Survey on Publishing Decisions in Archaeology

After spending about a month back in the US I have finally returned to Cambridge. I’m hoping to spend the next two months (a) writing; (b) experiencing the extended daylight and gentle sunshine of an early English summer, and (c) finishing up data collection for a ‘met-archaeological’ project I am working on. This is where you come in—that is, if you are a self-identifying archaeologist pursuing or having earned a master’s degree or higher.

I’m conducting a survey on publishing decisions in archaeology along with my colleagues Erik Gjesfjeld (@gjesfjeld) and Stephen Chrisomalis (@schrisomalis). We are interested in how and why archaeologists decide to publish in particular academic journals.

The survey only take 5–10 minutes to complete. In completing this survey, you will be asked for demographic and professional information, as well as questions about journals that publish archaeological research and how you, and others, make decisions about which journals to publish in. Here’s a link:

If you are a reader of the blog and also an archaeologist, please consider taking it!

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Effective Conference Presentations and Networking

Note: Shocking as this was to discover, today marks the sixth birthday of the Bone Broke blog. My first post, “OsteoMenagerie I: The Navicular“, went up on May 2, 2013. 

It is tempting to open this post with a snarky comment about the PR dumpster fire that was the 84th Society for American Archaeology meetings, but discussion of that particular conference has been handled adequately elsewhere. It is perhaps worthwhile to specify, however, that this post is aimed at graduate students or early career researchers rather than institutional boards.

Recently a reader requested that I post the slides for a talk on “Effective Conference Presentations and Networking” that I gave in March 2018 as part of the Department of Archaeology Professional Development series at Cambridge. At this point in my career I have attended 14 conferences in 6 years, including the Society for American Archaeology, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the European Association of Archaeologists, and the American Anthropological Association meetings. This includes presenting a total of eight posters and nine talks; in total I have 25 authored or co-authored presentations on record at this point. The tl;dr version of all of that is that I’ve been to A LOT OF CONFERENCES.

There are certainly valid reasons for arguing against conferences as an academic forum. Unfortunately, as with the Open Access publishing movement, it’s difficult to take a hardline approach as an early career researcher without the potential for negative professional repercussions. Given the environmental ramifications and the undeniable fact that conferences are extremely expensive, it helps to maximize the professional and networking opportunities at every conference you attend.

With that in mind, I’m sharing the slides from my presentation last year, which was divided into three sections:


I spent a fair amount of time in early grad school figuring out how to give a clear and concise presentation, though it’s something that I work on to this day. At this point my aesthetic is fairly predictable—light color slide theme, removed-background images, Franklin Gothic Book font (thanks Chelsea Fisher!). After learning this the hard way, I’m also a big fan of redundancy and takeaways, and tend to follow the “open by telling people what you’re going to tell them, tell it to them, then close by telling people what you told them” mantra.

The most valuable advice I have is to limit the amount of text on your slides, be engaging and make eye contact with the audience (this is still possible if you’re reading your paper), and practice the first 3-5 minutes of your presentation until you know it cold, as that’s when you will feel the most nervous. After several disastrous experiences early on, I always back up my presentation slides (in! BOTH!  powerpoint! and! pdf! format!) via email, on a USB key, and on DropBox.

Things I plan to work on in the future include continuing to learn about and use territorial acknowledgements, paying more attention to the visual accessibility of my presentations, (e.g. through using the colorblind palettes in R), and adding content warnings if I use photos of human skeletal remains. I’d also like to get back to presenting without reading my papers, though the amount of advance prep that takes me means that particular goal will likely be schedule-dependent.


Your poster has too much text. My poster has too much text. Everyone’s poster has too much text.

Writing a poster is like packing for a trip. It’s best to try to limit the contents from the beginning, but you’re often stuck with making a first attempt, removing 1/3 of what you have, and reorganizing. The best resource I have found for structuring my own conference posters is Colin Purrington’s website, which provides a number of tips for poster design, along with extremely helpful templates. My long term goal is to one day give a conference poster that is composed solely of figures and captions, with no excess verbiage (unlike my very first conference poster, on p.16). One can dream.

Another word of advice for both posters and papers: many grad programs organize “practice sessions” for students, in which faculty and grads sit through and critique presentation drafts in advance of the actual conference. These can be very useful for trouble-shooting aspects of your presentation, but I have always found it easy to get bogged down in aesthetic details. Pay attention to what your colleagues tell you (especially if multiple people tell you the same thing), but don’t get overwhelmed; there are multiple ways to give successful and effective presentations, and whether you use Arial or the (far superior) Franklin Gothic Book, you’ll probably survive your conference experience.

In terms of on the ground advice, I memorize the time/location of my poster before the conference so that I can immediately let colleagues know those logistical details if necessary. When presenting a poster, make sure to have business cards or printouts that include your contact information, and sketch out some of your main talking points in advance of your session. I  like to have a notebook on hand to jot down people’s questions or email addresses if there is something that needs following up. Finally, you will find typos when standing in front of your poster. This is a normal part of the academic experience, and if N<10, you’re doing great!


My very first conference I went to many, many sessions, but didn’t arrange to meet anyone in advance. Over time, my conferencing strategy has flipped, and I now attend fewer sessions, but spend a lot of time planning out scheduling in advance so as to meet with colleagues, which I organize into the overly obsessive kinds of itineraries you can find on p. 26. The asterisk in the list below is a reminder that conferences aren’t only for meeting Important Senior Academics™, but also for meeting colleagues at a shared professional level. Other ECRs will more typically be the people who ask you to participate in sessions, review your papers, and solicit collaborations, and I think that’s an underappreciated aspect of conference networking.

It can be intimidating to send someone a cold email to ask them to meet with you at a conference, and I would initially send out pages of excessively apologetic verbiage. Over time I have streamlined this process, and recommend sending out a concise, polite email that either utilizes an existing social connection or demonstrates you’re familiar with their research.

Remember that networking does not end at the conference. If you have a productive conversation or meet someone with overlapping research interests, make sure to keep in touch, whether that’s via twitter, email, or some other form of communication.


While I initially included this in the “presentations” section of my talk, these things are helpful to have on hand for any form of conference participation:

1) Water bottle, because you are going to spend all of your day talking, and hydration is important;
2) Cough drops, because you are going to spend all of your day talking, and will probably lose your voice;
3) A protein bar or other fast snack, since there will at least one meal you accidentally miss due to scheduling and socializing. It is a ill-advised to start planning for this eventuality only AFTER your stomach begins emitting high-pitched whale noises in the middle of a session;
4) Floss, because there’s nothing worse than meeting an Important Senior Academic™ while realizing that part of your morning bagel is stuck between your front teeth.

Here’s a pdf of the entire presentation:

Bone Broke – Effective Conference Presentations and Networking

Thanks are due to Michael Rivera (@riveramichael) and Marissa Ledger (@marissa_ledger) for inviting me to give the initial presentation, and to Sam Legget (@samleggs22) for advice on colorblind resources for R. If you’re looking for other academic tips, there’s a post I wrote a couple of years back that illustrates my Top Ten Dissertation Writing Tips (as illustrated by cats) that may be useful to those of you muscling yourselves rung by rung up the graduate school ladder.

If anyone has any other post requests please let me know! I’m currently looking for  incentive to get back into blogging, though lord knows I #shouldbewriting.

Posted in Anthropology, Conferences, Grad School | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

SAA 2019 – Albuquerque, NM

It is somehow already April, the month when I traditionally abandon the verdant beauty of the English spring:

at a reasonable and relaxing hour:

for a randomly-selected major US city, in order to attend the annual migration of archaeologists represented by the Society for American Archaeology meetings. This year the meetings are in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I am writing this from a bar at LAX after a 4:40 am taxi, 2.5 hour bus ride, and 11 hour flight from Heathrow. I am in better shape than I anticipated, in large part because I abandoned any pretence of working on the plane and instead treated myself to watching all of the Oscar contenders/various thrillers/Marvel blockbusters I have somehow did not seen in 2018 (in order: A Simple Favor, 8th Grade, Venom, and A Star is Born).

How I smile at eminent colleagues with whom I am attempting to network

How I smile at eminent colleagues with whom I am attempting to network

The meetings this year are particularly exciting because I am co-running my first session with my reliable and stalwart collaborator Colin Quinn. The session is titled “Living and Dying in Mountain and Highland Landscapes.” Here’s our abstract:

Due to their unique ecology, topography, and geological complexity, mountain landscapes are of particular importance for anthropological investigations of the relationship between social action and the environment. Papers in this session will address three key issues in order to set a new agenda for mountain bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology from a global perspective. First, mountain landscapes have been approached from a wide variety of theoretical perspectives. What are the most promising existing approaches and future developments in theorizing a bioarchaeology of mountain landscapes? Mountains can be arenas in which people contest and assert claims to territory, resources, and power. Visibility and accessibility within such landscapes impact communication, interaction, and engagement with other features of local social topographies, such as settlements, activity areas, and pathways. Second, what are the methodological opportunities and challenges for a bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology of mountain landscapes? How might new methods elucidate the lives and funerary practices of people buried in mountain landscapes? Finally, how do mountain communities compare with contemporaneous groups in the lowlands? To understand mountain adaptations, lifeways, and ideologies, mountain communities must be situated within a larger macroregion to see to what extent their landscape uniquely structured the social lives of upland communities.

Here’s our stellar line-up:

The session looks to be an excellent assembly of colleagues working on issues of identity, community, adaptation, and landscape within the fields of mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology. Our session is no˚ 183, and takes place this Friday, April 12 from 8:00-11:00 AM in the room 15 Zuni.

Because I am incapable of pacing myself (and also because I assumed that EAA and SAA participation rules were the same – INCORRECT), I am also presenting in a great session co-organized by the Saras2Sara Becker and Sara Juengst.

Their session [353] takes place on Saturday from 1300-1600 in 29 Sandia.

If we are friends, colleagues, friendly colleagues, or nemeses*, please swing by to hear these talks, which I am very much looking forward to, despite the likely absence of alien somatic symbiosis in any featured presentations. If it adds incentive, I can also enthusiastically explain the plot of the movie Venom after either session.

See you soon!

*Or, I suppose, in the unlikely event that you fall into none of those categories but are interested in the bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology of either mountains or non-ranked societies, come to the talks and then define your social/professional relationship to me after the fact.

Image Credits: Venom smile from Film School Rejects, here.

Posted in Archaeology, Bioarchaeology, Conferences | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bone Broke Year in Review 2018

2018? More like twenty-LATE-teen, at least when it came to blogging. I only published four posts this past year, in part is because I spent over three months away from Cambridge conducting bioarchaeological research. When thinking back over the preceding year I’m faced with a murky haze that likely contains equal amounts of coffee, procrastination, and time on the road.

In an attempt to figure out why I was such an abysmal updater, and to reflect on my year itself, here’s a brief description of what I got up to on a month-by-month basis below.

After returning from a friend’s wedding in Kenya over the holiday period, I spent two weeks in Cambridge. I had one Skype interview for a job in the US before embarking on a ten day research trip to Germany from January 14-23, where I visited my colleague Marta Díaz-Bonita Zorilla at the University of Tübingen to analyze a commingled deposit of human remains from inside an enclosure ditch at the Spanish Copper Age site of Marroquíes. I then headed to Jena by the most circuitous train route imaginable to visit my friend Elizabeth Nelson and drop off ancient DNA samples from Transylvania with collaborator Wolfgang Haak, both of whom are based at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Human History. Betsy took me on a tour of the aDNA lab in Jena, which was one of the most memorable experiences of the winter. Later in the month I began auditing Tamsin O’Connell’s biomolecular archaeology module of the MPhil Archaeological Science Course here at the McDonald to learn more about isotopic analysis. I attended six lectures, seminars, or practicals at the tail end of the month while working on revisions to a co-authored paper that had been submitted to Antiquity in August of 2017.

February was largely consumed with job interviews in the United States, so I spent the end of January and the first week of February honing my job talk, including giving a practice presentation to the Bioarchaeology Reading Group on February 1. I also finished sitting in on Tamsin’s  biomolecular archaeology module, attending another three lectures or seminars. On February 10 we submitted our Antiquity revisions, and I spent February 6-14 back in the US for the job interviews themselves. Likely to distract myself from the outcome of said interviews (spoiler: they went well but I did not get an offer at either institution) I posted two updates on the blog later that month, covering two of my publications that came out in MENGA: Journal of Andalusian Prehistory.
The first was a publication of the results of my dissertation research on the site of Marroquíes, and the second was a collaboration with colleagues working on preliminary isotopic analyses of humans buried at the famous Chalcolithic site of Los Millares. Finally, on February 27 we received word that our Antiquity paper was accepted. Covering the strontium and oxygen isotopic results from Marroquíes, this represented the second major paper of my dissertation research. Given that I defended in August 2016, this gives you some idea of the inherent time lag involved in archaeological publishing…

 I kicked off the month by giving a talk in the Biological Anthropology PhD Professional Development Series titled “Effective Conference Presentations and Networking” on March 6th. I spent from the 12-15 visiting Copenhagen, in an attempt to take advantage of being so close to Europe, and drank all of the beer that To Øl and Mikkeller had to offer. Upon my return I staffed a table at the University of Cambridge Science Festival, working with my friend and colleague Laerke Recht to teach young children about osteology using an activity that I developed and Laerke illustrated titled “Game of Bones“.  I also spent a significant amount of time this month assembling a manuscript to submit to the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, spending hours R-wrangling in order to make beautifully colored figures:

and dealing with constructive criticism from collaborators, while sending multiple paper drafts back and forth.

The beginning of April was devoted to conference preparations and related travel, as I was giving both a poster and a podium presentation at the annual Society for American Archaeology conference. I spent April 11-15 at the SAA meetings in Washington DC, and five days later submitted the paper on the results of dietary isotopic analysis (C, N) to JAA. At the end of the month an idea for a new paper started to percolate, this one on publishing decisions in archaeology, and so I outlined my ideas for research questions and organized meetings with potential collaborators. I also began modifying a manuscript that has been in the works since I finished my dissertation, a piece on developing dental methods for evaluating prehistoric commingled assemblages. Sadly I am only now getting back into it, but I have (perhaps grandiose) hopes of submitting it in the next two months.

May was a month of receiving requests for reviews and preparing for summer fieldwork. I was asked to review a book for American Antiquity on May 11, and sent in reviews to Open Archaeology on the 14th, and the Archaeological Review of Cambridge on the 16th. I already felt fairly overwhelmed by the prospect of preparing for a long stint of fieldwork in Transylvania when, on May 23, my collaborator Pedro Díaz-del-Río sent me an invitation on WhatsApp that I could not turn down.

I suddenly found myself preparing for not one, not two, but three months of bioarchaeological data collection, and mapping out the logistics of travel, housing, and storing all of my belongings in the office (so as to avoid paying summer rent for no reason) took several weeks. I spent the last few days of the month attending a (mandatory, because of British risk assessment policies) First Aid course at St John Ambulance. Perhaps the most important achievement unlocked in May, however, was that it was my first time volunteering at the Cambridge Beer Festival, which was one of the high points of my year.

One June 5 I left for two months in Romania. The MARBAL team spent the first four weeks excavating at the site of  Ramet-Gugului, working with three undergraduate students from Hamilton College. Our students posted on travelling to Romania, and food in the field, while the the project was featured on the Hamilton College Blog. In late June our colleagues and friends Liviu and Raluca took us on a fantastic field trip to the site of Ampoița, and my father came out to visit to help out with the end of the season (including backfill day), an experience documented in his engaging blog post “Archaeology 101“. Field days were long, and evenings were spent cooking, preparing for the next day in the field, working with Colin Quinn to send out invitations to participants for an SAA 2019 session we are organizing, and reading the edited volume I was reviewing, a Sisyphean task that unexpectedly took me all summer.

July was devoted to bioarchaeological data collection, with three and a half weeks spent conducting analyses of over 17 individuals from eight Bronze Age sites, and selecting around 60 human and faunal samples for isotopic analysis back in Cambridge. On July 11 I received reviews for our JAA article, and on July 15  I submitted an article review to Advances in Archaeological Practice; when not hunched over trays of fragmentary bones and teeth, my limited downtime was spent reviewing or revising papers. We also had a bat decide to roost in our apartment bathroom the night of July 26, during our last few days of data collection.  Not a lot of sleep in July, as I recall.

The team left Alba Iulia and headed for Cluj on July 28, then made our way to Budapest via shuttle on July 29. We had two days in Budapest, and then I attempted to return to Cambridge via RyanAir on July 31. One cancelled flight later, I made it back to town on August 01. After four days furiously reorganizing my belongings and soaking in the long summer days I was bound for my next port-of-call: the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas in Simancas in Madrid, where I would spend the next four weeks in a museum basement analyzing human remains from a Copper Age enclosure site that had just been excavated. There were 50 deposits of human remains, rather than 35, so this was another month of very limited sleep. In what little spare time I had I worked on the proofs for the JAA paper, and attempted to assemble my two podium presentations for the European Association of Archaeologists meetings that would be held in Barcelona in September.

I arrived in the beautiful metropolis of Barcelona in early September to spend several days exploring…the confines of my hotel room. I simply had not had enough down-time to prepare two solo podium presentations while collecting data in August, which meant for some fast-paced powerpoint slide construction. Despite my sleep-deprived state, both went swimmingly. My first was “Embodied Inequality: Bioarchaeological Approaches to Inequality in Copper Age Iberia,” presented in a festschrift session for Antonio Gilman organized by Katina Lillios and Pedro Díaz-del-Río. The session was wonderful, and despite it being an all-day session the material was compelling enough to keep me seated for all of the papers.

The second, “Pattern, Process, and Processing: Post-Mortem Interactions with the Dead in Late Prehistoric Europe,” was part of a session organized by Lizzie Craig-Atkins and my friend Alexandra Ion, titled “Manipulated Bodies: Case Studies of Post-Mortem Interactions with Human Remains.” Though mercifully shorter than the Gilman session, it was also full of compelling case studies.

Because two conference presentations in three days was not enough, while at the EAAs I also submitted the proposal for our SAA symposium “Living and Dying in Mountain and Highland Landscapes,” which was recently accepted and will take place at the meetings in Albuquerque this year. Upon returning to Cambridge and moving all of my belongings from my office into my new flat I fell into a deep sleep for several days, rousing only to submit my long-fermenting book review to American Antiquity on September 14. At the end of the month, I also left town for long enough to visit Lyme Regis, a seaside town on the Jurassic Coast well worth a trip both for its ammonite hunting opportunities, and its site as the longstanding habitat of novelist John Fowles.

After reviving from the world’s longest stint of summer data collection, I spent much of October learning how to prepare collagen samples for carbon and nitrogen isotopic analysis, tutored by the inimitable Emma Lightfoot. The most important step is not to in any way absorb or ingest hydrochloric acid; thus far I have done quite well. I also submitted a second round review for Advances in Archaeological Practice, volunteered at a McDonald Institute Prehistory Day on October 20, and gave a talk for the Biological Anthropology PhD Professionalization series titled “Introduction to the US Academic Job Market” with visiting scholar (and fellow Michigan grad) Zachary Cofran.

In November I submitted two grant applications (one internal, one external), was elected* Postdoc Visibility Representative by the Postdoc Committee at the McDonald, took a weekend trip to visit York, and submitted a survey I’m circulating on publishing decisions in archaeology to the Ethics Committee, got it approved, and had it live for three weeks. On November 18 I took a day trip with other members of the isotope lab to the Anglo-Saxon village at West Stowe, and on the 24th Chris Knüsel visited for a Taphonomy Workshop, co-organized with John Robb and hosted by the Bioarchaeology Reading Group.  I also volunteered at the Cambridge Winter Beer Festival, which was just as fun as the summer beer festival, though slightly smaller-scale. Over the course of the rest of the month I finished getting my second batch of isotope samples into the -20 freezer in advance of upcoming travel.

*I.e. had other postdocs tell me it was mandatory

I spent December weighing my second batch of isotope samples and outlining writing projects for the new year, prepping my third batch of isotope samples, and reviewing a paper for JAS: Reports. I had family visiting early in the month for a trip to Scotland, and by the time I got back the holiday season had started in earnest, with mince pies and mulled wine in the McDonald lobby, the annual GPR Christmas party (this year, 80s themed), and the Churchill College Christmas Dinner. The holidays themselves were spent in Cambridge and Coventry, taking lots of long cycle rides and drinking lots of beer.

From the October to December period, I also applied for 10 tenure-track jobs, finished processing two batches (74 samples) of prehistoric human or faunal bone collagen for C and N, knit three hats, and pr’ed my deadlift. In hindsight, it appears 2018 was a relatively busy year, and I have done my best to spend time accruing data that I can turn into publications over the next two to three years. I have plenty of resolutions for the New Year, and I’m hoping to get back on track with blog posts and post at least two times per month. Wish me luck!

Posted in Year in Review | 3 Comments

Field Trip to Ampoița

I have been absent from the blog for several months because I’ve been working with my friend and collaborator Colin Quinn to prepare our first season of excavation in Alba County, Romania as part of the ongoing Mortuary Archaeology of the Râmeț Bronze Age Landscape project. This has entailed a number of exciting steps. Coordinating shuttle trips from Budapest to Cluj-Napoca! Ordering 500 Whirl-Pak geological sample bags! Filling out 15 pages of risk assessment forms for my home institution! Making a trip to the Dedeman hardware store in Alba Iulia every two days! What can I say – my life as a professional archaeologist is infinitely glamorous.

This is the fanciest thing I have ever done in the field.

We are here with three Hamilton College undergraduates, and have been trying to show them that there is more to Transylvania than 2x2m archaeological units. Last Saturday two local colleagues, Liviu Balăn and Raluca Burlacu, offered to take us on a trip to the neighboring Ampoi Valley, about a fifteen minute drive from Alba Iulia. We set out on a hike on the morning of June 16  to visit multiple archaeological sites strung out along the course of a mountain ridge line, including the “Castru Romana Ighiu” (Roman Fort at Ighiu), and an Early Bronze Age necropolis at Ampoița.

Parking down in town, the first major landmark visible on our trip was the Calcarele de la Ampoița, a massive limestone formation. These formations are often markers of Late Prehistoric sites in the region. This is a view from the tail end of the hike.

After parking and receiving the customary diplomatic attentions of the local dogs, we wound our way up through a muddy trek that ran in between fields and into the forest. We meandered upslope for about half an hour, before making it above the tree line, where a massive grassy slope opened before us, complete with the Transylvanian starter package™ of shepherd and flock, who greeted Liviu with a wave and a “Buna Ziua” as we drew closer:

A local shepherd, his flock, and his crew of extremely suspicious canine companions.

Turning to the east/northeast, we could  see the steep, rounded hilltop that housed the remains of the Roman fortress, along with the town of Șard spread out below.

The large hill in the foreground on the left is the hill home to the Roman fort. The town of Șard visible to the right, and the distant hill in between the fort and the town is called Bilag.

As we toiled upwards, the defensive advantages of the hilltop became increasingly obvious.

The students, laboring up the hill.

After taking a few minutes to recover, I learned a variety of important things. First, these salty pretzels with brânză (sheep’s milk cheese), provide a delicious means of controlling your salt balance and staving off dehydration.

Second, after much badgering of both Liviu and Colin (“which one is Piatra Craivii again?”) the unparalleled view from the hilltop provided an excellent locale for mastering local toponyms and topography.

As we lounged about vacuuming down cookies (as a direct result of archaeological fieldwork we are all now accustomed to a mid-morning sugar hit) and covrigei cu brânză, Liviu gave us some historical context for the site we were standing on.  The fortress is located across the Ighiu Valley from Piatra Craivii, a triangular peak which housed a Dacian fortress. The Romans, wanting to keep an eye on their pesky mountain neighbours, who had proved somewhat resistant to incorporation into the imperial sphere, set up shop directly across the valley. Liviu explained the fraught relationship between the Dacians and Romans, covering periods of war, periods of peace, and the rise of Trajan, the Roman emperor who finally conquered the area, largely drawn here by the region’s copious supplies of gold. In Rome, Trajan’s Column recounts the history of the Dacian conquest, and Liviu noted there is also a replica in the Romanian capital, which I hope to see at some point (side note, Alexandra Ion, I have big plans involving a visit to see you in Bucharest next summer…).

In which we learn about the Romans, the Dacians, and covrigei cu brânză.

Liviu also expressed his desire to work to make the Roman fortress a heritage site, ideally clearing the vegetation, putting up explanatory signs and placards, and filling in the large circular looter’s pit that dominates the pinnacle of the slope. I think it’s a wonderful idea; as an archaeologist and a tourist I would be drawn to the site because of both its history and the magnificent views it provides of the local landscape.

I forced everyone to sit around waiting for the clouds to clear in order to get a shot of the facade of Piatra Craivii, which is the stocky triangular peak projecting upwards in the middle of this photo:

After we’d had our fill of the Roman period, we headed back down the slope and further back in time. One of the reasons I’d been particularly excited about this field trip was that this same area is also home to a series of Early Bronze Age tombs that MARBAL collaborator Horia Ciugudean excavated back in the 1990s. Colin had mapped these out several years ago as part of his dissertation survey, and so we were able to locate them with minimal casting about the landscape.

Early Bronze Age tomb (previously excavated), identifiable by the limestone capstones covering the surface of the tumulus. Romanian archaeologist for scale.

Most of the tombs had been excavated several decades ago, but we could identify their remnants based on the abundance of limestone capstones, a typical feature of mortuary structures for this period in time.

The team standing along the edge of another excavated EBA tomb, further SW along the slope.

After we visited the tombs and Professor Quinn gave a brief lecture to the students expounding on their construction/location/regional context/archaeological importance, we headed back down into the woods, aiming for the Calcarele de la Ampoița. As with every Transylvanian I’ve met thus far, both Liviu and Raluca are avid mushroom hunters, so on our way back down we did some impromptu foraging.

Raluca examines a potential find.

Locally there are two kinds of large yellow mushrooms that look alike, but one is edible and the other is decidedly not. Raluca taught me that you can differentiate between the two because the underside of the inedible mushroom cap will changed colors when you press it with your finger, kind of like that fancy color-changing paper I remember being fascinated by as a grade school student.


After hiking back into town, we finished off our day by visiting the institution of Mama Luţă, a local pension that is deservedly famous for its food. After expending so many calories on the hike, I felt it important to sample EVERYTHING Mama Luţă had to offer.

This included țuică, a traditional Romanian plum brandy. At Mama Luţă, I learned that there are two kinds of țuică: the ‘sweet’ kind (shown on the right, sweetened with cherries or berries), and the ‘tough’ kind, shown on the left, which is basically high octane moonshine.

“Sweet” and “tough” țuică

The pensione is also famous for its plăcinte,  a pastry that can be sweet or savory. Those shown below are filled with brânză sărată şi mărar (salty sheep’s cheese with dill), varză (cabbage), and cartofi (deliciously salted potatoes). All of these were served with sos cu usturoi (garlic sauce)

Plăcintă (savoury)

In order to sample a little bit of everything, I ordered the “Platou Mama Luța”, which came with “telemea, caş, cârnați de casă,şnițel de pui, jumeri, slăninuță, pastramă de porc, ou fiert, ceapă, ardei roşii, castravete“, or in order “ewe’s milk cheese, house sausage, chicken schnitzel, pork cracklings, fatback, pork jerky/sausage, hard-boiled egg, onion, red peppers, and pickles), as well as a side of hearty village bread.

Platou Mama Luța

We finally finished the meal with sweet plăcinte, served with brânză dulce (sweetened sheep’s cheese) and mere (apples), the latter being my favourite of the dessert offerings. These were all served with sos smâtână dulce (sweetened cream).

Plăcintă (sweet)

Plăcintă (sweet)

All in all it was a phenomenal day. Many thanks to Liviu and Raluca for their tour of local Roman period, prehistoric, and culinary institutions!

Posted in Archaeology, Fieldwork, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SAA 2018 – Washington D.C.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, I’ve just returned to Cambridge from a recent bout of travel, this time to Washington DC for the Society for American Archaeology meetings.

This was an unusual conference for me. I’m slowly transitioning from working in one region (Iberia) into conducting research in a new area (Romania). As a result, all of the  background material that I rely on having previously prepared to slot into presentations had to be crafted from scratch. Constructing this new backdrop was a useful process, in that it made me delve more deeply into the regional literature, but also meant that putting together my presentations took longer than I am used to. My talk covered our initial research strategy in Transylvania, describing how we’re weaving together evidence from unstudied human skeletal remains in museum collections and new excavations of Early Bronze Age cemeteries in order to better understand how Late Prehistoric communities were organized.

This was also the first conference during which I co-authored a poster with a former student. Emilie Cobb, currently director of the Rankin Museum of American Heritage, spent three weeks in Romania with the MARBAL project last summer, helping to conduct a bioarchaeological analysis of human skeletal remains housed at the National Museum of the Union in Alba Iulia.

Our poster covered initial bioarchaeological analyses of Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI), age, sex, mortuary treatment, and frequencies of skeletal and dental pathologies

In DC, I also finally threw in the towel and gave in to embracing networking. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a marked shift in my conference experience. Rather than trying to catch as many sessions as possible, as I did when I first started attending the SAAs in 2013, I’ve been spending far more time catching up with old friends and networking. Especially since I now live in the UK, I’m very deliberate about planning coffees, drinks, or meals with scholars I want to talk to. I outlined these strategies recently in a talk I gave as part of the Biological Anthropology Professionalization Series at Cambridge, which I plan to recap on the blog in the next few weeks.

This time around I had at least fifteen meetings or events planned over a three-day period, so I often found myself hurtling around the conference center like a pinball. However, I did make sure that I attended several talks given by close friends, starting with MARBAL co-director Colin Quinn‘s presentation on his work with Alice Wright mapping socio-economic networks in Woodland North Carolina titled “Confronting Myths of Isolation in Pre-Columbian Appalachia.”

After power-walking for a mile and half on Saturday morning, I arrived at Anna Antoniou‘s talk drenched in perspiration and sat beaming proudly in the back, ignoring the skeptical looks of fellow audience members who were no doubt wondering who had let this sweaty apparition into the conference center. She gave a phenomenal presentation (co-authored with her collaborator Earl Davis), titled”Collaborative Archaeology in Willapa Bay, Washington: Supporting Communities through Scientific Research”. Her talk detailed strategies for building relationships with local native communities and incorporating their interests and concerns into research design.

Finally, I swung by the National Geographic sponsored session “The Human Journey: Understanding Human Migration in the Past to Address Challenges for the Future,” specifically to hear a talk given by the youngest presenter, Bree Doering. As a motorcycle-riding, caribou-hunting, and salmon-fishing Alaskan, Bree is one of the most unrepentantly badass field archaeologists I know, and it was wonderful to see her channel her considerable energy into a talk on “Exploring the Cause of the Athabaskan Migration through Isotopic and Geospatial Evidence”.

With that, I’m done with conferences until I head to the European Association of Archaeologists meetings in Barcelona in September.

In the meantime, if you’d like to read our poster, it’s linked here on, while the abstract of our presentation can be found here.

For now, I’ll leave off with this memory of drinking afternoon beers on the lawn with some of my close friends – hopefully it’s enough to get me through this unrelenting spate of spring rains in Cambridge!

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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.

Posted in Bioarchaeology, Iberia, Publications | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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!


Posted in Conferences, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment