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2018 Bioarch Project

Friday: December 7, 2018

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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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2018 summer work

Wednesday: May 23, 2018

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I was asked if I could supervise the lab portion of a field project this year so of course I said “heck yea!” on the condition that housing would be settled for me. I don’t expect I will get paid enough to warrant paying for a place to sleep, and while I’ll be in Indy where many friends reside, I’d be an imposition to each of their living situations for various reasons, let alone for the lengthy time frame! (Of course, I could end up being paid quite well as the pay schedule is dependent upon how the project turns out.) The project was suppose to have begun at the beginning of May. Thankfully that was postponed (for reasons unknown to me) because I didn’t have housing figured out yet. Originally, it was arranged that I’d stay with a student but that fell through.

Last I heard, though, the extra time has supposedly secured a dorm room for me! Huzzah! Right on campus, where I will be working! I am also ecstatic about getting to live in a dorm because I thought that ship had permanently sailed. Just goes to show that you never know what life may bring, eh? I know, I know – all my dorm-experienced friends say I am absolutely crazy for thinking this will be fun, but can ya’ll even contemplate my past living conditions for field projects? This ranks among the most posh, for sure! The move in date still isn’t settled, and for all I know that will fall through, too, but I was told it was a firm bet by around the first of June, so I’ve been lining all my ducks up in a row.

The main thing is refreshing my bioarchaeology skills. It has been a full year since I taught last and had access to real bones (a full YEAR?! My, how time flies!). Even then, they were sparse and mostly intact. AKA not like most archaeological bits and pieces. I’ve pulled out all my favorite reading materials and began taking condensed summarized refresher notes (I remember best with recent note-taking). I dug out my plastic skeleton to revive muscle memory in my hands (it fails at offering much else guidance). And now instead of embroidery patterns in the clouds as I have seen of late (my other blog details these efforts), I see carpal bones and such. So, I think I’ll be good! I just had this horrible nightmare that the students, who are probably recently steeped in bioarchaeology training, will think I am a blubbering fool. I would die from embarrassment! Not Rebecca the Grey, I say!

What I love about this refreshment process is how much I do just know. I mean, it has been years since I really got to go to town with my degree, and it is pleasant to know I still remember so much of it. Sure, technical names escape me quite a bit currently, but the gist is there all the same. Further, since I built the foundation of my knowledge during grad school, my brain didn’t at the time have all the space necessary to retain everything as quickly as the information was coming at me. I bolstered much when I was teaching, but I didn’t gauge how far I had come. What was retained from all that has since crystallized, which means I can easily add to it with fresh material. Reading through the books and notes has shown me things that I must have read before (I was a good student and actually did read everything!) yet “I never heard that!” and this previously forgotten information quickly went into new freed-up brain storage. What I am saying is I feel even smarter now than when I was steeped in it. Curious. Hopefully, that’s how real life will turn out and I am not simply imagining this. Wouldn’t that be a shame!

This supervisory role will also put me that much closer to becoming a Private Investigator in my state (I think I may already be one by federal standards? I’d have to look into that again to be sure). I don’t know that I am actively pursuing that, but it is another notch in my belt all the same.

Anyway, no matter what happens with this gig’s housing (on which my role absolutely depends), I am so grateful that my mentors have such faith and respect to hire me for this position. I learned so much under their tutelage and the fact that they see me as a colleague on so many projects is a great honor. (I am not embarrassed to say that since I really doubt any of them follow this blog, ha!)

So, anyways, hopefully I will update from the comforts of my dorm room;)

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Skull pillow

Saturday: June 11, 2016

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I’ve returned from Mexico and have many things I’d like to share, but first I wanted to show something I made yesterday that would be of use for fellow bioarchaeologists: a human skull pillow! Details are at my other blog.

skull_pillow

We use them to protect the skull from rolling around on the hard table surface. Skulls can be quite fragile, yet they can provide the best information when analyzing human remains. Under the right conditions, from the skull alone you can determine age at death, sex, ancestry, and possibly even the individual (particularly if you are working under forensic circumstances). Now, of course, we never want just the skull alone, particularly for sexing a skeleton or other special cases, and truthfully we must always be mindful to be population-specific, but either way – we need to protect the remains as best as possible while we have the responsibility of handling them.

I decided to do this since I’ve been asked to help analyze remains next week (yep, I just got back and yet I am leaving town once again – and after that I’ve been invited to an archaeological project near Cahokia!). There never seemed to be enough pillows at the lab there, so I’m donating these.

 

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Wednesday: November 2, 2011

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Week 9: Diet II & Chemistry (Stable Isotopes and Trace Elements)

Tuesday:

Teeth are the only hard tissues in the body that directly interact with the environment. As such, they are of great use for bioarchaeological research. Dental macrowear is scored commonly on Scott’s ordinal scale. Teeth wear over time, and in ancient populations the wear was so great that almost nothing of the tooth would be left, and indeed sometimes the body would purge the tooth altogether. Macrowear studies this pattern, which can have different sequencing depending on diet and subsistence.

Dental topography was developed within the last decade, applying geological mountain mapping software to dental crowns.  This turns what is visually seen in Scott’s scale to quantitative data. [At school, it is part of my job as the research associate to use the 3D plotter machine to profile each tooth from Dr. S’s project to create a virtual catalogue.]

Dental microwear studies a tooth’s microscopic texture, including pitting and scratching. A scanning electron microscope (SEM) is a common method in doing so. Teeth are coated with a very fine layer of metal, then an electron gun shoots the specimen inside a vacuum chamber. The electrons will bounce off the object and the software is able to transform a 3D object into a 2D representation using a horizontal scan. Newer technology does exist to create a 3D model, but this is not yet typical.

A 3D method that is gaining speed, however, is that of the while light confocal microscopy profiler (WLCP). [The major part of my duties in the department.] It is similar to a compound microscope, except a beam of light is shot through the lens and bounces back. This distance is measured to created a vertical scan of the specimen. It uses scale sensitive fractal geometry to calculate variables like complexity of the occlusal surface, anisotropy and heterogeneity of features, and texture fill volume.

As usual, we discussed several case studies to wrap class up.

Thursday:

Class was almost entirely discussion from the texts. I admit that I still need to read these chapters, so this bit may not be the clearest. Stable isotopes and trace elements can provide evidence for the type of diet an individual ate. We discussed measuring carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen with a mass spectrometer. This breaks a sample down to its elemental parts, weighing each element separately. For instance, when measured, the delta of  13C can indicate a marine versus a terrestrial diet. Marine foods will show a delta closer to zero, while terrestrial foods will be closer to -7. Another benefit is that plants discriminate differentially to 13C in their photosynthesis, so C3 plants can be differentiated from C4 plants in the archaeological record. The benefit here is that maize is a C4 plant so the adoption of maize can be noted in archaeological remains. Nitrogen likewise proves a valuable factor of understanding diet, giving a trophic accumulation of 15N. Legumes will provide a base level of 15N, herbivores who eat these legumes will have a slightly higher value, and carnivores who eat the herbivores who eat the legumes will likewise have an even higher value. 15N therefore needs to be understood within the environmental context, because comparisons between environments like coastal versus inland, or arid versus humid will give the incorrect impressions. Oxygen analysis of both bone and teeth (18O), as well as strontium, can show migration patterns because it is linked to the available water source.

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 8: Diet I,Teeth, & 3D Analysis

Tuesday:

Fall break, woot woot!

Thursday:

Incredibly detailed discussed about biomechanical analysis and bone geometry continued. Visual aids would be helpful but I currently don’t have the time to whip them out for you. Just imagine that thinner cortexes may mean the force applied is more torsional, since the cortex is being positioned away from the centroid. Imagine a bone cross-section to have a small medullary cavity, which would indicate compressive forces. Bending forces would show both, as the bone builds a rigid frame to buffer against the directional forces.

After we cleaned up that slightly denser topic, we started on diet. Diet is the food that is actually eaten, and subsistence includes the behavior and resources associated with getting the diet. Indicators of subsistence include:

  • Tools and landscape modification (irrigation canals, for instance)
  • Hearths and middens (evidence of plants and animals)
  • Settlement patterns and architecture (temporary nomadic foragers or sedentary agriculturalists)
There are also indicators of diet itself:
  • Coprolites
  • Stable isotopes and trace elements
  • Dental macrowear (hard or soft diet), microwear (abrasive or smooth diet), and pathology (cariogenic diet or not). This will also help interpreting how food was processed (subsistence).
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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 7: Activity Patterns & Bone Geometry

Tuesday:

 A skeleton shows evidence of childhood health in two major ways. The first is an individual’s height. To determine the individual’s growth rate, long bones are measured metrically then compared on a scale to the individual’s tooth eruption sequence. The sequence of tooth eruption is fairly set but bone length will vary. While this has some genetic factors to consider, extrinsic influences also play a major role. However, does a lower growth rate mean the child was less healthy? Not always. While it is true that a person with a sickly childhood will be shorter, it is also true that a shorter person is more adapted to a lower intake of calories, or even cooler climates.

The second childhood health indicator is the teeth themselves. Teeth create a permanent record of stress affecting an individuals during tooth formation. This means that evidence of disease may be recorded during the whole first 18 years of life, to remain there until the teeth are lost. A common one found is linear enamel hypoplasia, or horizontal grooves typically found in the anterior teeth. I presented a chapter to go into this further.

We discussed what types of questions can be answered by looking at children, and these include:

  • Diseases present in childhood
  • Age and size at menarchy, puberty
  • Growth rates
  • Sexual dimorphism prior to adolescence
  • Weaning

Thursday:

 In brief, Wolff’s Law states that there is a biomechanical skeletal response to demand: bone is laid where it is needed and removed where it is not. (An “you use it or lose it” phenomenon.) By applying an engineering model to biology, understanding bones as an I-beam or a cylinder, extrinsic forces can be interpreted via specific bone morphology. Bone is best at displacing compressive forces, but tensile, bending, shearing, and torsional (which can also all be combined) are common stresses. Applying Wolff’s Law, these forces are what gives bones unique characteristics. Our readings and discussions went into great detail, from case studies to polar moments of inertia.

I also borrowed a book from Dr. S to start thinking about my 10 page paper I need to present on for class, The Bioarchaeology of Children: Perspectives from Biological and Forensic Anthropology (see the Library for bibliographic information). I may do something with juveniles, to keep in line with what I am learning in Human Osteology. I may also look into skeletal deformation as another option. Intentional and unintentional. Cranial and Post-cranial. Before and after death even. The possibilities there are great. What I do not understand is why some books are so pricely (Ahem, Cambridge University Press…) while other larger books from the same company are less than half. I have several on my Amazon wishlist that I just may never purchase simply for the price. Costs of healthcare and education should both be brought back down a notch or 6000.

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 6: Kids

Tuesday:

Week 6 was suppose to cover kids, but trauma is so much fun. We had more class discussions from the text but also learned about case studies that Dr. S has been a part of. A particular one of interest to me has been published so I am free to discuss it. I even purchased the book, Human Variation in the Americas (see full bibliography information at the Library page). Near my home town in Floyd County, a male individual was discovered with a cache of forelimbs possibly representing five different people. To give you some idea of the range of questions a bioarchaeologist may ask, here are a few we tossed around in class: Were these war trophies? Magic vessels for a shaman? Familial keepsakes? We may never know, but we must always keep our minds open.

Thursday:

Case studies discussing the adoption of agriculture were presented followed by a quick chat about why bioarchaeology cannot have one single answer to all there is to discover in history. This is because there are way too many variable factors to consider. Each case must be examined with a full understanding of the site’s context, geographically, temporally, and culturally. And of course always in the back of a bioarchaeologists mind is the Osteological Paradox.

Our discussion then turned towards children and how they are often overlooked in archaeology. Problems begin with differential burial: some populations would bury their children in separate cemeteries, along paths, in house floors, or at other unique places so they rest undiscovered compared to the extent of adults in cemeteries which modern construction breaks in to. Another main problem is that of preservation: children’s bones are tinier and more fragile than adult bones so are far less likely to be preserved. The archaeologists excavating children remains also may not be trained to identify the tiny bones and fragments (an adult has 206 bones on average, while at birth a child has over 300). In addition, children are shadowed in bioarchaeology because so much of the research is dependent on comparisons, including that of male versus female. In children, these differences are almost (if not totally) non-exisitent in skeletal remains, which means that most research is biased towards adults. Another dilemma is that in published research, there is no standardization of identifying “children”. Terms such as fetal, neonate, newborn, infant, child, kid, juvenile, adolescent, and subadult mean very little because an age range was not provided, or the range varies between researchers so that comparisons cannot be drawn.

Kids also invoke, once again, the Osteological Paradox. Do more children in a cemetery mean the population is unhealthy? Are more children dying because of the diseases being spread? Or perhaps the population is quite healthy: are more children simply being born? If the percentage of living babies to those buried were known, these questions could be answered.

Also of note is how once grave goods entered our past, children seem to be over-adorned in many places all over the world. Did the children discovered have a socioeconomic status by birth? Were children more important to the population than adults? Were adults providing children goods in consideration of their short lives? Was the community sharing support in a family’s loss?

We then had class discussion over the texts and I presented three chapters.

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 5: Trauma

Tuesday:

Tuesday was our first exam. It is always a bit disconcerting when tests are open book, but I felt I did alright. Since this post is quite delayed, I can say I did more than alright, I nailed it:)

Thursday:

Trauma includes both intentional and accidental conditions affecting the skeleton. Antemortem trauma (occurring some time prior to death) is recognized by evidence of healing, although in some cases healing can be so complete that the trauma evidence itself is erased. Perimortem trauma (occurring shortly prior to, at, or just after death) will lack healing but usually can be distinguished from postmortem trauma (occurring some time after death, due to taphonomic processes) because living (or very recently living) bone reacts to external forces differently than dry bone.

One common type of trauma found in the archaeological record is fracturing. When a force of energy contacts bone, it will radiate in a certain pattern depending on the bone properties and the type of force. There are several key types of factors:

  • Depressed: At low velocity, these fractures will radiate in concentric rings. At high velocity, the rings are also blown by the force so only a hole remains.
  • Torsional: These are spiral fractures which occur when the proximal end of a bone is forced in the opposite direction of the distal end.
  • Longitudinal: These occur with extremely compressive forces. Greenstick fractures have a longitudinal component.
  • Transverse: Hairline fractures occur when the bone is forced to bend just slightly more than it can handle.
  • Bullseye: Technically this is not considered a traumatic fracture because this occurs when bone gets burned (as in cremation, therefore after death and not trauma).
Some fractures have special identifiers because they are seen so often:
  • Parry fracture: A fracture of the ulna, often associated with self-defense (when your arm goes up to block your face).
  • Colles fracture: A fracture of the radius, associated with falling (when you arm goes down to catch your fall).

We also discussed a little about modern trauma. Bullets can make a keyhole shaped entry with radiating fractures connected by concentric fractures. This is an incredibly simplistic description, though, because a lot of science goes into ballistics. The angle, the gun, the bullet, and the distance combine so a lot of possibilities can occur but also are related in such a way that this is how a forensic team can identify said variables. For instance, another example is a shot from the side through a leg bone. The bullet forces bone particles with it so when it goes through the other leg bone, the damage is greater (this situation is known as the Hertzian cone). People hit by cars experience both compressive and tension stresses on their leg bones, which will cave under the force and a wedged piece of bone will crack off, known as a butterfly fracture.

In bioarchaeology, everything is about patterns seen in populations. Of course there are always exceptions to any rule, but in general, pre-agricultural societies experienced more lower limb bone fractures than agriculturalists. We held class discussions with case studies to delve further into interpretation.

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Friday: September 30, 2011

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Week 4: Implications of Disease (and some non-pathogens)

Tuesday:

Bioarchaeologists focus on patterns formed by the relationship between pathological conditions and behavior. Associations of one to the other, however, does not necessitate a causation, but it does allude to the cause in some cases.

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) could be caused by genetics, large body size, age, and diet. Take a football player into account: are people of larger body size more likely to get into sports? Is this large body size part of their genetic make up? Do they eat the healthiest diets? Are they tested for DJD while they are young and playing football, or only after they are older and retired? Issues like these are multivariate so controls are used to identify the true effects. DJD begins with the breakdown of soft tissue between the bones of a joint. The bone will react by increasing the surface area and creates lipping, or osteoarthritis. In some cases, the wear can be so extreme that bone on bone contact occurs and this can be identified by the shiny, polished characteristic at joints, known as eburnation.

We discussed osteoporosis as well, which is a growing problem today. It is associated with activities, sedentism, and demographics. Bone increases robusticity through use, so the lack of use found in sedentary lifestyle could be a partial cause to the issue. People in general will lose bone mass as they age, and women experience this during pregnancy, lactation, and menopause which equates to sex being a factor.

In bioarchaeology, the use of controls is limited but it can be done in some cases. If a research question wanted to know the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and rule out agriculture of maize as the cause, an agricultural population can be compared with a coastal population, who is also sedentary but relies on marine resources. If the factor that the bioarchaeologist is looking for exists in both, it could be caused by a sedentary lifestyle. It if is only found in one population, however, it could be related to the diet or some other factor that differentiates the two groups.

Thursday:

We covered how the pervious class discussions can be applied to different sites, expectations from testing a research question, and new questions deriving when those expectations are not met.

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Sunday: September 25, 2011

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Week 3: Infectious Pathogens

Tuesday:

Dental caries is the process of  tooth decay. Once a cavity opens up into the pulp chamber of a tooth, bacteria has access to the arteries and nerves inside. It can then move into the alveolar bone, to which the body will react with resorption, forming a puss-filled abscess. This can go on until so much bone has been resorbed that the problem tooth falls out, known in bioarchaeological terms as ante-mortem tooth loss (AMTL). [Side note: researchers today believe there is a causal link between the S. mutans bacteria and heart disease.] Bioarchaeologists will look at dental caries for trends between sexes, social classes, and populations to determine cultural causes of the disease.

Periosteal reactions (PR) are another indicator of interest. These are “non-specific” in that they can be observed, but the cause cannot be determined usually because too many different circumstances lead to the same reaction. They are generally found on shallow bones (shin bones for instance) and are thought to be related to an infection resulting from trauma. A specific form of PR is osteomyelitis, which is diagnostic of the staph infection caused by S. aureus. These systemic infections cause the body to carve out the infection, literally creating a bone island and causing a gaping sore in the skin to drain the fluids.

Treponemal disease is caused by both venerable and non-venerable syphilis, from the T. pallidum bacteria. It is diagnosable from stellate lesions and “saber shins”. Contrary to popular belief, it was not introduced to the New World from Europeans, although contact did put much stress on populations and caused them to grow much denser which rapidly increased the prevalence of treponema.

Tuberculosis (TB) affects the ribs followed by vertebrae, which collapses creating a hunchback appearance known as Pott’s Disease. TB creates a good discussion for the Osteological Paradox. Some individuals may die of TB before their skeleton has had time to react, thereby looking completely healthy compared to an individual who was able to live with the disease long enough for boney reactions to occur, leaving a visibly unhealthy skeleton. The Osteological Paradox is something that must always be considered when working with skeletal populations.

Leprosy is another common disease found in bioarchaeological studies. Caused by M. leprae, it may not always be fatal. Diagnostic characteristics include atrophy of the face, peripherals, and appendages. It is currently thought this this disease was brought to the Americas by the Europeans.

Thursday:

Common non-specific diseases include Cribra Orbitalia (CO) and Porotic Hyperostosis (PH) which are often associated with each other and with iron deficiency, or anemia. These show in the roof of the orbits (CO) or along the flat bones of the skull (PH). It could be an issue of the Osteological Paradox again – are these individuals lacking in iron, or are their bodies fighting off an infection of some kind by limiting the iron available for the infection to feed on? For instance, a person affected with Sickle Cell Anemia has a higher survival rate against malaria because sickle shaped cells prevent the parasite from rapidly reproducing, thus allowing the body time to resist the infection. The idea of health has many facets which must be considered in bioarchaeology.

 

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Saturday: September 24, 2011

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Week 2: Age, Sex, & Ancestry

Tuesday:

Bioarchaeologists begin with determining the biological profile, which would include age, sex, ancestry, and any idiosyncrasies relevant to the individual. It is not clear cut, so the aim is accuracy over precision. For instance, does everyone age in the same way? No. Age has both intrinsic and extrinsic factors: individual development which is then affected by lifestyle stresses. Is a person’s sex truly reflected in their skeleton? Can molecular testing positively identify ancient DNA? Not always. Although sex is genetically determined, the environment can affect the indicators – more physical stresses can lead to more robustness, skewing the indicators of females, for instance. Genetic sex itself is not always concrete either, with developmental issues and hormonal problems, in addition to poor rates of preservation. Is ancestry a discreet classification? No. Ancestry actually is easier than perhaps aging and sexing in older populations because they were small and isolated, but it is still not exacting. This is especially due to limited preservation of certain traits needed to be confident in identifying an ancestral relation. Idiosyncrasies can be more specific since they are blatantly observable in most cases, but even these sometimes are considered “non-specific” because the cause is unknown. When the individuals are then brought together to understand a population, paleodemography can be discussed.

Thursday:

Demographic factors can be affected by age and stress. Stress (trauma, disease, nutrition, lifestyle, etc.) can interrupt the normal growth trajectory of an individual. This is why stature is often used to determine the health of a population. Harris lines can occur in long bones, which may represent periods of stress on the skeleton as well, though these will heal over the course of a lifetime. The development of teeth in children can also be interrupted, which forms linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH) – horizontal lines typically found in the front teeth, but even something like a fever can cause them so they are not explicitly used to determine overall health. Sometimes the development rate of teeth and the epiphyseal fusing of long bones no longer match as they should, and this may represent a period of stress as well.

Overall, bioarchaeologists have been able to determine that with the adoption of an agricultural lifestyle, health in populations did decline. In part, this is because the hunting-foraging diet is much more widely varied and therefore highly nutritional compared to a concentration on a few staples, particular maize in North America. Perhaps a much more crucial cause of this trend is that an agricultural population is a sedentary one, which will have a denser concentration of people. This creates sanitation issues and the ability for diseases to spread rapidly, either from domesticated animals to humans, or simply humans to other humans.

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Saturday: September 10, 2011

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Week 1: What is bioarchaeology?

The course objectives are to inform students of:

  • History of bioarchaeology
  • Theoretical rubrics that surround bioarchaeological analysis
  • New directions of bioarchaeological study
  • Ethics of studying the ancient dead

We are assigned two texts for the course: Bioarchaeology and Ancient Health. Grad students have an additional book: Biological Anthropology of the Human Skeleton. (See the Library page for bibliographic information.)

This class is cross-listed with undergrads (eleven of them, three of us grads). The main difference is the extra text and the discussions that we will lead from it, in a form similar to seminars.

Tuesday:

We discussed what bioarchaeology is, and the method involved of mixing biological theory with social theory. Very briefly, bioarchaeology examines past human remains (mostly hard tissues of bone and teeth although the occasional mummy comes to light) to understand behavior, subsistence practices, and sociopolitical organization of a population.

We then went over the history of the field. During the 1800s, C. B. Moore was considered an “archaeologist” and gave a lot of artifacts to museums (how he obtained them may be a bit dubious). Only recently, in the early 1900s did skeletal remains begin to be seen as an important source of information. A. Hrdlicka, perhaps the first “bioarchaeologist”, founded the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, still active today. After having studied different native groups (also quite dubiously), he realized that there were certain physical traits present (such as shoveled incisors, also common to those with Asian descent). Following him, people began to use analytical methods to understand how skeletons age throughout life. Only in the 70’s did the term bioarchaeology get coined and still yet not until 1990 was the Native American Graves Protection Act passed that really set the stage for respectful and professional studies of past populations (of course, I suspect some “professionals” are yet still dubious themselves, unfortunately).

I completely respect the viewpoint that the dead should remain buried. Unfortunately, as America changes and construction goes on, old grave sites get dug up or discovered all the time. In place is Cultural Resource Management, which is a sector that I may pursue after my degree. CRM bioarchaeologists are hired on rescue missions when a new street or new office basement uncovers human remains. If possible, the population is identified so that they can be repatriated to the closest native group for proper ceremony and reburial. Don’t get me wrong though – immigrant (“American”) burials are in just as much peril, if not more, than native groups. Side note: some people find skeletons and all that to be creepy but I would like to point out that if I could just examine my own skeleton I would be more excited than if I won the lotto. True story.

Thursday:

We discussed how the turn from foraging hunter-gatherer societies to sedentary agricultural societies is one of the worse decisions ever as far as health is concerned. Close living with higher populations leads to unsanitary conditions and rapid spread of disease. Nutritionally, agri diets are far less varied in nutrients and are often focus on one type (ie. maize) which can lead to health problems itself (cavities). Think about your own diet – how many different types of food do you truly eat on a regular bases? (And think about what the potential is across the globe!)

The context in which a skelly is found is critical. For instance, cultural phenomena can be seen in burials. The burial itself is evidence that the society had a specific way of laying their beloveds to rest. Social stratification can be seen – elite class people may be buried closer to a monument, whereas the common class may be at the outskirts. To further this thought, do the elites show better health in their skeletons than the commoners? What type of grave goods do each get? Are men treated differently in burials than women? Than children? These are only a few questions that can be answered and interpreted from a burial.

But much like anything else, bioarchaeology does have some limitations. For starters, those discovered are only a subsample of the whole population. Maybe not everyone was buried in the particular area. Maybe not everyone was found or even preserved to be found. Obviously, bones will not show everything and sometimes cannot be fully recognized for classifications. The processes which occur after a burial (called taphonomic processes) can disrupt the bones as well as the burial.

As the program goes on, I will try to explain some of these ideas in further detail.

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Friday: August 19, 2011

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Bioarchaeologists blur the line between archaeology and biological anthropology. They study human remains found through archaeology to determine some forensic characteristics like sex, age, and health. But unlike forensic anthropology, whose purpose is to identify an individual primarily for the sake of law, a bioarchaeologist will take the findings of several individuals to apply a general picture of the represented population. Who were they? How old is the population? How healthy were they? What diseases did they encounter? Did they encounter violence? Did they fish or hunt or what? Was their society divided, male and female? Young and old? Nobel and peasant? Religious and secular?

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

My best expression as a questioning anthropologist.

Obviously, since I haven’t even had my first graduate class yet, I am no authority on the subject. Instead, I will tell you a little bit about the 2007 Lima, Peru field school I attended as an undergrad through Mizzou, with Dr. Robert Benfer and (now Dr.) Keith Chan. I have tried to keep it brief, but I assure you: staying in another place for six weeks leaves a huge impression on you, and I could go on about it for a super long time.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Working on the Paloma set at Centro de Investigaciones de Zonas Aridas (Ciza) prior to getting the other lab operational.

EDIT 11/1/11: I decided without provocation to remove some other photos of skeletons originally posted due to a new awareness of offense that other people outside of physical anthropology may experience. However, I have chosen to currently keep the above image because the focus is on us students rather than the remains and I believe that it is helpful in sharing what bioarchaeologists do. For future images, I will only include those that I believe are informative for bioarchaeological purposes. You can bet your bottom dollar I’d like to donate my own skelly for classroom study and therefore I do not have an issue with photography of skeletons, so I may miss the mark sometimes on this topic. Therefore, please share your comments if you do take offense, as I wish to remain respectful. /EDIT

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Dr. Benfer and Keith clarifying the contents for class at the new lab.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Our lab tent, hosted by the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú.

To start, I had experienced culture shock. Having read about it first in school did me no good – I was unaware that it was the cause of my symptoms. I was depressed, anxious, a mess unlike my normal passive self. Worse, I felt I needed to hide that from the others, and worse still, it was like double culture shock because not only was I in a foreign country, but it was also the first time I had stayed in a major metropolitan area. I coped by staying in alone while the others picked up the final student at the airport. I tried to read but found myself spying on the outside world through the window more often than not. Then my roommate Andrea and I went outside. We got brave enough to walk to the end of the street and back. Then the block. Then we were comfortable going all over the place. It was like a magic drug, but I couldn’t tell you why.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Failed attempt to replant flora at Cerro Blanco - once the ecosystem was destroyed, there is no longer any shade to keep moisture from Lima's only water source: la garua (fog).

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Along with Mercedes, we were invited to attend a memorial for Julio Cesar Tello Rojas, Peru's Father of Archaeology. His oldest descendent is standing with us.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

A folk dance provided for Tello's memorial.

Second, getting on a day schedule was tough for me, although there was no time difference. I just felt strung out for the beginning. Then I got sick, enough so that I kept Andrea awake all night with my nasty coughing. Dr. Benfer sent me in to the doctor (Keith was my translator) because he and another student had also had a bronchial infection. She prescribed me some meds and had me follow up with a electrocardiogram because my heartbeat was super fast. Since soon I would be venturing to high altitudes on the foray to Machu Picchu, that can create a major problem. (Turns out I was ok, it was just the high quantities of Sudafed I had been taking trying to kill the sickness). I went to the pharmacy alone, and back to the hotel alone. I struggled with the language – not a single person knew anything beyond, “Hello, how are you?” and for my part, I had studied French, not Castellano (Peruvians immediately correct you if you call it Spanish) – but immersion really does wonders. By the end of the trip, I was ordering food and having tiny conversations with the hotel staff and the “yogurt men” (workers at a shop around the corner where I bought breakfast every morning).

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

La garua coming down the mountains as the sun rises. We were on an Incan Trail at Buena Vista, one of Dr. Benfer's projects.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Dr. Benfer preparing to photo the winter solstice at Buena Vista.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Temple of the Fox at Buena Vista - an incredible discovery of the oldest astronomical alignment and sculptures in the round this side of the Meridians.

Third, there were moments of interpersonal conflict among the group. It was the first time I had really had to experience this for longer than an hour or something (other than growing up with my brother of course, ha!). Six weeks is a long time, and we all knew that, so I feel like we kind of vented and then let it go for the most part. I am sure there are certain moments which could have been handled better, but overall the support of Dr. Benfer and Keith got us through. All three of these things were surprises for me but in no way did they ever cause me to regret the journey.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Partly restored Pachacamac.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The Pachacamac site is adjacent to a packed city.

I fell in absolute love with Lima and its people. They wear their hearts on their sleeve. They have an odd sense of time (some would say a lack thereof). They are modern, yet hold on to old traditions like catching a cold from not wearing a scarf. Sometimes, they made us feel like superstars – when Andrea and I ventured out, we caused quite the stir with our tall, light skinned, light eyed, and light haired appearances – from school children to wrinkled adults, men and women alike. Plus, we were Americans. That made me feel silly but there was no way to hide it. I had fun with bargaining, and became quite apt at getting good prices. I love their bright colors – in the eclectic architecture (which often had roof dogs!) and especially in the Quechuan traditions: skirts and shirts and hats and braids and shawls. Inka Kola, chicha morada. Not pisco sours though, not pisco at all actually. Pollution is a problem – no emissions testing + zero rainfall to rust out vehicles = vehicles fully operational that are much much older than me. Plus there is just a lot of traffic. I also did not love their traffic laws (or lack thereof) although it sure was a rush! Dr. Benfer says they do follow rules, just not the red-light-green-light one-lane-two-way kind. (His suggestion: pick an old taxi driver – they are the ones who obviously know how to survive!)

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

El Beso, at El Parque del Amor in Lima.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The Old Wall at Parque de la Muralla in Lima.

Dr. Benfer became one of my all time favorite teachers. He is bursting at the seams with information and gives off a super amount of energy. Keith was a great balance, very calm and focused, and we became friends over a little Yoshi’s Island when off the clock. He recently gave me his doctoral dissertation and I can’t wait to finish reading it. Crystal had some interesting stories from her recent stay in Japan, and Andrea was a crazier-kookier version of myself. Ruthy and I became good friends and I try to visit her when I see my brother on the East Coast. Mercedes Delgado also joined us on several occasions, and I found a stone tool at Caral for archaeologist Gloria Villareal (Dr. Benfer refers to her as the lithics expert). True story!

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Gloria is holding the stone tool I found at Chupacigarro, also known as Caral, which is the earliest known South American civilization.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Dr. Benfer discusses Caral's archeoastronomical significance.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Caral is a massive complex. This is but one of the many temples. The valley use to be rich in vegetation.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Another feature of Caral.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Peruvians often restore ruins to what they believe the structures once were.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Restored structures are noted so the original stones can be seen as separate from the hypothesized restoration.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

One of the researchers of Chupacigarro prepares a ceremony for all of us gathered to honor Pachamama.

We saw a lot of significant archaeological sites, and at certain points I was very sad that I did not know Castellano because I missed out on some great tours. All I could do was walk about and guess at what I was looking at while the others, who knew enough of the language to listen, but not enough to translate easily for me, followed the tour guides. At the end of the school, we stayed another week to check out the truly awe-inspiring Machu Picchu and its surrounding sister sites. We started in Cusco to acclimate to the altitude. Then we took a train to Aguas Calientes. A bus up half the mountain to Machu Picchu, and a major hike to the summit.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The main plaza at Cusco. I preferred Lima.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Tourist trap clue: A traditionally dressed girl targeting gringas at Cusco for money in exchange for photos (Andrea bought it:)

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The terraces of Pisac, part of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The ruins of Pisac.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Amazing Incan architecture (lacking mortar) at Pisac.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The terraces of Ollantaytambo, another site associated with the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The Wall of the Six Monoliths at Ollantaytambo.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Ruthy's cousin Abe flew in after the school ended. Here he is at the marketplace at the bottom of Aguas Calientes. And I had thought Cusco was bad...

My great memories of Peru are shadowed by the loss of two people I met during the the process. Dr. Kathy Forgey, who had worked with the field school team previously, helped me get accepted to the field school by spending a lot of time with me working on the application. She had been teaching at IUN but had never met me prior to that, yet she offered her assistance with excitement to send me on my way. Gloria’s son, Fernando Castro-Villareal, also studied with us. He took us on several different outings to see Lima and meet his friends so that we could have the full resident experience. Unfortunately, both passed away in 2010, much too early for either of them.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The beauty of Machu Picchu.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Awe-inpsiring views of Machu Picchu's ruins amid the mountains.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Llamas and/or alpacas at Machu Picchu.

Places we visited:

Lima
Museo de la Nacion

Caral
BuenaVista
Pachacamac 

Cusco

Sacred Valley of the Incas
Pisac
Ollantaytambo

Aguas Calientes
Machu Picchu 

Texts used for class (reference information can be found on the Library page):

Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behavior from the Human Skeleton
Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains
The Human Bone Manual
Ancient Health: Skeletal Indicators of Agricultural and Economic Intensification
Early Villages in the Western Hemisphere

Further information about the Paloma set:

The Preceramic Period Site of Paloma, Peru: Bioindications of Improving Adaption to Sedentism
Faunal Remains from Paloma, an Archaic Site in Peru
Encyclopedia of Archaeology: Geographic Overviews, The Americas (South)/Early South American Villages

Further information about the Armatambo set:

Life in the Late Intermediate Period at Armatambo, Peru

 

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