August 30, 2013

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XXXII

Some Roman(ish) bioarch news for the month of August...

Finds and Features
Wealthy Sarmatian burial (via RiaNovosti)
"Mass grave" at Pisidia Antiocheia (via Hurriyet)
Skeleton and mask found at Aizanoi (via Hurriyet)
  • 6 August.  Archaeologists find treasures at ancient Russian burial cite [sic]. []  Originally, this find, likely associated with the Sarmatians (roughly 500 BC to 400 AD) in southern Russia, was heralded as the tomb of a noble woman on account of the jewelry, mirror, and other decorations covering the body.  Later in the month (20 August), however, it was reported that Russian "Amazon" buried with cosmetics could be man [RiaNovosti].  Seems that the original sex determination was made on the artifacts alone and that after an osteologist had a look at them, they were much more male in morphology.  I suspect that the archaeologists will want a DNA analysis to confirm because *gasp* a man buried with "woman" things?  We may have another gay caveman on our hands... 
  • 8 August. Crossrail tunnel project uncovers ancient burial ground - including Bedlam patients. [Independent]  It sounds like the majority of the 4,000 skeletons they expect to find as excavation continues in London are from only about 150 years ago, but there have also been plenty of Roman-era coins, roads, and other stuff found.  Should be a neat project to follow up on.
  • 16 August. Mass grave found in the ancient city of Pisidia Antiocheia. [Hurriyet Daily News]  A well in a Roman villa containing the remains of at least 6 humans and one pig was discovered at Pisidia Antiocheia in Turkey.  Seems another set of bodies was found in a well a month or so ago, just nearby.  No osteological report, unfortunately, as I'd like to know if these are adults or kids.  If these are neonatal bodies, their disposal or burial in a well is not terribly surprising.  If these are just adult heads, well, that's a bit more puzzling. Either way, not sure the "mass grave" terminology applies.  Hopefully there will be more info out soon.
  • 20 August. Rome's start to architectural hubris. [New York Times] Great piece on Gabii, the site at which I've been working since 2010.  It mostly covers the architecture, which is telling us new and cool things about, in particular, monumentality prior to the Empire, but there are also a few dozen bodies at the site from a number of time periods.
  • 20 August. Archaeologists discover hidden slave tunnel beneath Hadrian's villa. [Telegraph] Over two miles of tunnels were recently discovered underneath emperor Hadrian's sprawling villa at Tivoli, just outside of Rome. Archaeologists are suggesting these underground passageways were for slaves moving from one part of the villa to another. Pretty neat!  (And would you believe that I've still never been to Tivoli?  I tried -- twice -- and was thwarted both times by public transport and/or Italians' penchant for closing sites randomly.)
  • 20 August. 2,000-year-old skeleton mask discovered in Turkey. [Hurriyet] Not much news on this.  Just a skeleton with a mask.  Pretty cool, though -- see pic above.
  • 23 August. Ancient Libyan necropolis threatened by real estate speculators. [France 24] Technically Greek-era rather than Roman (600-400 BC), but some sad destruction to a massive necropolis at Cyrene that includes (included?) over 1,000 burials with sarcophagi.
Follow-Ups and Ongoing Sagas
Articles and Blog Posts

Finally, a neat video.  It dates from 2008, but I'd never seen it before.  This is "Opening a Roman Coffin at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, UK, by Wessex Archaeology." Enjoy! [Watch on YouTube]

August 26, 2013

First day of classes... er, maternity leave... ish.

Today's the first day of UWF's fall semester, but I'm spared from most of the usual hustle and bustle because I'm on partial maternity leave.  I'll still be doing service-y things (e.g., advising grad students) and cramming in as much time as I can to write up my research before the baby arrives in early October, but I'm not teaching.

So from here on out, posting at PbO will be a lot slower, possibly picking back up in the spring or summer next year.  I'm going to keep up with the Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival and Bones reviews to the best of my ability this year, but both will probably end up posted pretty late and irregularly.  Remember that for all your skeleton-related news needs, you can follow PbO on Facebook.

Also, I just wanted to feature this awesome Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic from August 5 because I'm taking a break from my external 3D printers to finish up the project I started on my internal 3D printer back in January...

(Credit: SMBC, 8/5/13)

August 22, 2013

Bit o' bragging...

It seems my article, "Food for Rome," was #3 in the list of most downloaded articles from the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology this year.  Spiffy.  Also, the top 5 articles are freely accessible until October 31, 2013.  I wish I could have published this open-access, but since I couldn't, this is your chance to download a free copy -- here's a link!  (The only thing I'm annoyed about is that I can't find actual numbers... how many people have downloaded it, I wonder?)

August 5, 2013

Archaeology and GitHub

When I was an undergraduate, I had an awesome class in archaeological statistics at UVa.  We were tasked with doing a final project using actual archaeological data and manipulating the data using statistics.  I wanted to do something osteology-related and, in 1998, this involved going to the library and poring through archaeological site reports until I found one, from Egypt, that provided some metric data of skull size and shape. The data were hardly contextualized, languishing in an appendix. This was cumbersome, to say the least, and I learned as much about data entry as I did about archaeological statistics with this project.

It may be surprising, then, that osteological data access isn't much better in the new millennium.  Many osteological data are still sent to appendices of site reports, which make them difficult to find and use. New policies such as the NSF's data management plan implemented in 2010 should mean that archaeological and osteological data are brought to the fore; in reality, though, this doesn't seem to be the case.  Even when osteological data are published, it's usually as static charts or tables, not in any sort of digital, database-friendly format that could be imported into Excel or SPSS.  And unless you have a student willing to type in all the data for you, this presents a barrier for the busy scholar who wants to do cross-site and cross-cultural research.

For some reason, the Octodex doesn't have an
ArchaeOctocat. The Octocat de los Muertos will
have to do instead...
Fortunately, archaeologists are leading the way in increasingly opening up their excavations and the resulting data to their colleagues and even the public in the past few years.  This embracing of openness seems to come from the broader open-source movement that started in computer science in the late 90s and expanded into academia as a whole, most notably through open-access publishing, which also took off in the late 90s with the rise of the Internet.  Plenty of other archaeologists have written about opening up their research and their rationale behind it, so I won't repeat those excellent arguments.  Although I'm very open with the products of my research -- with giving out my dissertation and articles -- and often use this blog as something of an "open notebook" to work through ideas and results, I actually haven't been great at sharing the data files themselves.  So I'm starting to remedy that.

Currently, I'm putting up information on GitHub, and you can click through to see all the things that I've posted so far.  GitHub is mainly geared towards software developers, to aid them in working on collaborative projects, but it made some headlines recently when the White House decided to post a bunch of policy documents on GitHub. It's free for open-source projects and fairly cheap if you want to keep your data totally or partially private. There are a bunch of archaeologists and digital humanists there, posting a variety of interesting stuff. But I was convinced to join when I learned that GitHub will let you visualize .stl files (3D models) in your browser.

(Full disclosure: My husband works for GitHub, so he's tasked me with proselytizing the benefits of it to other archaeologists.  I'm exaggerating... but only a little.)

Some stuff I am posting:
  • Syllabi.  Don't just use my syllabi for ideas... fork them, and post your own!  I posted these spiffed-up syllabi that I created with the hope that people will use them as they see fit and post their own syllabi.  I love reading others' class syllabi; it makes for good ideas for my own classes, as I can pick and choose from a variety of activities, lecture topics, and bibliography entries.  
  • 3D models.  Just one posted so far, from the Medieval Berliners project.  I have been slow to learn the 3D scanning and modelling software, but I did scan and photograph all the teeth from this project before drilling into them. Also check out hacky486, one of our grad students, who is doing more with modelling than I am.
  • Osteology Database.  I posted a blank version of the osteology database I designed in 2007 to collect data in Rome.  It has a few updates from 2010.  For those of you osteologists, it's based largely on Standards but more user-friendly (I think) than the Smithsonian's free Osteoware. Mostly, I posted this database here to have somewhere for people to download a big file.
  • Data from Published Articles.  Want to snag my Sr/O/C/N/Pb isotope data from my articles, but don't want to type it all in?  Check out this repository of all the raw data from my 2010 dissertation (and some data from an article that wasn't published in the diss).  I'll probably be updating this file with more contextual information as I go.
That last one is definitely a sticking point.  I haven't published all of these data yet.  That is, although most of these data can be found in my dissertation, there is an entire Access database chock full of information that will go in a couple articles I'm still working on.  I do want to post the entire database for comparative research purposes (since what Roman bioarchaeology needs is a good data set from Rome!), but I also want to keep my job.  So I'm trying to strike a balance by publishing on GitHub those data that are already out there -- in the diss or in articles.  I feel like a bad open-access enthusiast for embargoing the data like this, but I have multiple reasons, some of which I could explain here and others I don't feel comfortable discussing in a public forum.

So while I'm not exactly using GitHub for its intended purpose, I hope my opening up of data and ideas will be useful or inspirational to others.  If GitHub's not for you, though, go check out OpenContext, the brain-child of Eric Kansa, which is fantastic and might be a bit more social-scientist-friendly. (While OpenContext is awesome, it feels more like a platform for dissemination rather than collaboration, another reason I'm trying out GitHub first.)

Finally, for more help in using GitHub and what it all means, check out the great posts by Prof Hacker at the Chronicle of Higher Education -- his "Fork the Academy" essay has links to all posts in the series.

If you're on GitHub, let me know in the comments!  I'm interested in seeing how others are using the site to share data...

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