The Archaeologist in the Cocoon
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.|
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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!