February 3, 2016

Palaeodemography of the Googly Eye Cemetery

As longtime readers know, I create a lot of hands-on activities in all of my classes, partly because I think that this type of teaching engages a lot of learners in a way that lecturing doesn't, and partly because it entertains me to try to think of new and different things to do in class.  Although I have used this particular in-class activity twice in the past, I have apparently never blogged about it.  So here is the Palaeodemography of the Googly Eye Cemetery, which my Bioarchaeology students did in class today.

Bags o' craft stuff for MNI activity.
You can download the whole PDF of the activity here or check it out below, but it doesn't have info on how I set it up.  The "ingredients" I used for this project include:
  • Pompoms - Three colors of varying sizes, representing cranial vaults.  I used white for male, red for female, and green for subadult.  I also included four or five sizes of each color pompom, which throws in a bit of a twist because I only have three subadult and three adult age categories.
  • Googly Eyes - Six different sizes, representing eye orbits.
  • Buttons - Three sizes of blue (male), three sizes of pink (female), three sizes of green (subadult).  I also threw in a couple "anomalous" buttons (yellow flowers).
  • Pipe cleaners - Three different colors (blue for male, pink for female, green for subadult), two different sizes (arms and legs). I also threw in a couple "anomalous" long bones (yellow).
I'm sure you could get more involved with the MNI here.  Add vertebrae with beads, or find a bigger range of sizes, or don't include as many sizes of skull, etc.  And you can get creative with the bags too.  You can't really tell, but one of the bags (the "intramural" context) has a ton of babies, and there's one bag with mostly adult males, etc.  (The different contexts and contents help students make interpretations based on pseudo-skeletal data.)

I gave the students the sex/age keys as above, and told them that there were six eye sizes, but I didn't initially tell them that there were 4-5 skull sizes and just 3 age categories.  (Tee hee.)

So their task was to create an MNI, including age-at-death categories and sex where appropriate, and then to use the MNI and data on age to construct a crude survivorship curve and a demographic bar chart.  This activity built on a lecture on Monday about how bioarchaeologists amalgamate the data from individuals into populations.  I do wish I'd spent more time specifically on MNI, demographics, and survivorship curves, though, because this part got dicey with the students in class.  Part of that was an error in the handout (which I've since fixed).

One set of students arranged their
craft items into "people" to do the MNI.


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