A few days ago I got an email asking me to participate in the Society for American Archaeology Blogging Carnival. There’s a session called “Blogging Archaeology” at this year’s conference in Austin, and a number of archaeological blogs have been tapped to get involved. Every month bloggers are asked to respond to a number of different questions about blogging. Here are the ones for November:
1. Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog?
The short version is that I started this blog because no one will let me teach an osteology class. This sounds like a more dire predicament than it actually is. I haven’t applied repeatedly to TA the course and been rejected by a department chair wielding a large, red “ABSOLUTELY NOT” stamp. The real reason I haven’t been able to do so is because osteology and bioarchaeology are rarely taught at my home institution. The situation is the result of the vagaries of course assignments and faculty research interests, rather than a lack of student enthusiasm for the subject material, so this blog has first and foremost been a strategy for letting off pedagogical steam.
In addition to wanting to teach a subject so close to my own research interests, I find that learning osteology is necessarily an interactive process, one that’s rarely perfected by reading the same paragraph from White and Folkens over and over again. Most of my favorite tricks are things I’ve discovered after staring at bones for hours on end, or are born out of strategies that other students have taught me. The Kampsville experience, in particular, provided me with a font of osteological knowledge, and I learned just as much about identifying and siding fragments from my fellow students as I did from my instructors. However, a lot of that personalized knowledge remains floating about in the archaeological aether. Don’t get me wrong – I love Standards and the Human Bone Manual as much as the next person, but they’re written to appeal to an audience of academic professionals. It can be difficult for a novice osteologist to feel confident about siding a calcaneus even if they know that “The tuberosity is posterior and the inferior surface is nonarticular. The sustentaculum tali projects medially, inferior to the talar head” (White and Folkens 2005: 296). However, if you tell them that the bone looks like a lower-case r when it’s from the right, they’re on much firmer footing.
I have a sense that most bioarchaeologists work this way. Even though an understanding of human anatomy enhances your osteological skills, a lot of the day-to-day business of identification simply boils down to pattern recognition. So one of my goals in writing this blog is to provide a repository of some of the tricks that everyone learns in their intro to osteology courses, but that haven’t really been published in any public forum.
2. Why are you still blogging?
Because anything is better than working on my dissertation….Kidding, kidding. On that note, however, academic writing often employs a particular register, diction and tone that can occasionally begin to grate on you as a writer. Sample excerpts from some of my most recent work include such gems as:
“Localized and rigorous defleshing around the caudal region would likely lead some of the lumbar vertebrae to disarticulate more readily.”
“Zooarchaeological evidence suggests that this pattern may also characterize the Iberian Copper Age, but the few dietary isotopic studies that have been conducted to date do not demonstrate significant levels of inter-individual or inter-site dietary differentiation”
Ernest Hemmingway, I am not. Getting away from the staid and predictable conventionality of academic writing is one of the benefits of continuing to blog. It’s a good way to practice presenting your research to the public in a comprehensible way, which is an idea that’s been gaining ground in academia recently. Blogging is also immediately rewarding in a way that most academic endeavor is not. Instead of waiting months on end for reviewer comments, you get near instantaneous feedback from fellow archaeologists and readers.
I’ve been enjoying the process enough that I’m convinced I’ll continue to blog – that is, as long as my committee doesn’t find out about it.
White, T. D. and P.A. Folkens. (2005) The Human Bone Manual. Elsevier, Amsterdam.