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Post-Africa

Thursday: September 19, 2019

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I am returned, rested, and back to reality. My trip was great, of course! I started going through photos today so I imagine I’ll have some posts going at least by the end of the year. Wah wah! The finalized plan was this: Portugal – Mozambique – South Africa – Eswatini (Swaziland) – Lesotho – Namibia – Botswana – Zimbabwe – Zambia – Tanzania – with a long layover in Dubai. We spent one month driving (on the other side of the road!), and one month taking buses, trains, ferries, and planes. We saw a beautifully preserved castle, some archaeological sites, Victoria Falls, and the Ngorongoro Crater; met great people (diverse cultural groups and other travelers); and ate delicious food (phew!). We did several different kinds of safaris, including: self-drive, morning drive, night drive, bush walks, mokoro tour, and safari by boat. Also, “safari” by accident, simply because these are wild animals so they aren’t bound to park borders and just kind of appear wherever they please. Details to follow, someday!

In professional news, I’ve committed to assisting on a state-wide project and might also apply for a grant to complete it. The funding is only up in the air because the paperwork is due on the 25th and only now am I barely back to thinking without brain fog  – not a lot of time to write a worthy application! It’s just researching data already collected and writing so I can stay at home for a change. You see, a year or two ago, it occurred to me that I haven’t had a full summer home since the year of 2011. No wonder my garden doesn’t exist! Maybe 2020 will be the year, eh? … Don’t count on it;)

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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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Adjunct Professor

Thursday: September 6, 2012

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I haven’t posted because all summer I have been working diligently to design a course for Cultural Anthropology when not scanning teeth. When the opportunity came up to teach this semester, I did not take it lightly. I am still working as a Research Associate, and it is getting to be crunch time for my thesis. The addition of teaching (not one, but two classes!) on top of that is a heavy task.

This semester will prove to be the busiest yet. Aside from teaching and DENTALWEAR work, I am enrolled in Archaeological Theory and Medical Anthropology. But of course, my utter despise of free time (what?) has coerced me into auditing a Comparative Osteology class as well. Plus there is still that whole commute thing on the weekends to see my husband and cats.

Oh and I moved to my own apartment literally right next to campus – I can walk! However, there are roaches, and I may be forced to move again if the landlord doesn’t get it under control. Soon.

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Conferences and Classes

Thursday: May 3, 2012

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Anthropologists meet at several events annually, depending on area of study and travel expenses, of course. The American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) was held in Portland this year. I did not attend, but my advisor and cohort did. Instead, I ran two sections of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans alone, and then helped guide the undergraduate Dental class with the bio graduates. I don’t like talking in front of groups, so I was happy that all classes were lab exercises (not lecturing), but it is something I need to get over soon (I will get to that…)

The Society for American Anthropology (SAA) was held the following week in Memphis. My advisor was the only one of us who had a chance to go. My Peru field school assistant and now friend Keith presented on the sample I helped collect data from. If you click on the image, it will take you to his site and you can see a larger version.

Another Possible Complication for the use of Harris Lines as an Indicator of Growth Disruption by Keith Chan

I am bummed I did not make it to either since I missed out on meeting some mentors in the field, but there is always next time, right? Next year, I hear that the AAPA will be in Tennessee and the SAA in Hawaii. I am not sure if I can make it to either one, but it is satisfying to know that I picked a field of study that involves traveling :)

And I may not have gotten to go to the meetings, but I was approached by the department Chair and asked if I was interested in teaching Cultural Anthropology. At the time, I was not sure what he meant (I had thought he meant that night). Long story short, I am being given the opportunity to teach a class this fall. Cultural anthropology has not been my area of focus, but it is a 100 level class, and I have been given notes and presentations from others who have taught it. Jeremy has even offered to let me sit in his class over the summer for a refresher, which I haven’t decided on yet. I haven’t decided yet about actually accepting the opportunity either (although my inner voice is screaming “Yes you have! You are doing it!”). If I am going to teach, I do not want it to be a blunder – I want to be able to focus on it. If I am going to have another semester of grad studies, I do not want it to blunder, either – I have to be wary of my stress level and time management. Aside from those two large issues, there is nothing but positives: I get paid, which roughly will cancel out my school costs; I get the experience of teaching; I get something for my CV; I help the department out when they are in a pinch; etc etc.

I really shouldn’t kid myself – I am going to do it. How could I not? I enjoyed SI-ing during my undergrad life. And Boy put it to me like this: I get to spread the good word of anthropology to newbs. It freaks me out, to have to present 50 minutes two or three times a week, instead of 15 minutes three times a year at a conference, but I just need to get over that. While I had never defined myself as a person who wanted to teach, I think I have to agree with others that it may suit me. I might as well find that out now, so I can begin pursuing that career when I graduate, rather than guessing that is what I ought to be doing when I find myself without a job. Right?

Oh, but the most ridiculous awesome part is that I have academic freedom to design the class myself, down to picking out the very book the students will be using. To say I am shocked is an understatement. To say I am ready for that responsibility is slightly bending the truth. But I have good people to refer to and help me out, so it will work out in the end.

Seriously, though…Me? A teacher?  C R E E P Y .

Oh, and one of my teachers puts together a newsletter for the department. They are huge files so it may take some time to load, but you can catch up with Volume 1 Issue 1 (details the Sapelo Island field school), Volume 1 Issue 2 (Lew Wallace excavations and a little bit about the DENTALWEAR Project), and Volume 2 Issue 1 (where there is a blurb about my research associate job with DENTALWEAR – this one isn’t posted yet at UIndy so I uploaded it for you).

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Semester II

Monday: January 23, 2012

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After I get situated with all the new assignments, I will begin posting class notes again.

Aside from my cohort, I share classes with some undergrads I already know which is cool. We also share classes with some biology grad students (mostly focused in forensic anthropology). At first that seemed daunting: perhaps because their program is not new but well established, or perhaps because there are so many of them. I am not sure, but I felt like it would be hard to keep up, that they must be more advanced than me, something. Silly of course, because they wouldn’t be taking the same classes if that were the case! They all seem cool so I look forward to getting to know them.

I did get the TA position for undergrad Monkeys, Apes, & Humans (all three of us were fortunate for a position) – two classes back to back with two different teachers. I am also sitting in on the undergrad Human Evolution class to refresh myself and hear perhaps other perspectives as well as updated discoveries. I will be working on a project for the Indiana Academy of Science coming up in March, traveling to Portland for the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in April, and writing up a report on my own research by the end of the semester for Archaeology of Eastern North America (with the possibility of publishing). I’ll also have had to decide what my thesis will be, write a paper in Molecular Anthropology, and do fun things with teeth in Dental Anthropology. My job as the Research Associate is going much smoother this semester too, I feel like I have the system down and will really get to make a dent in the project.

This semester will cut me deep to my core, though: I have a class at 8:30am. Since that aligns with a lot of businesses, I give myself about an hour for traffic, with an hour before to wake up and get ready, and with winter upon us, an extra half hour just in case. Meaning that I wake up at 6am. For the last half of my life, I have been on a night schedule, waking roughly by 1pm (last semester I averaged 9AM and that was rough). Going to sleep at 9pm makes me feel silly but hopefully I will get the hang of it quickly (why yes, I need 9 hours of sleep). You must keep in mind that as you scoff at my hardship, if most people wake up by say even 7am, imagine trying to wake up by midnight. Exactly. Add to that, my school is in another time zone, an hour ahead of what I am use to. Having a home and husband on Central Time prevents me from fully switching to Eastern so I feel caught oddly between. Oh, and need I even bother mentioning I am not a morning person?

Overall, I feel busier than ever. I’ve had one week and it really feels more like a whole month!

Here’s a quick sketch for a dental lab assignment. I do not have Aperture reloaded yet so forgive the crummy quality, I used the print-screen option to resize the image.

sketch of a mandible

Quick sketch of a mandible, highlighting key features.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Sunday: September 25, 2011

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Week 3: Osteometric Landmarks & Teeth

Tuesday:

In class, we covered the view of the interior cranium, the maxilla, and the mandible. We also covered some common craniometric landmarks used to identify ancestry. Since I have these memorized well: gnathion, incision, prosthion, nasospinale, nasion, glabella, bregma, vertex, obelion, lambda, opisthocranion, inion, opisthion, basion, gonion, ectomolare, ectoconchion, dacryon, zygion, porion, euryon, and pterion.

There are 20 deciduous teeth and 32 adult teeth in most instances. I only had 31 teeth because one of my third molars never developed. Cool, huh? Teeth are made of enamel (which is almost entirely protein and is acellular, which means they will never heal), dentin (which is about 75% mineral but is cellular although not well enough to patch cavities), and cement (about 65% mineral, like bone, and is what Sharpey’s Fibers hang on to inside the gomphosis joint).

The human dental formula is 2:1:2:3. This means that for each quadrant of your mouth, you have two incisors, then a canine, then two premolars, followed by three molars. We were briefly taught how to determine each category, and upper versus lower dentition (except for canines). More specific detail of this will be taught in Dental Anthropology next semester.

  • Upper incisors: Crown will be flat, enamel flares out from root, the root is more round, and wear will be linear.
  • Lower incisors: Crown will be flat, enamel continues evenly from root, the root is oblong, and wear will be linear.
  • Canines: Crown will be pointed, and wear will have a central bulge.

Thursday:

  • Upper premolars: Crown will be a rounded rectangle, and evenly cut in half.
  • Lower premolars: Crown will mostly circular and will have two dimples.
  • Upper molars: Crown will be shaped like parallelograms, and generally only have four cusps and three roots.
  • Lower molars: Crown will be more squared, have a Y5 or +4 pattern, and only have two roots.

As a grad student, I also have to be able to determine first, second, and third molars. Third molars are fun because typically the cusps are all messed up and the roots are tiny. First are generally the perfect examples of a molar, and seconds are intermediate between the two.

Friday:

We were given details on our dental topography project. The machine we will be using is part of my Research Associate position. Not only will I scan the teeth for texture with the white light confocal microscope, but I will also profile them in the topography machine (TopoM). This process takes literally about 2 hours to do a single tooth but it builds a three dimensional view of the tooth.

For lab, we went over more skull fragments and began sorting teeth.

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Research Associate

Saturday: September 10, 2011

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I have not truly begun my duties as an RA yet but I have been shown the ropes and began practicing. The process can be simplified as thus:

Researchers from around the globe take molds of molars in their samples and send them to us. I have been given a site from Isreal to work with first, since I am expected to present at the Biological and Forensic Anthropology Association (BARFAA) in October. The first step is to clean the molds with alcohol because sometimes the dirt from a tooth is left in them.

Then, I mix up resin and hardener to cast the teeth. The cast works better to reflect the light from the white light confocal profiler (WLCP) than real teeth, and it standardizes all the teeth samples for comparisons. Not to mention, it also prevents us from having the full responsibility of samples in house and opens up a lot more sites to be studied (some of which may be reburied right away can still have the teeth examined through the casts).

I carefully adjust the tooth on a tray so that Phase II is level. Phase II can be thought of as the part on top of your molar that can be felt with your tongue and hikes up to your cheek (of course, it is much more specific than that). Phase II is useful for dental microwear because it is where food hits the tooth during chewing. Microwear, by the way, refers to the scratches and pits that you (yes you!) have on your teeth that can only be seen via a microscope. Different diets will show different patterns of wear. In older populations, some of the teeth are completely worn down and are flat across the top, even exposing the dentin inside. Although this does not bode well for my particular kind of study, it is a fascinating thing to witness. Teeth were used as major tools back then, but also food processing did little to soften food as we have now. In fact, sometimes stoney grit was added to food as a consequence for grinding it with stone tools. In fact further, some populations today still wear their teeth down!

Next, I use the microscope to find a representational place on Phase II and then use the software that came with the WLCP to profile the texture of the tooth. The light shines down and bounces back to the lens and this is calculated so that it can be represented through computer output, rendered in several ways. First, it shows as a gradient of elevation. I then show it as a true image which can give the appearance of an Scanning Electron Microscope image (SEM). This is important because our technology is new and therefore we need to make sure that our results are comparable to SEM results for a control factor, but also because SEM images are what everyone is already familiar with.

Here, I will inspect the image for evidence of dirt. At this point, it will be microscopic dirt, and likely part of the cast so instead of removing it in real life which is likely impossible, I can edit the images so the program understands that it should not be included in the calculations.

Amidst all the linear scratches or circular pitting, you may wonder how I can identify dirt, but the trick is that dirt generally looks like tiny little balls, unlike anything else on the tooth surface so really it is not that difficult to determine. I use the program to erase little spots and then tell it to finish with the calculations.

There is more after this step, but at this point, I am just focusing on finding Phase II (it is not that easy for a newb like me since I am still learning simply how to identify which tooth is which) I also poke around learning the program (and earned the title Rebecca the Grey which quickly transformed into Rebecca the White and even sometimes all the way elevated to Gandolf since I happen to have magic computer powers). I should start on the real thing in the coming week and my next post about it hopefully will include some sort of visual reference for you.

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