January 30, 2014

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XXXVII

It's pretty much all about Roman Britain this month, with a slew of articles and news pieces on some really fascinating skeletons...

News

Head-hunted Roman. (via The Guardian)
  • 21 January. The Guardian - Carthaginians Sacrificed Own Children, Archaeologists Say.  So, the discussion about whether or not Carthaginian tophets were places of ritual child sacrifice continues in the pages of Antiquity. The latest article is by a bunch of archaeologists and historians. I'm not thoroughly convinced by any of the arguments, but if I had to come down on a side, I'd believe the bioarchaeological evidence (or lack thereof).
Not a brothel baby. (via English Heritage)
  • 24 January. LiveScience - Ancient Roman Infanticide Didn't Spare Either Sex, DNA Suggests. This news story (which quotes me) covers a new JAS paper on the so-called "brothel babies" that were reported in 2011. I'm glad to see that the original osteologists who claimed these were neonates of prostitutes in a Roman brothel have reversed their stance after DNA testing, as "brothel babies" had become somewhat of a running joke in the Roman bioarch community. I am a bit disappointed, though, that only LiveScience has covered the update. Of course the BBC, Daily Mail, Telegraph, etc., that originally ran with the "brothel babies" story haven't issued any sort of update.
Articles
Fig. 3 from Mays et al. 2014
  • Jan-Feb. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, "An infant femur bearing cut marks from Roman Hambleden, England," by S. Mays et al. This article is a fascinating look at some perimortem trauma to a perinatal femur of a Roman-era child in England. Mays and colleagues suspect it resulted from the practice of embryotomy, or cutting a perinate out of the mother due to obstructed labor.
Social Media, et Cetera
  • 3 January. Ancient Studies Articles Podcast - Food for Rome (Killgrove & Tykot 2013). I took some time to read aloud my Roman diet paper from last year. You can download it from the ASAPodcast. I think it's also going up on the Elsevier site at some point (since I got permission from them to record this).
  • 20 January. LiveScience - Can 'Skull Theory' Reveal Sex of an Unborn Baby?  This was a fun story to comment on. Just before I gave my human osteology students a lecture on assessing sex from skull morphology, Stephanie Pappas of LiveScience pointed me to a website that suggests you can use the same morphology to tell the sex of your unborn baby on ultrasound. I told her immediately that it was nonsense (and that it's sex, not gender) but did a bit of background research to make sure I had data behind my knee-jerk reaction. All the juvenile osteology textbooks assert that using sexually dimorphic morphology (e.g., the size of the mastoid process) to assess sex isn't possible until about puberty when, of course, sexual dimorphism from secondary sexual characteristics becomes apparent.  At any rate, this article was a good way for me to talk to my students about the shortcomings of assessing sex based on skeletal remains.

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