Matthew 12:10

Today marks exactly four months that I've been studying bones for my dissertation. It also marks the summer solstice, as one of my colleagues reminded me today. The weather here is not getting any better. Hot, hazy, and humid, just like the South... only without air conditioning. Since I deprived all of you of a Pathology Tuesday while I galavanted around Rome with Patrick, eating world-famous gelato and pizza, here's a fun Taphonomy Thursday.

The skeletons that I've been working with were found during excavations for an urban train line in 2000. The cemetery was found in a low-lying area that was mostly flooded. As a result, some of the skeletons are in bad shape. They're fragmentary, crumbly, cracked, and - sometimes - stuck together. I'm not entirely sure of the process, but it seems that the dirt, bone, and other bits of stuff (small rocks, shells) have formed a very hard concretion that is difficult to remove from bone without damaging it. One such example comes from this skeleton of a male whose entire right hand consisted of bones that were completely fused together by hardened dirt.

Because I did not want to risk damage to the small bones of the hand, I did not attempt to separate them. Fortunately, it was easy to tell which bones were which because the hand remained in more or less anatomical position. I've labelled each of the metacarpals that made up the middle of the hand, and you can see the small carpals of the wrist to the right and the triple phalanges of each finger on the left. From this angle, you can't see the fifth metacarpal, and only a few of the fingers are in view.

It appears that, like most of the skeletons from this cemetery, this man was buried with his hands crossed over his abdomen or pelvis. His first metacarpal and phalanges are slightly underneath the rest of the hand, probably owing to changes in the hand as it decomposed. My guess is that his left hand was placed on top of his right hand, causing the thumb to move inward.

Mostly, though, I just thought it was awesome to find this hand in one piece. It's a shame I didn't have anyone in the lab to chase around threatening them with a backrub.


SS said…
That title--pretty obtuse, huh? Or, is that a well-known verse for you anthropologists?
Nah, I'd say it is acute title. Mwahahahaha.

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