Osteology Everywhere: Meteorite Edition

My external committee member was a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and the first time I went to visit him I was delighted with the departmental decor. Geologists know how to outfit a hallway – they had everything from brilliantly colored geological maps of the UK:

I need this map. Or a similar geological map of Spain.

to collections of meteorites:

Case o' meteorites

One in particular caught my eye. The chunky meteorite in the center goes by the name of “veined spherulitic chondrite.” According to Wikipedia, these are the most common type of metorite to fall to earth, and they are formed when “various types of dust and small grains that were present in the early solar system accreted to form primitive asteroids.

Veined Spherulitic Chondrite

Of course I was immediately interested in it because the process on top of it reminded me of the dens, or odontoid process of a human axis. I was excited, and shared the photos with  Dr. Zachary Cofran of Lawnchair Anthropology. “You can see it, right?” I asked. “For an osteology everywhere?” “Oh yeah,” he immediately exclaimed, “It’s a hamate!”

Osteology Everywhere – Meteorite Edition

It appears this one is something of a Rohrcshach test for osteologists. Or, better yet, one of those tricky illusions that shows two different images at once:

Rabbit duck

I must admit, I have a history of seeing C2s everywhere I look, so I don’t know that I can necessarily be trusted on this one. Cast your own vote below:

Image Credits: Image of odontoid process by Henry Vandyke Carter, from Wikipedia, here. Image of hamate by Henry Vandyke Carter, via Wikipedia, here. Duck-rabbit from the Independent, here.

Posted in Osteology Everywhere, Vertebrae | 1 Comment

Next Year: Visiting Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh

After defending my dissertation on June 03, I took a short trip to visit one of my close friends from university. I spent a week volunteering at the Hog Island Audubon Camp on the coast of Maine:

Hog Island Audubon Camp

On a day-to-day basis, this entailed washing pots, cleaning armloads of kale, sweeping cabins,watching my boss friend run a tight ship in the kitchen, and learning how to identify guillemots.


Guillemots are easy to identify because they have bright red feet and are shaped like footballs.

I should perhaps clarify that I did not retreat to Maine due to a disastrous defense experience. Defending went off without a hitch, though those few days were a blur of collecting Spanish committee members from airports, triple-checking the projector in the room I booked, scrambling to get signatures, and handling the logistics of Skyping in a professor from California.I don’t remember much of the talk itself, but a lot of my friends and colleagues attended and no one threw rotten vegetables, so I assume it went well.

Dissertation Defense

After returning from Maine I spent two weeks knee-deep in revisions. None of them were substantive, but I dedicated many hours to dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s (e.g. carefully combing through my references), and on June 30 I finally, officially submitted my dissertation. Which means I am now officially Dr. Beck!

This also means that I can reveal what I will be up to next year – I’m excited to announce that I will be a visiting scholar at the Center for Comparative Archaeology at the University of Pittsburgh for 2016-2017.

Jess Beck – University of Pittsburgh

At Pittsburgh I’ll spend my time working on several publications borne out of my dissertation research. I’ll also have the opportunity to co-teach a graduate seminar on bioarchaeological approaches to inequality with Professor Elizabeth Arkush, which I’m very excited to put together soon – I’ll post the syllabus, or the first portion of it, once it’s finalized in the next few weeks.

For now, back to the arduous process of packing up seven years of my life, and asking the age-old academic question – “How on earth did I accumulate so many books?”

Image Credits: Guillemot photo from ibc.lynxeds.com, here. Photograph of my title slide courtesy of Amy Pistone.

Posted in Dissertation, Research | 9 Comments

My Dissertation Defense

It’s been a quiet month on the blog. My absence has been due to the fact that I’ve been up to lots of different things, including:

Participating in the University of Michigan Preparing Future Faculty program (through which I was able to spend a fun morning at Eastern Michigan University being mentored by bioarchaeologist and forensic anthropologist Megan Moore):

Preparing Future Faculty

Becoming a Science Communication Fellow at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History:

New Science Communication Fellows

Baking bread:

Doesn't the first stage of the braiding make this look like a squid?

and hanging out with dog buddies:

Goliath sees a squirrel

I also finally checked a minor, pesky task off of my To Do List:

Dissertation Title Page

I submitted my dissertation to my committee last Friday. I will officially defend one week from today, on Friday, June 03. If you are in the Ann Arbor area and have any interest in attending, you are welcome to attend – details are in the flyer below, and a pdf is available here. Until then, it’s back to radio silence on the blog. Wish me luck, everybody!

Jess Beck Dissertation Defense Flyer



Posted in Anthropology, Dissertation, Grad School | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Osteology Everywhere: Atlanta Edition

As you may have gathered by now, I’m always on the look out for osteology, especially when travelling. However, when I recently attended the AAPAs in Atlanta, I did not have to look very far. Rumours abounded that the conference hotel, the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, had been used in the last two Hunger Games movies as backdrop for part of the capitol (and you can see the distinctive geometric floor plan rushing past in the background of scenes like this one). However, I heard pretty much everyone at the biological anthropology conference use the same simile: “this looks like a giant rib cage”

The Atlanta Marriott Marquis: A Giant Ribcage

You can probably see it too… The elevator core as the spinal column, the floors as the ribs, the chunky rectangular block of rooms at the front of the building as the sternum…

Elevator spine

Elevator spine





The other occasion upon which osteology unexpectedly appeared was while I was eating lunch at the Peachtree Center:

Lunch from Yami Yami
Do you see it yet? Look closer…

Sushi navicular!
It’s a sushi navicular! Alright. Osteonerd out – this one was ridiculous, even for me. Happy Tuesday everybody!

Image Credits: Navicular figure from Wikipedia, here.

Posted in Conferences, Osteology Everywhere, Travel | Leave a comment

AAPAs – Atlanta 2016

[TL;DR version of post: I’m presenting a poster on some of my collaborative Iberian research at the AAPAs tomorrow. Session 31 (Skeletal Biology: Bioarchaeology), docket 19, Atrium Ballroom A/B. I’ll be there from 4:00-4:45 – come say hi!]

Another day, another regional cuisine to sample. After a whirlwind week at the SAAs in Orlando, I headed to Atlanta on Sunday. The first order of business was visiting the southern staple of Waffle House.

Before and after...

Before and after…

I haven’t eaten again since. JUST KIDDING. Over the course of my time in Georgia I’ve also consumed pizza, mac n’cheese, fried avocado tacos, sushi, gyoza, and ribs. My third day here I was also able to sneak in a visit to the Georgia Aquarium, which is a magical, magical place. I watched some river otters snoozing, attended a sea lion show, goggled at the massive manta rays, and pet an epaulette shark (10/10 very friendly, would pet again):

Georgia Aquarium
However, I’ve occasionally been taking a break from my packed schedule of gluttony and sight-seeing to  do some anthropology. On Wednesday, I attended the annual Dental Anthropology Association workshop for the first time. During the first part of the morning, Jim Watson provided an introduction to macrowear, covering the factors that contribute to wear, the development of scoring systems in anthropology, and its utility in reconstructing prehistoric behavior. In turn, the participants provided data for a comparison of the Smith and Scott scoring systems:

Smith vs. Scott Scoring System Thrown Down

Smith vs. Scott Scoring System Throw Down

Later in the afternoon, Chris Schmidt led the workshop in a discussion of dental microwear. During this second workshop, we were able to test our ability to differentiate “good” and “bad” images:

Spoiler: Nope, it is not.

Spoiler: Nope, it is not.

This reads like some of the comments from my first year Archaeological Systematics papers...

This reads like some of the comments from my first year Archaeological Systematics papers…

We finished with a wonderful talk from the University of Michigan’s own Holly Smith, who described the academic trajectory that took her from an early interest in macrowear and diet to her continuing fascination with hominin dental development.

All in all it has been a full week, and it hasn’t ended yet! Tomorrow I will be presenting a poster co-authored with Marta Díaz-Zorita Bonilla in the session Skeletal Biology: Bioarchaeology. I’ll make sure to post a link to the poster on academia.edu after the session. If you’re a blog reader, or an isotope person, or a bioarch person, or simply curious about how many typos a human can find on a poster in a five-minute period, feel free to swing by! Details below:

Session: 31 – Skeletal Biology: Bioarchaeology
Number: 19
Location: Atrium Ballroom A/B
Authors: J.Beck and M. Díaz-Zorita Bonilla
Title: Bodies in motion: Isotopic analyses of mobility and diet at Marroquíes Bajos, Spain.
Time: TECHNICALLY I am supposed to be there from 9:30-10:00am, but I will most likely be attending the R Stats workshop, supporting some of my graduate colleagues. I’ll definitely be there for the evening session, from 4:00-4:45pm.

Posted in Bioarchaeology, Conferences | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SAAs – Orlando 2016

Yesterday morning I got up early and blearily watched sheets of pouring rain turn into pellets of hail, steeling myself to make the ten-minute trudge to the bus stop. Burdened with heavy bags and swathed in a flattering Ikea rain poncho, I cut quite the dashing figure on my climb up the hill:

Baba Yaga
However, nine hours later I landed in sunny Orlando. Current local temperature is a balmy 25˚C, with no precipitation on the horizon all week. Success!

The venue this year is PRETTY ridiculous.

The venue this year is PRETTY ridiculous.

I’m in town for the SAA meetings, to give a talk in Katy Meyers Emery’s session, titled “Buried, Bundled and Broken: Approaches to Co-Occurence of Multiple Methods, Treatments and Styles of Burials within Past Societies”. My talk will focus on some of the results from my dissertation research in Spain. If you’re a reader of the blog, or interested in primary and secondary burial during the Copper Age, feel free to drop in. Details are below:

Session: 116, Buried, Bundled and Broken: Approaches to Co-Occurence of Multiple Methods, Treatments and Styles of Burials within Past Societies
Date: Friday, April 08
Session Time: 8:00am-10:00am
Location: North Hemisphere Salon E3
Talk Title: Mortuary multiplicity: Variability in mortuary treatment at a Late Prehistoric matrix village from Spain
Talk Time: 9:00am-9:15am

Image Credits: Baba Yaga found on Deviant Art, here. Photo of Swan and Dolphin from Sun Sentinel, here.

Posted in Archaeology, Conferences, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Osteology Everywhere: Root Edition

This weekend I took a break from SAA presentation-prepping and plot-wrangling in R to take a hike with my friend Anna Antoniou. Anna received a National Geographic Young Explorer grant to walk around the entire island of Cyprus with her brother, cousin and godbrother this summer. Her goal is to document the experience of life on an island that is sociopolitically divided through photos, video, and interaction with locals. It’s a really exciting project, and a great demonstration of what four-field anthropology is all about.

However, in order to prepare for the ~500 mile journey, Anna has needed to break in her pack and hiking boots, so once or twice a week I’ve been tagging along with her on her perambulations.

Anna and I training in Dexter.

Anna and I training in Dexter.

This past weekend we took to Pinckney’s Crooked Lake trail, a five-mile amble up and down rolling hills and forests. Towards the end of our hike, I noticed an unusual root protruding from the muddy surface of the trail:

Remind you of anything?

Given the size and the gracility, I initially thought of an australopithecine femur. I called Lucy (top right), but my friend Caroline vehemently rejected this identification, claiming that the shaft was too thick. Her parallel was Swartkrans 82, a robust australopithecine femur.

Which of us is correct? Vote for your favorite fossil parallel below, or let me know what the Pinckney root reminds your of*:

* Honestly I think Caro is on point here but I would like to experiment with adding polls to blog posts, so bear with me.

Image Credits: First photograph taken by Z. Cofran. Image of SK 82 femur from class connection, here. Image of Lucy femur via Bone Clones, here.

Posted in Long Bones, Osteology Everywhere | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment