May 30, 2013

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XXIX

As always, the summer months are busy ones here at the Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival.  Lots of excavations mean lots of dead people coming to light for the first time in millennia...

New Finds
  • Italy
    • 7 May.  Ancient Milan church yields tombs, coins from 4th century []. At least two burials, one an infant and one an adult, have been found during excavations of the Church of Sts. James & Philip. This Roman community was called Nocetum, and coins from the burials place them around 350-353.
    • 4th century child skeleton from Milan
    • 7 May. Uno scheletro romano nei cantieri della metropolitana [La Repubblica]. This brief Italian article mentions the discovery of an adult male skeleton dating to the 2nd-3rd centuries AD, during excavations for a Metro line under Naples.  Archaeologists know about the presence of a Roman necropolis in the area, and in total have found around a dozen graves. [More photos]
    • 19 March. Cimitero delle Fontanelle and "The Neapolitan Cult of the Dead" or "The Neapolitan Skull Cult" of Naples, Italy [Morbid Anatomy]. If you're in Naples this summer, you can check out Virgil's tomb (see below) and this massive underground ossuary.  Check the post for lots of neat pictures.
    • Roman skeleton found under
      Naples metro (credit: La Repubblica)
    • 11 May. Musician-with-lyre burial from Metaponto? [Rogue Classicism] Archaeologists have found the burial of a man along with a lyre at Metaponto, dating to around 2,500 years ago (I can't find a better date, unfortunately).  He was between 40-60 years old, and his height is roughly 180cm (6' tall) -- tall for his time, but not unreasonably so. There is a suggestion that he suffered from acromegaly, but there doesn't seem to be a publication yet (even though this might have been found five or six years ago).
  • England
    • 3 May.  Roman cemetery - under another car park in Leicester [Past Horizons] [LiveScience]. This cemetery, found by the Richard III excavators, dates to about 300 AD and produced numerous artifacts in addition to 13 burials.  What's interesting about this cemetery is that there is a mixture of sexes, ages, and burial rites, suggesting a time and place of religious syncretism and/or change.
    • Roman cemetery discovered in Leicester
      (credit: University of Leicester)
    • 8 May. Four Roman skeletons unearthed by workers on £40m Covenham to Boston water pipeline [Louth Leader]. The headline is a bit misleading, as it's only assumed these are from the Roman era (and they were found not far below the topsoil).  The remains represent an adult and child buried together ("spooned"), and two adults buried on their backs.  But there is archaeological evidence of Roman occupation in Stickford, so we'll have to wait and see.
  • France
  • Spain
  • Burial at Roman Sanisera
    (credit: Past Horizons)
    • 8 May. Necropolis bioarchaeology at Roman Sanisera [PastHorizons]. Quite a lot of digging has been underway in recent years on the island of Menorca, and there are generally one or more bioarchaeology field schools each summer.  This report summarizes the investigations from 1996-2008 of a Roman military camp that was abandoned in 45 BC and that then became the settlement of Sanisera.  There are cist, pit, and amphora tombs, most of which lack grave goods, and some show evidence of reuse.  Some additional info about the osteology of the burials is presented in this article, but it is very vague; it'll be interesting to see the eventual publication.
    • 10 May. Elephant's tomb may have been Mithraic temple [Past Horizons]. A new analysis of some funerary chambers in the Carmona (Spain) necropolis dating to the 1st century BC to 2nd century AD suggests one structure might have been a temple to Mithras, a fairly mysterious religious figure brought to the Roman world from the East.
  • Germany
  • Greece
    • 22 May. 2,500-year-old bone fragment from forearm of Greek warrior x-rayed at North Shore-LIJ [PR Web]. A bone from a skeleton dating to the 4th century BC was recently studied by an archaeologist at Adelphi University on behalf of the Greek Archaeological Service. The skeleton represents a man who died in his late 50s or early 60s, with an arrowhead embedded in his left ulna. It seems that surgeons at the time were able to remove part of the hooked or barbed arrowhead, but some of it was left in the arm, causing the bone to remodel around it.  Unfortunately, there are no photos of the bone or the x-ray.
  • Egypt
  • Egyptian soldier from
    Hisn Al-Bab (credit:
    Luxor Times)
    • 15 May. Egyptian-Nubian soldier skeleton discovered by Dr. Irene Forstner-Müller [Luxor Times]; Egypt's ancient history reveals itself anew as Roman warrior skeleton discovered [Albawaba]. A purported soldier dating to Late Roman times (roughly 610-695 AD) was found at the site of Hisn Al-Bab near Aswan in Egypt.  The skeleton belonged to a man in his late 20s or early 30s, and he may have been killed by a knife-wound to the groin (ouch). The photo reveals pretty impressive skeletal disarray; unclear from the articles if it's the result of hasty burial or taphonomy.
    • 16 May. Cemetery reveals baby-making season in ancient Egypt [LiveScience]. This first of two news articles on the Roman-era site of Kellis summarizes some of the latest work done by a team of bioarchaeologists at the University of Central Florida (Dupras, Wheeler, and Williams).  Over 100 skeletons of infants and fetuses have suggested that the peak period for conception was July and August, as the orientation of the burials (toward the rising sun) helps the researchers pinpoint time of conception. Also, the peak period for death of women in childbearing was in March and April, which is also when there was a birth peak.  
    • Possible victim of child abuse in
      Roman Egypt (credit: LiveScience)
    • 28 May. Earliest case of child abuse discovered in Egyptian cemetery [LiveScience]. Also from the Kellis-2 cemetery, the UCF researchers found the burial of a 2- to 3-year-old child whose skeleton presents significant evidence of child abuse: a number of fractures, all in various stages of healing. This is very interesting work, but my main problem with it is the suggestion in the article that the child abuse may have been the result of Roman influence.  While there are numerous historical records on Romans' thoughts about childrearing, as far as I know, there is no osteological evidence of child abuse in the Roman bioarchaeological record.  Arguing that osteological evidence of child abuse indicates "romanization" of Egyptian childcare practices simply because Roman history mentions corporal punishment and cradleboarding is a huge logical leap that I don't believe is warranted.  But, that being said, it's not as if the Roman bioarchaeological evidence of children has been pored through to systematically figure out if there are abusive practices going on.
Follow-ups and Exhibits
Not Virgil's tomb (credit: Napoli
The "Roman giant's" tibia, top,
compared with an average one
(credit: Simona Minozzi)
  • 28 May. "The Roman giant": Overgrowth syndrome in skeletal remains from the Imperial Age by S. Minozzi et al., International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. Skeletal remains of a male dating to the 3rd century AD were found in Fidenae (a few km north of Rome) back in the early 1990s.  His height appears to be about 200cm (or 6'7"), leading the researchers to conclude he suffered from a form of gigantism.  Neither this article nor the poster I saw at the PPAs in 2012 has completely convinced me of gigantism (in part because the comparative data set of height is spotty at best), and it's a bit odd that it took two decades to publish this case.  Still, an interesting individual. [Also see the NatGeo coverage from last winter.]

May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day: Academia and Maternity Leave

I'm about half-way through my second pregnancy right now.  I gave birth to my almost-4-year-old daughter while in grad school, right after I accepted a fellowship to complete my dissertation.  It was a fairly traumatic delivery, and it was tough completing my degree with a nursing infant, but I did it thanks to the flexibility and funding that the fellowship provided.  This time is different, though.  Now I am employed as a tenure-track assistant professor, and negotiating a maternity leave at my university has been eye-opening.

I'd naively assumed that I had all the information this time.  After all, I knew that my university offers no paid leave, and I had asked HR about FMLA early last fall.  The FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) policy, however, is the only one my university lists under information for parental leave; there are no policies at the university level going deeper or beyond this, including no policies for stopping one's tenure clock.  So how does a faculty member due to give birth in early October deal with FMLA, which gives employees of my public university up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave?  Teaching a full load of classes is not a great option; I'd have up to 7 weeks with my students (provided I don't deliver early) and then have to find someone(s) willing to take over my three courses for little or no pay.  Taking a course reduction, though, means taking a reduction in pay, as our salaries are mainly tied to being able to complete our teaching duties, regardless of the fact that we also have research and service requirements.  For other university employees, FMLA likely isn't as big a deal -- if you're an admin assistant, for example, you could work until you're due, and then a temp fills in while you're on leave.  For faculty giving birth in the middle of the semester, being able to take FMLA requires a great deal of flexibility from your chair, dean, and the administration, as they have to OK a series of "alternative work assignments" to teaching.  At my institution, in order for the university to keep subsidizing your health insurance benefits, you have to work full-time -- which means even if a faculty member is willing to work half-time because alternative assignments can't be found, it may not be in the faculty's best financial interests, as insurance premiums skyrocket when the university is not subsidizing them.

I am very glad I don't have to deal with the issues concerning FMLA and health insurance premiums, as my whole family is on my husband's insurance plan, which has much better coverage and is fully subsidized by his employer.  I also worked out a compromise for my maternity leave with the help of my chair and the dean: my chair found me an alternative work assignment for this summer and the fall, and I am working a reduced course load (two instead of three classes) in the spring because of my concerns with returning to work full-time with a nursing 3-month-old (that I can't have on campus, as our daycare prioritizes students and won't take infants until 6 months).  This compromise ends up with my working 60% time, so I get 60% of my annual salary.  And it's literally the best solution I could come up with.

Map of paid maternity leave around the world.
Women in academia are starting to have conversations about maternity leave and work-life balance around the U.S.  (And I specifically mention this country, as we are the only industrialized nation to provide no guaranteed paid leave for working mothers.  I suspect most women in other industrialized countries don't have these conversations.)  In a related vein, American funding organizations are asking how to retain women faculty and teachers in STEM fields in particular.  My university has a several-year-long grant from the NSF to study issues related to female STEM faculty at my institution and to implement changes.  A new program from Elsevier offers funding for organizations willing to find solutions to work-life balance problems for female faculty, as attrition at the assistant professor level for female faculty is high.  Programs to help with childcare could make our lives better (it would be great if I could have my infant on campus with me for better bonding and breastfeeding, for example).  Programs to form parent groups could help with emotional support.  What we need in order to retain female faculty, though, is paid parental leave.  What we need are clear policies at the university level that are fair and equitable for all working parents. What we need is the realization that faculty with PhDs have so many more skills than standing in front of a classroom and talking and that we can be paid for these skills.

I'd like to survey universities around the country, via their HR websites, to see what parental leave policies they have on the books.  (Maybe this has already been done?)  Who provides paid leave?  Who provides alternative work assignments?  What is the retention rate of female faculty there?  Are faculty who are parents happy, successful, and supported?

Until then, here are some tips and suggestions about academic maternity leave gleaned from my months' worth of information-gathering at my university and elsewhere:
  • Know your rights under FMLA.  This government policy covers employees at companies with 50 or more employees.  At the very worst, you likely have up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave available, with the right to be reinstated to your position at full pay without any change to your original terms of employment.  From what I understand, though, employers cannot require you to take more than 6 weeks of unpaid leave; they are required to find you alternate duties if you can't perform your normal ones due to pregnancy or post-partum/nursing issues.  In reality, though, it can be difficult to convince universities that you have skills other than teaching that you can be paid for.
  • Find out if you have disability coverage or insurance.  Many women in the U.S. take short-term disability (6 to 8 weeks) to cover maternity leave.  Most plans will pay you 2/3 of your salary for the period of disability, and many employers specifically do allow maternity leave as a covered disability (which is a whole other conversation, of course).  At my university, disability coverage is not automatically provided and is a separate insurance plan for which I would have to pay full premiums. This was not made clear to me during benefits orientation or an early meeting with HR. Once I found out about this option, I wasn't eligible, as I was already pregnant.
  • Contact your faculty union representative.  That is, if you have a union.  Here in Florida, we have the UFF.  I'd naively assumed I was automatically a member of the union, as I was in the last state I worked that had a faculty union (NY), but here enrollment is not mandatory and requires dues of 1% of your salary per year.  The union may not be able to do much, but they may be able to offer solutions and advocate on your behalf to your dean.  You may also be able to contact the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for help.  We have only one chapter in the entirety of Florida, though, so I didn't look into this further.  The American Association of University Women (AAUW) may have suggestions as well, but again, since we don't have a chapter anywhere nearby, I didn't pursue this.
  • Take sick and/or vacation leave.  If you have paid sick and/or vacation leave, you can likely take this during a maternity leave, generally in concert with FMLA.  I accrue sick leave at a rate of about 2 weeks per year, which means to earn a full semester's paid maternity leave, I'd have to be here 7-8 years first.  We have a sick leave pool, where people can deposit unused leave and others can take that leave, but I am not eligible for that because I haven't been here a year yet.  So check into the rules and regulations for taking leave.
  • Identify alternative work assignments.  For me, this was the most difficult task, since I am new to the university and confused about navigating all the policies (or lack thereof) in front of me.  I talked to my department chair, but I also talked to two other department chairs (both of whom are parents), emailed several women at my university about their experiences, and talked to friends who are faculty at other institutions for suggestions.  These days, online or blended/hybrid courses are a reality on most campuses, as are MOOCs, so perhaps teaching a full load could work for some female faculty.  If you've been at a university for a while, there may be administrative tasks you could take on: help with getting information in line for an upcoming department or university review (e.g., SACS accreditation).  But for new, un-tenured faculty, your best bet may be to ask your department chair what can be done: revising and updating labs for a popular class; taking on extra advising of students; creating and hosting a mini-conference; working on and submitting a large grant proposal; redesigning and updating the department's public-facing marketing (e.g., website, brochure, newsletter).  For what it's worth, I will be doing this last option for my alternative assignment.
  • Consider stopping your tenure clock.  Many universities have policies for tenure clock stoppage, for reasons such as parental leave or illness of yourself or a family member.  If you are eligible to stop your tenure clock for a semester or a year, consider doing it.  But do ask if you will still be able to go up normally if you stop it, or will that count as "early" (and does your university allow for early tenure)?  If your university doesn't have a policy, as mine doesn't, there are still likely ways to stop the clock, provided your chair and dean agree and put it in writing.  I will be navigating the clock stoppage issue once I get my maternity leave plan in writing.
  • Look into childcare options on or near campus, particularly if you're returning to work while your infant is still nursing.  If there are insufficient childcare options on campus, as on mine, bring these concerns to the administration.  Retaining female faculty is a priority of many campuses today, but solutions such as better access to childcare and on-campus parent organizations don't often cross the minds of administrators.  If you have flexibility in your schedule and duties, bring your infant to work with you during the week -- the world will not end if your infant is nursing in a faculty meeting, and it may even open many people's eyes to the challenges of work-life balance with an infant.
  • Find out if your university has a parent (support) group.  At my grad institution, there were parent groups for the entire university and also for the grad students.  The grad student one was supported by a dollar or two of our student fees each semester.  (Then again, my grad institution offered 6 weeks of paid maternity leave to graduate TAs, so it's fairly progressive, particularly for a public uni in the South.)  There's no parent group at my university now, so I'm starting one.  Being able to talk to other faculty parents about the challenges they face, about the school system, neighborhoods, family-friendly activities, etc., really helps new faculty settle in to the area and the university.  I'm hoping to meet a lot of great people through this organization that I might not otherwise see, as parents of young children in particular tend not to go to faculty happy hour at 6pm on Friday evenings, for example.  A 10am bagel-and-OJ "brunch" on a Saturday at the gym, where my kids can run around while I chat with my colleagues?  That's much easier for me to do.

Finally, please please please start talking about these issues on your campus.  I've gotten advice--well-meaning, I'm sure--to keep my head down since I'm new and un-tenured.  Many women feel the need to stay under the radar and not make waves while they're pregnant, for fear of losing their job or health insurance. But that is no way to effect change.  If you are in a position to speak up or make changes at your university, even if it's just to open up a conversation with your fellow faculty members, do it!

So this Mother's Day, check into your university's parental leave laws, and start agitating for reform.  And feel free to add your personal experiences in the comments below!

May 7, 2013

Is Blogging Really the Future of Public Anthropology?

In a new short article out in the British Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Martijn de Koning asks what challenges anthropologists face in using blogs as a method of anthropological outreach.  He begins by highlighting some of the motivations for anthropologists to blog: "[M]any anthropologists have suggested that for them the primary reasons for blogging are self-realization, creativity and networking, sharing research experiences and outcomes, and commenting on current affairs" (de Koning 2013:394).

As blogs have been around since the late 1990s, it seems a little strange that academic anthropologists are just now getting around to interrogating the utility of blogs and asking reflexive questions about our employment of the medium. de Koning quotes my 9 February 2012 blog post, "Blogs as Anthropological Outreach," to illustrate why some of us value blogging, although he only excerpts the first of these two paragraphs:
I blog because I find it rewarding - there's excitement in knowing that people who probably wouldn't touch my journal articles are reading about my work and about other developments in bioarchaeology; there's joy when I get emails from up-and-coming researchers, as young as middle schoolers, who want advice on how to make bioarchaeology a career; and there's the interaction with my readers that doesn't come across in the unidirectional, static medium of a publication.

Blogging is an exercise in writing for a different public, an exercise in taking all that jargon you learned in your coursework, distilling it, injecting your own ideas, and making it interesting. Writing a blog has helped me refine my research and my prose, and I think that my public lectures and my successful grant proposals in particular have greatly benefited from the practice. I always wish I had more time to blog. There's just so much cool stuff out there to talk about, and so little time to write...
Logo for PbO
Strangely, towards the end of the article, de Koning concludes that, "we can tentatively say that anthropology blogs appear to reach out mostly to fellow academics" (2013:396).  Considering the brevity of the article and the lack of any sort of concrete assessment of the range of anthropology blogs (see Anthropology Report for a good ecology of the anthro blogosphere), I was surprised by de Koning's conclusion.  After all, he cites my blog, one of whose prominent, recurring features is a critique of the forensic anthropology on the popular FOX TV show Bones each week.  Those posts are aimed at the general public, and I can say with certainty from my analytics, comments, and emails that non-academics are the main consumers of that information. Further, my posts have been picked up by a variety of internet sources such as The Daily Beast, The Browser: Writing Worth Reading, and CounterPunch.  My most popular blog post of all time, "Lead Poisoning in Rome - The Skeletal Evidence" is based on my own research but is written for the public; to date, it has garnered over 28,000 views but the article it's based on (Montgomery et al. 2010) has just one citation according to Google Scholar.  This is quantifiable public outreach.

Logo for AnthInPractice
de Koning also cites Krystal d'Costa's Anthropology in Practice, which is similarly aimed at a non-academic audience in spite of its location at Scientific American, and Krystal's writing has been showcased by such pop culture websites as BoingBoing.  Other blogs by anthropologists enjoy broad readership as well: bioanthropologist Barbara J. King writes at NPR blogs; archaeologist Rosemary Joyce writes at Psychology Today; the American Anthropological Association has a high-profile platform at The Huffington Post, to which dozens of anthropologists have contributed posts.  While many of these sites are directed at an educated audience, that audience is not composed entirely of academics.  Anthropologists are talking to the public.  And all of these anthropologists can tell you that the public is listening and responding in comments, tweets, Facebook shares, and email forwards.  Those stats are also quantifiable public outreach.

Flyer for T. Harrenstein's Foursquare
anthro outreach project in Pensacola FL
I will agree with de Koning, however, that the majority of anthropology blogs are likely focused on talking to academics in the language of academia, although I have not surveyed the blogosphere to test this hypothesis.  If true, it is unfortunate, since a whole world of audiences exists if we are only willing to learn how to write for and engage them in our discussions.  We definitely, in de Koning's words, need to "realize the full potential for public anthropology by blogging," (2013:397), and it was to this end that I required each of the graduate students in my Presenting Anthropology seminar this semester to create and maintain a social media presence.  What I found interesting from reading the students' reports this past weekend was that the majority of them felt most comfortable with Tumblr, a short-format blogging platform, and were wary of the often lengthy, academic-style posts that show up on such sites as Savage Minds.  My students by and large reported more engagement, in quantity and quality, through their Tumblr posts than through more traditional blog posts, even when those posts were the same content.  So one of the questions we need to reflect on as anthropologists interested in engaging the public is: Who is our audience, and how can we best reach them?  Is blogging the key?  If so, what platform, what format, what language do we use?  Or should other social media avenues be explored?  Rhetorical question, of course; the answer is a resounding YES!  Web 2.0 is founded on dynamism, and if we want to talk to the public, we need to be similarly flexible in our approach to reaching out.  For example, my grad student Tristan Harrenstein devised a Foursquare outreach program over the course of the Presenting Anthropology seminar, and we're excited to see what happens now that it's been deployed by the Florida Public Archaeology Network.

Finally, de Koning notes that it's somewhat ironic that anthropology blogs largely focus on a Western audience and topics related to Western ideologies, when we're the primary field that prides itself on a cross-cultural and often non-Western focus.  I endorse his call to create "a more global and plural anthropological community" (2013:397).  We need more anthropologists writing in a variety of languages about a variety of cultures and topics, specifically engaging the public in our attempts to explain the fascinating biocultural nature of humans around the world.

Until that happens, though, I think it is important to take stock of anthropologists' attempts at outreach, as people like Jeremy Sabloff (1998, 2011) have been advocating for over a decade, but to more specifically focus on the breadth of outreach we are already doing.  Although I maintain that blogging is important, and I continue to enjoy doing it, engaging in some much-needed self-reflection within the discipline on the methods of outreach that are currently ongoing and that can be deployed in the future would result in a much more thorough state-of-the-discipline article.

M. de Koning (2013). Hello World! Challenges for blogging as anthropological outreach. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 19 (2), 394-397. DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12040.

J. Montgomery, J. Evans, S. Chenery, V. Pashley, K. Killgrove (2010). 'Gleaming, white, and deadly': using lead to track human exposure and geographic origins in the Roman period in Britain. Journal of Roman Archaeology, S78.

J. Sabloff (1998). Distinguished Lecture in Archeology: Communication and the Future of American Archaeology. American Anthropologist, 100 (4), 869-875. DOI: 10.1525/aa.1998.100.4.869.

J. Sabloff (2011). Where have you gone, Margaret Mead? Anthropology and public intellectuals. American Anthropologist, 113 (3), 408-416.

May 3, 2013

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XXVIII

New Finds
Battered body from the bog
(credit: Washington Post)

Old Finds in the News
Skeletons from Herculaneum (credit)
Ongoing Projects
  • Project Noah is an attempt to crowd-source information about the natural world.  They have a second on osteology -- people can upload pictures of animal bones they find lying around and ask for help with identification or identify the bones themselves.  It's a neat repository of photos of contemporary wildlife and domesticated animals.  Since I get several emails each year from people wanting to know what species the bone they found belongs to, this site is very useful to me.

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