim
had red hair and liked to go frog gigging."

Back at the Jeffersonian, Brennan and Daisy Wick study the injuries to the first body: massive trauma to the sternum and 4th, 5th, and 6th ribs bilaterally suggests a crushing blow, while fractures to the right and left radii and ulnae indicate defensive wounds.  The second body was arranged differently: a scarf tying the chin in place, anointed with frankincense, sandalwood, and cloves.  Booth does a search on the land and finds that it was a burial plot leased to Dr. Wes Craig on behalf of his wife, Monica, from a natural burial company called Green Passages.  Monica had terminal lung cancer and had been buried there.  While Sweets is questioning Dr. Craig, he shows him a facial reconstruction of the first skeleton, which he identifies as Rachel Knox, Monica's death doula.  Dental evidence confirms her ID.

Booth and Brennan head out to Green Passages and question Akshay Mirsa, the co-owner of the company and Rachel's business partner.  He is visibly upset about Rachel's death, but it does not come out until later that he and Rachel had a thing going on seven months back.  It ended around the time he accidentally broke her nose during one of their tantric sex sessions; Rachel was adamant that her liaisons last only three months each.  But Mirsa was ok with that, and they resumed being business partners.

Because Brennan apparently can't be bothered to do her job in the lab this episode, Daisy continues to examine the bodies at the Jeffersonian to determine cause of death.  On Rachel, a comminuted fracture of the distal end of the sternal body just superior to the xiphisternal joint was the likely cause of death: a crushing blow fractured and pushed the sternum into the heart.  Particles found in the wound indicate locally sourced stone about the shape of a grave marker.  Booth and Brennan question Mirsa again, as he is also the stone mason for the company, but he denies killing Rachel.  Meanwhile, Sweets talks to Mr. Warren, a funeral director who wanted to go into business with Rachel but, when she refused, filed several lawsuits against her.  He points the FBI back at Mirsa, though.

Daisy also studies Monica's body and, from a histological examination, doesn't think that her cancer was advanced enough to have caused her death.  Hodgins notices that some of the beetles from Monica's body are fatter than the others, so he tests only the fat beetles.  He finds evidence of methylone, or bath salts, a substance that some people were using to get high until the FDA banned it.

Sweets confronts Dr. Craig again, asking him about methylone, which he apparently used in his never-explained doctoring practice.  At first he denies knowing what the substance is, but then he admits that he did not prevent Monica from overdosing on it, as she begged him to let her die.  Booth, however, notices in Craig's phone records that he had been calling Rachel on a regular basis for three months leading up to Monica's death.  Two days before her death, the calls stopped.  Booth interrogates Craig, causing him to admit that he had been having an affair with Rachel.  She called it off right before his wife died, and seeing her at his wife's graveside caused him to freak out about losing someone else.  So he... killed her?  And maybe his wife too, since Sweets didn't think that Monica committed suicide?  Anyway, the good doctor (of who knows what) is the bad guy.

  • Forensic
    • Brow ridge is not going to tell you that someone is Caucasian.  Female is a bit more likely, but we still need more osteological markers to do this sort of assessment.  See last week's complaint about using dental wear to estimate age.
    • Not strictly forensic in nature, but a green burial company wouldn't bury a body that shallowly. Sure, these sorts of burials are usually done more shallowly than traditional burials to provide better access for the bugs, but I'm pretty sure they take precautions so that, you know, bodies don't just erode out of the landscape on a daily basis.
    • I'm not buying that Daisy is an expert in histology of bone cancer.  Saroyan, sure.  But not Daisy.  Also not buying that Daisy could get bone marrow from those nice, white, thoroughly cleaned bones that are lying on the forensic exam table.
  • Plot
    • What kind of doctor is Wes Craig?  He plays dumb at the FBI far too much: "What does descecrated mean?" "I don't know what methylone is."  A dumb doctor, I guess.
    • Why wasn't Brennan in the lab, like, at all this episode?  There was no need for her to go question the green burial guy repeatedly.  I can see her on the scene when they need to swab something or someone, sure.  But she needed to be supervising Daisy and doing her job.
    • Wait, so did Dr. Craig kill his wife or not?  Daisy said it was homicide, then someone said it was suicide, then Sweets said it was homicide again.  But was it homicide, or a mercy killing, or what?  How was this never resolved?  And why did Craig kill Rachel?  Not wanting to lose someone else is a stupid reason.
    • Oh yeah, there was something about Sweets and Daisy too.  They want to get back together but don't.  Hey, whatever happened to that FBI agent who took a bullet for Sweets?
  • Dialogue
    • "Doula is the feminine version of the ancient Greek doulos, which means servant or caregiver." - Etymological Brennan FTW
    • Daisy's latest publication is, "Asymmetrical bilateral fracturing of pubic tubercles in late surgical separation of post-Medieval conjoined twins in Romania."  This made me laugh because the critique of bioanthropological article titles is spot-on.  (Also, I would totally read that.)
    • Brennan initially planned for a sky burial.  (No word on how someone should get her putrifying body to Tibet, though...)  Then she revised her will to ask to have her ashes scattered in a volcano.  Neither of these makes particular sense, though, since any good forensic anthropologist would leave herself to the Body Farm.
    • Brennan's will is 312 pages long.  Booth's is a sticky note.

Forensic Mystery - D.  The two women in the grave were handily ID'ed, one by a property records search, and the other by a facial reconstruction that we never got to see created (no Angelatron = no fun).  The cause of death for Monica was sketchy at best.  The killer was clearly the playing-dumb-doctor-of-whatever. Eh.

Forensic Solution - C.  I guess they did their jobs.  Well, Daisy did anyway.  So they mostly figured out what happened to the two women.

Drama - D+.  Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn.  I surfed the internet whenever Sweets/Daisy and Booth/Brennan started mooning about their various and sordid ends.

January 24, 2013

Presenting Anthropology - Weeks 3&4 (Readings)

After a week's vacation for MLK Day here, we're gearing up for another week of Presenting Anthropology. The topic for this two-week unit is Social Media.  All of the students in the class are on one form of social media or another (mostly Facebook, which is semi-private), but I'll be getting them to think about ways to use social media to convey anthropology, and their first project/challenge is to keep up a social media outreach program for the semester through a blog, Twitter, tumblr, etc., which I'll post links to next week.

Here are the readings and links I've assigned for this unit.  Feel free to follow along with the students' live-tweeting (see list here - our class meets on Monday, 1/28, from 1-4pm CST), particularly since we'll be talking via skype with Charlotte Noble, a PhD student at USF who created the This Is Anthropology prezi and is also behind the new AAA initiative This Is Anthropology.

Weeks 3&4 - Social Media

Discussion Topic: Many academics are wary of social media, viewing it as simply a way of sharing pictures of your latest brunch or bragging about your Plants vs. Zombies score. Yet with millions of people who are potentially your audience available at the end of Facebook, Twitter, and G+, it is important to understand the ways that academics and the public are using social media to connect with one another and to share interesting information. Over the next two weeks, we will discuss the charge laid down by archaeologist Jeremy Sabloff, namely that there are no public anthropologists in the way there are go-to experts in economics, astronomy, and biology, and integrate within that discussion ways to respond to a public often ignorant of anthropology, as exemplified by Florida Governor Rick Scott. Social media is, at its core, about becoming involved in a conversation rather than being a one-way producer of information, and its largely online format means that even the most introverted among us can find a place to be public and active anthropologists.

Required Media Consumption List:

January 22, 2013

Scholarship Outside the Academy

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education has an article on PhDs who choose to work as independent scholars - "Some PhDs Choose to Work Off the Grid" - in which I was quoted as a formerly independent academic:
For Kristina Killgrove, being an independent scholar was only ever a step on the way to getting an academic job, which had always been her goal. After earning a Ph.D. in anthropology in 2010, she knew she had to keep churning out scholarship to be competitive on the job market. Over three years' time, she applied for 150 jobs. 
"I just tried to keep writing and getting out more publications rather than take some other job where I wasn't publishing much," says Ms. Killgrove, who wrote four papers based on her dissertation research during the two years she worked as an independent scholar. "It shows you know what's going on in your field." 
She enjoyed life as an independent scholar. "It's pretty nice to work full time on my research, and you don't really get that in the academy," she says. 
But in the end, taking an academic position seemed like a better choice. She began a job last fall as an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of West Florida. 
"Part of what I liked about being an independent scholar was the ability to work on anything I wanted at my own pace," says Ms. Killgrove. "But while that freedom was liberating, I also wanted a paycheck."
Pull-quote from me
For those of you with Chronicle access, please click through and read the whole thing.  It's a good piece about the life choices we have to make to pursue tenure-track jobs and do our research, and it profiles several different independent scholars and the Ronin Institute, founded by evolutionary biologist Jon F. Wilkins in the past year.

I got involved with Ronin in my post-PhD, pre-academic job phase, which lasted two years and saw me become rather disillusioned with the prospect of finding a job in academia, especially one that I thought would likely involve a lot of personal and professional compromises.  I'm glad I was wrong in my pessimism; I was lucky enough to get a job that I love in an area of the country that's beautiful, and I was especially lucky to get a job that didn't involve personal or professional compromises.

But this conversation about the growing problems with higher education in the U.S. is an important one to have.  It's important to talk about who adjuncts are, and if independent scholars are different in some way.  It's important to see that not everyone's personality/family life/research fits well within our American higher ed model (particularly women).  It's important to work towards free, open knowledge so that more people can choose to be independent scholars if they want.  So for me, the conversation about adjuncts and independence is necessarily also one about open access.

For those of you without Chronicle access, let me know and I'll be happy to share the article with you.  I find it a bit ironic that an article on PhDs working outside traditional academia is behind a paywall, but I suppose open access doesn't just happen overnight.  And if you want to know more about Ronin, get in touch with Jon and/or check out this (free) Boston Globe article on the institute.  He's doing cool things and has many more ideas that I hope will come to fruition soon.

January 21, 2013

Bones - Season 8, Episode 12 (Review)

The Corpse in the Canopy
Episode Summary
Hodgins and Angela wake up groggy to Michael Vincent crying and a corpse in a canopy dripping blood onto their faces.  Flower petals surround MV, and Hodgins immediately suspects Christopher Pelant, as they are from Crocus sativus, used in ancient Egyptian rituals to the sun.  Brennan comes out to the house to look at the corpse and determines from the superolateral corner of the eye orbit that the victim was male.  Hodgins wants the investigation to be small and in-house, but Booth calls in the FBI and Brennan calls Saroyan to get a tech team to the house.

Based on the corpse, Brennan estimates the victim to be 185.4 cm tall, and the weight of the corpse is 56.7 kg, which Saroyan estimates would have been about 210 lbs during life.  Wear to the maxillary teeth (the mandible is missing) suggests to Brennan he was in his late 30s, and the width of the 4th sternal rib end suggests he was Caucasian.  Fragments embedded in the iliacus muscle in the pelvis are old, likely shrapnel. Lesions to the scapula suggest cutaneous leishmaniasis, which he could have gotten from the bite of the sand flea.  Stress fractures to the metatarsals are consistent with parachute jumping, and osteophytes on the intercondylar fossa of the femur resulting from nitrogen buildup in the blood suggest the man was also a deep sea diver. The man has been dead fewer than 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Pelant is clearly back in the country and is mocking up an ID card to get himself into SERBERUS, a company that provides mercenaries throughout the world.  Special Agent Flynn manages to get confidential information on one Xavier Freeman, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq and was wounded by an RPG in Afghanistan.  Freeman was special ops, which meshes with the old injuries that Brennan found to the body.  Booth and Flynn ransack his apartment and find an open gun safe with proprietary weapons; Booth recognizes these as related to SERBERUS.  Unfortunately, the head of the company does not want to help Booth, instead claiming that they will ferret out Pelant themselves.

The tox screen on Freeman's body comes back negative for poisons, but there was a significant amount of adrenocorticosteroids in his blood.  Antemortem striations on the 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae are consistent with puncture wounds from a needle, Brennan suggests.  These injuries could have compromised the nerve ganglions, leading to intense pain.  Saroyan thinks that Freeman was tortured in this way repeatedly until he died of bradyarrythmia from the pain.  Nothing from Hodgins' and Angela's blood screens comes back to indicate what was used to poison them, so the two snort lidocaine and biopsy their own lungs.  The mass spec tells Hodgins that there was sevoflurane in their lungs, an anesthetic gas whose major local supplier is Cantilever, which Hodgins' family owns.

Pelant calls Brennan to let her know to expect a hint.  A mailroom worker finds a finger in an envelope addressed to her.  Brennan and Saroyan immediately realize the finger is primate but not human.  The flat nail suggests a member of Cercopithecidae, hair follicles are similar to a macaque, and the ratio of the distal to proximal phalanges indicates barbary "ape" (the barbary macaque is technically a monkey, but this is the common term).  Brennan remembers that the Roman anatomist Galen used barbary macaques as dissection models for the human body, and notes that Galen's anatomy was current until Andreas Vesalius came along in the 16th century.  Angela realizes that the corpse in her room was very similar to Vesalius' Plate 34 of De Humani Corporis Fabrica.

Hodgins works some magic with his company and finds out that one Justin Trimple bought a lot of sevoflurane gas.  Booth and Flynn suggest through an Enigma machine (because of course) that Angela should spam Pelant to distract him.  Angela does so, and Pelant blocks her email; this lets her figure out what his server is, and through an IP trace, they realize he is at SERBERUS.  Booth and Flynn gear up to get Pelant there with a full FBI team.  Pelant taps into the security system, to make it look like he's walking in the building.  Booth realizes there is a secret way out not on the blueprints, and the SERBERUS leader tells them where to find Pelant.  Booth and Flynn chase him through the boiler room and into some machine room that empties into the parking garage, but Pelant has hooked up the A/C vent with a machine gun.  Booth ducks in time, but Flynn gets hit (and fortunately is wearing body armor).  Booth tracks Pelant into the parking garage and shoots at him, but only grazes him and does not stop him from escaping.

Meanwhile, the Jeffersonian team compared Freeman's corpse to Vesalius' drawing and noted some dissimilarities.  When they removed the muscles that Pelant left in Freeman's body, they get the letters (labels in the Vesalius drawing) MELYCU, which is an anagram for LYCEUM, the ancient Greek word for school. The servers at SERBERUS start spitting out code that no one there can decipher until Booth realizes it's MGRS code (military grid reference system), suggesting Pelant has a specific target.  Angela tracks the MGRS to Kandahar province and realizes Pelant has hacked into an MQ9 predator drone.  They figure out the target: a girls' school.  Hodgins then realizes what the other code on the SERBERUS server is: his account numbers and passwords.  Pelant is draining his bank accounts, making him choose between saving the girls (by staying in the SERBERUS computer system to control the drone) and saving his money (by disconnecting).  Hodgins chooses the girls, and Angela manages to make the drone self-destruct at the last minute, saving the girls.

In the end, Flynn is in stable condition, Hodgins and Angela have no money (except, presumably, their very well-paid jobs at the Jeffersonian), and Pelant has killed a veterinarian to get supplies to suture the fairly superficial lacerations to his face.

  • Forensic
    • Just one single drop of blood fell on Hodgins' face?  Out of that whole, flayed, bloody mess?
    • One corner of the eye orbit suggests to Brennan the victim was male?  So males tend to have more square-shaped orbits than females, so theoretically the superolateral (did she say "superiolateral"?) corner could be more of a right angle, but... yeah, no.
    • The victim was 185.4 cm tall?  That is really specific.  Where are your error bars, Dr. Brennan?
    • Dental wear is really complicated in this day and age.  Sure, there has been a lot of use of it in bioarchaeology, where we know people within a population were eating pretty much the same thing, but the combination of soft food, variety in food, and good dental practices in modern society means dental wear is highly variable.  I wouldn't trust it to give me any sort of precise range for age-at-death of modern people.  But kudos to the prop team for actually getting some worn teeth (and they're teeth that are worn to about the mid-30s based on bioarchaeological data).  Impressive.
    • I've never heard of assessing ancestry from the sternal rib ends, just age-at-death.  I can't immediately find anything in Google scholar either.  Anyone have any idea?  I'm just calling shenanigans for now.
    • How does Brennan know that the osteophytes on the femur are from nitrogen buildup rather than, oh, arthritis, which would have been totally normal in an athletic male in his late 30s who jumped out of airplanes?
    • And the stress fractures to the metatarsals... I suppose they're consistent with parachute jumping, but just last week there was a case with stress fractures to the metatarsals that were consistent with dancing.  Lazy writing, not giving Brennan any sort of differential.  She just goes for some randomly specific activity, when that's not what musculoskeletal markers tell you.
  • Plot
    • Strange that the writers didn't specifically reference the flower code from the last Pelant episode.  His leaving flower petals in MV's crib was a code, right?  The petals seemed to have different markings as well.  Why weren't those investigated for meaning?
    • I guess Pelant is supposed to be a super villain, but don't you think Hodgins - who is super paranoid - would have tons of security?  And maybe a couple people working for him in his ginormous house?
    • I don't know why Saroyan thinks it's ok for Hodgins and Angela to be working this case.  Sweets agrees with me, but Saroyan totally disses him by saying that Pelant is scared of Hodgins and wants him off the case, thereby out-psyching Sweets.  Burned.
    • Booth sets up some sort of AET(?) counter-surveillance super-shield, but... Pelant gets through it anyway?  Didn't see the point of that part of the plot.
    • I suppose Saroyan wouldn't agree to biopsy Hodgins' and Angela's lungs?  Seems really dangerous and setting up the Jeffersonian for a massive lawsuit for them to do it themselves.  (So Hodgins did himself and Angela?  How did that work exactly?)
    • What was the point of having an Enigma machine, other than that they're really freaking cool?  Hodgins wanted to work off the grid, but they kept calling on cell phones.  Anyway, he says that there are only two in the world, but that's not true at all.  And the writers didn't seem to understand how an Enigma machine actually worked either.
    • It's always annoying when Angela, who talks constantly about being an artist, is suddenly the world's greatest computer hacker.  She out-hacks Pelant.  She does things with computers that would take teams of people days to do, and she does them in a matter of seconds.  Sure, she can just hack into SERBERUS's computers and into the predator drone faster and more easily than the FBI and SERBERUS's own tech people.  Easy peasy!
    • How does SERBERUS have a giant building if they're a company of mercenaries?  I mean, is that legal?
    • Booth is supposedly one of the best marksmen in the world, and he couldn't hit the broad side of Pelant's car.  (Yeah, yeah, moving target and all.  Just not quite fitting with the character's back story.)
    • Wouldn't at least some of Hodgins' money be FDIC insured?  Or, you know, bound up in stock that can't be transferred at the click of a button?
    • Did we get an explanation for the meaning of SERBERUS?  I mean, I know it's a play on Cerberus (or, as my friend Ben used to jokingly pronounce it in high school Latin class, "CAAAARE-bear-oooos!"), the guardian of the underworld, but why is it all caps, and why does it start with an S?
  • Dialogue
    • Pronunciation -- Saroyan says "il-EYE-a-cus," which I'd never heard, but Merriam-Webster supports it.  (It's near the ilium, and iliac is pronounced "ILL-ee-ack," so I thought it was "il-ee-AH-kus.")  And I think Brennan was trying to pronounce Cercopithecidae but did actually horribly butcher it with something like "sick-o-path-EE-ke-dee" rather than "ser-co-pith-eh-SEE-dee" (in English, anyway; Latin/Greek is slightly different).  Alright, M-W has something weird here too.  I honestly don't know who pronounces these words the way M-W does; certainly not forensic or biological anthropologists.
    • "Take a breath..." Hodgins, having his a-ha House or Monk moment.
Forensic Mystery - A.  Pretty good mystery tonight.  Not really as to the victim's identification, since that came out fairly early on.  But with any "big bad" episode, the focus is on the message the villain is trying to send.  So watching the Jeffersonian attempt to figure out what Pelant was up to was interesting.

Forensic Solution - B.  I'm going to ding them here because of all the wonkiness with the forensic techniques.  It was just all too easy and simple, when forensic anthropology is only very rarely that straightforward.

Drama - A+.  Judging by my lack of notes at the end of the episode, this was quite good from a dramatic standpoint.  This is the kind of Bones I like to see, and it's no surprise, really, because the writers are generally excellent when it comes to serialized episodes (e.g., Grave Digger).  The threat to Hodgins and Angela felt real, the characters' reactions to the threat were appropriate, Flynn gets gunned down, and Pelant gets away.  Good job, Bones writers!  In spite of my quibbles above, it was a thoroughly enjoyable hour of television that didn't make me want to hurl stuff at my screen.  More, please.

January 14, 2013

Bones - Season 8, Episode 11 (Review)

The Archaeologist in the Cocoon
Episode Summary
A parachutist stuck in a tree finds a large cocoon with a dead body in it near a wrecked car.  The Jeffersonian team comes out to the woods to investigate.  While Saroyan is noticing that the car's upholstery has been wiped down, leaving blood only in the seat cushion, Brennan and Hodgins are up in a cherry picker slicing into the cocooned body and getting Hyphantria cunea web worms dropped on them.  Through all the cocoon material, Brennan can see that the prominent brow ridge and slanted forehead mean the deceased was a Caucasian male.

The wrecked car was registered to James Sutton, an adventurer and archaeologist who also wrote books that were a cross between pulp fiction and popular science.  Sutton suffered from chronic sinusitis, according to his doctor, so the team matches up xrays of his frontal sinuses to get a positive ID.  Sutton's wife is a new immigrant from Chechnya, where Sutton had recently been excavating.  She notes through her brother as interpreter that Sutton was jumpy about whatever he was bringing back into the country.  Booth and Brennan get a key to a storage area from the wife, and they discover it was his office.  Brennan immediately identifies human bone on the work table and promptly licks it, as bone is porous and sticks to your tongue.  Based on Sutton's notes, Brennan realizes that the bones date to the Palaeolithic.

Back at the Jeffersonian, Saroyan turns the ancient bones over to Clark Edison, who is employed as the Jeffersonian's resident bioarchaeologist (although they call him something like an anthropologist of historic remains, oddly enough).  Brennan gets annoyed, as her work on the Lagar Velho remains was recognized by Cambridge University.  Faced with the choice of turning the bones over for analysis to Edison - who has no experience with Palaeolithic remains - or to Brennan, who has written on one of the most famous child skeletons in the world that was contemporaneous with these new remains, yeah, Saroyan chooses Edison.

Brennan reluctantly goes back to assessing Sutton's remains for cause of death, and she finds particulates in a scraping wound to his back that she thinks might be from animal hide.  Sweets meanwhile interviews Wayne Wilson, an entrepreneur from Texas who is also a devout creationist.  Wilson was buying Sutton's finds in order to destroy them.  He knew that Sutton had found something in Chechnya but Sutton wasn't willing to share, even though Wilson had funded his expedition.  Eventually, it comes out that Sutton's father-in-law beat him, because he had gotten his daughter pregnant and dishonored the family.  Booth thinks that Sutton's brother-in-law may have been hired to kill Sutton, but he wasn't.  Brennan reconstructs the pattern of injuries based on a nick to the coracoid process of the scapula and other injuries and thinks that Sutton's axillary artery was cut and he bled out.  The injured area is found to have fibers of a dyed linen with polyurethane, the kind bookbinders use.  Booth and Brennan question Sutton's publisher, whose floor has blood stains under a black light and a missing bookend.  She confesses, upset that Sutton wanted to publish his new find in an academic press rather than helping her make money off of it.

Yup, that's what I thought of this episode.
(courtesy tumblr)
But getting back to Dr. Edison's Fanciful Archaeology Tour... He determines that the remains represent four individuals: a male Neandertal, a female Homo sapiens, a male H. sapiens, and a 3-year-old girl.  He immediately interprets this as a mixed tribe cohabitating, and Brennan thinks it's a very important discovery.  But she notices an injury to the parietal of one of the individuals, suggesting blunt force trauma.  She initially tries to get the remains back, claiming a 25,000-year-old forensic case, but Edison rightly asserts that this isn't the domain of a forensic anthropologist.  Brennan asks Edison to define the line between historic and current, and Edison puts it at 100 years, which is actually what forensic anthropologists use and Brennan would absolutely know.  These bones are of bioarchaeological, not strictly forensic, interest.

Edison then figures out that the H. sapiens male was killed by a Neandertal axe and realizes from the anatomy of the 3-year-old child that the child may have been part Neandertal and part anatomically modern human, as the shorter, thicker tibiae indicate the former and the radius and ulna indicate the latter.  Based on all the things Sutton brought back and his notes from the dig, Edison sets up an elaborate tableau and starts narrating the osteobiography of this group -- there was a Neandertal father and a Homo sapiens mother, plus their 3-year-old child (because of course we should assume nuclear families, right?).  The Homo sapiens male interloper caused a fracture to the Neandertal male's rib by using a thrown spear.  The Homo sapiens woman attacked the man with a grinding stone, and he struck her in the face, collapsing her windpipe.  The Neandertal male then struck the Homo sapiens, causing his death as well.  So they all died at once in one big pile... but the 3-year-old starved to death, apparently in the same spot as her parents, because -- as Edison claims -- no one would care for her, as she was a hybrid.  Her teeth indicate lines of arrested development (striae of Retzius), suggesting starvation.  Her last action was to lie down with her dead parents... a couple weeks after they died?  Not even sure how that would work.  Brennan presents the excavation photo as an example of love, of this hybrid family dying together after suffering the earliest hate crime.

I could go on and on and on, but I ended my notes with a simple, "Holy shit, this is bad archaeology."

  • Forensic
    • Prominent brow ridge and slanted forehead (whatever that means) still aren't good enough indicators of sex or ancestry, much less both.
    • Very glad they took the time to do a positive ID for once.  I haven't seen them do frontal sinus matching in a while, but they should; it's a fairly accurate identification technique.
    • Oh jeez, Brennan has no reason to stick her tongue to the bone.  It's clearly bone-shaped.  It's clearly human.  And feeling the weight of it would tell you if it's fake (e.g., plastic or rock) or real.  Of course, I have licked bone before - very, very small pieces of bone to figure out if they were indeed bone or rock.  There is just no earthly need to slather your tongue all over a fibula.  Gross.
    • The injury presentation is pretty poorly handled in this episode.  Brennan mentions the scraping wound and the animal hide and jumps to the conclusion of flogging all in one breath. It comes out of nowhere.
    • While talking about the nick to the coracoid process, they kept showing the distal radius on the screen.  This confused me.
    • The Lagar Velho child (now called the Lapedo child) is often interpreted as a hybrid of Neandertals and anatomically modern Homo sapiens.  Which means Brennan already knows about hybrids and has in fact published a research article on them.  So why she's surprised by Edison's find is beyond me.  (Also, I have actually touched the Lagar Velho child, when I was working in an osteology lab in Portugal in 2005.  Very cool.)
    • Edison said "epiphynis" for some odd reason.  He and Brennan both kept saying "Homo sapien" which really just annoys the crap out of me.  (Seriously, I harp on this with my students - it's sapiens, as it's from the Latin present participle, which ends in -ns.  Also, it's super easy to remember it has an -s at the end because literally all other major Homo species do: H. habilis, H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis, and H. sapiens.  For different linguistic reasons, but it makes it easy to remember!)  I could go on and on about how they kept saying "Neanderthal" rather than "Neandertal" (the latter being the preferred pronunciation today), but... yeah.  Argh.  Just.  Argh.
    • I feel like a broken record, but you can't tell sex from subadult remains.  There's no way for Edison to tell the 3-year-old was a girl other than through aDNA testing.
    • Edison reasoned that the Homo sapiens threw the spear that killed the Neandertal male because only Homo sapiens knew how to throw spears.  And yet he just found a Neandertal living with a Homo sapiens, which means they were talking and sharing information, like, say, how to throw a spear.  Very poor reasoning indeed.
    • The taphonomy makes no sense whatsoever.  I suppose I could see the three adults dying at the same time (and somehow, even though they were unburied, they managed to make it in relatively complete form into the archaeological record for 25,000 years?), but the kid makes no sense at all.  She would have gone in search of food or water.  She would have gotten eaten by something on the landscape.  Least likely is that she sat around waiting to die.
    • It also makes no real sense to assume that this was a family, particularly not in our contemporary idea of a nuclear family (monogamous pair of heterosexual adults, plus kid or kids).  
    • Nor does it make sense to assume that there would have been any problem with Neandertals and anatomically modern humans as a reproductive pair.  We know that Neandertals and AMH interbred.  We know that Neandertals weren't brutes - they could talk, they buried their dead, they had sophisticated technology.  Many biological anthropologists argue that Neandertals weren't even a separate species.  In short, there's nothing that I know of in the fossil record that would suggest Neandertals and AMHs would know upon meeting one another that they were different.  Sure, they may have looked different, but likely not outside the range of variation they expected to see in their population.  Jumping to "hate crime because of interbreeding" is just so very wrong.  This isn't a jump that bioarchaeologists or palaeoanthropologists could make from the evidence at hand.
    • I know I praised Bones when they did a more bioarchaeological episode with "The Shallow in the Deep" and suggested they should do more of that kind of episode, but jeeezum, this was bad tonight.  They really needed to talk to an archaeologist.  And a biological anthropologist.  And someone who's taken high school biology and knows how to pronounce Homo sapiens.
  • Plot
    • Who cuts up into something containing a dead body?  Just go up a little higher, and you can cut down or horizontally, and you won't have worms drop on your face, Brennan.  That was as bad as the episode where Hodgins sniffed something and fainted.
    • Brennan seemed annoyed with Sutton's stock in trade: writing popular books.  But she got wealthy writing fictional accounts of forensic anthropology, so it seemed a bit pot-kettle-black to me.
  • Dialogue
    • Hodgins, on Sutton, "...he misspelled Mayan and calendar, so..."  (Brennan does refer to him as Dr. Sutton at one point, and the guy did have a proper publisher.  How would he have made those mistakes?)
    • Brennan, on Sutton, "...he wanted to be taken seriously as an archaeologist, which is a very high calling."  Hahahahahahaha.


Forensic Mystery - C.  The mystery was ok, I suppose, but the fact that they waited to introduce relevant information about cause of death and premortem injuries was annoying.  I dislike being blindsided by evidence when the writers feel they finally need to tip their hand.
Forensic Solution - B-.  It was fine, I suppose.  They actually did a positive ID, which I appreciated.

Archaeological Mystery - B-.  See, I like the idea of a bioarch episode, and figuring out the MNI and what happened to the individuals who might have been from two different populations is legitimately interesting.
Archaeological Solution - F.  If one of my students wrote this reconstruction in a paper, this is the grade it would get.  Just.  Bad.  So very bad.

Drama - C-. I guess that Russian brother-in-law was kind scary.  And the cocoon was neat, since that hasn't been done before.  But the competition between Brennan and Edison was lame, and it didn't make sense that Brennan shouldn't examine the remains (or that Edison would be so petty as to not list her as a coauthor on the eventual paper).  

Next Week:  Pelant is back, so the episode could either be really interesting or steeped in terrible computer science.  Stay tuned!

Bones - Season 8, Episode 10 (Review)

The show is back from winter vacation, and these episodes are doozies.  I'll save most of my vitriol for the second episode, though, as this first one was pretty innocuous.  Here we go...

The Diamond in the Rough
Episode Summary
Sweets is watching a live program where host Palmer Haston explores paranormal abnormalities.  The host stumbles on a skeleton completely encrusted in gems at the base of a quarry.  Brennan's excitement over the reporting of the first known case of brucellosis is interrupted so she can take the case.  Based on the size of the skull and the arch of the maxilla, she figures the skeleton belonged to a Caucasian female.  The feet are in pretty good shape, and based on the bilateral healed metatarsal fractures, os trigonum syndrome, sesamoiditis, and metatarsalgia, Brennan thinks the victim might have been a dancer.  Angela's search of the missing persons database comes up with Katarina Wirz, a professional dancer who was reported missing by her partner, Kendrick Manteroff.

While Booth and Brennan go undercover to talk to all the dancers trying out for Dance to the Top, Hodgins and Wendell attempt to get the gems off the skeleton.  Hodgins thinks the gems are actually a mixture of calcite and mica flakes, which got on the bone when the body was thrown into a shallow pool of water at the quarry.  As the water evaporated, the crystals adhered to the bone.  Hodgins decides to submerge the body in a mixture of ammonia and detergent, then vibrate the whole thing to knock the crystals loose.  This works, meaning the Jeffersonian team can study the bones.

Wendell finds that more gems adhered to the lingual surface of the gumline where the dental enamel was eroded.  Both he and Brennan hypothesize bulimia, but Brennan suggests further histological analysis, which reveals lead poisoning.  Further, a fracture to the second cervical vertebra and injuries to C4 and C5 suggest Katarina's neck was snapped.  She was poisoned over the course of about a year, but the neck injury killed her.  Booth and Brennan talk to the dance teams and figure the mother of a competitor for the poisoner, since she made her daughter's outfits and fabric dye has lead salt in it.  But the daughter, Layla, confesses to the poisoning because she wanted Katarina out of the way so she could win the competition.  Her boyfriend, Tommy, though, was the one who killed Katarina in the end.

Booth and Brennan dance off in a fantasy sequence.

  • Forensic
    • Size of skull and arch of maxilla aren't going to tell you much about sex and ancestry.
    • Would the mica and calcite crystals sparkle on xray like that?  (Honestly don't know, but it seems unlikely to me.)
    • You can't diagnose metatarsalgia from bones, as it's a condition characterized by pain.  But sesamoid bone issues (i.e., sesamoiditis) can cause metatarsalgia, so perhaps I just heard wrong.
  • Plot
    • The whole part about the shorts around her ankles and it actually being maggots was a random and unnecessary part of the plot, no?
    • Why didn't Katarina go to a doctor before?  She wouldn't notice the neurological and behavioral changes before then?  Wouldn't notice she was fatigued from anemia?
    • One of the subplots in this episode was a continuation of the storyline that Angela wants to get back to her art.  I don't get why she doesn't just quit.  Her husband is filthy rich.  If she hates her job, she should just leave it.
  • Dialogue
    • Brennan has an asymmetrical left iliac crest.  Who knew?
Forensic Mystery - C-.  Identification happened very quickly.  And it was clear that Smoothie Guy was the killer from the first time he was introduced.

Forensic Solution - C.  Doesn't seem like they ever made a positive ID (based on DNA, dental records, etc.) from the actual remains.

Drama - D.  You may think I'm too harsh, but that cheeseball dance scene at the end was so saccharine I thought I'd been lead poisoned.  (ba dum bum!)

Presenting Anthropology - Weeks 1 & 2 (Discussion)

Week 1 Topic
Last Monday was the first week of Presenting Anthropology, in which I introduced myself and my thoughts on the need for anthropologists to be more public about our work.  The students also mentioned their current engagement with social media and other forms of presentation - most are active on slightly more private spheres (e.g., Facebook), but some were already tweeting about their lives, ideas, and research.  In order to get them thinking about the progression of the course, I asked them to share an interesting form of presentation they'd seen recently, something that stood out in the new, different, or effective way it communicated information.  I didn't bookmark these, unfortunately, so I can only share my current inspiration, Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, who occasionally sets up a delightfully hand-created sign and answers science questions on a street corner.  It's particularly charming to me because of the Peanuts-style "Advice: 5 ¢" idea it evokes, but I really wish I had the courage to sit on the street and invite strangers to ask me questions about anthropology.

Week 2 Topic
Today was our first to cover a specific set of "required media," on the very broad topic of Anthropology, Digital Humanities, and Web 2.0.  The readings that I assigned are a sort of foundation for the rest of the course, which will deal with the theory behind and the practicalities of being public in anthropology, in that the question of access (and the sub-question of audience) is incredibly important in academia today and involves aspects such as intellectual property, copyright, and, of course, money.  Owing to the tragic death of Aaron Swartz over the weekend, I brought up questions of control and legal issues with the internet and linked to reactions from anthropologists Eric Kansa (whose Archaeology 2.0 we read parts of this week) and Kerim Friedman (at Savage Minds).  I also took this opportunity to explain my background in open software; not that I have any role in its creation, but I have used numerous open source programs because of the influence of my computer scientist husband.  I am generally of the opinion that information should be free and should be easily available and accessible to a wide variety of publics; yet at the same time, I haven't published the entirety of the data I collected for my dissertation research, as I'm waiting for some ill-defined time when I will be "done" with it.

So rather than talking about the theory behind this topic (e.g., whether we can discuss open access as wresting control over the means of production in a sort of Marxist framework), I invited the students to talk more generally about what access and openness mean to them in their work.  We talked a lot about the practicalities of making archaeology more open and of making archaeology more of a dialectic between us (the producers of information) and the public (the consumers of information).  Several of the students have experience in the museum setting through the Florida Public Archaeology Network, and most of them have experienced being on an archaeological dig and needing to talk to interested passers-by.

Thoughts on the Readings
For as much as they claimed not to have liked the chapter by Michael Shanks ("Digital media, agile design, and the politics of archaeological authorship"), we sure did talk a lot about it.  Shanks argues that archaeology needs to be more "agile," a term that he draws from software development, the idea that software shouldn't be monolithic, anticipatory of every way that every customer will use it, but rather changeable to meet the needs of the end users.  He's not quite using this term right, but as an analogy it makes a bit of sense: rather than waiting for years to collate data from an archaeological site and publish it (the "waterfall" version of software design, in which a major problem is getting scooped by another company), Shanks advocates putting data online immediately and constantly updating it.  This is echoed in the piece by Colleen Morgan and Stuart Eve [available here] on "DIY and digital archaeology."  I particularly liked the Morgan & Eve article, but it and the Shanks article left me with questions about other duties we have as anthropologists -- duties to Native Americans not to publish photos of skeletons, for example, or duties to interlocutors not to name them or offer identifying information.  Transparency is a valid goal, but it shouldn't come at the cost of the people we're talking to, and the Coleman review article raises this very point.  It's a difficult conversation to have, and the solution definitely isn't one-size-fits all.

What I Learned
What I also learned in this class is that several students are already blogging and tweeting.  I'll highlight the blogs in a couple weeks when we officially kick off our "social media challenge," but class was particularly interesting today because students were live-tweeting the discussion -- for the most part, it was Sarah Bennett (@Saribearie14), but there were also contributions from: Amanda Lawson (@MandatoryManda), Gregg Harding (@gregg_harding), Devin O'Meara (@DevinDiver), Becca Booker (@AnthroDiverugby), Zach Harris (@ZachCanDigIt), Jayne Godfrey (@AndJayneSays), and Linda Hoang (@LittleLindaLou).  (Do go follow them all!)

Here's a storify of today's tweets, filed under the hashtag #shareanthro, which Sarah seems to have come up with.  It was particularly amusing when Nicholas Laracuente (@Archaeologist) jumped in; the students didn't seem to be expecting to be engaged in this conversation by an "outsider" right off the bat (and they were also impressed by his Twitter handle! Must have been an early adopter...).

I'm not sure how long it will take me to get used to the idea of live-tweeting a class.  Don't get me wrong, I think it's all kinds of awesome.  But I come from an era of 35mm slide projectors, so this is all new and different and interesting and a little bit panopticonish... but mostly cool.

Link Roundup!
And finally, we spent the last part of class talking again about various forms of public presentation of anthropology that we've been involved in or have admired from afar.  Some of the interesting links include:
  • Old Weather, a citizen science project that the maritime archaeologists in the class enjoyed
  • Museums in the Sea, another maritime offering that showcases some of Florida's shipwrecks
  • Londinium, the Museum of London app that lets you see London the way the Romans did, offered as an interesting link by the archaeologists recently returned from the SHA conference in Leicester
  • Next Exit History, an app from our own university that lets you explore historical markers and sites while you're driving (or when you're planning to visit a new area)
  • Destination: Civil War, an app from FPAN to help you explore the Civil War-era sites in the state of Florida

UWF and FPAN are doing a great deal of public outreach in archaeology already (it's one of the reasons I was excited to take this job), so I'm hoping to harness that interest among the grad students and encourage them to produce innovative presentations of their own research this semester.

Next time: I'll post the reading list for Weeks 3 & 4, when we'll discuss what the benefits and drawbacks are to a more engaged, public anthropology.

January 10, 2013

Presenting Anthropology - Weeks 1 & 2 (Reading)

As I'm requiring students in my graduate seminar on Presenting Anthropology to become (at least slightly) public anthropologists this semester, it's only fair I should blog about how the course is shaping up and what we've been discussing.  I've already posted the syllabus (and you can get a PDF through the AAA's teaching materials exchange), but the reading list is more of an evolving pile of links to various media.  So I thought I'd post the list for each topic (two weeks of course time covers the reading and the class presentations on that topic) as we move through the semester.  I'll post the "required media consumption list" before class, then either revisit this post or make a new one with additions from students and links to their public projects after class.

Feel free to read along with us and use the comment section below!

Weeks 1 & 2 (Jan 7-14) - Anthropology, Digital Humanities, and Web 2.0

Discussion Topic: With the growth of the internet over the past two decades, academic research, academic teaching, and presentation of information are increasingly moving online. This has recently led to a trend in digital humanities around the world. While anthropology is technically a social science rather than humanistic discipline, many segments of the field are leading the way in innovative digital presentation, most notably archaeology. And yet, in spite of these efforts, the public at large is mostly clueless about anything other than Indiana Jones-style anthropology. Over the next two weeks, we will read several articles on digital humanities and Web 2.0, discuss the possibilities and problems with moving anthropology into the field of MOOCs, and explore why it is imperative to embrace online culture rather than shunning it.

Required Media Consumption List:

January 8, 2013

Baby Bones Were Trash to Romans

Not really.  But the occasional news story pops up trying to make us think that the Romans (or Greeks or Carthaginians or whathaveyou) were chucking their infants with the household trash.  And those news stories are invariably based on sketchy details about excavations without much consideration for taphonomy, or what happens to bodies after death and burial.

In June of 2010, the media fervor was over the so-called "brothel babies" found in Buckinghamshire dating to the mid-2nd century AD (so, Roman Britain), and David Meadows (the Rogue Classicist) doubted the conclusions reached.  The story came back up in August of 2011 in service of a new documentary, and at that time, archaeologist Rosemary Joyce debunked the idea fairly well.  This story has become so widespread, though, that those of us who do bioarch in the Roman world are often asked about it, and it has almost a running joke among us... "Have you found any brothel babies yet?"

The discussion about the Carthaginian tophet - were the babies found there sacrificed or did they die naturally? - has been raging for a few years now, with an anti-sacrifice 2010 publication in PLoS One by Jeffrey Schwartz and colleagues and a back-and-forth in Antiquity in September between Schwartz and Smith (who argues that it was sacrifice).  It's hard to keep the evidence straight when several different osteologists have examined the same remains and have come to diametrically opposite conclusions.  Then of course there are others who think the question itself is problematic...

And in classical Athens, hundreds of baby and dog skeletons found in an abandoned well by archaeologists in 1938 have puzzled osteologists for years.  Susan Rotroff, though, thinks based on the analysis of the bones that they were all likely natural deaths rather than infanticide or some other nefarious act.  (The dogs, however, may have been sacrificed, according to Jacopo deGrossi Mazzorin.)

Ancient dead babies are generally pretty newsworthy, and yesterday, LiveScience covered a paper presented at the Archaeological Institute of America conference by Anthony Tuck of U Mass Amherst. In the paper entitled "Evidence for treatment of perinatal deaths in Etruscan central Italy," Tuck presented bones from the site of Poggio Civitate.  The LiveScience headline, "Baby bones found scattered in ancient Italian village," was predictable in getting across the idea that these bones were haphazardly strewn about the site, the implication of which is that the babies may also have been unwanted and cast aside.  The evidence, according to the LiveScience piece (as this is not yet published), includes:
  • An arm bone of a fetus or neonate found near a wall with other animal bones and debris in 1971.
  • Two neonate or infant arm bones found with animal bones in 1983.
  • Subadult humerus from Poggio Civitate.
    Credit: A. Tuck via LiveScience
  • One neonate ilium found in 2009.
These bones are not in good shape (see pics).  Only half of the humerus pictured has been preserved, and the cortical bone appears to be flaking, a possible indication of weathering (meaning the bone was exposed to the elements at some point).  The report doesn't suggest who studied the bones or specifically how old the fetuses/neonates/infants were at death - the ilium and humerus should be able to narrow the age range down, though.  [Update: Bones were studied by Sarah Whitcher Kansa and Suellen Gauld, and the 1983 and 2009 remains are all neonates, or around full-term.]

So, first: incidental human bones at an archaeological site are no big deal.  Really.  I work at Gabii, where there was continuous occupation from about the 10th century BC through the 3rd century AD.  That's well over a millennium of people living on, working, eating on, discarding onto, and digging up the land.  There are plenty of stray human bones found, usually small bones from adults (like hand and foot bones) and small bones from infants.  The latter often aren't recognized as human bones because we don't tend to see infant bones on a regular basis and because many people incorrectly assume they look just like adult bones (they don't - babies are born with about 450 unfused and undeveloped bony elements [Baker et al. 2005], compared to the fully-developed 206 adults have).
Subadult ilium from Poggio Civitate.
Credit: A. Tuck via LiveScience

Second: the conclusions Tuck reaches are, well, a reach.  He is quoted as saying the bones may have been simply "left on the floor of the workshop," and then suggests that the babies were from people of low social status because of their placement in a workshop, further insinuating that the babies were the children of slaves (and therefore would have been slaves themselves, had they lived).  He suggests that the 1971 bone was debris, swept up against a wall as so much garbage.  There are so many problems with these assumptions about taphonomy that I honestly don't even know where to start.  How does he know the bones were left on the floor and not, say, incidentally picked up with dirt fill - fill that was possibly hundreds of years old - that was used in another context?  How does he know that the person who swept the bone towards the wall knew that it was a human infant bone rather than an animal bone and chose to ignore that?  

And third: Why does burial within or near a workshop (if indeed these infants were buried in/near the place they were found, which is possible but there's no evidence of this in the report) necessitate low status?  Again at Gabii, excavators found several infant burials, some of which were very well-appointed, dating to the same general time period as these Poggio Civitate ones.  Jeff Becker and Jessica Nowlin [2011] published a preliminary report on these Gabine burials, along with comparanda of infant burials in Italy.  Infants are quite often buried very close to the settlement throughout Roman history, as they are in many other cultures - finding infant burials under walls, under living floors, or just outside houses or workshops is not unusual.  Pliny the Elder called these types of burials subgrundaria ("beneath the eaves"), and there is plenty of evidence for the practice dating back to the Iron Age.  The four Poggio Civitate bones, if they do represent infant burial close to the workshop, are a bit earlier than most of the infant burial evidence in Italy but are not particularly anomalous.

To sum up: Just because bones were found in a workshop doesn't mean burials were made in a workshop or that no burial was made.  And it certainly doesn't necessitate conclusions about status and Etruscans' feelings about the death of newborns.  Perhaps the Poggio Civitate infants were low-status, and perhaps the Etruscans didn't place a high premium on the lives of infants - both are entirely possible.  But nothing that has been reported would lead any Roman bioarchaeologist to come to these conclusions.  The only conclusion that I can reach with the bones presented is: Huh. Some intrusive bones were found.

The reporting of infant burials is always problematic to me, though.  From the "brothel babies" to the Carthaginian tophet infants to these Etruscan neonates, the headline is always about how unfeeling people of the past were about babies.  It's a longstanding trope - that death was just something people used to put up with, that they were hardened to its devastation - but anthropologically and historically, it's not usually based in fact.  We simply like to tell ourselves that we're better than our forebears, that we're more civilized than the Etruscans/Romans/Carthaginians, that we've culturally evolved to do right by our biological progeny.  But we do a disservice to the past by assuming a lack of emotion, and we do an even greater disservice when we over-interpret small amounts of data to arrive at those conclusions.  So I'll be interested to read the publication of these four bones from Poggio Civitate, whenever that happens.

Random bones from Poggio Civitate?
Credit: A. Tuck in the Daily Mail
UPDATE (11:20AM CST) - I emailed Anthony Tuck, and he generously shared his unpublished manuscript on the bones with me.  His osteologists are Sarah Whitcher Kansa and Suellen Gauld, and the osteological analysis of the three bones in the article (he is excluding the 1971 bone from this publication) is first-rate.  Their analysis of post-mortem breakage and bone erosion fits with my suggestion above of taphonomic (or post-depositional) processes.  The conclusions reached in the article, though, are fairly summarized by the LiveScience piece - namely, that the neonates were discarded with other debris.  I do have a problem with this conclusion, as Tuck and coauthors have not presented enough evidence to convince me that these three neonate bones represent a primary depositional event (or "disposition" in the forensic literature).  Everything about the bones and their context screams secondary depositional event to me (e.g., the bones wound up in dirt fill that was used in the workshop), meaning the suggestion that neonates were unwanted, lower-class, or nothing more than garbage is highly suspect.  I've communicated this to Tuck, along with some additional bibliography, so we'll see what he does with this article.  It's an interesting article, and I appreciate his sharing it with me, but I think it can be better.

UPDATE (6:05PM CST) - As could have been predicted, the Daily Fail got in on the story with the headline, "Did Romans dump the remains of their dead children with the rubbish? Grisly discoveries reveal unsympathetic attitudes."  Which is extra awesome because Poggio Civitate is an Etruscan site, not Roman.  The reason I'm linking to this article, though, is the main picture, which includes skull fragments that have heretofore been unmentioned.  They weren't in the LiveScience piece, and they weren't in the article Tuck let me preview.  There's no mention of the ilium, though, so it's possible that the Daily Fail is completely ignorant of human anatomy and mixed them up.  I'm guessing it's just a poor labeling job, and the picture with the skull fragments (see right) represents animal remains.  Honestly, it's hard to tell from such small fragments, but all of them look relatively fully grown, so couldn't be from babies.  (The cranial fragment in the upper-right is definitely not a baby bone, for instance, and doesn't look human either.)  Anyway, more to come perhaps... I strongly disagree with Tuck's interpretation of the remains, but he doesn't seem bothered by that.


Baker, B.J., T. Dupras, & M. Tocheri. 2005.  The osteology of infants and children. Texas A&M University Press.

Becker, J. & J. Nowlin. 2011. Orientalizing infant burials from Gabii, Italy.  BABESCH 86:27-39.

Further Reading:

January 5, 2013

Presenting Anthropology - Syllabus

The spring semester starts at UWF on Monday.  Most of my syllabi are done, but the reading list for Presenting Anthropology, my graduate proseminar, is still evolving.  A lot of the "reading" for the course, though, is going to be mandatory web-surfing, listening to podcasts, watching videos, and playing interactive games.  Those links are currently within a private course wiki, but I'll think of a way to make that public by the end of the semester.  And hopefully I'll convince most of the students to share their work, either here or on their own public space, throughout the spring.

Until then, here's the syllabus and course outline...

And a shot of the course wiki...

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