August 31, 2015

This fortnight at Forbes: Portuguese Inquisition, Linear B, death by parasite, Roman mass grave, and the life of Mr. Palmyra

In the last couple of weeks, I've written the following over at my blog at Forbes:

Do go and check them out if you haven't already!  And, as always, I welcome comments and constructive criticism, so feel free to post that on the Forbes pieces.

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival LXXIV

Welp, seems like summer vacation, plus Forbes blogging, plus the beginning of the fall academic semester collided and made it impossible for me to stick to a monthly Roman bioarch blogging schedule.  So here's the carnival of links for July and August... (And if you want news faster, these all come through the feed at my Facebook page for Powered by Osteons.)

  • 26 August - Pompei, Scoperta Rara Sepoltura Infantile ( A baby tomb was found at the necropolis of Porta Nola in Pompeii.  I haven't followed up to see if there's news coverage of their press conference in English or not.  Here's a blog post on the discoveries this season at Porta Nola.
  • 15 July - Not All Strange Burials are Vampires or Zombies (Forbes). A recent article in PLOS summarizes the "irregular" burials in Britain and continental Europe from about the 1st-5th centuries AD (so, really, in the Roman Empire). 
Greece and Macedonia
Philip II's knee... or is it? (From Bartsiokas et al. paper.)


  • 26 August - Unusual Use of Blue Pigment Found in Ancient Mummy Portraits (Science Daily). Egyptian mummy portraits, which date to the Roman period, are truly fascinating, and this discovery is great.  I would like to someday be known by a moniker similar to that of the lead researcher, who is an "expert on the color blue."


Parthian necropolis found in Iran. (From Iran Front Page)

August 28, 2015

Those Halloween marshmallow-pretzel "bone" treats...

I got sent this image at least half a dozen times this week...

So, fine, I made them last night for a bioanth grad student get-together at my house.  All I can say is...

August 25, 2015

Teaching a Graduate "Un-Seminar" in Biological Anthropology

This semester, I am leading our core graduate seminar in biological anthropology, which I'm calling Theory and Practice in Biological Anthropology.  In truth, though, there will be hardly any theory, and it will be heavy on the practice part.

I've designed it as an un-seminar course.  Or, perhaps more accurately, as a working group.  Part of this is because I loathed seminar courses as a PhD student.  We all read the same hoary texts (that most of us had read as undergrad or MA students) and tried to out-profound one another with thoughts on the anthropological canon.  Just typing that sentence gave me flashbacks.

The other, bigger reason that I am teaching an un-seminar is because the skills that go into being good at seminar discussions are not the same skills that I use on a regular basis as a professional anthropologist.  I don't sequester myself and think big thoughts about the great anthropologists of generations past. In both my research and my outreach, I work collaboratively on timely topics, and I seek out questions to answer.  I want students to acquire skills in critical researching, reading, and thinking, and I want them to practice those in the collaborative environment of the classroom.

So I flipped the typical seminar assignment: rather than assigning reading each week and tasking students with coming up with questions for discussion, I came up with what I think are interesting, somewhat open-ended questions for each topic, and students have to come up with readings and answers.  For example: "If we cloned a Neandertal, brought it back to life, and ate it, would we be arrested for cannibalism?"

This means that there are literally no required readings.  They are, of course, not exempt from reading.  They need to do enough to answer the questions fully, informed by appropriate sources.  So our second week of class will deal with finding appropriate sources, with understanding how biological anthropological knowledge is created and disseminated, and with contributing our source material to a collaborative bibliography through a Zotero group. By showing the behind-the-scenes research we do to come up with answers to questions, I am hoping that the general public (or whoever wants to check out the bibliography) will see that it often takes both breadth of sources and depth in order to fully consider a question.

As I type, I have given each student a question (such as "What language did Neandertals speak?") and 30 minutes to come up with a 150-word answer. They will then pair up and answer another question collaboratively.  I didn't warn them about this; I just threw them into the deep end.

We'll see how the un-seminar goes this semester.  Here's hoping none of us sinks.

The syllabus is below as images (click to em-biggen), but you can also click through here to a PDF of it.

August 21, 2015

BioAnth #TBT - Intro to Biological Anthropology Syllabus from 1990

I got all new cabinets and furniture for my osteology teaching classroom this semester, and in helping me go through the room to dump old stuff, my grad students found a syllabus for ANT3511 - Physical Anthropology here at UWF in 1990.  The course has now been renumbered to standardize it with the state's system, as ANT2511, and the content has definitely changed even if the structure of the syllabus is pretty similar to mine...

My favorite part of page 1 of the syllabus is the hand-written note at the bottom to "Read Genesis 1-20."  Also, the fact that it's been mimeographed (there were still some mimeographed handouts floating around when I was in high school, but I haven't seen them since) and that there are so many typos.

Favorite part of page 2?  The suggestion to read Carleton Coon is... disappointing.  But perhaps this professor felt it was a useful text to deconstruct or repudiate here in the Deep South, especially he himself is non-white?

I couldn't find too much information about Professor Lee, other than that his son is a doctor who married a woman of such parentage that it got into the NY Times wedding section.  Guess I'll have to ask around and see what folks know about him.  Google scholar only gave me a bit of info on his archaeological background.

August 13, 2015

This fortnight at Forbes: Icelandic and Viking families, sacrificed babies at Teotihuacan, and DNA from the 'Chinese Pompeii'

Just four posts from me over the last two weeks, as I was on vacation in Iceland and am now gearing up for classes to start.  Syllabi don't write themselves!

Before the links, though, I wanted to mention a couple things:

  • I'm up to 50 posts at Forbes, which means over the course of the summer, I wrote nearly 50,000 words and got over 1 million pageviews.  Add to that the three articles I submitted to journals, and it was a very productive summer!  Posts will slow as I return to full-time teaching, but you can expect around 6-8 posts a month.  I'll do these wrap-ups every two weeks now.
  • I would like to encourage you all to start commenting on these posts at Forbes.  (This requires you to sign up for a free account.)  I'd kind of assumed, since people comment here at Powered by Osteons on many posts, that I would see that sort of engagement happen at Forbes.  But I haven't.  So when a colleague started a dialogue on Facebook about a complaint he had on my coverage of the "Chinese Pompeii" post, I encouraged him to bring it over to Forbes to start an open discussion there (and he did). I see that my posts get comments on Facebook groups like PastHorizons and The Archaeological Conservancy, and those threads are often quite interesting.  It'd be great if more people would be willing to have these back-and-forth engagements at Forbes where, so far, there aren't any comment-trolls. Bringing scholarly and even interested-amateur discussion into a fully public forum would demonstrate how the production of knowledge works in science.  Anyway, please consider commenting, posting info from a related article, etc. at Forbes.
Without further ado, here are your fortnightly links...
  • Archaeologists find Viking families among skeletons in northern Iceland. I wrote these two Iceland posts since I was vacationing there and got interested in their bioarchaeology.  So I got in touch with Hildur Gestsdóttir about her excavation of a family farmstead in northeastern Iceland.  She had a fascinating take on the bioarchaeology of the family, which this post touches on.
  • DNA reveals that it was not the mother protecting this child in the 'Asian Pompeii'.  This site is kind of old news, so I was surprised when a bunch of photos started circulating. And then the Daily Mail started calling it "mum-and-son" and I knew I had to see if there was DNA data telling the child's sex.  From there, I found a 2007 paper on the DNA of all the skeletons from this mudslide-covered-site and noticed that one of the woman-child pairs did not share a biological connection.  I wrote this up but, as you can see from the comments, one of my colleagues took issue with my claim that these were not mother-child.  He rightly points out that we simply don't know that; they may not be biologically related, but neither are adopted parents-children.  That doesn't mean they're not mother-child.  Anyway, his comment is great because it shows that, even when I can add a new dimension to a mass media news story, I don't always add all possible dimensions.  More anthropologists should start commenting, to give readers a fuller picture.
Next week... no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

August 6, 2015

10 Photos Taken in 2 Icelandic Cemeteries by My 6-Year-Old

We're just back from a family vacation in Iceland (yes, it was amazing; yes, you should visit if you ever have the opportunity) and I thought I'd share some photos of the two cemeteries we visited.  Instead of sharing my pictures, though, here are the shots my 6-year-old daughter took.  She's getting good at taking photos and seems to have a real eye for cemetery photography in particular.

Cemetery at the Keldur farm, Rangárvellir, south-west Iceland:

I really like this one because the flowers cover all the identifying
information about this person.  The -dottir part simply means "daughter of."

The turf house can be glimpsed in the background here.

And my family and I can be glimpsed in the background here.

Off to the left, the cemetery, which is on a hill,
gives way to a sloping field full of cows.

The Icelandic at the top seems to mean something like
"memory lives." I like the composition of this shot.

Hólavallagarður cemetery in Reykjavik, which has been named one of Europe's loveliest cemeteries:

It looks like one of those pictures that has been desaturated
save for one highlight color. But this is what it actually looked like. I love it. 
Weeds poking up through two headstones.

Here again, the contrast between the white stones
and the bright flowers is common in this cemetery.

A little bird on a headstone.

A red-orange flower growing in weeds around a headstone.
While a lot of her pictures are still blurry or poorly composed (especially her photos of people), she's getting a lot better at photography and frequently steals her dad's camera to give us an idea of what she finds interesting.  And I like seeing the slight perspective shift in photos taken by a 4-foot-tall kid.

For another fun example of "hobbit-height views" of a cemetery, see Howard Williams' blog post at ArchaeoDeath about letting his son loose in a cemetery with a camera.

(All photos in this post carry a CC-BY-SA NC license.  Feel free to use them for non-commercial purposes with full credit.)

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