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2018 Bioarch Project

Friday: December 7, 2018

Wow! I never published this! My bad…

I’ve been living the dorm life for a while now. It is comical sometimes that I find myself here. At first, I was thinking “it won’t be too bad, my students weren’t terribly noticeably younger than me” but, see, that was them in My Classroom where they mostly acted with reservation. Now, I live in Their House. Quite a different matter – though everyone is super polite and all. I just feel quite out of place. My friend helped me pivot my thoughts, though, by pointing out a great ethnography that I am basically living: My Freshman Year – What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student. I need to order that book and read it!

Sometimes I walk around campus after a work day. This is usually post 9pm, but it is still light outside. I love it! Some days have been terribly hot here, but there is a picnic table under an old tree’s shade and with a slight breeze; my lunch breaks have been quite pleasant. Since I work in a basement all day, I try to get outside as much as possible on my breaks.

My lab building, which is two buildings down from the dorm, is closed for major renovations. People working on the bioarch project are the only ones allowed in. The construction guys have mostly all been friendly; I had a run-in with an older cranky guy but every other one has been so nice. I traded bat stories with one – he found three dead bats. Well, I was nearly attacked by a live one, so I think I win!

Tonight I got in on some dorm activities – I missed Sundaes and Ghostbusters day, but tonight I was able to make a tie-dyed shirt. It will probably look ridiculous (I opted to not “tie” it but rather attempt an ombre effect) and I didn’t think it through, about how I am suppose to wash it in 24 hours, but it was fun. (I will not be going home this weekend, and I have no detergent here. The shower and shampoo will have to suffice.) [  Update: It turned out fabulous! :D  ]

As far as work goes, it has been a rollercoaster with a learning curve. I hadn’t worked on fragmentary bones covered in dirt since I graduated, so at first I was pretty overwhelmed and feeling crummy. I had to basically re-learn so much, but found a groove within a few days. Then we started getting a lot of babies, and I never had experience with their kind at all. Now I am really pretty confident in them – maybe more than any other age, ha! It has been great because I wanted to focus on subadults when I was a student, but we didn’t have access to enough for a thesis. I often think about the parents and siblings of the little ones. It must have been heartbreaking and I do my best, with all the burials, to remember that fact rather than treat them as boney objects. Often the preservation is poor, so an untrained person might not even recognize the individual. But at other times, a little baby nose is there, and it’s quite breathtaking.

I was happy to see my skull pillows I donated a while back were a hit! This isn’t a real skull, but you get the idea now of them in action. #superproud

Here is a little philosophical digression that isn’t well thought out but I felt it time to jot down a basic thesis. When people find out what I am doing, I get mixed reactions, so I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Some think its “soooooooo cool!” and others are hesitant to express clearly how they feel opposed to the idea, afraid I may be offended or whatever I guess. I wouldn’t be – I don’t think anyone needs to go around purposefully digging up graves (looking at you, historic “anthropologists” and modern day looters). However, accidental discoveries of burials happens all the time, because the earth has seen enough humans to basically have burials everywhere. Anytime you dig, you risk finding a grave if the preservation is well enough. The matter is, was the individual preserved enough for you to know? Well, if there aren’t any bones left, life goes on as you please. Find a bone though, and a whole process begins, first with the coroner, and then with the appropriate authorities – either the police and forensic teams for a possible homicide, or with anthropologists and bioarchaeologists for a pre/historic burial. Also, sometimes people legally can move cemeteries – I can’t comment on how that comes about, but it happens.

It would be nice to leave graves alone, sure. But the reality is that modern development will always continue, and space is getting more and more limited, and there needs to be people trained to handle the remains as appropriately as possible. I came to terms with this line of work, obviously, when I went to get a masters in it, but to put it plainly for those who think I do macabre or gruesome work, I don’t. I believe in any culture, the most important part of humanity is existing in your loved ones memories, to be a part of the social fabric, and so to live on in others. Many (all?) of the people in my current project and past experiences have truthfully been forgotten as individuals and sometimes as entire social groups. By analyzing the remains, I can tell as much of their story as possible with today’s methods, and bring their memory back into the world. You can disagree with me, and I’ll still share a cup of tea with you, but I believe this is the most respectful thing we can do as a society for graves that have become uncovered. The alternative is that construction will still happen, graves will still be disturbed, and then bones will just be dumped somewhere else in a jumbled mess as if they are trash. I much prefer reburials, don’t you? And if you aren’t trained with skeletal remains, how would you recognize bones apart from other material, to be sure you are reburying every last bit of an individual that is left? That’s where people like me come in and why we perform analysis before reburying. So, if you want to point a finger of shame at someone, don’t point it at those of us working with skeletal remains. Point it at the looters and vandals, at the careless construction teams who break the law, at the politicians and lawmakers that don’t protect graves as strongly as you’d like. I’m looking at you, older cranky guy.

[  Update  ]

I had a fantastic time, I learned a ton, and hopefully contributed a great deal though I couldn’t stay on to finish up the project.

I don’t post much here, but that doesn’t mean I am not doing things.

I am rounding out my Daniel Boone National Forest project.

I helped edit a book chapter for dental microwear.

I was going to present at a conference but a lack of funding unfortunately had my colleague and I pull out.

And I am planning the most epic adventure of my life! (More next!)

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