April 29, 2015

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 25)

Welp, looks like Florida Man found a creepy faux-historical Nic-Cage-worthy diorama in his grandparents' attic: a skeletonized hand(?) with a ring and some fake coins wired together, complete with an old-timey map.  He brought it to a local historical society, and doesn't seem like any osteologists or, heck, medical doctors or x-ray techs have examined it.  Because the easiest way to tell if it's a human hand is to look at the joint at the base of the thumb.  Opposability, y'all!

I tried my best to stop the video and look more closely at the "hand" but failed.  From what I can see from the pics at the link below, the carpal area looks... weird.  The distal portions of the metacarpals look... weird.  More animal-like than human-like.

And why is the ring on the metacarpal?  So many questions.

Here's a picture, but there are more at this link.  What do you all think?  Clearly, this guy needs an osteologist.  Maybe someone down there at USF wants to reach out to him and offer to look at it?  Heck, if he wants to bring it up here, I'd be happy to check it out and run it through our xray machine.

But I just have to say... of *course* Tampa.

(Also, h/t to Carlina de la Cova for this link.)

Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

April 28, 2015

Some really, Really BIG news from Powered by Osteons!

Those who know me in person know just how very, very bad I am at keeping secrets of the awesome-news variety.  So it's particularly surprising that I have kept these announcements under wraps for as long as I have. But now that the contracts are all signed...

First up -- I'm blogging for Forbes!
  • What does this mean for PbO?  Well, I still plan to put serial posts here, like Bones reviews, the Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival, and Who needs an osteologist?  The Forbes platform, though, will let me expand considerably on those RBC items, on archaeological topics in the news, and other things I find interesting.  I also plan to use PbO to continue to write about my teaching successes (and perhaps even failures) and other academic stuff.  I'll certainly post links to the Forbes stuff here, though.
  • The take-away for readers: Please come visit me at Forbes, and not just because I get a monetary cut of the traffic generated by the posts (woo!), but because you all consistently have awesome comments and someone will need to help me fend off the inevitable trolls!
  • The take-away for fellow researchers:  Do you have interesting research I can highlight?  Please get in touch -- send an article, a figure, a photo, and a blurb about why your stuff is awesome.  I'll be blogging about archaeology, bioarch, and classics, so if your work fits into those categories, do let me know!
And second -- I'm writing a pop-sci book on Roman bioarchaeology!
  • Ever wished that you could read slightly longer PbO posts on dead trees rather than online?  Well, you're in luck, because I have a contract with Johns Hopkins University Press to write a book that is a series of case studies about what skeletons can tell us about the ancient Romans.  The title is tentatively These Old Roman Bones - What Bioarchaeology Tells Us about Life in the Roman Empire.
  • What does this mean for PbO?  Well, as above, the old favorites will still be posted here.  Short, timely news items will be posted at Forbes.  Anything that doesn't fit into Forbes or the book will go here.  Basically, tangential but cool things I learn as I do research for the book will almost certainly become blog posts.
  • The take-away: Please buy my book when it comes out.  It'll be like a cross between As the Romans Did and Dead Men Do Tell Tales with case-study-type chapters like "Monsters, Dwarfs, and Eunuchs." If you want to score a copy of the book for free, I plan to have a few give-aways once I get my copies from the publisher... in, like, the fall of 2016.  (No one said writing a book was a fast process!)
I've been blogging for the public about bioarchaeology and the ancient Romans since 2011, and I'm thrilled that I get to expand my audience through the forthcoming book and through the Forbes blog.  This sort of pop-sci writing is the kind I've always wanted to do, and now I will actually get paid to do it! 

All you readers have been instrumental in the success of my blogging, and I appreciate immensely that your support and readership has gotten me to this amazing place.  I now invite you to come along with me for this new chapter in bioarchaeological outreach!

April 27, 2015

Bones - Season 10, Episode 15 (Review)

The Eye in the Sky
Episode Summary
Let's just get this out of the way right here: on this Very Special Episode of Bones, Booth and Brennan find out they're going to have another baby, and Booth relapses and starts gambling again.  There.  The rest of the episode summary can commence (and will be really short because those two terrible dramatic points take up a sizable chunk of the episode).

A body is found in an industrial shredder.  Due to her not-yet-disclosed pregnancy, Brennan does not go to the scene and sends intern Jessica Wick instead.  Jessica estimates based on the head of the femur and the auricular surface of the ilium that the victim was a white male in his 30s.  No sign of blow flies suggests to Hodgins that the man has been dead less than 24 hours.  The team recovers pieces of the victim's cell phone.  Saroyan notices a yellow discoloration to his flesh that suggests he was dead before he was shredded.  They also find the victim's facial tissue and skull in pieces.

Angela takes the reconstructed (off-screen) skull and fills in the missing pieces with clay.  Saroyan stitches together the facial tissue and lays it on the skull so that Angela can do a reconstruction. But since the victim was recently deceased, no one has yet reported him missing.  Jessica and Brennan notice somehow that he worked with his hands, and there are Schmorl's nodes on his vertebrae.  Together, these suggest the victim lifted and/or carried heavy objects.  Cardboard pieces in or on his arms(?) may mean he worked for a moving company.  Angela gets 12 matches in a database and narrows that down to Jeff Dover, who worked for Oz Storage and Moving.

Aubrey talks to the manager at the moving company, and she says Dover had a recent argument with Dustin West, a fellow employee. Angela finds on Dover's cell phone that he had loads of online poker apps. West admits that he and Dover were arguing over money; West lent him $10,000 to play in a high-stakes game.  Dover won $28,000, though, and told West this right before Dover died. Booth contacts his former bookie to get in on the game, so he can figure out if one of the card sharks killed Dover. 

The Jeffersonian team finds a bunch of stuff on Dover's skeleton while looking for cause of death.  Multiple healed pelvic fractures and oblique fractures of the femur were from a car accident two years prior that killed his wife and child. A perimortem depression fracture on the right temporal resulting from a blow with a cylindrical weapon does not seem to have killed him. His left forearm tissue has abrasions, possibly defensive wounds, and are covered with an oily substance. A swab of the substance comes back as palm oil used in cooking.  Grooved perimortem abrasions to the right scapula and humerus don't match the teeth of the shredder.  Hodgins checks for particulates and finds ingredients common in Thai food.  The team suspects Dover was cut by an aluminum trash can outside a Thai restaurant.  After narrowing the search to places near the card game, the team looks for more evidence at the murder scene. They find pieces of muscle and cartilage from the throat, and the splinters in the tissue are not bone but wood. It seems someone jammed something in the victim's neck and pulled out part of his throat. More wood splinters are found on the hyoid, and Hodgins finds out it is maple wood.  He also finds pine tar in the victim's remains, meaning it was a baseball bat that killed Dover.

Meanwhile, Booth infiltrates the card game and finds out that there is an "eye in the sky" - a camera recording the proceedings.  He realizes there might be footage of the night of Dover's death, so he asks Angela to hack in.  She does by... pairing his phone magically with the security system by his being within a few feet of it?  She gets footage, but it doesn't really tell her much.  Aubrey and Angela look into all the card sharks' financial information (at least what is available online) and their general lives.  Nate Crowe ("Mid Life") is their best suspect, since he was having major money issues.  He also happens to be a Little League coach, and there is a photo of him online, smiling, holding a baseball bat.  Saroyan manages to get epithelial cells from the pine tar (in Dover's tissue that's been sitting outside the Thai restaurant for two days?), and they are a match for Crowe.

Oh jeez, also, Hodgins runs with an idea an intern him, invents something magical, and he will now be a millionaire.  Kinda like the time he ran with the idea for hot sauce, and no one's seen that intern since.  The writers are definitely wrapping up some story lines, seemingly in case Bones is not picked up for an 11th season.  Gotta make sure Hodgins gets his billions back, right?

  • Forensics
    • Demographics:  Diameter of the femoral head can give you a general estimate of whether the person is male or female.  Auricular surface is a fine way of figuring out age-at-death, but it's better for older individuals (over 40) and can't give you a 10-year age range.  I don't know how Jessica intuited race/ancestry (I mean, other than the fact that skin remained).
    • If Angela had a nearly complete, reconstructed skull, why couldn't she do her facial search from that?  My guess is because it's way ickier to have Saroyan stitch a face back together...
    • I'm not sure how they figure out the victim "worked with his hands" (usually they mention muscle markers or something), nor how they got cardboard from his arms when he was in an industrial shredder (and wasn't carrying cardboard... from his clothing?).
    • How did the victim have severe fracturing of his pelvis and femora from a car accident and not have pins and/or plates in his body (whose serial numbers could be easily traced)?
    • I didn't understand the mechanism of the murder.  Did Mid Life shove the narrow end of the baseball bat... down Dover's throat?  Or just bash him in the neck (but then the hyoid would be broken)?  But he also hit him in the side of the head?  
  • Plot
    • My beginning osteology students know what Schmorl's nodes are.  There's no way Saroyan -- one of the best forensic pathologists in the country -- doesn't know what they are.
    • In forensic computing... reconstructing a cell phone motherboard?  Really?  And hacking into a security system via a phone that's simply in proximity to... a router?  Really?
    • The team finds tiny bits of cartilage and muscle at least 48 hours after a murder in a trash-filled alley in summer in Virginia and... Saroyan manages to get DNA from epithelial cells to match someone in a way that would stand up in court?  Mmmm, no.
    • I love how every pregnancy on TV is always unplanned.  Like, how often do you see a woman charting her cycle, figuring out the best days to get pregnant, going off birth control, etc.?  I mean, outside the context of a discussion about infertility?  Maybe I'm weird for planning both my pregnancies, but if I am, I'm weird in a way that Brennan would be weird.  Her first unplanned pregnancy makes sense; this one doesn't really.  (Maybe we'll get another Christian allegory birth, though?)
  • Dialogue
    • Is the @DrBrennan twitter feed still a thing?  I stopped paying attention after it was clear it was just a promo for the show and didn't actually, you know, offer interesting links for viewers to learn more.  (Also, @DrBrennan hasn't retweeted me, so we are now frenemies.)  To fill that gap, here you go - a news story about how researchers employed Schmorl's nodes (among other aspects) to study the evolution of bipedalism and back pain.
Forensic Mystery - C.  It was alright, I guess.

Forensic Solution - C-.  Also ok, but hinged on implausible things like recovery of DNA outside.

Drama - D.  I wasn't really looking forward to the Brennan-pregnancy-reveal episode, but then the writers also threw in Booth-relapses, Hodgins-creates-lucrative-product, and Aubrey-reminisces-about-deadbeat-dad.  Too much plot, not enough case-of-the-week.

April 22, 2015

Bones - Season 10, Episode 14 (Review)

The Putter in the Rough
Episode Summary
A dude tries to kill himself by jumping off a parking garage but stops when he sees a dead body on a grate below.  I guess the parking garage is somehow affiliated with the federal government, because why else would the FBI be called in for this?  Brennan goes to the scene to check out the body; a large part of the frontal bone is missing and the remains have been outside for about a week according to Hodgins.  Brennan mentions the "slanted squamosal of the remaining frontal bone" as indicating the person was male, which makes no sense at all, anatomically or forensically.  The sternal rib ends tell her he was in his mid-30s.  Blood smears on the railing show that someone threw the bleeding body over.

At the Jeffersonian, the team works on removing the bird guano, which is eating away at the bones.  Exposed ligaments at the wrist around the median nerve suggest carpal tunnel, while the exploded front of the skull is the exit wound from a high-powered weapon like a rifle.  Saroyan finds evidence in the liver that the victim took beta blockers, which oddly leads Booth to think this guy was a contract killer, as they use beta blockers to steady their hands in shooting.  The victim doesn't have a cell phone on him, but does have cigarettes, condoms, pencils, and a code book of some sort.

An ID is obtained from the victim's surgical screws. Troy Carter had an unusual fracture of the greater tuberosity of the left humerus whose state of healing suggests it was about a decade ago, and Angela somehow has access to all surgery logs at every area hospital, HIPAA be damned.  Troy's brother Jake, with whom he was in business until recently, reported him missing last week.  Jake reveals that Troy was a professional mini-golfer, hence the carpal tunnel and beta blockers.  He was getting ready for the Mini Master's at Sammy's Tropical Tiki course.  Booth and Brennan go check out Sammy's course and run into a lot of interesting characters including Sammy's wife Lori, the former hand model, father-and-daughter team Eric and Darla Sims, and former pro-golfer Winston Scruggs.  They're pretty much all giant jerks.  Brennan finds traces of blood in the tiki hut as well as small bone chips and brain matter.  She insists it's necessary to bring the entire tiki hut back to the Jeffersonian, because of course that won't disturb the teeny tiny bone fragments in the course of transfer and makes much more sense than bringing in a team of experts for a couple hours to recover what's there.

Back at the Jeffersonian, Wendell finds a small amount of what he assumes to be hemorrhagic staining on the zygomatic, assuming the guano somehow etched it into the bone(??).  Striations on the right clavicle and right 5th sternal rib are postmortem, but he's unsure what they are.  The bone chips are mostly from the shattered face, and the bullet fragments that are found appear to be from the same bullet and are oddly equidistant from each other.  Saroyan found a part of the victim's eyebrow in the hut, and it showed recent sutures that were not done by a doctor.  Remodelled fractures of the right 2nd-4th metacarpals and scaphoid may also have been from the same fight about 10 days prior to his death.  Additionally, Saroyan finds antibodies from Hep B and yellow fever in Troy's blood.  Angela tracks Troy's phone (which I thought they made a big point of saying wasn't found on his body?) and finds out that he was in a relationship with Darla Sims, whose father is a bit of a hot-head.  Eric Sims denies hurting Troy, and Aubrey talks to Darla, who admits to having seen a fight between Troy and someone else.  She gives a description to a sketch artist, and it perfectly matches Troy's brother Jake.  Jake admits to beating Troy up, but not for their failing business but rather his choice to have a relationship with an 18-year-old woman.  

Additional information about manner of death is gleaned from some bones that Hodgins and Wendell have to re-wash to get all the bird guano off.  Wendell notices bullet wounds in the right clavicle, one the right 5th sternal rib, and the right humerus.  Along with the head wound, it means Troy was hit four times, from four different angles.  Booth, though, mentions the possibility that Troy was hit with a multiple-impact bullet that split into three separate projectiles held together by kevlar strands.  The killer shot Troy in his upper right arm and then, after Troy tried to run, shot him in the back of the head.  The striations Wendell found on the clavicle and rib are from the killer's attempt to remove the distinctive bullet.  Aubrey checks records of gun and ammo purchases and finds that Sammy has this new kind of bullet.  He and Booth think Sammy might have killed Troy because Troy was planning to go to South Africa (hence the immunization antibodies in his blood), but Sammy insists Troy was his bestie and they were going to South Africa together.  Wendell gives the supposedly hemorrhagic stain to Hodgins and Saroyan, who find that it is actually red nail polish and that the supposed bone chip in the wound was part of a human nail whose DNA is matched to Lori's.  Booth and Brennan bring Lori in for questioning, and she admits to having killed Troy for taking away the attentions of her husband.

  • Forensics
    • Demographics:  I don't have any idea what Brennan was talking about with the "slanted squamosal."  The frontal bone is made up of a squamous portion (also called the vertical portion) and the horizontal portion (which makes up the top of the eye orbits), so I'm guessing she means a "slanted squama," but that also doesn't make sense in the context of sex assessment.  So I don't know what's up with that.  Age-at-death was estimated using the sternal rib ends, which is fine and dandy.  They didn't do ancestry/race estimation in this episode.
    • It was odd that no one mentioned how Troy got his decade-old humeral fracture.  It seems, though, that greater tuberosity fractures of the humerus are often seen in mountain biking and skiing accidents.  So hey, I learned something new.
    • I dunno how they're cleaning bones in the Jeffersonian, but I don't believe that red nail polish could have survived the defleshing/degreasing efforts.
    • Am I the only one who wishes they'd show the injuries?  I mean, the humeral injury, the remodelled fractures from the recent fight, etc.... what I'm saying is that there was a lot of telling and very little showing in this episode.
    • That FBI forensic artist is shockingly good.
  • Plot
    • Did I miss their recovery of Troy's cell phone?  Or did I just misunderstand some part of the episode and they had it all along?  (I'm too lazy to rewatch it...)
    • There was also no explanation given for how Lori (who is quite petite) could have hauled dead-Troy (who was not, since he is described as looking a lot like his brother) into a car, out of the car, and over a waist-high railing at a parking garage by herself.  And how she shot and killed and dragged and cleaned up Troy at the golf course she lived at with her husband, who was also at home at the time.
    • It's odd that Troy got Hep B and yellow fever vaccines, considering South Africa does not require either of these, nor does the CDC recommend them for most travelers.  Sub-Saharan Africa, maybe, but not Johannesburg.
    • The whole Max subplot was weird.  Like, why pick now to go dig up a dead guy and get Brennan's childhood ring (that the dead guy still had for some odd reason when he was buried in a cemetery?), other than to give Ryan O'Neal and his pop-pop Members Only jacket something to do?
    • And the whole Wendell clock subplot was odd as well.  I honestly thought for at least 3/4 of the episode that he was still dating Michelle, Saroyan's daughter.  But then he called her Andi, and I couldn't for the life of me (meaning: I googled for like 30 seconds) find out who she is or if we've seen her before or why we should even care.  Oh, wait!  Is she his nurse or something?  I swear that was a different actress.
  • Dialogue
    • The only thing I wrote down this week was "slanted squamosal WTF??!1?1?"

Forensic Mystery - C+.  Eh.

Forensic Solution - D. I don't buy most of the forensic stuff they did this episode, from the demographics to the manner and cause of death.

Drama - D-.  Not sure which I cared about least, Wendell's broken clock or Max's stolen ring.  Snore.

April 21, 2015

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 24)

Roberto Cighetti is at it again.  I'm convinced that he just combs through Google's image results for "skeleton" until he finds these. ;-)

This skeleton is (was?) on display at the Archaeological Museum of the Castle of Santo Anton, in A Coruña, Spain, and the caption notes that the skeleton is of a woman age 20-25 with some "negroid" traits from the Roman era in Spain. Sure thing.

I started trying to write puns about "twisting my arm" and "pulling my leg," but I'm simply too tired tonight.  Feel free to comment on anything else that may be wrong!

via Wikimedia Commons
Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

April 16, 2015

Giving 3D Scanning a Porpoise: Faunal Remains from UWF's Collection

This evening at the Society for American Archaeology conference (6-8pm, Grand Ballroom Salon A for all you who are also here!), graduate student Mariana Zechini and I will be presenting a poster on our efforts to scan and print some of the interesting faunal remains in UWF's zooarchaeological collection.  Throughout the last academic year, Mariana has scanned, printed, and painted: sea turtle, porpoise, mallard duck, gopher tortoise, great blue heron, river otter, and gray fox.  These species are relatively common in Pensacola and are skeletons we thought few people would have access to.

Here's our poster, and if you click this link you can get the big version with more readable text:

If you want to follow what we're doing in the Virtebra lab (Virtual Bones and Artifacts), click through to our blog (Virtebra.wordpress.com).  And if you want your very own porpoise or great blue heron, you can find the .stl models at GitHub.com/killgrove/Virtebra-UWF.

April 15, 2015

Triumphs and Tribulations in Teaching (AAPA 2015 Poster Session)

During last month's American Association of Physical Anthropologists conference, I participated in a really interesting poster session on Triumphs and Tribulations in Teaching, organized by Laurie Kauffman and Jessica Westin.  We talked about the possibility of putting all the posters up on the web for wider dissemination following the conference, and I offered my blog as a platform for that.

Following is the abstract for the session, as well as the titles and authors of each poster.  Small pics of the posters can be embiggened by clicking on them; the [Abstract] link takes you to the AAPA online abstracts; clicking on names brings you to authors' professional pages; and clicking on the titles gives you a link to the full PDF in Google Drive.

Enjoy!  (And if you use these ideas in your own teaching, the various authors would surely appreciate a quick note here or via email, as many of us are putting together teaching portfolios for tenure and promotion purposes.)

Triumphs and Tribulations in Teaching

A recent survey of the AAPA membership indicates a substantial number of contingent and teaching-focused faculty. Approximately 14% of AAPA members reported their “current primary position” as either “Temporary Position” or “Permanent Position, Teaching Faculty”. According to the American Association of University Professors, more than 50% of faculty hold part-time positions, and more than 76% hold non-tenure track positions. The Higher Education Research Institute has found that 59.1% of faculty spend more than 9 hours per week preparing for teaching undergraduate courses, while a study of Boise State University faculty found professors spent 40% of their working time on teaching-related activities. These data demonstrate the importance of teaching and non-tenure track faculty in today’s higher education landscape. The idea for this symposium grew out of the inaugural meeting of the Anthropologists outside of Anthropology departments, Contingent, and Teaching-focused faculty (AACT) Task Force, under the umbrella of the Committee on Diversity, which occurred at the 2014 meetings in Calgary. In this symposium, we provide a space for physical anthropologists to share a particular, broadly-defined teaching challenge or success. Additionally, we want to increase opportunities at the annual meetings for physical anthropologists to engage with others regarding their teaching, to share best-practices and solutions to teaching-related problems, and to gain teaching tools to help better serve students in whatever discipline we may teach. Symposium topics include the use of technology in the classroom, active and hands-on learning techniques, teaching through field courses, and overall measures of student success.

1. Correlates of success in science classes. [AbstractJ.L. Westin
2. Examination of primate conservation knowledge amongst college students. [Abstract] J.M. Morris, A. Skrinyer, L. Lease
3. Engaging students through active participation in a community-based conservation initiative. [AbstractC.T. Cloutier, A.R. Halloran
4. Experiential learning via research projects in freshmen biological anthropology courses. [AbstractT.D. Pan, P.A. Kramer
5. Field courses for non-majors. [AbstractL. Kauffman
6. Body and Brain: Anatomy of team-based learning in a preclinical science course. [Abstract] A.B. Taylor, J. Velkey, J. Gwyer, L.E. White
7. Evolve: Gameplay in introductory biological anthropology courses. [AbstractM.C. Pitre, N.M. Burt, H.J. Hunold
8. Making physical anthropology "physical" in the online classroom: Digital collections and virtual experiences. [Abstract] J.D. Cramer
9. Teaching with ePortfolios. [Abstract] M.S. Schaefer, K.J. Lewis
10. Are you ready to rumble?! Sports championship mimicry to educate about adaptations, community ecology, and conservation. [Abstract] C.N. Anderson, K.L. Lewton, J.A. Drew, K. Hinde
11. Twerking, limericks, and 3D printing: Shaking up Human Osteology assignments. [AbstractK. Killgrove, A.N. Acosta
12. Virtually there: Using live-feeding cameras to teach primate behavior. [Abstract] C.A. Cooke, M. Rodrigues
13. Resurrecting lives: a contextualized data analysis and collaboration exercise in a bioarchaeology seminar. [AbstractC. Liu
14. GenBank and the promise of online resources for undergraduate research. [Abstract] A. Kitchen, J. Steinmetz
15. Integrating anthropology and biology: Comparing success rates and learning outcomes across majors when taking Human Evolution. [Abstract] D.A. Hernandez, K.D. O'Neill, B.C. Verrelli, A.L. Rector

April 12, 2015

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 23)

The ever-vigilant Robert Cighetti found yet another skeleton in need of an osteologist:

As near as I can tell from the information at this link (in Italian), a small group of possibly amateur archaeologists (Gruppo Archeologico della Val Nure) organized an exhibition of local artifacts and skeletons from Vigolzone at a museum in Piacenza ("Alle origini di vicus ussoni: storia di un popolamento antico").

The three burials, which are Lombard in date (6th-7th c AD), were found in boxes and re-articulated--poorly, it seems--for the exhibit. Reportedly, there's an exhibition catalogue, but I can only get access to low-quality photos of the exhibition catalogue on the GAVN Facebook page (here's a link to a photo with the three tombs).

I don't see this exact photo anywhere else on the internet (I reverse-google-imaged it).  At the GAVN Facebook page, though, I found this photo of the same skeleton.  The femora are fixed in this one, but the clavicles and scapulae are still wrong.

At any rate, from the clavicles to the scapulae to the femora, this skeleton has some major issues in anatomical placement!

Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

April 9, 2015

Bones - Season 10, Episode 13 (Review)

The Baker in the Bits
Episode Summary
A guy runs away from someone, straight into a blast zone, and is blown up. The remains are taken to the Jeffersonian, where Brennan determines it is one individual because of the lack of duplication of anatomical elements. According to the narrow width of the greater sciatic notch, Vaziri thinks the victim was male. The victim had a tattoo, and after rehydrating it, Angela is able to run it through the National Prisoner Tattoo Database and gets a match: Connor Freeman, who did five years for attempted murder in a robbery-gone-wrong. Antemortem ligature marks on the scaphoid and triquetral mean his hands were bound, likely with zip ties, and striations on the medial malleolus of the tibia mean his ankles were also bound.

Aubrey goes to visit Freeman's address.  The super lets him in, and he runs into Freeman's girlfriend, Sabrina Clevenger. She didn't report him missing because they'd gotten into a fight and she thought he'd left and was afraid to report it because it would get him in trouble with his parole officer.  Sabrina tells Aubrey that Freeman worked at Sunshine Bakery and was trying to turn his life around. Aubrey and Booth go talk to the owner of the bakery, Randy Disher Roger Flender, who is proud of the work he has done to employ ex-cons and help them start new lives. Aubrey and Booth talk to assistant manager Alex Rockwell, but an employee named Salts suggests they talk to Pemberton, whose sister was shot during the robbery Freeman participated in. Pemberton admits to hating Freeman and to stalking him, but with the hopes of catching him in violation of parole, not of killing him. 

Meanwhile, Vaziri finds kerf marks to the clavicles and upper thorax, in the shape of an isoceles triangle. Additional cut marks on the right scapula suggest Freeman was stabbed in a downward motion while restrained - he was stabbed in the back while he ran. Saroyan finds severely depleted levels of ATP in the heart tissue, meaning he was exhausted and had run for about 30 minutes with his adrenaline pumping. She also finds traces of etorphine, an opioid that should have completely knocked out Freeman but clearly didn't because he was a drug addict and had built up a tolerance. The puncture mark at the base of his occipital is likely where the killer tried to inject Freeman. Sabrina admits that Freeman had been doing drugs and that they were having money troubles because of it. The ex-con from the bakery says that Freeman was planning a heist of some sort, of a place where he knew someone on the inside.  Angela and Aubrey check Freeman's debit card records and find that he was using parking meters near a specific check cashing place, casing the joint.  In pulling up an employee list, they find Sabrina's name.  Sabrina admits that Freeman wanted her to leave the back door open so he and another ex-con from the bakery could rob the place, but she refused and they fought, just before his disappearance. 

Hodgins and Vaziri then work together on some particulates found in the mental eminence, patellae, and metacarpals, which contain traces of glass with manganese, which hasn't been common in buildings in over 100 years. Angela uses her magic computer to trace Freeman's route backwards, using the particulate evidence, the anatomical evidence, and maps of the area. They narrow down the building where Freeman was held to Scoville Iron Works.  Booth and Aubrey go check it out and find a work table with blood all over it.  They also find three skeletonized bodies in an incinerator and a clothesline with excised tattoos hanging on it. The different levels of burning and calcination tell Brennan that each person was burned for a different amount of time. The pelvic structure of all victims is male, and all were killed in the same manner: with deep incisions to the anterior C6, indicative of slicing the jugular. Angela plugs something in to the missing persons database and gets hits for two of them: Father Douglas Neighbors and Ted Widmer. The latter was also an inmate at the same prison as the ex-con bakers, but the priest is linked only to Alex Rockwell, the bakery assistant manager. The kerf marks on the four victims are identical, and Brennan and Booth narrow down the murder weapon to a northern Indian ritualistic slaughter knife (kukri) common in Afghanistan, where Rockwell was also stationed. Flenders helps Booth and Aubrey lure Rockwell to a parking lot where Rockwell tries to overpower Flenders, but Booth immobilizes him with one shot to the left arm. 

  • Forensic
    • Demographics: Welp, they only estimated sex this week, and it was from the greater sciatic notch. If you can only pick one thing to base your sex estimate on, I guess the greater sciatic notch is better than most.  They didn't bother to do age-at-death or ancestry, I guess because of the tattoo. [If you haven't yet read this BuzzFeed piece on how Bones gets ancestry/race wrong, please do!]
    • The three bodies in the incinerator are curious. Was it a working incinerator?  If so, the one in there the longest would likely be nearly dust and not, you know, a complete, robust skeleton. And the three skeletons would not be in such nice articulation, especially the first one after body #2 and body #3 were tossed on top of it.
    • Saroyan says she's going to "scrounge up some tissue" from the victims in the incinerator, but... really? They've been burned.
    • The scapulae on that fourth (unidentified) victim are really, really weird.  Hell, all three of those prop skeletons are just odd looking.  A little carelessness in the prop department this week.
  • Plot
    • Was there any reason given for Rockwell's series of murders other than "he snapped"?
    • Was the fourth victim ever ID'ed?
    • Why a priest?
    • There were several tattoos hanging on the line; does this mean there are more bodies somewhere?
    • Wait, so we have a crazy, ritualistic killer who made some sort of weird marks on the skeleton that the Jeffersonian people couldn't figure out, along with a fourth body that hasn't been identified and... this is not a to-be-continued "big bad"?  That's a missed opportunity.
  • Dialogue
    • “I have archaeological training which involves going through the rubbish of many civilizations; I once found a Cro-Magnon bicuspid in petrified feces!” -- Brennan, curiously mispronouncing the French term and using the dentistry term "bicuspid" instead of the anthropological term "premolar". [Also, Vaziri says "patellas" instead of the correct anatomical term "patellae".]
    • “You never know what we’re walking into.” “I always assume bullets.” -- And yet Booth and Aubrey never seem to wear their vests.
  • Clothes
    • Omg, Saroyan's coat in the outdoor coffee scene with Booth.  I can't find it online at the moment, but it was gorgeous.  I love coats.  Unfortunately, I live in Florida and can only wear them for like one week a year.

Forensic Mystery - B.  Better than average.  The plot twist at the end with the extra bodies was a nice touch and unexpected. 

Forensic Solution - B. Also better than average.  While the forensics were ok, it was neat to see how they could work in concert with the fleshy bits, as Saroyan added some key clues to the mystery.

Drama - B-. I got excited when the music swelled and Booth and Aubrey found new bodies.  I thought for sure this heralded a new "big bad."  But no.  So that was a let-down.  Also, sad that Vaziri is leaving 'cause I like that character and actor.

April 7, 2015

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 22)

As Roberto Cighetti helpfully pointed out to me on Twitter, Polish archaeologists working at the site of Kamien Pomorski need an osteologist:

Inside my head: "Oh, alright, it's a so-called vampire burial.  Fine.  But it's weirdly on a platter because they... Waaaaaiiit... Are those humeri and radii all upside down...?"

Out loud: "Oh, FFS.  The humeri are upside down, the right clavicle is wonky, the left scapula is rotated, and don't get me started on the ribs...  But hey, nice metopic suture."

I don't doubt that the burial was in the "revenant" style.  Loads of them have been found from this time period in Eastern Europe.  But I have no idea what the archaeologists thought they were doing here, taking the body out of the dirt, then putting it on some sort of bier without even looking at the pictures I assume they took of the body before excavating it completely.

This is an old story (from about a year ago) that I missed.  The Huffington Post coverage has a video in Russian (?) Polish that seems to be an interview with an archaeologist (who bends down over the skeleton that's clearly not in anatomical position), but I can't find a translation or a good way to run it through Google translate.  So if any of you speak Russian Polish, let me know if the video has any additional info!

Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

April 4, 2015

Bones - Season 10, Episode 12 (Review)

The Teacher in the Books
Episode Summary
Two guys looking for scrap metal in an abandoned bookstore come across a dead body. The FBI is called for some reason, and the Jeffersonian team heads out to examine the body as well. Based on the oval shape of the pelvic inlet, the open cranial sutures, and the projecting nasal bones, Brennan thinks the deceased was a white female in her early 20s. Saroyan notices ripped fingernails to indicate a struggle, and Hodgins puts time-of-death around a week ago based on the size of the web of a brown recluse spider nearby.

At the Jeffersonian, the team starts the defleshing process to examine peri- and post-mortem injuries. Using Angela's new algorithm that matches constellations of freckles and moles of victims with various missing persons databases, a positive ID is found: Mia Ferrara, age 22, reported missing by her boyfriend about a week ago.

Mia was a teacher with the United Teaching Fellows, stationed at a rough school in D.C.  Miss Julian is on the board and exhorts Booth and Aubrey to do everything they can to solve this case. They talk to Mia's boyfriend first.  He is a musician and has plenty of motive to kill Mia: she had a trust fund and their house was in his name too.  Plus, he was sleeping with a bunch of other women at the time, and Mia had found out about it.  Although the FBI cannot confirm the boyfriend's alibi, as the woman he was sleeping with gave him a fake phone number, they move on to other suspects.

When's Emily's pregnancy going to be
written into the show? Soon?
Booth and Aubrey talk to Mia's fellow UTF teacher, Shane Gentry, and the principal, Ann Franklin.  Ann mentions that Mia was particularly attached to one of her students, Marcellus, and that she had had some trouble with him a few weeks prior.  Booth and Aubrey question Marcellus in the presence of his legal guardian, his brother Keith. Marcellus admits that Mia made him feel dumb sometimes, but that she also went out of her way to tutor him. On the day she was killed, he asked her for tutoring, but she told him she would do it the following Monday. Neither Keith nor Marcellus has an alibi, and Keith has some prior weapons and assault charges. Aubrey finds that Mia's Twitter feed mentions something about how wrong she was about someone.

Meanwhile, the Jeffersonian team looks for evidence of injuries. There are avulsion fractures to both humeral heads, along with greenstick and hairline postmortem fractures to the ribs and scapulae, indicating Mia was confined to a small space.  Hodgins finds both plastic and cafeteria food in his swabs, and along with Saroyan's find that there was lividity in Mia's ankles, they suspect she was kept in an upright position for some time after her death. Ethanol may have been used to mask the smell, so her body was in a semi-public place for a while. The mustache-shaped postmortem fractures on the parietal allow Brennan to figure out what happened: Mia was shoved into a locker at the school, placed there until the killer was able to move her. Booth questions the janitor, who has some priors and is living under an assumed name, but the janitor had a good relationship with Mia and insists that anyone could have taken his trash cart. 

The Jeffersonian team then figures out cause-of-death by investigating the sixth cervical vertebra. Fractures to the anterior and posterior sections of the lamina indicate the victim was strangled, low down on her throat, as the hyoid was not broken. While looking for evidence of cause-of-death, intern Jessica finds healing sharp trauma to Mia's right proximal phalanges 2-5.  Brennan scrapes off the woven bone so that they can get a clearer view of the original wound. Angela models it as a cut from a short, serrated knife and Hodgins finds traces of lubricant, meaning the knife may have been a switchblade. Keith's knife tests positive for blood that is not a match for his.  He admits that it is Mia's blood, but insists she confronted him about Marcellus' job.  Keith didn't know Marcellus was working, but Mia assumed Keith was making him work and keeping him from school.  She grabbed the knife and cut herself; she said she would tell people he cut her if he didn't see to it that Marcellus returned to school.  This story fits in, however, with Angela's discovery on Mia's computer of a sort of obsession with her job and with helping her students improve. Keith and Marcellus were together the night Mia was killed, but Keith was stealing food so that they could eat.  Miss Julian vows to help tutor Marcellus and get Keith his GED.

The case comes together when Brennan and Jessica find postmortem fracturing to the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae and to both patellae.  Brennan realizes that the body's being in the locker for several hours would mean it was in rigor mortis when the killer wanted to move it.  The killer had to hit the body to bend it; usually, this is done in just one place, to fit the body in a car trunk.  But someone who didn't have a large enough trunk may have bent the body in two places, to fit in the passenger's seat. Hodgins finds particulates from a high-end eraser with the body, so the team realizes the killer may have been Shane Gentry, Mia's fellow teacher who was also dealing with standardized testing the day she was killed. Booth reasons that Mia caught Shane changing answers, confronted him, and then was killed. His epithelial cells were found in the eraser, and he cleaned up his steering wheel lock with acetone, which unfortunately for him does not mask blood. Shane admits to having killed Mia; he was changing test answers because he didn't want to jeopardize his chance at a job with the Department of Education.

  • Forensic
    • Demographics: Shape of the pelvic inlet is fine for estimating sex (given that it's one of an array of aspects that need to be investigated to figure out sex). Projecting nasal bone is fine for estimating Caucasian (again, given that it's one of an array of aspects that all need to be considered for ancestry).  Cranial suture closure is kind of a crappy method for figuring out age-at-death, though, as it's not terribly precise.  Mia is supposed to be in her early 20s, so a better method would be to bracket her age with third molar eruption and epiphyseal closure of the medial clavicle, iliac crest, and/or the sphenooccipital synchondrosis.  (I really want Bones to mention the sphenooccipital synchondrosis... just once.  Pretty please, writers?)
    • When they lay out the body, the radius is on the wrong side (it should be on the outside of the arm, but they always put it on the inside). We always lay out the body in standard anatomical position.
    • Hyoids are only broken in a low percentage of strangulations, and more often when the person is older.  The hyoid of a 22-year-old might very well not break (heck, it's probably not even fused at that age) during manual strangulation. 
    • Phalange?!?!?!  Argh.  It always, always annoys me when this word pops up in Kathy Reichs' books, and I'm pretty sure I've come across it in one of the pop-fiction Bill Bass books as well.  It's curious, since the singular for the finger/toe bone is phalanx, as confirmed by Human Osteology, Wikipedia, the language of the ancient Greeks, and many other sources.  I just don't get why the back-formation "phalange" creeps into things.  
    • What's a high-end eraser?  And wouldn't Shane's skin cells be on it simply because he used it?  He could have used it for anything.
    • Was it explained why Shane had to stash Mia's body for a while?  If the school was empty enough for him to kill her, wasn't it empty enough for him to move her body?  And if he came back 6 hours later, that would be 10pm. How did he get into the school?
    • Did Saroyan really say "serial killers like Ed Geins"?  I rewound it, and I definitely heard an errant S.
  • Plot
    • Oh, the Twitter plot.  I'm not actually opposed to it, as Brennan is supposed to be a published author, and being on Twitter is not unusual.  But the writing was inconsistent. Brennan first chastises Jessica when she thinks she is going to take a photo with evidence in it; that is, of course, a forensic no-no.  But the other tweets, about how she is solving the case by scraping off woven bone, for example, are also unethical. Brennan further mentions that she didn't take a selfie with a skull because it would jeopardize the case; again, though, her concern also needs to be about the ethics of display of human remains.  We do not, as anthropologists (whether we work with the recently dead or the long dead) take selfies with skulls.  We respect the people whose murders we are trying to solve or whose ancient lives we want to know more about.  Pictures of me hamming around with skeletons?  All plastic.  So I'm hoping that the photo Brennan refers to (of her with a skeleton arm around her) is being taken with a plastic skeleton.  And yes, I realize at this point I'm down the rabbit hole, speculating on the off-screen ethics of a completely fictional character. But there's a point to be made here about ethics because it's not unusual in this country to come across human remains. No selfies with skeletons, people, that's what I'm saying.
    • Also, I was actually disappointed that the tweets @DrBrennan made about articles (like the Miocene hominid one) went to plot teasers and not, well, actual articles.  Damnit, I'm a giant nerd.  I want my fake forensic anthropologists to tell me about real science!
    • Angela tells Jessica to stop helping Brennan with Twitter because it's not a good use of Brennan's time and because she is hyper competitive.  But Brennan is still on Twitter, right?  Is @DrBrennan going to tweet more this season, or was the Twitter account really just a one-off? I wonder how the show got the handle too; I can't imagine no one had taken the handle.  Did they snatch it up when Twitter was created, waiting until now to deploy it?  Did they buy it from someone?  (If so, I wonder how much it went for?)
    • And finally, a fake anthropologist has 16,000 Twitter followers, and I only have 3,200?  No fair. (Follow me, @DrKillgrove, please?)
  • Dialogue
    • “I refuse to pander to the lowest common denominator; particularly one that relies solely on minimal, imbecilic thought.” - Brennan, on her thoughts about Twitter
    • “I hope to gain anthropological insight into online sociological behavior and how it’s destroying interpersonal relationships.” - Brennan, on joining Twitter
    • “You can’t take a photo of evidence; it compromises an ongoing investigation.” – Brennan
    • “Too bad it would jeopardize the case, or I would selfie with a skull.” “It’s a noun, Dr. Brennan, not a verb.”

Forensic Mystery - B. A pretty solid mystery this week, with just the right number of red herrings.

Forensic Solution - B. Heavier on the forensics than many episodes, and most of it was pretty reasonable (except the stuff that should have been refined because of the victim's young age-at-death).

Drama - C. 'twas alright. Not too exciting, not too boring.

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