May 30, 2015

This week at Forbes: Titicaca trepanation, hominin homicide, and 3D printing

Here's what have I been writing on my Forbes blog this week, for those of you who missed it:
  • How 3D printed bones are revolutionizing forensics and bioarchaeology. I've been doing some work with scanning and printing of bones and teeth, and I participated in an SAA symposium on digitization in archaeology.  So I've written up some thoughts on the direction that 3D is taking both forensics and bioarchaeology, and concluded the piece with some open-ended questions about ethics that we really need to start addressing.
It'll be a bit slower next week as I'm on vacation with Kiddo 1.0 (Hotlanta, yeah!).  But I've got some posts for you on various historical people, plus a "body farm" article some time in the next couple weeks.

May 27, 2015

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 27)

I'm going to quote the inestimable Alison Atkin here, commenting on the headline "Church stunned as child's bones are dug up."  She says, "Missing from headline: '...dug up' [from church grounds, which if anywhere is where you'd expect them, no?'"

But more to the point, the article quotes archaeologist Joe Abrams as saying these are the remains of a juvenile, a relatively young person.  That's a lot of vague language, which is fine, but the article doubles-down and says "the size of the bones suggests that it [the child] was between 10 and 18 years of age at the time of its death."

Image of human bones from churchyard.
Photo via Dunstable Today.

Now check out that right proximal humerus.  Notice anything?  Or, rather, notice the lack of something?  There is no epiphyseal line; it is completely fused.  Fusion of the proximal humerus happens between about 18-22 years of age.

This may be a relatively young person (and then, based on the small size and the gracility of that forehead, female), but not a child.


Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

May 22, 2015

This week at Forbes: Beheadings and cannibalism, origins of obesity, Roman dentistry, historic cemetery clean-up, and endangered Native American sites

Here's what I wrote over at Forbes the week of May 17-23:
  • New St. Louis Rams stadium may be built on ancient Native American city.  For whatever reason, I missed this news back in April with St. Louis's NPR station covered it... which was odd, since I was in St. Louis in April for the American Association of Physical Anthropologists conference, staying not too far from the proposed location of a new NFL stadium.  This short piece summarizes the battle so far, but I suspect there will be more to come.
  • How devastating floods created opportunities for Tennessee archaeology.  Another good friend, Tanya Peres, was telling me how it's the fifth anniversary of the catastrophic 1,000-year flood that inundated Nashville.  So I wrote up a summary of her work in mitigating damage to archaeological sites caused by the flooding.  Whole lot of shellfish eating going on!
  • Industrial Revolution caused rise in cancer, obesity, and arthritis, archaeologists suggest.  Several weeks ago, I read a brief press release about a new study at the Museum of London to address the origins of modern diseases that may have increased with the Industrial Revolution.  The coverage was uneven and didn't explain what information was being collected, so I reached out to the study leader, Jelena Bekvalac, to learn more about this fascinating research.
  • Roman Forum yields stash of teeth extracted by ancient dentist. I talked with bioarchaeologist Marshall Becker about his recent publication of 86 teeth from a drain in the Temple of Castor and Pollux.  He argues that they were extractions done by a very skilled dentist. These also seem to be the first direct evidence for dental extractions in ancient Rome.
  • Clean up a cemetery this Memorial Day.  Wondering what to do with the kids for the long weekend?  Why not visit a local cemetery to learn about your community's history and clean it up a bit while you're at it? In this piece, I talk with Sarah Miller, an old friend from grad school, about her state-wide Cemetery Resource Protection Training program.  I just like that CRPT is like crypt.
I'm gonna try to dial it back next week, since I have a deadline for a contributed chapter based on my actual research I need to write.  But it's hard, because blogging is way more fun.

May 20, 2015

Bones - Season 10, Episode 19 (Review)

The Murder in the Middle East
Episode Summary
While Booth is on the phone placing a bet with a bookie on a baseball game, Vaziri is abducted in Iran while on the phone with Saroyan. The phone connection remains open long enough for Angela and Hodgins to help figure out where he is: in a defunct center for plastic surgery.

Vaziri quickly meets his captor: a member of the Iranian parliament named Magid Namazi.  Vaziri is asked to identify as much as possible from the decomposing body lying on the table in front of him, and he says that the victim is male, 25-30 based on cranial suture closure, with slightly worn dentition indicative of being raised in an urban environment. The body was scavenged by mid-size carnivores, but he sees evidence of macrognathia, a genetic condition that Namazi also exhibits. Vaziri reasons that the victim is Namazi's son. Darius Namazi was 25 years old, and his official cause of death, his father notes, was a broken neck from a fall down the stairs. He doesn't believe this, though, and has kidnapped Vaziri to help him work outside the law to find out what really happened.

Booth calls in a favor with a friend at the CIA and gets expedited visas for himself and Saroyan to head to Iran to help Vaziri.  They apparently go through some sort of time portal, because they arrive just as Vaziri is starting an autopsy. What Vaziri's been doing for the last, what?, 48 hours at least is anyone's guess. Booth and Saroyan offer to help solve the murder if they can get a satellite feed to the Jeffersonian, and Namazi agrees, reluctantly at first.

Based on lividity, Saroyan thinks that the body was in the house four or five days before being discovered. There are gnaw marks from rats and a second carnivore. Through the video feed, Brennan sees multiple impact wounds bilaterally to the radii and ulnae, as well as subperiosteal bone bruising consistent with a fall down the stairs. Saroyan's test of Darius' throat tissue confirms the government's report that he had been drinking alcohol, which is forbidden. Fracturing to the left temporal bone reveals blunt force trauma, but incisive edges along the fracture lines mean Darius may have been hit in the head before tumbling down the stairs.

Darius' cousin and Namazi's nephew, Officer Sanjar Zamani, helps out with the investigation. He provides Booth with photos of the scene, including a doorknob that led into Darius' home office.  It was curiously wiped clean, leading Booth to suspect the killer wanted something in the office. Booth and Namazi visit Darius' boss, Omid Turan, the head of a major bank, who says Darius was worried about a contractor whose loan he denied.  Booth and Zamani question the contractor, who says he heard Darius arguing and saw a woman with blonde hair leave in a rage. Traces of vaginal fluid on Darius' underwear and traces of blonde hair on his clothing lead Booth to believe the woman was Darius' girlfriend. Hodgins identifies the second set of gnaw marks as those of a weiner dog. Because dogs are considered unclean in Iran, they would have needed a passport if they came in with the foreign woman. This information lets Booth easily track her down: Oksana Kozlov, a Russian national and oil company executive who was in fact sleeping with Darius. She admits to fighting with Darius, but says she left him only to return on Monday and find him dead, with her dogs eating his remains. Namazi wants the investigation shut down because he's learned his son was drinking and was engaging in premarital sex, both of which bring shame to the family.  But Booth and the Jeffersonian team convince him to let them continue.

Someone manages to quickly 3D scan Darius' bones and send them to Angela, who has a magical printer that can spit out an entire, full-size human skeleton in an hour. Brennan notices that the blunt force trauma to Darius' skeleton includes half a dozen strikes over his whole body and looks like it was made by a V-shaped instrument, perhaps a metal 2x4 or some other uncommonly shaped item. Brennan then notices a key difference in the trauma: the fracture to the left proximal tibia was the result of a pulled ligament, not like the other mediolateral fractures caused by the stairs. She thinks the body was moved and that Darius' house was not the scene of the murder. The fractures may have been caused by falling against stairs with squared-off edges in a curved trajectory, which doesn't match with Darius' stairs. Rather, he fell on a grand staircase made out of marble or another material harder than wood.

Booth and Angela meanwhile find out that Zamani was the one who took Darius' laptop. He claims that he did not kill his cousin.  Rather, when he found out Darius was dead, he took the laptop so that Namazi did not find out that Darius was advocating for women's rights and democracy, both of which could get him locked up or killed. Angela searches through the laptop's uploaded contents and realizes that Darius had hard evidence that his boss was embezzling from the bank. Booth reasons that that is what Darius was afraid of, and he remembers the grand staircase at the bank.  Off-screen, I guess Turan the bank head is arrested for Darius' murder, even though there's only circumstantial evidence tying him to it. Meh, must move on to attempt to convince Namazi his religion is wrong and to show Vaziri's brother recovering and asking when he and Saroyan will get married.

Oh, right, and Brennan finds out about Booth's gambling because his bookie comes to the house.  When he gets back from Iran, she is passive aggressive and then catches him in a lie when she finally asks him directly.  She kicks him out when it's clear he was unapologetically lying about falling off the wagon and returning to gambling.

  • Forensics
    • Demographics: Vaziri doesn't say how he determines the victim was male, but I'm guessing it was based on, ahem, the flesh. He uses cranial suture closure to estimate age-at-death, which is unfortunate because it's a rather poor method and can't give as precise an estimate as he gets.  Also, Vaziri says he's using endocranial suture closure, which is silly since he can't see the inside of the skull.  He means ectocranial suture closure. I dunno how slightly worn dentition means living in an urban environment... I also don't see macrognathia in Namazi, but hey, it's just a TV show.
  • Plot
    • What was Vaziri doing while Saroyan and Booth headed to Iran?  Twiddling his thumbs?  Sleeping? Eating the ice cream he bought?
    • How did Namazi get his son's body back from whoever did the initial investigation?  And why wasn't an autopsy already done?  (Or was it, and that's how Vaziri saw the endocranial sutures?)  Seriously, you can just steal a decomposing body in Iran if you want to?
    • You cannot 3D print an entire skeleton in an hour, jeez.  Also, who 3D scanned the skeleton?  That would have taken a ridiculous amount of time as well, since I didn't see any equipment that could do a fancy CT scan in that abandoned surgery ward.
    • I'm confused about the dogs.  Were they staying with Darius, and fed on him for a few days until his body was found... by Oksana?  Or did they only feed on him when Oksana brought them to look for Darius? If they were her dogs, why were they staying with Darius after their fight?
    • Did they ever get a confession or any solid forensic evidence that showed Turan killed Darius?  Evidence of embezzling and a fall down the bank's staircase are pretty circumstantial.
    • Why didn't Brennan just pay the bookie?  She has tons of money.  She could have paid him off and then sent Aubrey after him.
  • Dialogue
    • Brennan uses the Latin plural "radii" but the English plural "ulnas" in the same sentence, which is odd. She also says "radius bones" later in the episode, which seems redundant.
    • Who here knows Farsi?  Because I would swear that at least one of those actors does not and memorized his dialogue phonetically. But I have no knowledge of the language, I was just noticing differences in pronunciation and affect. Most of them do seem to be Iranian or Iranian-American actors, though.
    • Namazi and Zamani are anagrams. No idea if this was on purpose; just found it interesting.

    Forensic Mystery - B+.  A pretty solid mystery, but there was a lot of detail left out or glossed over that could have made it more compelling.

    Forensic Solution - B. Most methods used were fine, if a little imprecise. It's a cool idea to have someone 3D scan an entire skeleton and print it elsewhere, and this is starting to be used in forensics. But in the end not too realistic.

    Drama - A-. I didn't think they'd do anything bad to Vaziri, but considering the untimely ends of Nigel-Murray and Sweets, you never know...

    Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 26)

    For their 206th episode, the Bones folks put out a video listing all of the bones in the human body.  Except that half a dozen are wrong and/or misspelled.  So, enjoy finding the errors!

    Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

    May 15, 2015

    This week at Forbes: Philip II, Julius Caesar, Roman teeth, Anglo-Saxon leprosy, and the origins of Alaskans

    Rather than put up a post every time one of my pieces comes out at Forbes, I have decided to collect them at all the end of the week.  Here's what was on offer from May 11 through May 15:

    • How Native Alaskans Spurred Archaeologists to Research Their Origins.  The lead author of this article, Jenny Raff, contacted me about covering it.  I was intrigued by the community involvement in this DNA study and eagerly agreed.  We worked on the piece for about a week to put together something that touched on all aspects of the project and mentioned all the major players.
    • Rotten Roman Baby Teeth Blamed on Honey, Porridge.  I saw this article a few weeks ago and was going to write it up for PbO, but it seemed like it might be interesting enough for Forbes.  Laura Bonsall and colleagues found evidence of early childhood caries in a Romano-British skeleton.  This disease is not well known archaeologically.
    • Julius Caesar's Health Debate Reignited: Stroke or Epilepsy? This was covered last month by some news outlets, but one of the coauthors of the new study, Francesco Galassi, contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in writing about it.  I got some more information from him, and I got amazing Roman historian Barry Strauss to comment on it as well.
    What's can you expect next week?  I'm working on pieces on Roman dentistry, Bolivian death rituals, and the origins of obesity.  And I'm thinking the week after that, I might do some technology-related posts, with perhaps 3D printing in bioarchaeology/forensics and archaeo-gaming.

    As always, if you have ideas for a piece or want me to feature your latest stuff, don't hesitate to email me!

    May 13, 2015

    Philip who? Philip II, now philippier than ever!

    Figure 5 from Antikas and Wynn-Antikas. Cranium of
    male adult in Tomb 2 at Vergina showing warping from
    Last October, I covered the breathless news from a press conference on the reanalysis of skeletal remains from Vergina.  Theodore Antikas and his team were pretty confident they'd found Philip II and his seventh wife, a Scythian princess. Their peer-reviewed article came out in IJOA on Monday, so I covered it for Forbes last night... and then the Daily Mail did their usual cut/paste/link/CRAZYHEADLINE thing, and the result is 100,000 views for me.

    If you haven't seen it yet, click over to "Alexander the Great's Father Found in Tomb with Foreign Princess."  Don't worry about the rather sensational headline... I caution against a definitive identification by the end of the article.

    May 10, 2015

    Bones - Season 10, Episode 18 (Review)

    The Verdict in the Victims
    Episode Summary
    Clearly, the Bones writers listened to me and decided to revisit Episode 13, "The Baker in the Bits," in which an ex-con working in a bakery is accused of being a serial killer. Although that episode was just a month ago in real time, in show time seven months have elapsed. The episode opens on Alex Rockwell, who has apparently been tried and convicted of three murders, sentenced to the death penalty, and had that sentence start to get carried out... again, in the span of seven months. Brennan's testimony helped convict him, and he seems to have given up hope.

    But Brennan is working late at the Jeffersonian, trying to put together evidence that doesn't quite line up.  For instance, xrays taken of Rockwell's arms in prison show increased bone growth around both glenoid fossae and both coracoid processes, suggesting he had torn both rotator cuffs around a decade ago. Brennan explains to Saroyan that this means Rockwell didn't have the upper body strength to kill Barnes, who was apparently the fourth victim in the previous episode who was never named. Barnes suffered blunt force trauma to his left parietal and L1-5 spinous processes from someone swinging a pipe in a downward motion. The DNA found on the knife in Rockwell's car, though, ties him to the murders. Brennan, Booth, and Miss Julian argue with Judge Linda LavinMichael that the evidence from Rockwell's xrays is enough to stay his execution. The judge disagrees, but she does allow Brennan to exhume all four bodies for reanalysis.

    At the Jeffersonian, the team gets to work quickly. They scan the remains with Angela's fancy scannermabob and compare what they see now with what is in the case files.  Dr. Fuentes immediately notices a "faint striation" to the medial clavicle (that's actually a ginormous gash) of Father Neighbors that was overlooked before, as well as a nick in the base of Ted Widmer's manubrium caused by a needle. The FBI meanwhile is questioning everyone and their pastor... First another ex-con baker named Salts, who would borrow Rockwell's car to go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Then Rockwell's girlfriend, in front of their son Zeke, and a family friend, Pastor Evans. Randy DisherRoger Flender visits Booth to suggest he throw suspicion on him to get Rockwell a stay, but Booth doesn't bite, even though it's clear that the guest star did it, duh.  Instead, they look for personal connections to Barnes, the first victim, and find that just before he died, he spent a lot of money on flowers for the funeral of his driver.  

    Booth realizes in the middle of the night that the dates of the murders may have relevance; namely that the killer (if it's not Rockwell) will have killed again since only 3-4 months separate each murder. The old iron works factory used to be a monastery in the 1700s, and Angela speculates that the killer was interested in having his "workshop" on holy ground. She searches for abandoned, secluded buildings that fit the description and somehow magically narrows it down to one place, an old water treatment plant, and Booth, Aubrey, and Miss Julian manage to get a warrant from Judge Michael. In the water treatment plant, Hodgins and Saroyan find barrels of ammonia as well as a work table with dried blood stains and a hanging piece of tattooed skin. Based on the condition of the bones, Fuentes puts time of death around three months ago. He also guesses based on the forward protrusion of the anterior mandible and the narrow zygomatic arch that the newest victim was a black female. The bones tell the same story, the same M.O., as the others.  Brennan and Miss Julian present the new evidence to Judge Michael, but she points out that this could be a copycat killing and doesn't exculpate Rockwell, just as the Barnes evidence also did not.

    Fuentes notices, however, that there is a deep striation to the new victim's (Tracy Taylor, whose prison tattoo confirmed her ID) anterior C6 vertebra and kerf marks on the right clavicle and upper thorax. Tracy is linked to Salts, because they both went to NA meetings. He was seen arguing with her, but he insisted that it was because Tracy wanted him to start using again and he refused. Angela does some more digging into Barnes' driver, Kyle Martin, who died two weeks before Barnes went missing. He died of a drug overdose, and his mother is Rosamund Flender, Roger's sister.  Brennan thinks that Roger killed Barnes because he was responsible for his nephew's overdose, and that this triggered a string of killings of people who had fallen from grace. Flender has a messiah complex.  This is all circumstantial evidence, however, so the Jeffersonian team revisits the skeletons to figure out more about the implements that were used in the killings.  They reason that, since these are ritualistic, serial killings, the killer likely still has the murder weapons in his possession.  Based on the nicks in the bones, they realize that the killer used a metal compass to inscribe a circle within a downward pointing triangle, which Hodgins recognizes as a masonic symbol for deity.

    Booth and Aubrey go to ransack Flender's house, and the FBI team does not find any weapons in the house.  Once Booth gets word from Brennan that they are looking for a masonic compass, he pulls out some bricks from the fireplace and finds both it and a ritual knife identical to the one that I assume was taken into evidence in the Rockwell trial. Brennan insists the compass will have the DNA of five different people on it, but it's not like they have time to test for that or for fingerprints. The judge is convinced, though, and stays the execution.

    • Forensics
      • The "faint striation" on the clavicle was neither of those things. I found out recently, though, that this is not the prop department's, well, department.  The mocking up of skeletons on the show is done by make-up effects (MUFX).  So all those times I complained that the prop department screwed up?  Most of the time, it was MUFX screwing up.  (I think the prop people are still responsible for laying out the skeletons in anatomical position, though.)  So, sorry to disparage you, prop people!  Now, if someone in MUFX wants to email me, I have a bunch of questions for you... 
      • Demographics - The first four bodies were covered in the last episode.  The new body was estimated as black based on the protrusion of the anterior mandible (I guess? Because this is supposed to be code for mid-facial prognathism?) and female based on the narrow zygomatic arch (whut ??? <-- i="" in="" li="" my="" notes="" s="" that="" what="" wrote="">
    • Plot
      • Did I miss something from Ep. 13, or was Barnes never identified until now?  This extra person (on whom the whole case seemed to turn) was out of left field.
      • Did Flender have a second oddly shaped knife, since he planted one (with DNA) on Rockwell?  If so, that doesn't really square with the idea that this is a ritualistic killing and he would use the same tools.
      • The writers dance around the whole courtroom thing, which got me wondering... have we ever seen Brennan take the stand?  Forensic anthropologists often get called in for capital murder trials.  With all the legal dramas on TV, you'd think that could be interesting fodder for at least one episode a season.
      • Angela thinks that Hodgins can just go get a job at the Sorbonne.  He may be a super-smart Jeffersonian employee, but that's not how academic jobs work.  And just randomly... I really wish that the reason they got rich was because of Angela.  I mean, she built a bunch of fancy-ass computers that can do things no other computer in existence can do. Even if the Angelatron is owned by the Jeffersonian, surely she can invent some other supercomputer and sell it to a shady country that wants to take over the world. Instead, Angela is again second to Hodgins and his wealth. Sure, I'm making too much of it, but it's the feminist principle of the thing. Anyway, will they or won't they move to Paris, since Bones was just renewed for another season?
      • Booth reaches into the fireplace to get potential murder weapons and he's not wearing gloves???  Come on.
    • Dialogue
      • Two different people this episode said they didn't want Rockwell's "death on my head."  Is this a phrase people say somewhere?  I've never heard it, and it sounds really odd to me.  "I don't want his blood on my hands," sure.  But death on one's head?  Help me out, linguistically-inclined readers!  The only thing I can find through 20 seconds of googling is that it may have been used in the TV show 24.
      • “42% of death row population is black, yet AA make up only 13.2% of the overall US population” – Hodgins
      • "You could teach at the Sorbonne, and I could paint stuff." That's a very unspecific way of talking about your life's calling, Angela.

    Forensic Mystery - A-. In spite of the fact that Flender clearly did it, and in spite of the fact that four episodes had passed in between, I thought it was a good mystery tonight.  I still don't get why he killed Father Neighbors. But it was nice to see the storyline given more due, especially when it involved Brennan's being wrong (or at least not seeing all the evidence).

    Forensic Solution - C. The case hinged on the fact that no one at the Jeffersonian saw a weird puncture wound or a giant gash to the clavicle. Also, those were some wonky demographics on the last victim. 

    Drama - A-. As above, in spite of the plot holes and forensic weirdness, it was a good plot line.  I'd like to see more of the idea that the Jeffersonian team is fallible, though, especially as it regards trying cases. Put Brennan on the stand!

    May 8, 2015

    Bones - Season 10, Episode 17 (Review)

    The Lost in the Found
    Episode Summary
    A team of people collecting trash in the woods stumble on a body decomposing by a creek. Based on the amount of blood suffused into the soil, Saroyan thinks that the person was killed there. Braces on the teeth suggest a young adult.  Hodgins puts time-of-death around four days ago based on Hermetia illucens larvae. Booth believes it is Molly Delson, a prep school teenager who went missing, but they want Brennan to confirm back at the lab.  Brennan puts the age-at-death at 14 to 18 based on the lack of eruption of third molars, but no one bothers with sex, ancestry, or stature for some reason.

    Doo doo, just reading some books with latex
    gloves on... like ya do... because science!
    The FBI first questions Tyler O'Brien, one of the people who found the body. Aubrey thinks he's just enough of a narcissist to lead the FBI to one of his victims, but Tyler insists he didn't do it.  He does have a rap sheet, statutory rape of a 15-year-old when he was 19. Meanwhile, the Jeffersonian team pores over the skeleton for clues. They find remodeled microfractures to the ends of various long bones dating from 7 to 10 years ago.  Brennan first assumes that Molly had been beaten as a child, but when she and Booth question the parents, she realizes Molly had been obese, which caused the microfractures. Her parents mention that Molly was top in her class. Fibers from a car mat and beads near the victim indicate a possible struggle, and Hodgins also finds evidence of duct tape with Molly's epithelial cells on it, suggesting her mouth was taped. The rape kit comes back negative.

    Booth and Aubrey visit Pemberley, the prep school where Molly lived, and find two girls ransacking her room: Arianna and Cayla. They claim to be looking for Molly's diary to protect her and her parents; Aubrey finds it. Both girls are star pupils at the school, but Aubrey and Booth find a shoebox full of insults and other evidence that Molly was being bullied by them and a girl named Katherine. When Booth questions Katherine, she admits she got into a fight with Molly because Molly was snooping and threatening to tell the headmistress about Katherine's weekly drinking party. 

    Daisy finds evidence of stab wounds to various body parts, and Hodgins finds evidence of glue, glitter, and green and blue construction paper. They also find fragments of Katherine's beaded necklace on Molly's body. Hodgins runs parts of Molly's clothing through the mass spec and finds traces of wall-climbing ivy, which apparently is only found at Pemberley. White paint chips match the kind used in the trellises at the school, meaning Molly climbed out on her own. Brennan notices that Molly owned all of her forensic books and articles and starts to identify with the smart, lonely life that Molly led. The FBI techs find a bunch of stuff in the creek and send it to the Jeffersonian. Hodgins finds a pair of scissors that are the match for the murder weapon, and through chemical magic, finds they are labeled Cayla. Daisy notices a puncture wound at the lateral femoral neck, and Brennan sends it to Hodgins to magically swab for something. 

    Aubrey brings Tyler in for questioning again after Angela finds that a nude photo of Molly was leaked onto the internet, with her phone number, a few days before her death. Tyler took the photo and uploaded it, but he denies having killed Molly. She posed for him, he insists, to get benzos. Booth and Brennan go back to Pemberley to question the girls again. Their alibis destroyed, they all admit to drinking on the night Molly died; but they were drinking with Molly. Something about their story doesn't add up; namely that they all blacked out after a relatively small amount of vodka.

    When Hodgins comes back with results from the puncture wound swab, all the pieces fall into place for Brennan.  Molly got the benzos to put into the girls' drinks, and she took a little bit of evidence from each to frame them for her death.  She snuck out of her room, went to the creek, injected herself with lidocaine she got from her parents' dental practice, and stabbed herself repeatedly. [Here my DVR did some beepboopwonky things, so I missed a minute or two, but it seems the girls were let off the hook and Molly's parents were told some amount of information. The end.]

    • Forensics
      • Demographics - Terrible prop teeth aside, dental eruption is generally a good way of narrowing down age-at-death for subadults.  But the third molars erupt at a really varied range of times, so Brennan would do better to use epiphyseal closure (since she did xrays anyway) and could probably get a two-year range. They didn't estimate sex because... the clothes? The victim was 16, so normal methods of estimating sex are likely to work.  And they didn't do any other demographics like ancestry because... Angela's magic machine can figure out skin and hair color now?
      • I always have complaints for the prop department, but this week they didn't even try to make the victim's skeleton appear to be that of an adolescent. And not just the weird teeth. Put in some unfused or partially fused epiphyses next time, please.  Or at least don't show a close-up of the femoral head when that doesn't fuse until like 18.
      • Remodeled microfractures from 7 to 10 years ago?  In a growing kid?  Mmmm, no.  I don't buy that evidence of microfractures could linger anywhere near that long.

      • Plot
        • Molly's parents were orthodontists.  She has braces.  Clearly she has antemortem dental xrays.  Comparing those with post-mortem xrays can yield a positive ID.  Doing a facial reconstruction cannot.
        • I'm not in any way a legal expert, but can Booth and Aubrey question a bunch of 16-year-old girls without their parents and/or a lawyer present?  I doubt the headmistress is in a position to properly counsel them during FBI questioning.
        • If Molly killed herself creekside, where did the blood in the girl's car come from?
        • And Brennan mentions the torn tendons that indicate a struggle with more than one person attacking Molly. A bit later, she mentions Molly's arm was violently twisted behind her.  How are these things explained away with the finding that Molly killed herself?
        • Brennan makes Angela and Hodgins both come in in the middle of the night?  Don't they have, you know, a kid to take care of or something?
        • Arrrrgh, why do they write Brennan like a complete moron regarding pregnancy and parenting?  She's a highly trained biological anthropologist.  Maaaaaybe I can buy that she had two birth control mistakes (even though someone with as many control issues as Brennan is not likely to have those).  But she doesn't know how far along in her pregnancy she is?  Because she just ignored the OBGYN on her last, probably 2 visits where they do an ultrasound and check the length to make sure the baby is growing and that you are as far along as you think?  (And yes, at her age, she probably has had 2 ultrasounds at this point.)  I guess I'll just pretend she has PCOS or prenatal depression or something to reconcile all of this.
      • Dialogue
        • "A bellybutton can't touch a heart. That's an implausible instruction." - Brennan (...which I highlight because when I was pregnant the first time, I went to prenatal yoga. In the second class, the instructor told us to "breathe into your heart space."  I didn't return because... come on, really?)
      Forensic Mystery - C-.  I thought this plot was pretty heavily telegraphed, and that's saying a lot considering this is generally a heavily telegraphed procedural. 

      Forensic Solution - D+. Come on, no one did sex or ancestry? No dental xrays, but a facial ID to confirm? Remodeled microfractures? And swabbing for fingerprints, particulates, and lidocaine after the body had been in the water/cleaned/etc.?  Nopenopenope.

      Drama - C-. Increasingly disliking the Brennan character for all the dumb pregnancy stuff.  Still not liking Daisy either.

      May 7, 2015

      Third Forbes post - London Crossrail dig hits beheaded Romans

      Yesterday, the Crossrail Facebook page posted a video interview with lead archaeologist Jay Carver, who gives a little tour of the current finds at the Liverpool station. (If you've been living under a rock or just don't really follow British news, the Crossrail is a new London train line expected to be in service in 2018. Excavations are producing more archaeological material in a year than Britain has seen in decades, so it's fascinating following all the announcements coming out.)

      These Roman finds include a cooking pot filled with cremains, a row of skulls peeking out of the dirt, and a burial with the head placed between the shins. It's hard not to see these as some form of punishment, and the idea that these may be Boudicca's rebels from her 60 AD uprising against the Romans meant it was too good a story for me to pass up.

      Click over to Forbes to read "London Crossrail dig hits beheaded Romans."

      May 6, 2015

      Bones - Season 10, Episode 16 (Review)

      The Big Beef at the Royal Diner
      Episode Summary
      A woman who scales a wall at an exercise boot camp falls over, onto a decaying body. Based on the narrow pelvic inlet and flat profile of the skull, Brennan identifies him as a Caucasian male. Separating peri- and post-mortem injuries may be difficult, since the woman fell directly onto the body, and the body was also doused in a variety of acids and bases, speeding decomp.

      At the Jeffersonian, the team finds fractures to the man's ribs, clavicles, and T6-9 vertebrae. His clothes are covered in food stains. Saroyan finds evidence of extra organs: kidney and pancreas. Coupled with evidence of diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) on the spine, Saroyan concludes that the man suffered from diabetes and had had organ transplants as a result. They figure out that the victim is Chili Reuben, a food show host who was in D.C. filming a new episode of his TV show the week prior. His clothes are covered in food remains, there is both alcohol and marijuana in his blood, and he had hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating. 

      Booth and Brennan head to a hotel to talk to Chili's producer, WoodySid, who is inexplicably doing yoga on a bed as he talks to them. The FBI techs found Chili's car keys, but not his car, and his signature chili pepper earring was also missing. Chili was reviewing diners in the episode he was filming and had given good reviews to all but the Royal Diner, one of Booth and Brennan's favorite restaurants. They talk to Frankie, the proprietor of the diner, who insists that Chili wanted $3,000 to give his diner a good review.  Aubrey and Booth then do some digging and find out that Chili was broke. They also find his earring at a pawn shop, and it was hawked by Kenneth Morton, one of the people who worked on Chili's show. Morton claims that Chili gave him his earring and told him to pawn it for crank.  Morton instead pawned it and used the money to go see his ill mother in Philly. 

      Meanwhile, the Jeffersonian team scours the body looking for cause and manner of death. Fractures on the temporal and parietal were caused by blunt force trauma from a single point of impact. Additional fractures run along a diagonal line from sternal ribs 3-8 on the left side. Based on the curvature of the indentations, Brennan thinks the murder weapon was cylindrical, like a gold club, pool cue, or sound boom. Abrasions on the right metacarpals and the second, third, and fourth proximal phalanges suggest a struggle, and a hairline fracture of the glenoid fossa of the right scapula that extends to the olecranon of the ulna is about three weeks old. Chili had gotten into a couple recent fights. 

      The FBI questions Morton again, who said that Chili got into a fight with a bouncer at a bar, then took his keys and drove away. They find his car, the Spice Mobile, and use its GPS to figure out where Chili traveled over the course of the previous week. Turns out, he was dining with reality show producers, which makes Booth want to question WoodySid the producer again. WoodySid explains that he tried to take Chili to rehab, and he jumped out of a moving car, necessitating attention to his shoulder injury in Memphis. The team swabbing the Spice Mobile finds blood that someone tried to clean up, but it ends up being animal blood, as well as perfume from Joanne, a waitress at the Royal Diner.  The Jeffersonian team also finds a crushing injury to the occipital that was hidden under Chili's hair plugs. Joanne admits to the affair, but says it was consensual and she last saw him take off in his van.

      Finally, there is a break in the case. A small amount of hemorrhagic staining on the tympanomastoid area suggests Chili may have drowned. Although his lung tissue is too degraded to confirm, the team realizes that the crescent-shaped bruise on the occipital is the same shape as a sink faucet. Apparently his lung tissue is not too damaged to find particulates of aloe vera, soap, and epithelial cells. The FBI questions Morton once more, assuming that he killed Chili because his mother was dying without an organ transplant and Chili was destroying his transplanted organs.  Rather, Chili showed up to Morton's hotel room, drunk and belligerent, and Morton snapped. Chili slipped on the floor, hit his head, but kept attacking Morton, who eventually just held Chili's head underwater until he died.

      • Forensics
        • Demographics: I'll buy the narrow pelvic inlet, but flat skull profile?  Meaning... lack of prognathism? Or vertical cheekbones?  Not sure where they got ancestry/race from.
        • Brennan distinctly said "hypotosis" when talking about the DISH on the spine; I wrote it down to look it up and see if there was an additional disease I wasn't aware of.  Nope, she meant "hyperostosis." 
        • Lung tissue was too degraded to tell if Chili drowned, but good enough to find freaking epithelial cells from someone else in them?  Sure.
      • Plot
        • Brennan's weird pronunciation comes up again in this episode, with ischium pronounced as IS-kee-um (technically correct, but most people say ISH-ee-um in English) and pisiform as PIE-si-form (rather than PIH-si-form, which is more common). Then there was Brennan's pronunciation of talus as TAY-lus, which is notable because it was supposed to rhyme with Dallas (whereas the anglicized pronunciation common in osteology, TAH-lus, does).
        • I'm pretty sure that if I invented something on my own time, I'd owe UWF some cut of that, because that's pretty standard in academic/research settings.  What I'm saying is, I doubt the Hodgins invention thing is as cut and dried as he suggests.  
      • Dialogue
        • The plot about making up a bone song for Christine is pretty lame.  Honestly, the Hannah Montana song is way catchier.
        • "Look, mommy, I'm eating the sacrum!" "Technically, it's the ischium." - Christine and Brennan
        • "There's no such thing as a chest bone. The chest is comprised of the hyoid, clavicle, sternum, and ribs."  - Brennan (Hyoid? That's not part of the chest...)
        • "Pancreata is also acceptable (as the plural of pancreas)." - Jessica
        • "From the incus to the coccyx, the stapes to the talus, you better watch your ethmoid and vomer when you’re driving top-down in Dallas.” - Clark (I'm not sure what the sense of this is supposed to be; especially since Brennan didn't even rhyme talus with Dallas)
        • "The trapezoid, radius, scapula, lunate, hamate, the bones in the arm they run the full gamut.” (Gamut and hamate?  No.)
        • "The tibia, fibula, femur and patella. If the shoe fits your metatarsals then you might be Cinderella… so, get off your sacrum, get off your coccyx, wave your triquetrum and capitate in the air…. Shake your cuneiform and navicular like you just don’t care…” - Brennan and Christine (who shakes their ankle like they don't care?)
        • "Wait, it’s so confusing; these bones are so numerous. I hope it shows a funny bone because it’s so humerus.” - Booth
        • Joanne mentions a potential "partial distruption of his posterior sacroiliac complex," which is notable only because it reminds me of Catullus 11 "omnium ilia rumpens."
        • "He doesn't know his coccyx from his cubitus." - Actually a rather nice way of saying "He doesn't know his ass from his elbow." Good work on that one, Bones writers.
      Forensic Mystery - B-. Lots of people had it out for Chili, but they narrowed on the killer very quickly.

      Forensic Solution - B+. Weird pronunciation aside, not a bad episode forensically.

      Drama - C-.  There was some Viziri stuff. But lots of guest stars, which was fun to see.

      Human Origins Capstone Projects

      This semester in my upper-level Human Origins class, I assigned a capstone project rather than a research paper.  I chose to do this for a number of reasons: first, the students had to complete weekly lab write-ups already; second, writing about the evolution of hominins is difficult when new evidence is constantly coming out and much of it requires a deeper understanding of genetics than my students (or I) have; and third, I like to infuse my classes with components of outreach, presentation, and experiential learning.

      For this assignment, worth 25% of their overall course grade, the students were asked to find a creative way to communicate information about human evolution to an audience of their choice.  I offered suggestions for ways to do this and suggested possible audiences as well (e.g., kids at a certain grade level). Students had to meet with me for 15 minutes mid-semester to discuss their project and to make sure we were all on the same page about the requirements, as students working in groups had slightly different requirements than students working alone.

      I got some truly awesome projects from them last week, such as board games, hominin cookbooks (mmmm, recipe for "chyme chowder"), and interactive kids' books:

      Other students created videos of a hominin cooking show (starring expert chef Neal Andertal) and a flint knapping demonstration, while others created a cave-art Instructable for kids and a Good Housekeeping-style magazine detailing the hot new places to live (the Americas) and celebrities: then and now (skull casts and reconstructions of Lucy, Nariokotome Boy, etc.).

      This project made for far more interesting grading, of course, than a traditional research paper, and based on students' in-class presentations and course evaluations, they really liked the educational-project component and mentioned how much they learned while making things.

      If you want to try it out with your students, here are the basic instructions I gave mine:

      Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival LXXI

      I'm a bit slow with posting here at PbO because of end-of-the-semester grading, a new blog at Forbes, and a massive head cold.  But there were numerous Roman-era skeletal remains found in April (with, oddly, very few photos of the same), so let's get to it:

      Roman Empire
      Roman-era horse burial
      (photo: Cambridge News)
      • 30 March - Intact horse's skeleton found at Roman site (  The horse skeleton, found during construction at Cambridge, is complete, and reveals a broken leg that had started to heal at the time of the horse's death.  Archaeologists are currently assuming it's Roman-era in date because of its proximity to a Roman settlement found over a decade ago.
      • 11 April - Nuova scoperta archeologia a Olbia ( A 2nd century BC tomb was found in the northeastern Sardinian city of Olbia when a pothole opened up. There's a video at the link (in Italian, of course) but it's really boring.  The archaeologist simply talks about body positioning in death, as far as I can tell.
      • 17 April - Man with metal detector finds Roman-era grave (Discovery News). Based on the abundance of grave goods, this was an elite burial dating to around 200 AD. It seems neither the metal detectorist nor the archaeologist knew they were coming upon a burial until they found the cremation urn. 
      • 26 April - Cremated human bones in pot found in Crossrail dig suggest gruesome ritual (Guardian). The Crossrail dig has found a ton of skeletons, both human and animal, and original interpretations involved the washing out of a Roman cemetery upriver.  This new find of a cooking pot filled with human remains, though, suggests a reinterpretation of the skulls and the pot as something more sinister. Is it Boudicca's army?  Could be.... can't wait to hear more about this fascinating find as bioarchaeologists continue to study the remains.

      Italy and Rome
      • 15 April - Julius Caesar may have suffered mini strokes, study finds ( It's long been hypothesized that Caesar suffered from epilepsy, but doctors at Imperial College London recently reexamined the historical literature and think that his symptoms fit better with a series of mini strokes caused by cardiovascular disease. (If only we had the bodies of elite/famous ancient Romans, we could do a bunch of very cool bioarchaeological analyses!)
      Excavation of a cemetery at Lovere
      (photo: Bergamo Sera)
      • 22 April - Lovere: 97 tombe nella necropoli romana (BergamoSera). Although the Roman graves in Lovere (a town in northern, Alpine Italy) have been known for centuries, they were only recently excavated. A total of 60 burials and 37 cremations were found, although archaeologists suspect that there are more than 100 burials left to uncover. Almost all of the graves have artifacts, which is interesting and likely means they are not lower-class burials.  Excavation is expected to be completed at the end of May.
      Publications and Exhibitions
      • Necropolis Santa Rosa (Rome, Vatican City) - The French Academy at Rome has started putting out open access publications on necropoleis from Italy.  This one covers urns from a small mausoleum in Vatican City and was written by Henri Duday. (In French, of course.)
      • The Roman Necropolis at Porta Nocera at Pompeii - And this one deals with a small funerary area at the Porta Nocera necropolis, written by William van Andriga and colleagues. It's nice to see some open access publications on these cemeteries.
      Other Blogs

      Second post up at Forbes - Star Wars Archaeology

      For "May the 4th"/Star Wars day, I posted over at Forbes a list of my favorite stories about the archaeology of the movie sets: Star Wars Archaeology.  Do go check it out!

      And in exclusive news for PbO readers, later this week I'll be writing a piece on cavities and tooth extractions in Romans, and over the rest of the month, I plan to tackle Roman baths, Medieval obesity, and tattooing bone.

      Please subscribe to me at Forbes if you haven't already!  Just click "Follow" under my picture.

      May 1, 2015

      First post up at Forbes - You're a bioarchaeologist? What is that?

      I put up an introductory post on my new Forbes blog: "You're a bioarchaeologist? What is that?"  It's a very brief introduction to me and what I plan to do with my blogging at Forbes.

      So do go check it out, and feel free to follow/subscribe to me there as well!  More interesting stuff to come starting next week!

      (Oh, and the Bones review will be out... when I'm done grading, I guess.)

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