Standard Anatomical Position

Abbott & Costello – Who's on First

Bioarchaeological labs can be confusing places. Witness the following interaction, which takes place at least once a season:

Bioarch 1: “This fragment’s a humerus, right?”
Bioarch 2: [Examines bone] “No, it’s a left.”
Bioarch 1: “But it’s humerus?”
Bioarch 2: “Right.”
Bioarch 1: “I thought you said it was from the left!?”
Bioarch 2: “Right!”

[Repeat ad nauseam until both scientists tear out their hair in frustration]

In order to avoid this Who’s on First? level of slapstick, I have instituted a policy of saying “correct” instead of “right” when in agreement about something involving human bones. Another helpful tactic that bioarchaeologists and anatomists use to avoid confusion is to ensure that bones are always oriented in Standard Anatomical Position.

In The Human Bone Manual, White describes Standard Anatomical Position (SAP) as “Standing with feet together and pointing forward, looking forward, with none of the long bones crossed from viewer’s perspective and palms facing forward” (426: 2005). The first page of Anderson’s The Human Skeleton: A Manual for Archaeologists, notes that “In describing the human body, all references are related to what is known as the ANATOMICAL POSITION. That is, we consider the individual to be standing erect, with feet together, eyes facing straight ahead, and hands at the side with palms facing forward” (1: 1962).

An Introduction to Human Evolutionary Anatomy specifies that “Anatomical descriptions are always made with the body positioned in the anatomical position…sometimes this has to be imagined, because the bone or specimen under consideration is actually lying on a table or is still half buried in the ground. The anatomical position is that assumed by a standing person with the upper limbs at the side and with the face, palms of the hands and feet pointing forwards”(2002: 16). Finally, Baker et al. describe how “… the adult human skeleton is typically oriented in a standing posture with no bone crossing over another. Thus, the legs are together with the toes pointing forward and the arms are at the sides with the palms facing forward…While standard anatomical position is based on the adult skeleton, it pertains to any child who has begun to walk. For fetuses and infants who have not yet begun to walk, the body can be envisioned in a supine position (on the back), with the toes pointing up and the palms facing up along the sides of the body” (2005:7).

I struggled with these kinds of technical definitions when I was an osteology student, and found visual or hands-on demonstrations far more effective. If, for example, you’re into yoga, you’re already familiar with SAP as “mountain pose.”

You can also think of it as the standing version of one of my favorite* yoga poses, corpse pose:

*Because I am lazy.

If, however, you are not a yoga practitioner, another helpful test of your understanding of SAP is the examination of the sleeping positions of our canine companions. I have noticed that sleeping puppies will often default to the human Standard Anatomical Position, though they always accidentally pronate their front paws . Let’s take a look, shall we?


Addendum
: I must confess that  when I analyze the bones of the hands, particularly the metacarpals, I analyze them as if they are pronated, and not in SAP. This is because I am a poor osteologist – do as I say, and not as I do!

References
Aiello, L., and C. Dean. 2002. An Introduction to Human Evolutionary Anatomy. Elsevier, London.

Anderson, J.E. 1962. The Human Skeleton: A Manual for Archaeologists. The National Museum of Canada. Roger Duhamel F.R.S.C.: Ottawa.

Baker, B.J., T.L. Dupras, and M.W. Tocheri. 2005. The Osteology of Infants and Children. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.

White, T. D., and P.A. Folkens. (2005) The Human Bone Manual. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Image Credits: Abbot and Costello image from Aurora’s gin joint, found here.  Skeleton in SAP found at auriea.org, here. Mountain pose in anterior view from North Shore University, here, and in lateral view from Greatist, here. Corpse pose from fitfluential, found here. SAP Puppy 1 from the Daily Puppy, found here; SAP Puppy 2 from found here; SAP Puppy 3 from Barkpost, found here; SAP puppy 4 found here; SAP Puppy 5 from Patti Brehler on blogspot, found here.

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A Day of Archaeology on the MARBAL 2017 Project

Disclaimer: This post is a time-stamped “day in the life” of MARBAL co-director Jess Beck, and is brought to you by approximately 17 cups of coffee. It was written as part of the “Day of Archaeology” project on July 28, and was originally posted here. The Day of Archaeology project “aims to provide a window into […]

via A Day of Archaeology on the MARBAL 2017 Project — MARBAL

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How to Analyze a Prehistoric Commingled Burial

My first attempt at this newfangled move called “reblogging”. Here’s my post on analyzing prehistoric commingled burials from the MARBAL project blog.

MARBAL

Most of the human skeletal remains that Emilie and I have been analyzing for the past two weeks are either primary burials, or secondary burials of bits of a single individual.

Two humeri, two radii, two ulnae = 1 person. Would I that all bioarchaeology was this simple.

We’ve recently been examining material from an Early Bronze Age site located just east of us, across the Mureș river. This archaeological site has five distinct graves documented, and after reviewing the maps, I did what I do best: decided to save what looked like the worst work for Future Jess.

For all of last week, I analyzed about a burial every day or two, and things were moving along at a rapid clip until on Saturday night I realized that the only provenience left from the site was from the commingled grave. With growing trepidation, I decided to re-examine that particular map. I…

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New Blog: Mortuary Archaeology of the Râmeț Bronze Age Landscape

In my last post, I promised an update regarding my latest bioarchaeological endeavours. The twist is that the update won’t come on this blog.

As you may recall, I spent about ten days in October gallivanting about the Apuseni mountains, with local fauna and recalcitrant equipment aplenty.


In addition to teaching me about the wonders of Romanian cuisine,


that trip also represented the start of a new bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology project. My collaborator, Dr. Colin “Creator of Inspiringly Ridiculous Acronyms” Quinn, first suggested we dub the undertaking MARBAL, or “Mortuary Archaeology of the Râmeț Bronze Age Landscape.” Colin conducted his doctoral dissertation research in Romania, and our third collaborator, Dr. Horia Ciugudean, is an expert on the Romanian Bronze Age, with years of experience excavating all over the region.

The 2016 crew

With our powers combined, we bring together a unique set of skills – including human osteology, mortuary analysis, and an understanding of regional settlement patterns – that can help us to answer questions about what life was like in this area in the ancient past. We’re particularly excited to be working here because the Apuseni Mountains house some of the richest copper and gold resources in the world, meaning that this area will help us to learn about mobility, exchange, and the emergence of inequality in Late Prehistory.

In day-today practice, however, the brevity of our research trip means that I have reverted to the level of data collection obsessiveness that so characterized my dissertation research.

If you’re interested in learning more about my research in Romania, we’ve just started a collaborative project blog at www.marbalarchaeology.wordpress.com. We’re in Alba for another week, so you can expect several updates about Romanian biaorchaeology, the museum scene in Alba Iulia, and how I feel about dealing with bags of commingled human remains on a Saturday morning (hint: it looks something like this):

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I’ll cross-post relevant bioarchaeology or osteology posts here on Bone Broke, but for more on fieldwork in Romania, the Bronze Age, and the larger MARBAL project, make sure to follow the new blog!

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Osteology Art: Alba Iulia

Hello from Alba Iulia, Romania!

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After a mere 42 hours of travel, I arrived back in Transylvania on Thursday, July 13, to continue working on the collaborative project I began back in October.

BUD

Who doesn’t love waiting outside the beautiful Budapest airport at 1 am to catch an 8 hour van to south-western Transylvania?

After arriving, and fortifying myself with my favorite local fare with undue haste, I have launched into bioarchaeological data collection.

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The American contingent of our team – consisting of myself, Dr. Colin Quinn (Hamilton College), and recent Appalachian State graduate Emilie Cobb – is here for three weeks doing some collections research with human remains from three Early Bronze Age sites that were excavated by our collaborator Dr. Horia Ciugudean. We’ve burrowed into the Muzeul Național al Unirii (National Museum of the Union), where we are greeted every day with an honest-to-goodness parade past our laboratory window:

I’ll post more soon about what we’re up to, as we’re on the cusp of launching a project blog.

However, in the meantime I feel the need to point out one of the endearing things about the Zona Tolstoi, the northern neighborhood we currently call home. Every morning, we have a 20-minute walk in to the museum, and when passing through a narrow alleyway to the side of a local café-bar, we are greeted with this wonderful street art:


I find it particularly appropriate given the nature of our research here. More soon – stay posted!

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Osteology Everywhere: Mohonk Edition

As part of my summer campaign to explore the Hudson Valley region (read: to avoid working on manuscripts/cursing at R), I recently bought an annual membership to Mohonk Preserve. The preserve is just outside of the town of New Paltz, only about 45 minutes away from Poughkeepsie, and has miles of hiking trails with some amazing views of the surrounding landscape.

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Trips to Mohonk and the nearby Minnewaska State Park also provide me with the opportunity to meet some of my New York neighbors, like this slightly suspicious Eastern Red-Spotted Newt:

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and this iridescent Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle:

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I particularly enjoy Mohonk because, unlike Shenandoah National Park or the Vassar College Farm, I have never gotten any ticks there. On a recent visit, I also hiked around Mohonk Mountain House, a gorgeous hotel perched atop a mountain lake that is, unfortunately, only accessible to the ultra-wealthy guests who sojourn there.

Mohonk Mountain House

It was on the way back down that I saw another instance of landscape osteology everywhere, akin to the sighting at Storm King (though this time not anthropogenic): superior and inferior iliac spines masquerading as hilltops:


Need a closer look?


I hope that you’re able to spot some orogenic osteology of your own this summer!

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Osteology Everywhere: Storm King Edition

I’m spending part of this summer in southern New York, and have been doing my best to distract myself from various overdue manuscript drafts by exploring the area. To that end, a few friends and I went to an outdoor sculpture park at the beginning of June. I’d never heard of this place until it featured in a recent episode of Master of None:

After finding out that the art center was only a 45-minute drive away, we hit the road a few days later. Storm King in the flesh is about as bizarre and spectacular as you’d expect.  The undulating landscape spreads out across 500 acres, and is dotted with stands of trees, meandering dirt treks, and over one hundred enormous sculptures.

Storm King – View from between South Fields and Museum HillSome of the metallic behemoths seemed strangely familiar. It turns out that one of the artists responsible for many of these sculptures – Mark Di Suvero – also has a piece outside of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, one that I walked by on a near-daily basis for seven years.

Orion (2006). Mark Di Suvero.

The first sign that Storm King might provide fodder for an osteology everywhere post was that we found…osteology…everywhere. In the course of ambling about the park, my little group stumbled upon two different pieces of fragmentary animal bone. I’m no zooarchaeologist, but I’m pretty sure the bone on the left is a proximal bird humerus, while I would guess that the bone on the right is a deer tibia [any readers who are faunal experts are welcome to chime in to correct me here if I am in the wrong].

Faunal bones
Despite the preponderance of weathered iron sculptures, the most striking piece of art at Storm King isn’t made of metal. After exploring the South Fields our group walked just beyond the Storm King Wall (Andy Goldsworthy, 1997-1998, yes it is one of the art installations), to find a field that looked like it was plucked from a Lewis Carrol fever dream.

Storm King WavefieldThese waves of turf are another unexpected piece of art – Maya Lin’s “Storm King Wavefield.” Lin is also the architect responsible for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. The wavefield actually also featured in Master of None, in a scene where Dev piggybacks Francesa across a field:

Master of None at Storm King WavefieldActors Ansari and Mastronardi are being quite respectful of Lin’s work, since the appropriate way to traverse the wavefield is by walking between the crests. Some of the local youths gallivanting about the place ignored these directives, and it was while staring at the young people, brow furrowed disapprovingly, that I noticed that the wavefield is also an example of osteology everywhere.

YOUTHS

From this perspective, don’t the waves look like stretched-out anterior superior and anterior inferior iliac spines?

ASIS and AIISWhatever the reason, to me the gently undulating terrain was strikingly reminiscent of the anterior illium.

BicycleIf you’re ever in the Hudson River Valley and have some time to kill, I strongly encourage you to check out Storm King for yourself!

Image Credits:
 Master of None screenshot from Netflix. Orion photo from University of Michigan, here. Master of None at the wavefield found at nypdecider, here. Hyperlinked angry cat from 9gag, here.

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