Stable Isotope Analysis of Human Remains from Los Millares Cemetery (Almería, Spain, C. 3200-2200 Cal BC): Regional Comparisons and Dietary Variability

Last week I put up a post about my paper on the bioarchaeology of Marroquíes, which had recently been published in MENGA: Journal of Andalusian Prehistory. I’m also co-author on a second paper in the volume, titled Stable Isotope Analysis of Human Remains from Los Millares Cemetery (Almería, Spain, C. 3200-2200 Cal BC): Regional Comparisons and Dietary Variability, written with friends and colleagues Anna Waterman, Jonathan Thomas, and Rob Tykot.

I’ve known Anna and John since 2010, when I first worked at Bolores, a site excavated by Katina Lillios  and a team from the University of Iowa in Torres Vedras, Portugal. Bolores is a Late Neolithic – Copper Age mortuary rock shelter, and is responsible for first sparking my interest in Iberian Late Prehistory. I returned to Bolores for the final field season in 2012, and Anna, John and I  have talked about publishing something together ever since.

In this high-octane photograph from summer 2012, Anna is wearing a red jumper and looking thoughtful, while I am morosely clutching at my feet for some reason. Photo Credit: Joe Artz.

The publication of this new research is particularly exciting as it represents the first dietary isotopic analysis of the people buried at Los Millares*, arguably the most famous site in Copper Age Iberia due to its size, multiple walls, barbican entrance, thirteen hill forts, and extensive cemetery. There hasn’t been a full bioarchaeological analyses conducted for Los Millares, so the stable isotope analyses published here provides an initial glimpse of what life was like for the inhabitants of this village. The isotopes analyzed include δ13Cco, δ13Capδ15N, and δ18O (carbon and nitrogen from collagen, and carbon and oxygen from apatite).

Figure 1. from Waterman et al. (2017)

Figure 1. Map of Iberian Peninsula showing location of Los Millares, from Waterman et al. 2017.

Despite the location of Los Millares only 20km away from the Mediterranean Sea, our results suggest that people were largely reliant on terrestrial resources, with limited input of marine foods in their diets. This patterning matches that found at other sites from Late Prehistoric Iberia, potentially reflecting a broadly distributed subsistence strategy that focused heavily on mixed agricultural production, with minor incorporation of wild or aquatic resources. The standard deviations for δ13C and  δ15N (at 0.4‰ and 0.6‰ respectively) are larger than those anticipated for homogeneous diets. meaning that plant and protein intake thus likely varied between individuals, with δ13Cap values revealing diversity in carbohydrate resources. The human sample available for analysis was small (n=12),so in the future we hope to analyze wild and domestic faunal remains from Los Millares in order to expand these results and clarify dietary practices in Late Prehistoric Almería.

If you’re interested in reading the full paper it’s up on, here:

Waterman, Anna, Jess Beck, Jonathan T. Thomas, and Robert H. Tykot. (2017). Stable isotope analysis of human remains from Los Millares (Almeria, Spain, C. 2500-1800 BC): Regional comparisons and dietary variability. MENGA: Journal of Andalusian Prehistory 7(8):15-27.

*Note that this link refers to it as a city, but it is more appropriately categorized as a large village.

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Bioarchaeological Approaches to Social Organization at Marroquíes (Jaén, Spain)

Confession time. Despite my resolution to spend less of 2018 travelling, I’ve already backslid, with a research trip to Germany (blog post to come) and a trip back to the States having led me to spend about three weeks on the road in January and February.

However, I am now able to stay in one place for six glorious weeks, so it’s back to blogging, working on publications, and appreciating the joys of late winter weather in southern England:


In addition to a surfeit of precipitation, I have also returned home to welcome news – my paper in MENGA: Journal of Andalusian Prehistory, has just been published.

I’m always pleased when a new publication comes out, but this edition of MENGA is a particularly exciting as my analysis of human remains from Marroquíes is contextualized within a larger issue focused on “New Perspectives in the Study of Bioarchaeological Remains from the 3rd Millennium BC in Southern Iberia.”

The papers in this editorial cover four major sites from Copper Age Iberia, including the famously fortified Los Millares, the large-scale settlement of Valencina de la Concepción, home to some of the most intricate ivory artifacts in Spain, the Portuguese ritual enclosure of Perdigões, and the massive village of Marroquíes.

This is the first publication that has come out of my dissertation research (besides my more preliminary chapter in the Osterholtz volume on theoretical approaches to commingled remains from 2015). In the article, I present the bioarchaeological results of eight months of data collection in Jaén, detailing my bioarchaeological and dental analyses and the resultant assessments of minimum number of individuals (MNI), age, sex, and mortuary practices. Overall, my research suggests that there was limited age- or sex-based differentiation in mortuary treatment at Marroquíes, and there was a relatively inclusive approach to funerary practices at all mortuary areas at the site.

Later this week I’ll put up a brief post introducing the Los Millares paper from this same volume of MENGA, as I’m also a co-author on that one. This is a great volume to read if you’re interested in Late Prehistoric Europe, bioarchaeology, or the emergence of large-scale villages, and I’m excited that my work, and the site of Marroquíes, are represented in the issue.

Here’s a link to the paper on

Image Credits: Map of Valencina de la Concepción from Costa Caramé et al., (2010) Trabajos de Prehistoria; Map of the ditches at Perdigões from Valera et al., (2014) SPAL: Revista de Prehistoria y Arqueología de la Universidad de Sevilla; Map of Marroquíes from Zafra et al., (2003) Trabajos de Prehistoria; Reconstruction of Los Millares by Miguel Salvatierra Cuenca, via Wikipedia.

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Bone Broke Year in Review 2017

In 2018 I will approach my goals with the predatory enthusiasm of a lion stalking its prey in Nairobi National Park, rather than the sluggish determination of a snail forced to engage in slow-motion acrobatics due to lack of foresight, which is the vibe that has characterized my approach in 2017.

The reason that my year has passed in a befuddled haze of airports and train rides is because so much of the academic year has been spent on the road. Though I moved to Pittsburgh in August 2016 for my position as the 2016-2017 Visiting Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh, and technically lived in Pennsylvania through May 2017, I only spent 5.5 months in the city, and spent the other 3.5 months travelling. I travelled for fieldwork, conferences, job interviews, bioarchaeological research, and in order to see friends and visit family.

One of my goals for 2018 is thus to limit my travel and stay in one place for at least two months so that I can finally feel a bit settled, and possibly even get some academic work done. That said, I am writing this post from Zanzibar*, on a four-day New Year’s holiday after attending a friend’s wedding in Nairobi, planning to head back to the Cambridge for a week before going to Tübingen and Jena in Germany for six-days on a research trip to meet with collaborators. Even when I seek to avoid it, it seems that travel is determined to find me.

In spite of my hectic schedule, I still found time to get quite a bit done in 2017. My post count for this past year continues to pale in comparison to the 2014 and 2015 peak years of Bone Broke blogging, numbering only 22 posts including this annual recap. Even though post numbers are low, they still provide a good sense of what it is I have been up to academically.**


The 2017 accomplishment of which I am most proud was co-teaching my first graduate seminar with Liz Arkush, an undertaking that required an unanticipated immersion in Andean archaeology, much cajoling of recalcitrant students who did not want to respond to my thoughtful and stimulating prompts, and, of course, donuts.

In mid-winter, I also found out that I had made the grade for a Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Fellowship at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge. Upon my arrival at the McDonald in October, I realized that I had landed in a wonderfully energetic and welcoming academic community which has 50+ post-docs in archaeology and biological anthropology alone. There are endless and fascinating lecture series that cover everything from contemporary debates in biological anthropology to isotopic analyses of mobility along the Roman-Hun frontier. Training and outreach are both components of my fellowship, so in late October I presented my research at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas with new friends and fellow MSCA post-docs Alexandra Ion and Laerke Recht, and in the first week of November I drank Yorkshire Tea for the first time while attending a workshop on entheseal changes at the University of Sheffield.

Oh, and as part of my new life in Cambridge, I also finally learned how to ride a bike.


At least a fraction of my travel in 2017 was related to conference attendance, beginning with the SAA meetings in Vancouver in early April, where I ate some truly spectacular food, visited the breathtaking UBC Museum of Anthropology, and presented my Iberian research in an eclectic and stimulating mortuary archaeology session. After my brief stint in the Canadian west, I headed to the AAPA meetings in New Orleans in mid-April, where I sampled beignets for the first time and also presented a poster on aging methods for subadult teeth. I closed out the year with a trip back to the U.S. in late November in order to attend my first ever AAA meetings, catching up with a number of old friends while marvelling at the scale of the conference.

Osteology Everywhere and Bioarchaeology Vocabulary

 During all of my time on the road I indeed saw osteology everywhere, starting with some heliconia plants in Bangkok, Thailand. I spent a lot of time in New York State over the spring and summer, and in so doing documented iliac crests at both Storm King art center and in the Mohonk Preserve. During my second foray to my Romanian field site, I witnessed some excellent osteology art, in the midst of bouts of consumption of slanina and Jacobs coffee packets. After moving to the UK, I really did see osteology everywhere: on the London Tube, on Downing Street outside of my institute, and in the fiery coals of Thirsty Riverside’s Winter Garden. I also attempted to share my obsessive osteological attitude by writing Bioarchaeology Vocab posts on both Wolff’s Law and the Standard Anatomical Position.Visual puns mean that you will not forget his name


2017 was an important year for getting my next archaeological project off of the ground. While I went to the field in October 2016 in order to map the site of Ramet, I only spent about 10 days in Transylvania. In July of 2017, I returned with the American component of the MARBAL team (Colin Quinn and Emilie Cobb) to rendezvous with Dr. Horia Ciugudean in Alba Iulia, and analyze a number of human skeletal remains from previously excavated Bronze Age sites in the region. Over the course of the summer we started a new blog, I outlined instructions for analyzing a prehistoric commingled burial, and I recounted a day in the life on the MARBAL project.

Expect more ridiculous-looking field ponytails next summer.

It has, all in all, been a busy year. I’m already looking forward to seeing where my archaeological peregrinations take me in 2018. In the mean time, a fellow guest at these bungalows wandered by and admonished me “I hope you do not do work!?”, so it seems like a sign from the universe telling me to take the rest of the year off (six hours and forty-five minutes in this time zone, at least). Wishing a happy and healthy new year to all readers!

* Zanzibar is beautiful, which is why I’m posting these photos, but because I’m first and foremost an anthropologist I also strongly encourage everyone to read the first section of Jamaica Kinkaid’s A Small Place when thinking about what it means to be a tourist in a colonial landscape.
** Besides eating Pop-Tarts.

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AAA 2017 – Washington D.C.

I moved to the UK at the beginning of October, so it no doubt seems strange that I scheduled a trip abroad less than two months later. However, the quick turnaround was for a worthwhile anthropological cause: in late November I headed back to the US to attend my first “triple As”.

The AAA meetings – the conference run by the American Anthropological Association – occur once a year in the late fall. They are the major US meetings for both sociocultural anthropologists and linguistic anthropologists, with attendance running to 6,000+. As such they’re much larger than the primary American conference for biological anthropology (the AAPA meetings), or the Society for American Archaeology meetings, which are larger but still not quite so overwhelming.

Because these meetings are traditionally attended by cultural and linguistic anthropologists, they have become a far more intimate scholastic setting for networking if you are an archaeologist or biological anthropologist. In 2017, I joined as a member of the Biological Anthropology Section upon the recommendation of friends and colleagues, since there are a number of highly active biological anthropologists who have been trying to make the conference more four-field friendly. One example of this is an excellent session I attended that was co-organized and co-chaired by my close friend Caroline VanSickle (NEPOTISM ALERT #1). The session was titled “Biological Anthropology and the Public”, and each of the presenters was invited to speak because they conduct their own unique form of public outreach. This session was particularly innovative because each of the 10-15 minute presentations were filmed in advance at the Smithsonian NMNH , and the videos were broadcast for the first time at the conference session itself a few days later.Sue Sheridan (@SusanGSheridan) discussed the perils and pitfalls of running popular Facebook group BioAnthropology News. Kate Clancy (@KateClancy) followed up by describing how her Period Podcast allows her to reach a much broader audience than her previous attempts at scientific blogging, while Julie Lesnik (@JulieLesnik) gave the audience a series of patented “Tips and Tricks” for making science lectures resonate with broader public audiences.

After Julie, Becca Peixoto (@Becca Peixoto) talked about what it felt like to livestream her work as an ‘underground astronaut’on the Homo naledi project into classrooms and lecture halls around the world. Natalia Reagan (@natalia13reagan), dressed in my favorite conference outfit to date, recounted her time spent debating and debunking popular cryptozoological myths (among others), from an anthropological perspective, and Briana Pobiner rounded out the session by describing how museums can incorporate and promote scientific outreach.

Agustín Fuentes (@Anthrofuentes) led the subsequent discussion, which touched upon important topics ranging from the undervaluation of outreach in tenure decisions to the unfortunate reality of being a woman on the internet in 2017, including death threats and rape threats. Andre Costopoulos, a mentor of mine when I was an undergraduate at McGill University (NEPOTISM ALERT #2), has written an excellent follow-up piece inspired by the session that delves into the historical backdrop to the shift in anthropological attitudes towards public outreach.

I was in the audience for the entire session, and have recapped it as a Twitter moment. Grudgingly, I have to admit that the talks themselves are even more engaging than my tweets, and they are all available to watch on the BOAS Network YouTube channel. These are worth a watch. This session ranks as one of the most innovative conference presentations I’ve seen in anthropology, up there with the “UpGoer Five” session at the 2017 AAPAs in New Orleans, and of course Alison Atkin’s most excellent conference poster “The Attritional Mortality Myth” (also known as #plagueposter).

The session in which I myself presented, titled “Bioarchaeology and the Biocultural Synthesis: Current Perspectives and Applications,” was organized by Michigan State University PhD student Lisa Bright and Idaho State University visiting assistant professor Amy Michael, and focused on biocultural approaches to bioarchaeology. The session abstract emphasized employing “biocultural models that blend social theory with cultural, environmental, and biological interactions,” and was aimed at “researchers whose work encompasses issues that were relevant in the past just as today (e.g. migration and immigration, gender and sexuality, race and ancestry, privilege, economics, and health).” There were some great talks in that vein, from discussions of how structural violence affected historic populations in the United States, to the impact of race and gender in the both the ancient past and in the present.

I presented a co-authored paper on the ways in which mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology provide complementary lines of cultural and biological evidence that can be used to more fully understand the emergence of inequality in human societies. We drew upon case studies from Copper Age Iberia, Early Bronze Age Romania, and Bronze Age Ireland to illustrate the ways that our approach can inform the emergence of inequality in different parts of the world in prehistory. That paper, co-authored with the esteemed Colin Quinn, was published in Open Archaeology in 2016 as a paper titled “Essential Tensions: A Framework for Exploring Inequality Through Mortuary Archaeology and Bioarchaeology.” One of our goals over the past two years has been to break the Top 5 most downloaded articles list for that journal, so go ahead and give it a read if you’re feeling generous.

Since I was able to participate in a thought-provoking series of bioarchaeology presentations and witness a stellar session on public outreach in biological anthropology, I’d say my first AAAs were a success. However, I still haven’t recounted the most important interaction of my conference experience: meeting the world’s most compelling graduate school recruiter (spotted at the booth for KSU).

More Washington DC conference shenanigans to unfold in 2018, as I’ll be back in the city in the spring to present a poster and a paper at the Society for American Archaeology meetings. Until then, Happy (almost) New Year!


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Osteology Everywhere: Winter Garten Edition

In the movies, southern England during the holiday season is always pictured as a bucolic landscape of quaint villages nestled in rolling hills that are blanketed with snow. The reality is something more like this:

Current view from outside my office, as of 3:19 PM on Sunday, December 17. Pretty grim.

The weather of late has been unpredictable– cold, or, rainy or, wait for it… cold AND rainy. I have begun to appreciate the British penchant for layered sweaters and a constant stream of tea. After four years in Quebec and seven years in Michigan I can handle the cold, but low temperatures combined with rain, rather than snow, simply add insult to injury.

In order to cope with the ever inclement weather, on Saturday night I organized a small gathering at a place called the Winter Garten, run by Thirsty Riverside.

The Winter Garten is a semi-outdoor beer garden that has massive tents with central fires, an outdoor beer stand, and rotating food trucks. Because of its location and clientele, it is also a great place for dog-watching.

His name is Peanut and he is dressed like a Christmas pudding.

I made some bad food decisions on Saturday afternoon (namely, not eating enough food), and so I was forced to grab a burger, which meant spending a fair amount of time shifting from foot to foot in the cold, wishing I’d brought a thicker pair of gloves. Upon returning to the tent, it was necessary to warm up by the fire.

Holding my hands as close to the fire as humanly possible made me notice the shapes of logs themselves. After a few seconds, the elongated and angular exteriors surrounding rounded hollow cavities seemed somewhat familiar. Don’t these look like tibial shafts?

A friendly winter reminder that even capuchin-themed beer cannot prevent me from seeing osteology everywhere!

Image Credits: Photo of tibia from the Science Museum Collection, here.

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Osteology Everywhere: Downing Street Edition

I’m currently in the US, visiting friends for about a week after attending the American Anthropological Society meetings in Washington DC. It’s been a difficult return trip, as I now find myself beset by sunlight until exceedingly late in the evening – 4:30, 5:00, sometimes even 5:30 PM – in contrast to the soothing, pitch-black darkness that descends on southern England like clockwork at 3:30 PM.

Each time I take a trans-Atlantic trip, the two-day period before departure is noteworthy for being a particular relaxed and well-organized time.

JUST KIDDING. Instead, it’s a two-day slog that finds me furiously packing, making to-do lists, and fretting about whatever important item I will realize that I have forgotten while boarding my first plane.

Last week, I was in the midst of a typically last-minute foray outside the McDonald Institute to shop for gifts when I noticed an unusual street cover on the pavement along Downing Street.

At first glance, the pattern reminded me strongly of subadult long bone diaphyses, the central shaft portion of the bone that fuses to the outerlying epiphyses as the skeleton grows and develops. Take a look at these tibial diaphyses photographed by Pieter Folkens,

these casts of long bone diaphyses from France Casting,
or the diaphyses visible in this articulated partial subadult skeleton from the Museum of London.

See it now? I think the main reason I found the pattern so visually evocative was because of the flaring proximal and distal ends of each piece.

A good reminder that even when I’m trying to focus on other things, there is osteology everywhere!

Image Credits: Fokens’ tibial series via allthingsAAFS, here. France Casting subadult bones found here. Subadult bones from Museum of London found here.

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Osteology Everywhere: London Tube Edition

My parents visited me last week (Hi Mom!). On Sunday we struck out for London, so that they could see West End shows, eat at fancy restaurants, and attend tennis tournaments. Apparently, the near constant threat of a cycle collision in central Cambridge was not enough drama to sustain them on their trip to the UK.

We also went to Ely, where we saw this spectacular rainbow.

After a somewhat convoluted journey into the city, which involved driving to Heathrow, returning a rental car, taking a shuttle to Terminal 2, taking the Picadilly line to King’s Cross, purchasing a return train ticket, then taking the train to the West End for lunch, we were finally ready to see some of the city. While my mother watched a show, my father and I spent two hours walking around Green Park (very little) and Hyde Park (very big) to take in the sights.

Though the weather was chilly, I was excited to observe some of the local urban fauna.

Real talk: when I stopped to take this photo of a goose a pigeon LANDED ON MY ARM! It did not poop on me, but it had poop on its claws, and I am never going near a bird feeding area in London ever again, let me tell you.

I was especially tickled by the confident strut of this Egyptian Goose (don’t worry, I too had to look up the species name).

As the light was fading* it was time to walk back through the Wellington Arch and catch the tube back to King’s Cross.

I was sad to leave my parents (mainly because they were staying at a fancy hotel that had a coffee room full of free pastries and cookies), but perked up once I noticed this map of the Picadilly Line while taking the tube back to King’s Cross.

Look at this cute little skeletal hand! Bonus points for the correct number of phalanges on the pollux, as well as the appropriate orientation and differentiation of the distal radius and ulna. 

However, after counting the visible carpals (6), I realized two were missing. The hand is shown in dorsal view, hence no pisiform, but it took me a few toggles back and forth between the image and some anatomical drawings and x-rays to realize that the trapezium is gone.

The illustration is by artist Rob Durkin, who provides a close-up of the image on his website. My assumption is that Durkin removed it to preserve the clean lines and blank spaces between all of the bones, make for a neater image. On his website he does specify that his aesthetic entails “achieving the perfect economy of line, angle and shape to convey the idea.”

The omission could pose a problem if you’re trying to learn hand anatomy, but if you’re trying to learn hand anatomy solely with reference to subway posters there are probably larger problems at play in your life than a missing carpal. Trapezium or no, the poster was a pretty adorable way for the universe to remind me to stop gallivanting around bird-watching and get back to work!


Image Credits: X-ray hand by Rob Durkin, taken from his “Discover London Above the Picadilly Line” poster.

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