Bone Broke Year in Review 2014

2014 was a big year for me, both professionally and personally. I applied for grants, finished my dissertation data collection, attended two conferences, had an article published, and spent seven and a half months living outside of the U.S. while traveling through nine different countries. Taking a page out of the Lawnchair Anthropology playbook, I’m recapping this year’s worth of posts to summarize what I’ve been up to.

At work in the Museo de Jaén

At work in the Museo de Jaén

This past summer I finished my dissertation data collection at the Museo de Jaén in Andalucía. The tail end of my dissertation research was a dental analysis of over 3,800 teeth, which explains the dental motif running through my posts from late summer and early fall. I stored my new cache of dentition knowledge online, describing how bioarchaeologists use dental attrition in order to estimate age, updating and uploading my human dentition cheat sheet, and teaching you how to identify the premolars. To give you a look at a typical work day during the eight months I spent collecting dissertation data, I photodocumented the microexcavation of a Copper Age cranium. After leaving the field, I provided guidelines for how to organize and photograph loose dentition and articulated dentition, and also posted the spreadsheets I used for dental data collection.

Museo de Jaén

Museo de Jaén

I spent 2014 in nine different countries, moving between the U.K., U.S., Canada, Spain, Macedonia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Thailand and Cambodia in order to visit my family, present at conferences, attend weddings and eat pizza. I traversed the cobbled streets of Córdoba and thought up bone quizzes inspired by the architecture of the ancient city. I found the world’s most appropriate travel agency for bioarchaeologists in Eastern Europe, and sampled salty kiflochki in Skopje. I took the train west to Seville to gape at the wonders of the Alcázar, and then north to Barcelona to quaff delicious beer and view the urban panorama from the heights of Montjuïc Castle. My friend Rocío kindly shepherded me around her mountain village in the Segura region of northeastern Andalucía, where I ate homemade jamón serrano, wandered the hills searching for vanished waterfalls, and battled with flocks of local sheep for access to fountains.On my birthday, I hiked the ruggedly beautiful hills of Los Morteros, just outside of Jaén, and found a small cache of ovicaprid bones. I explored Kazakhstan’s space-age capital of Astana, documenting its abundant New Year’s decorations as a thematic backdrop for yet another bone quiz. In the frigid mid-December temperatures, I boarded a sleeper train out of the capital, and 13 hours later found myself in the bustling, cosmopolitan former capital of Almaty. I spent the New Year proper in Bangkok – a post for 2015.

View of the valley from Los Teatinos

La Segura

After publicizing the National Museum of Health and Medicine’s Forensic Anthropology short course (which I took myself back in 2012), I reviewed the curious phenomenon of younger archaeologists demonstrating markedly low response rates to a large American Antiquity survey covering the “Grand Challenges” in archaeology, and wrapped up the 2o13-2014 Blogging Archaeology Carnival with a review of my best and worst posts on the blog, and a discussion of where I want my blog to go in the future.

In Ann Arbor, I documented some of the Evolution and Human Adaptation lectures that I attended at the University of Michigan. The fantastic 2014 series “What does it mean to be a modern human?” was organized by Professor Maureen Devlin, and included Herman Pontzer’s work on human and primate energetics, and Tom Schoenemann’s research on primate brain evolution. I updated you with my progress on forensic research, including the University of Michigan’s Undocumented Migration Project forensic taphonomy study in the Sonoran Desert, work which was later published in the Journal of Forensic Science. I travelled to Alberta in April to present a poster on my work on the treatment of subadults in the Iberian Copper Age at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists meetings in Calgary. In September I submitted an entry to Brown’s Archaeology for the People competition; while I didn’t win, the contest gave me the opportunity to put into writing some of my ideas about the importance of bioarchaeology as a discipline. In November, I received the welcome news that I will be able to teach my own course, The Science of Skeletons: Introduction to Bioarchaeology, this coming summer at the University of Michigan.

Course flyer

In 2014 I continued the ‘osteomenagerie’ series by teaching you how to identify different categories of vertebrae by comparing the vertebral transverse and spinous processes to giraffe, moose and fish faces. I also pointed out that distal phalanges look like platypus bills in my post on differentiating manual and pedal phalanges. I outlined a series of arm positions that you can use to help you identify fragmentary zygomatic processes found in archaeological contexts, and taught you how to identify and side parietal bones by pretending to comb your hair. Finally, I gave osteology students the opportunity to test their skills at parietal identifying and siding by uploading a parietal-specific bone quiz.

I saw osteology everywhere, from examples of artificial cranial deformation on Michigan sidewalks, to vertebrae in Spanish train stations, linear enamel hypoplasias on pints of beer, upper molars in pebbles, and parietal mengingeal grooves on Andalucían hiking paths, and shared my extremely nerdy hobby of baking osteology-themed cakes for my friends, complete with photos.

I made use of excerpts from my predoctoral research paper by uploading a lengthy literature review of the etiology of porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia. I also detailed what it’s like to be one of the few osteologists in your department by describing a photographic analysis of a Shabe Yoruba burial that I conducted on behalf of one of my colleagues, using the exercise as an opportunity to explain how bioarchaeologists use non-metrical cranial traits in order to estimate the sex of individuals. I ended the osteological year on a lighter note, in a post that provided my top ten Christmas gifts for osteologists, which has been my most popular post to date.

Lumbar Vertebra and Moose Face

Bone Quizzes
2014 may well be known as the year of the Bone Quiz. The first post of the year asked you to identify specific cranial fragments (Bone Quiz 5). I then moved on to pathologies related to the beginnings of agriculture (Bone Quiz 6), asked you to identify soft-tissue features of the foot (Anatomy Quiz 1), and to name a small bone that is rarely preserved in prehistoric archaeological contexts (Bone Quiz 7). In the late spring, you were tasked with identifying more pathologies (Bone Quiz 8), as well as features of the vertebrae (Bone Quiz 9), and identifying a incomplete element that had been refit from three different fragments of bone (Bone Quiz 10). I recounted an anecdote about young visitors to my museum lab before asking you to identify a recurring osteological feature that preserves particularly well archaeologically (Bone Quiz 12). Subsequent bone quizzes reflected the fact that July and August were dentition heavy months for me – you were tasked with identifying a fragmentary human tooth (Bone Quiz 13), low frequency dental abnormalities (Bone Quiz 14), estimating the sex of a cranium and identifying associated dental anomalies (Bone Quiz 15.1 and 15.2), and estimating the age of an individual using only the dentition (Bone Quiz 16).

Buccal/Labial View

Bone Quiz 14

Bones and Culture
I started the year off by covering skeletal versions of the intricately carved hobo nickels from the early 20th century, before moving on to osteology in popular television shows. Over the summer I became addicted to the ridiculous plot twists of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, which inspired posts about the taphonomy of mythological lakes, the zooarchaeology of giant fictional birds, and a case study of synostosis in the arm bones of an alleged giant-killer. Lest you think I am a shallow and frivolous person, I also spent time watching the equally ridiculous NBC show The Blacklist, and composed a thoughtful post that asked whether a pivotal prison shiv prop was actually carved from a human tibia or from a faunal tibia. I ended the year by interrogating some of my own poor eating habits, delving into the sometimes sordid and always fascinating history of Huesitos (English translation “little bones”) chocolate in Spain.

Instructive diagram

Instructive Once Upon a Time diagram

Oh and finally, I buried a bear foot in a professor’s backyard.

Thanks to the kindness of faculty, all systems were go for bear paw burial.

Thanks to the kindness of faculty, all systems were go for bear paw burial.

2014 has been a pretty interesting year, all told. As one more milestone, this marks my 100th post on Bone Broke. Thanks to everyone who reads the blog for giving me reason to continue this thoroughly enjoyable form of productive procrastination, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Image Credits: All photographs of bones taken at the Museo de Jaén (¡Feliz Año Nuevo a todos en el museo)!

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