October 31, 2013

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XXXIV

Some skeletons for your Halloween... This month, we've got quality over quantity (that is, really interesting news, but not much of it).

New Finds

Roman skull unearthed in Crossrail Project. (via BBC)
  • 21 October - Oops! Etruscan Warrior Prince Really a Princess (via Discovery News). The other ongoing saga this month involves a previously unopened Etruscan tomb that revealed two individuals (one skeletonized, the other cremated) and a ton of grave goods, including a spear.  Archaeologists originally attributed the spear to the skeletonized remains and called it a "prince," but it seems that individual was female, whereas the cremated individual was male. There are additional pictures of the grave goods at Discovery News. More important, though, is the issue of assigning sex and/or gender to skeletal remains based on grave goods.  For more on the hopelessly gendered assumption that spear = man (and then sewing box = woman; see, for example, this Italian story about a "noble seamstress" and this headline from Discovery News), see Rosemary Joyce's important blog post. Honestly, I'm just going to wait for the proper osteological report before drawing conclusions.  Both skeletons seem to have been evaluated in the field for age and sex, but there hasn't been an official report yet.
Etruscan Prince(ss)? (via Discovery News)
  • 25 October - Roman Child's Grave Unearthed in Countryside near Hinckley (via The Hinckley Times). This find is particularly interesting because it's a lead casket -- that's what led metal detectorists to find it, actually.  As far as I can tell, though, the assumption that it's a child comes from the size of the sarcophagus.  And I have no idea why people are assuming it's a Christian burial.  There are lead sarcophagi in Rome and Roman Britain from the Empire.  This one dates to the 3rd century AD, according to news reports.  Here's more from the BBC.
3rd c AD lead sarcophagus found in Britain. (via Hinckley Times)

  • 25 October - Le Ossa Svelano le Malattie di Roma Antica (via Il Messagero). This upcoming exhibit at the Museo Nazionale Romano should be really interesting, as it brings together data on palaeopathology from a variety of Rome-area cemeteries (including Casal Bertone, one of the cemeteries I studied for my dissertation).  If you're in Rome in the coming months, you should definitely go check it out (and send me notes!).
  • 1 March - And today's the last day you can download my Journal of Anthropological Archaeology article "Food for Rome" for free.  Check it out if you haven't already! I'm also happy to pass along a copy of my annotated bibliography of bioarchaeology, which came out at the beginning of October. It's particularly useful for undergrad and grad students interested in bioarchaeology.

October 24, 2013

"Ask a Scientist" -- Anthropology in Science Uncovered

Just wanted to pass along this link for a preview of the forthcoming pop-sci magazine Science Uncovered.  I've been tapped to be the anthropology and archaeology expert in their "Ask a Scientist" column (if you zoom in and squint, you can see me on page 5 of the preview).

I'm really excited about writing for Science Uncovered.  Since you're reading my blog, you know how passionate I am about communicating anthropology to the public.  This is a really great way for me to do that -- as I'll be answering questions directly from readers.  It's also an exercise in patience and concision -- each question requires an answer anywhere between 100-250 words, and pull-quotes for featured articles are more like 25-35 words. My fellow academics will totally understand how difficult it can be to condense a nuanced answer into that few words.  But getting to the point fast is something I've been learning over the last six years that I've been blogging.  My answers to questions about Egyptian pharaohs' hairstyles, Neandertal language, DNA evidence in forensics and bioarchaeology, abnormal burial, and palaeopathology should be featured in the first few issues.

You can subscribe in the U.S. to the print edition (here's the subscription link). A better option, though, is subscribing to the electronic version through Google Play or Apple's Newsstand for under $30 a year. The first issue is out November 21!

October 22, 2013

Bones - Season 9, Episode 6 (Review)

The Woman in White
Episode Summary
Brennan, Booth, and much of the Jeffersonian team are at the church for the wedding rehearsal.  A call comes in about a murder, and everyone's cell phone goes off.  At the Jeffersonian, the team immediately notes that the body is that of a woman in her mid-30s with multiple stab wounds to the chest. Her clothing suggests she died in the 1970s; a cicada caught in her sleeve tells Hodgins that she died in 1979. An ID with the body says she is Nancy Amelin, born in 1943, and she worked in the manuscript division of the Library of Congress.

Booth finds out that the body was found in a spot that used to be a part of Adams University, where there was grad student housing and faculty office space. Hodgins finds that the stab wounds contained traces of steel but also a huge number of foliage fragments and particulates from various parts of the East Coast. A splinter of wood is found in one of the fractures, and Hodgins identifies it as cocobolo. Angela goes through the woman's documents from her purse and finds a protective sleeve but can't figure out what document was in it.  Fortuitously, she finds a photocopy of the document in the woman's wallet.

Saroyan calls in Dr. Edison to help with the case so Brennan doesn't get bogged down before her wedding. He notes that the sheer number of microfractures to the bones will take him and Dr. Brennan two days to catalogue.  So Saroyan suggests calling in all the interns... initially, to just look like they're working, but ultimately to do the work.  Brennan assigns Wells to the task of analyzing the document found with the victim, so that she and Angela can work on wedding prep (which seems to involve mani-pedis and hair styling). The interns find bruising to the sacrum and coccyx, a microfracture of the left olecranon, and multiple microfractures to the calcanei. The majority of the microfractures are confined to the heels and feet as well as the ischial tuberosities, which suggests to Wells that the victim was dragged down the stairs. Based on the number and patterning of the injuries, he guesses 72 stairs and 8 landings, which means she was killed on the 5th floor. Fortunately, there was only one building at Adams University with five floors. Further, Wells' documentary research leads him to conclude that the document in the protective sleeve was a poem by Emily Dickinson suggesting she had a lover. This document runs counter to the research of Professor Janet McCann, a Dickinson scholar, who was communicating with the victim.  Further, McCann's book jacket bio says she's an avid hiker, particularly along the Appalachian Trail.  The murder weapon was her trekking pole, which was made of cocobolo wood and tipped with steel.  This explains the flora and particulates in the victim's wounds.  McCann had a stroke two years ago, though, and therefore cannot stand trial for the murder.

In B&B wedding news, the church burns down (possibly because of Booth?) and Brennan can't find another one that will accommodate their wedding.  Angela ends up setting it up on the lawn of the Jeffersonian, and Booth's ex-priest bartender friend officiates while Cyndi Lauper sings a very credible version of "At Last." I'm glad that the government shut-down is over, or else Booth and Brennan would have had no place to get married, what with the Jeffersonian being closed and all its employees furloughed and all...

  • Forensic
    • So, there was really very little here.  Nothing about the body gave them age-at-death or sex.  I mean, they did say she was female and in her mid-30s, but not based on any specified forensic criteria.
    • Love that the exact number of stairs she was dragged down could be ascertained from the calcaneal fractures 30 years later.  Sure.
  • Plot
    • Fun fact: The priest at the church in the beginning is Emily Deschanel's real-life husband, David Hornsby (better known as Cricket from Always Sunny).
    • So, were there photocopiers in 1979?  I know there were mimeographs, the kind that made those hilarious blue copies (that some of my high school teachers still had in the 1990s!), but the document found in the woman's wallet was not a mimeograph.  Well, wikipedia tells me that by the late 1970s, Xerox machines were fairly widespread in offices. So I suppose it stands to reason that someone at the Library of Congress would have had access to one.
    • Where's the country boy intern? They brought in Wells, Daisy, Wendell, Fisher, and Vaziri.  But no one thought to invite Abernathy?
    • Why does Saroyan have two fancy party dresses in her office?
    • Why did Brennan get giant rollers in her hair, only to have relatively straight hair in the next scene?
    • Why is Angela whiny that Brennan wants to work the day before her wedding?  She is an in-demand forensic anthropologist and loves her job; of course she'd want to be at work. Mani-pedis don't take that long.
    • How did Booth figure out that the victim was corresponding with McCann?  It's not like there was email in 1979. He managed to find paper records within, what, an hour?
    • How did all the guests find out about the change in venue, like, 2 hours before the wedding? And the caterer, and the chair rental, etc. etc.?
    • The invitations say Ms. Temperance Brennan.  I'm not an expert on manners and such, but shouldn't they say Dr. Temperance Brennan?  Seems like something she'd insist on... 
    • So what are the literary ramifications of this new Dickinson letter?  
  • Dialogue
    • "Angela's office smells like sage." - Wells, on why he is hanging out on the platform rather than in an office to do documentary research.
    • Interestingly, Wendell pronounces "ischial" IS-kee-al rather than the more Anglicized ISH-i-al that I tend to use in class. (Neither is very true to the original Greek pronunciation, of course.)
    • Edison mocks Wendell, asking if he needs to show him again where the iliopectineal line is.  It actually can be hard to find, though...
    • "This is not one man ceremonially handing over a woman to another man as though she's property.  OK?" - Brennan

Forensic Mystery - D. That was the quickest solved case-of-the-week ever. I guess when you don't have to interview any suspects or discuss the forensic context of the skeleton, you save enough time to have a TV wedding.

Forensic Solution - D+. No age-at-death or sex from the remains. Presumably a positive ID was made somehow other than by the ID card the victim was carrying.

Drama - C-. The only drama was in the location of the wedding, and even that was pretty boring and predictable. There was way, way too much dialogue consisting of empty platitudes in this episode.  Blah.

October 15, 2013

Bones - Season 9, Episode 5 (Review)

The Lady on the List
Episode Summary
Booth and Brennan have to rappel down a cliff (in a decidedly un-Virginia location) to check out a body hanging from a rock-climbing line.  A hawk has started tearing up the body, which has been there for days. Based on the palatine suture, the width of the ascending ramus, and the sternal rib ends, Brennan thinks this was a Caucasian male in his early 50s. Booth thinks it might have been an accident, but Brennan is not too sure.  They capture the hawk and take it back to the Jeffersonian, since it was munching on the remains.

Booth introduces Sweets to VAL - the Virtual Adumbrative Lineation computer system that supposedly does Sweets' profiling job better than he does.  Sweets, of course, takes issue with this and disagrees with VAL at pretty much every opportunity during the show.  He is vindicated at the end, and Booth and Saroyan get rid of their systems.

At the Jeffersonian, the team -- which includes Wells this week, whom no one likes and who mouths off to his bosses every chance he gets, begging the question of why he is still employed there -- notes lack of markers of extension along the phalanges and an absence of remodelling, meaning the victim has not been rock-climbing before. Based on decomp, time of death was three days prior. Trauma to the face suggests the victim smashed into the cliff face-first, which doesn't seem like a rock-climbing accident. Further, hemorrhagic staining around the parietal is perimortem, meaning he was bludgeoned before going over the cliff. Bilateral intercondylar injuries to the distal femora occurred four months before the victim died and seem to have no further relevance to this case.  The victim's liver shows that he had an advanced stage of cancer.  Angela reconstructs the face from the partial, smashed skull and gets one hit - Charlie McCord, a high school principal who was married with two kids.  Hodgins sets about analyzing the contents of McCord's cerumen to figure out where he was in the days before he died.

Booth brings in McCord's wife for questioning.  She hadn't seen him in four days and didn't know of anyone who wanted to hurt him.  She explains that McCord wasn't on any narcotics for his pain, just homeopathic remedies she gave him.

Angela meanwhile checks out the videos from McCord's cell phone.  He has one video in particular of McCord walking up to Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell, a mixed martial arts star, and punching him in the face. Booth brings Iceman in for questioning, but he explains that McCord called him and told him about his "bucket list," which included punching him in the face.  Iceman found this kind of charming; he didn't kill McCord.  Wells notes that one of McCord's fingers was medically treated after he punched Iceman, so he suggests Angela get his medical records.  They find that McCord didn't list his wife as his emergency contact; rather he had Martin Proctor listed.  Booth goes to question Proctor, a former baseball player whose injury sidelined him to coach, who notes he was helping McCord with his bucket list, as McCord felt his wife didn't need to know about it.  The last two things on the list were "go rock climbing" and "make Lena whole."  Lena Silver was a bookkeeper at the high school who was embezzling.  McCord turned her in, and she ended up going to jail and losing custody of her kids.  He wanted to make things right with her, though.  Silver ends up being the primary suspect, according to VAL, strengthened by circumstantial evidence that Hodgins finds: a day or two before his death, McCord was near a tire recycling facility, which was located near Silver's house.  Booth goes to question Silver, who brandishes a pipe, in violation of her parole.  The pipe is not a match for the injuries to McCord's skull, which seem to have been inflicted by both one implement and multiple implements.  But since Silver stood to inherit a bunch of money from the proceeds of McCord's online self-help videos, she remains a suspect, as does McCord's wife.

Then for some reason, the hawk starts feeling bad, and Hodgins discovers that there was arsenic in McCord's body.  The arsenic was preventing McCord's bones from remodelling properly, making his bones look like they had more advanced cancer than they really did.  Booth fingers McCord's wife for poisoning him with homeopathic remedies, but she denies this.  Brennan then notices a peculiar feature of the fracture to the skull: McCord was struck in a side-arm motion, as if by someone who couldn't rotate his arm from above.  This leads Booth to arrest Martin Proctor, the ex-baseball player-turned-coach who was helping McCord out with his videos. Although Proctor had an alibi - he was at the movies and had a ticket stub - the stub turned out to be someone else's he pilfered from the trash.  Proctor admits he asked for part of the profits from the videos he was helping with, but McCord reserved that for his wife and for Lena Silver.  Proctor wasn't trying to kill McCord, just scare him into giving him money, but when he hit him with a bag of rolls of quarters, McCord died.  Proctor staged it to look like a rock-climbing injury, since that was on McCord's bucket list.

  • Forensic
    • Ooh, assessing race is back!  Palatine suture, though?  Really?  And ascending ramus for sex? *siiiigh*  Sternal rib ends are entirely reasonable for age-at-death, at least.
    • But ugh, then they go and get an ID from a smashed skull and facial reconstruction?  Not, like, x-rays of those awesomely preserved teeth for a dental match or something more reliable?
  • Plot
    • So McCord was being poisoned with arsenic... on purpose? By whom? Where did that lead?  Was it just his wife's giving him homeopathic remedies that caused the low-grade poisoning?
    • Why did Wells mention and then drop the bilateral intercondylar fractures to the femora that occurred four months ago?  Was there any relevance to the case other than the writers' getting to use a fancy term?
    • So McCord punched Iceman, did damage to his hand, went to the doctor to get it looked at... and died pretty much immediately.  So how does Wells know from the bones that he got treatment for the... fracture? sprain?... that happened possibly only a day before his death?
  • Dialogue
    • Hodgins uses the term "cerumen" rather than "earwax" for no good reason.  This reminded me of being in the hospital a couple weeks ago, when a student nurse asked me if I'd "noticed flatus" yet. I nearly giggled in her face. Who talks like that?

Forensic Mystery - C+.  Eh.  It was pretty obvious it wasn't the wife, the bookkeeper (one of my favorite words to type, though!), or the UFC champ. That left the baseball coach.

Forensic Solution - C. Ugh, all the forensic markers used to identify the body were terrible, except for the sternal rib ends.  And facial reconstruction?  Blah.

Drama - C. We all knew Sweets would be vindicated. And the B&B wedding planning is boring.  At least the writers won't drag that out, seeing as next week is the B&B wedding extravaganza!  Man, am I the only one hoping a corpse will show up in their reception food trays or something...?

October 14, 2013

Who Needs an Osteologist? (Installment 7)

In this installment, we wonder why Acura didn't ask an osteologist (or even Google) the proper way to lay out a skeleton for their commercial about the 2014 MDX. What, they couldn't afford one?

As usual, to play along at home, just leave your suggestions for how to fix this in the comments...

h/t to Sean Dougherty and Katie Haas in the BioAnthropology News group on Facebook for bringing this to my attention.

If you missed them previously, here are other installments of Who Needs an Osteologist?

October 8, 2013

Bones - Season 9, Episode 4 (Review)

The Sense in the Sacrifice
Episode Summary
The Jeffersonian team has partnered with (some of) the FBI to attempt to smoke Pelant out.  They've obtained a body through the Jeffersonian's anatomical donation program and are going to set up a tableau that looks like a baroque painting of Prometheus, except without flesh. They create their monstrous masterpiece and give it to Hayes Flynn to dump in a well-travelled place so that the FBI gets involved.  Booth and Brennan just have to wait for the call, which they get.

"Did somebody say 'bacon'?"
As they are examining the body at the crime scene, Hodgins notices some flowers, one of Pelant's signature calling-cards.  Brennan also notices that the body at the scene is not the one she and her team meticulously planned - with recently remodelled bullet wounds on the 3rd and 4th ribs, Booth suggests the body is instead that of Hayes Flynn. Further inspection at the Jeffersonian of the mandibular offset(?) and the zygomatic angle convince Brennan that it is indeed Flynn, whom Pelant killed and posed exactly as their version of Prometheus. There are no defensive wounds, and there are kerf marks on the sternum -- 32 passes, according to the striae, which is more keeping with Brennan's MO than with Pelant's.  Additionally, clamp marks on the hepatic artery suggest to Saroyan that Pelant kept Flynn alive while he removed his liver.  Initially, Sweets and others think that Flynn must have been in cahoots with Pelant.  One line of evidence is that he got a particularly expensive surgery to repair his shattered clavicle; this surgery was paid for by an anonymous donor to the doctor's research program. Everyone suspects Pelant. The doctor notes that Flynn had 10 fractures that needed repair, although the Jeffersonian's latest xray scan showed 11.

Hodgins attempts to find any amount of trace evidence on Flynn's skeleton that could help them place Pelant in geographic space, but he comes up empty.  Brennan thinks she recognizes the 11th fracture on Flynn's body... from an unsolved forensic case she worked nine years ago.  She heads to the storage area to check out the older specimen, which does indeed look exactly like Flynn's mystery fracture.  While she's there, Pelant sneaks in and holds her hostage with (what turns out to be) a fake bomb. Pelant dangles some information in front of Brennan: the unidentified person is named Chloe Campbell, and he knows something about a bunch of other cases in her lab as well, rattling off their case designations.  Pelant leaves and Booth rushes in; he recognizes the bomb as a toy and they leave. But Brennan realizes that the cases Pelant mentioned are not right; he had changed the numbers to the drawers.

Saroyan meanwhile finds a part of a tooth in Flynn's stomach. Brennan had boasted to him earlier that she could solve a murder based on one tooth.  Hodgins finds trace evidence of bituminous coal ash, and using Angela's fancy schmancy computer, they triangulate onto an abandoned power plant.  Brennan finds out where Pelant is just shortly before Hodgins and Angela do -- the arrangement of the find-spots of the forensic cases Pelant mentioned form most of the constellation Aquila, or the eagle who ate out Prometheus' liver. Brennan heads to the "star" not highlighted by the cases in order to find Pelant.

Pelant invites Brennan in, and she wanders around until he appears. He wants Brennan to forget Booth and be with him, but she refuses.  Then she pulls a gun on him and makes him walk away.  Pelant triggers a small explosion to disarm and disorient Brennan, which works.  He is still threatening her when Booth arrives, gun pulled.  He asks Pelant to drop the bomb he's carrying, but he refuses. So Booth shoots Pelant.  Apparently the bomb was a prop too.  As they walk out, Booth decides to propose to Brennan, since the main obstacle in their way -- Pelant -- is now dead.  The Jeffersonian team catches this on the closed-circuit security footage that Angela has tapped into. Cue the swelling score of Andrew Lloyd Webber...

  • Forensic
    • Safety is paramount at the Jeffersonian!  Hence why they never wear masks, even to carve up a dead guy, the fact there's no proper security on the room that stores thousands of human skeletal remains, and Brennan's (and Booth's) neglecting to wear any sort of body armor to confront a serial killer.
    • Of course Brennan can recognize a similar fracture pattern on a bone she saw nearly a decade ago.
    • Of course Brennan remembers the six(?) four-digit numbers that Pelant rattled off, especially immediately after she'd been held hostage by what she thought was a bomb.
    • Of course Brennan doesn't put down any sort of padding for the skeleton she gets out of the box (that also has no padding; I winced when she started rooting around for the humerus).
    • Brennan notes Flynn's tooth was a third bicuspid. In anthropology, we use the term premolar (third or fourth, as other primates have two additional ones that we as humans have lost); bicuspid is a dental term.  I'm also pretty sure that dentists use first and second bicuspid.
    • And what's a mandibular offset?  Is this a dental term too?
  • Plot
    • Eh, I thought Pelant deserved better than a Phantom of the Opera inspired final episode.  Look, half his face is disfigured! He wants Brennan for himself! He will wreak havoc if she won't have him!  Whatever. You, sir, are no Michael Crawford.
    • Flynn has five hours to arrange the body in a relatively public location. Let's say it only takes him an hour to get there and start doing his thing. Now, Pelant has to get over there, kill Flynn, take him back to his kill room (in MD?), meticulously flay his body, and plant evidence back in DC... in the span of four hours?
  • Dialogue
    • "I've tripled my firewalls just to be sure." -- Oh, Angela...

Forensic Mystery - B. Brennan and team solved the forensic case of Flynn pretty quickly. But there wasn't a lot of focus on forensics this episode; it's more about the plot and drama.

Forensic Solution - B. I don't buy that a chip of a tooth would get covered in bituminous ash such that Pelant could be tied to the murder scene.

Drama - B.  I guess I'm still coasting on all the other Pelant episodes which, taken as a whole, aren't too bad.  I still think Gravedigger was the best "big bad" that Bones has had so far.  This storyline, and the conclusion in particular, was far too derivative.

Well, seems I got this up just one day late.  Not too shabby for having a 6-day-old at home.  Fortunately, she is an excellent sleeper.

October 1, 2013

Annotated Bibliography of Bioarchaeology

Just got word that my annotated bibliography on bioarchaeology is now up at Oxford Bibliographies Online.  It's taken a good long time to come out, but I think it's pretty useful, particularly for undergrad and grad students interested in the field. The OBO articles are nice because they're thorough and peer-reviewed, but they're currently a bit difficult to access.

If you, like me, don't have access to Oxford Bibliographies Online through your university or other favorite library, just drop me an email (poweredbyosteons @ gmail . com works fine) and I'll be happy to send along a PDF.  Some of the fun features are lost in the conversion to PDF (e.g., ability to click on links in the biblio or add citations to a reference manager), but that's the best I can do.

(Oh, and remember my "Food for Rome" article in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology is free for everyone through the end of October. It's all about using C and N isotopes from bone and enamel to understand the diet of the Roman poor.  Click here to go download that article.)

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