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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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In the game

Friday: March 14, 2014

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Sorry about that, there was an issue with search engine indexing that took a while to correct. I’ll be back in the action of posting somewhat regularly soon (whatever that means for this site, anyway). I did compile some notes about my experiences this semester so far while it was down. Here are a few points that I would like to share:

  • I am surprised at (and truly appreciate) how supportive of me personally the department seems to be. I guess I did not really feel that way at the bank, looking back (where I was for about 11 years). But then again, it wasn’t like there was room for improvement really unless I changed departments there. Being a new teacher – there is plenty of room!
  • The IU system had some kinks when they reissued my student ID number, which have finally all been corrected. The interlibrary loan system (ILL) was a real problem for me, and became very frustrating for my students as well, which may have set the tone for them to not read several assignments…
  • Over break I enjoyed “PJ days” 24/7, but sadly this has been moved to 24/5. I had trouble accepting that a real job could have so much flexibility, actually (the years at the bank brainwashed me). Not just in how I spend my time (I’m only required to be on campus 6 hours a week, though the amount of work it takes for preparing each class certainly makes it a full time job), but mostly in that I define my own goals and timelines for the courses. Duh, right? But it isn’t that easy – I am still adjusting my mindset on where to draw the line. There are no rules for teaching…
  • There are no rules for teaching! I learned this when I taught at UIndy, actually. No one ever taught me how to teach (indeed, I never ever wanted to be a teacher so I never ever really thought about how). No one taught me how to plan a semester. How to assess learning. How to manage time with students contacting me, scheduling appointments, grading papers, writing lectures, etc. How to deal with students who were unable to get their books for the first month of class. How to deal with students unprepared for college in general. How to deal with Polar Vortexes that have cancelled my classes 5 times. [When I originally jotted these notes down, there was also a recent college shooting – I am certainly not prepared to handle anything of that sort.] I am amazed (yet not surprised from my own past experiences as a student) that Universities don’t offer at least a workshop for new teachers. Maybe some do, I dunno.

But this is also what I have learned, halfway through the semester: I am incredibly right and I have made key mistakes. Yes, at the same time. In another post, I will address this comment.

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photographic legacy

Friday: March 1, 2013

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My image will now be public for probably years. Eep. Our anthropology homepage has just been updated, to include not one, but two photos of me! Apparently I signed a waiver, because no one asked. For shame. I am digging with Anne under Field Opportunities opposite of some of my undergrad buds, and I am with the WLCP opposite of Laura under Lab & Research Opportunities. I attended a retirement party today for my boss back at the bank (for 10 years – a good third of my life). That in itself, and speaking to a bunch of old colleagues about how my time at UIndy is just about over kind of made me melancholic. It’s been a good run, and I hope that the momentum keeps going forward, even if I cannot see the path just yet. I think having a photo legacy on UIndy’s anthro page is, therefore, somewhat cool.

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Tuesday: May 1, 2012

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Over the course of the school year, my cohort and I have met some professionals and was invited by my department members to have dinner with them. I believe the first person we went out to lunch with was forensic anthropologist Cheryl Johnston, from Western Carolina University. It was a while ago, so I do not remember many of the details, but we did talk about the ethics behind teaching with human skeletons, especially when students are not the most mature. Mexican chicken quesadillas, yum.

Jeremy Wilson from IUPUI was invited to give a presentation on Transition Analysis to my Human Osteology class, and later we had dinner with him. There was a lot of us that time, so I found myself too far away to be a part of the conversations. We were at a Thai restaurant, and it was delicious. I had fried bananas for the first time, and have since made them myself!

Food wasn’t involved, but we met with Ted Parks from the Indiana School of Dentistry. One of our cases is quite confounding, so we went to him to get x-rays to see if it would aid our research in understanding the problem. The technology he used totally wowed me – I was expecting the standard radiographs like the kind I get at the dentist; instead, they used something akin to a CT scan – it gave us a 3D x-ray rendition of our specimen that we can look at in slices. Pretty awesome.

This semester, I have had both lunch and dinner with Richard Jefferies of University of Kentucky. I will see him a lot more this summer, as I intend to volunteer at a site on Sapelo Island. The first time, we simply ate lunch at school and I sat by his wife chatting about about France and how awesome Sapelo Island is. The second time, we had a lot more students involved so again I found myself too far away for chatting. Instead, I enjoyed my cheesy ravioli thoroughly. The Sapelo Island gig, by the way, is a two week stint off the coast of Georgia. Dr. Jefferies has been conducting work there with one of my teachers for years. Some undergrads have already gone on a field school there and have reported that Sapelo Island is an adventure. There is only something like 80 people who live on the island, sandy beaches, and ocean breezes. I am pretty excited to go.

The last person I’ve been introduced to was Steve Inskeep of NPR fame. The Anthropology department hosted him for most of a day, allowing the students to meet and greet, then the faculty members, and then he had a public presentation. His book, Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi, was sold at the event and I picked one up for my mother-in-law. I was around him all day myself, because I was asked to take photos (not that I am great at it, but I happened to have had a camera with me). I practiced some networking skills, joining groups talking to him, and excusing myself, and maybe I learned something from that, but I still hate doing it. Later, we went to dinner with him, mostly faculty, and I had delicious homemade potato chips, all the while wondering if the building would be torn down by a tornado.

Students meet and greet NPR's Steve Inskeep.

The President and faculty meet and greet NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Public bookreading by NPR's Steve Inskeep.

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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 6: Lab Methods & Stone Sourcing Techniques


On Monday, we went outside to use a total station in order to collect data for a contour map. We chose a corner by the library, then pushed a pencil into the grass to mark our Datum 1 and told the computer it was at coordinate 1000, 1000, 100. I was chosen to set up the tripod and level it since most others had, or were introduced to it the prior week. The steps are easy but I didn’t weigh enough to push it into the ground, and leveling a triangle takes skill so it took me a while. Then we set Datum 2 and each student had to take 50 points and hold the stadia rod for 50 points so that we had a total of 400 measurements. By the time class was over, we only had 250 points taken.


We went outside to finish taking the measurements, and I took some photos of campus while this was being done, so I will share those with you. (Boy had just given me a new camera he purchased off my brother: a Canon PowerShot S95 which I know nothing about because he got it in Hong Kong and it did not come with an English booklet.) I did not take any photos of the total station but I do have some from another dig I participated in which I will share in a later post.

Before the measurements were completed, Dr. M realized it may take us a while so we held our normal discussions out on the lawn until it got dark and went inside. We talked about chapter 16 and covered these three articles (see the Library for bibliographic information):

  • Raw Material Utilization in Carroll County, Indiana: A Small-Scale Analysis of Diachronic Patterns in the Usage of Attica, Kenneth, and Wyandotte Cherts
  • Sourcing Lithic Artifacts by Instrumental Analysis
  • Macroscopic and Microscopic Analysis of Chert. A Proposal for Standardisation of Methodology and Terminology
UIndy campus

University of Indianapolis campus, looking at Smith Mall (the "quad" area). The lower half of this image is a large portion of our contour map.

UIndy campus

University of Indianapolis campus, looking at Esch Hall. The foreground is a large portion of our contour map.

UIndy campus

Fall colors hiding Martin Hall at the University of Indianapolis.

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School Bits

Friday: October 14, 2011

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Although I have several segments of class notes to type up, I thought I would make a short post about other things happening in grad school.

Over the weekend, my cohort and I presented our findings at BARFAA (see the abstract located here). UIndy was given the responsibility of profiling (at least) three individuals accidentally discovered in Tippecanoe County. Originally, I was to present my own research on teeth from Isreal using the WLCP, but instead we all felt it would benefit the project if I changed course and added dental texture analysis to the accidental discovery. We put together a keynote presentation and though quite nervous, I felt we did well. I was surprised to find that I was able to master my voice and talk slowly during my segment. We had some questions afterward, and I was able to meet several people in the field. Boy came with me so we could make it a mini-vacation, and the next day we attended the workshop for Transition Analysis, by Dr. Wilson of IUPUI. It is a software developed for use by anthropologists. My take is that it is similar to Fordisc, only targeting age rather than ancestry. It allows you to input several measurements and use a range of measurements. Then it will calculate the confidence level and show you a graph which outlines the individual methods and the correlated age from them. I look forward to using the program in my studies.

Since I made a plug for it, I shall make a plug for another anthropologically awesome program. Anthropomotron is designed for estimates of sex, stature, body mass, skeletal population estimates, and various skeletal indices. I am also interested to see how this works out for me.

Aside from BARFAA, I have been working on my Human Osteology skeletal project. I requested a juvenile since I had worked with mostly adults in Peru, and received a tiny baby. It is sad to think he or she passed away so early and the heartache that must have caused the family. Perhaps that thought is ethnocentric, I do not know, but I feel honored to take the little one in my care. From my research this far, I am almost certain the baby did not reach full term. The teeny tininess has proven a learning experience for me – not just because the bones are not at their mature form, but also because they are literally so small, it is simply hard to examine them. I have also learned first hand about the difficulties archaeologists face when excavating children (this site is a CRM recovery, of course). The archaeologists did very well bagging different bones and labeling the bags, but they did not always correctly identify something. A turtle shell was mistaken for a cranial fragment, and some fragments of ribs were misplaced in the fibula and vert bags. The pubes were both placed in the vert bag as well. This avenue is something I would like to explore more – archaeologists do not always get proper osteological training, and even then sometimes children are not discussed in depth. This is for several reasons of course (and will be explained in a later post), but the need is there. Considering the importance of reburial, the most respectful thing would be to collect the whole individual, you know? Tooth buds, epiphyses, and all.

Another cool thing that happened (and then didn’t) is that the DNR called to see if we could excavate a skeleton discovered in someone’s backyard. To have the excavation experience ourselves would have been wonderful but unfortunately it coincided with BARFAA so we could not get there as early as the police requested and they were able to hire someone else. Maybe next time.

Undergrads (friends and strangers alike!) may surprise you with free food since their tuition includes a meal plan that they do not always use. I’ve had this happen twice and it is quite awesome. The anthro undergrads are pretty cool, especially. For instance, today we discussed the anthropology behind zombies. Does it get any more real than that?

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checking out campus

Sunday: August 28, 2011

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Thursday night, Boy and I stayed in Indy with his mom so that I could move some of my stuff to her guest room. On Friday, we wandered around campus to get my parking permit, find the different offices that may come in handy, locate the cafeteria and bookstore, find my class rooms, and so on. Dr. S had also invited me to attend a MS thesis defense by Lindsy Frazer, titled “Dental Microwear Texture Analysis of Early/Middle Woodland and Mississippian Populations from Indiana.”

This was the first defense I had attended, and it was much more relaxed than I had expected. I followed her presentation pretty well, though she said afterward part of her committee had a question or two they felt were unanswered. Her thesis hits on a difference between the SEM technology and the new 3D technology that she utilized at UIndy (I will explain in another post). Defending a thesis sounds really horrible, but watching her public presentation lightened my anxiety somewhat. Of course, I was not there during the private committee part and I am sure that will be much more difficult.

During her private defense, Boy and I met my cohort – there are three of us on the bioarchaeology track. We also hung out with a third year student, Laura, who showed us the white light confocal microscope (which I will reference from now on as the WLCP, and when I learn more about it I will explain that that means to you, but this is the new 3D technology I mentioned). I only got to hang out with one of my cohorts because the other had to leave campus right away, but I feel I will have a good time there.

Afterward, I met with Dr. S to discuss a funding opportunity that equated to roughly half the tuition cost for the entire time I am at UIndy. It is a research associate position, which can basically be thought of as a research assistantship (RA). I will be in charge of making sure all the incoming molds of teeth from around the world are getting examined with the WLCP, and that any student needing to use it will get an appropriate time on it. This is great for me, because I wanted to be a part of this new technology, but I am not sure I wanted to base my thesis with it, since I very much like macroscopic research (things you can see with your own eyes without technology). Having this position will also give me something to do on my off time down there on campus, and of course the funding aspect is wicked cool. He is going to train me on it this week, so I should be able to post more details.

Boy was impressed that the whole campus uses Lenovo instead of the “crappier Dells and other garbage” you see at other universities. He also enjoyed Dr. S’s sense of humor. A lot.

I am looking forward to class starting tomorrow. I am enrolled in geoarchaeology, human osteology, and bioarchaeology. I’ve had two weeks off of work now and my brain is fully recharged and itching to go. I do feel a bit of anomie going into this new situation without really being able to understand the changes my life will take until it happens. In addition, a lot of stuff started to go wrong right when I was leaving my job (my car stopped shifting, my glasses broke, and some other snafus popped up). I suppose a pessimistic person would have told themselves that it was Fate trying to tell them something. I looked at it differently. In the face of all these unexpected expenses, I asked myself, “How sure are you that this is the best decision to make?”

Absolutely sure.

Undaunted and uprooted, I will be a Master of the Universe! Science! :)

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