Bone Broke Year in Review 2015


Incidentally, 2015 also marked the my first hands-on experience with elephants. It was magical.

2015 was a year of firsts. It was the first time I spent the summer in Ann Arbor, rather than the field. It marked my first experience solo teaching my own class, the summer session Science of Skeletons. I also began applying for jobs and post-docs, started working for the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, got my first car, and wrote the bulk of my dissertation. It was a busy time, which is reflected in this year’s lower post count, particularly in the late summer and early winter. My goals for the upcoming year are to have some of the work that I put into 2015  come to fruition – defend my dissertation, get a job or post-doc, keep blogging regularly, and hopefully finally get my pesky Pop-Tart addiction under control. How often do normal people eat Pop-Tarts? Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? Advice here is welcome.

2015 was the year that I decided to only participate in conferences held in cities named after religious figures. Fortunately I was able to attend both the AAPAs in St. Louis, and the SAAs in San Francisco. At the SAAs I gave a talk on my dissertation research, and experimented with screen-casting talks  so that people could hear what I had to say, even if they didn’t attend the conference. This ground-breaking approach to conference presentations clearly took the world by storm, as the video has has a whopping 64 views on youtube (sigh – I’ll try again next year).  In San Francsico I also presented a poster with my esteemed colleague Katherine Kinkopf. Our work on the bioarchaeology of looting, borne out of Katherine’s undergraduate honors thesis, is particularly exciting as we’ve recently submitted it to the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Katie Kinkopf (L) and Jess Beck (R)

Katie and I in front of our poster in San Francisco. We have both clearly mastered the bent lateral arm pose.

In May I was quoted in a peer-reviewed publication  after Kristina Killgrove and Katy Meyers-Emery interviewed me and other likeminded bloggers for a piece they wrote on blogging and bioarchaeology. Later that month, I moved to the North Quad basement to begin working on my dissertation (and consuming massive amounts of popcorn) for 30 hours a week as part of the Sweetland Dissertation Writing Institute. I quickly grew weary of being trapped underground when the world outside was full of bright summer sunshine – there are reasons I made the early decision not to pursue cave archaeology – but I made significant progress on my dissertation, and made a lot of new friends in other disciplines who have provided an invaluable support network in the first trying year of applying for jobs. While in the basement, I took a quick break to send out a missive encouraging readers to support SBE NSF funding, before immediately delving back into the cursed dissertation.

During the second half of the summer term I taught, which is why there is a steep drop-off in posts during in July and August. I was busy developing exciting new ways to make sure my students became as obsessive about osteology as I am. One of these involved using PlayDoh as a teaching tool, a great way to get students to appreciate the three-dimensional knowledge necessary for navigating the human skeleton. Autumn ended on a high note as my chapter Part of the Family: Age, Identity and Burial in Copper Age Iberia  was finally published in the edited volume Theoretical Approaches to Analysis and Interpretation of Commingled Human Remains.


Since I’m unsure of where I’ll wind up next year, I devoted a lot of time this year to outreach, largely in the form of public talks. I kicked off the year in September by giving an introductory talk on bioarchaeology to the Huron Valley chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society, who were the most engaged and appreciative audience I’ve had in a long time. Only one person fell asleep! In October, I presented a brown bag at the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, describing some of the methodological conundrums posed by fragmentary, 5,000 year old human remains. I attempted to be a devout four-field anthropologist in November by giving a Four-Field Graduate Talk to an audience of my archaeological, biological, linguistic and cultural peers . Finally, at Archaeology Day at the Ruthven Museum of Natural History, Abagail Breidenstein and I had the opportunity to test the bioarchaeology outreach activity stations we developed in the Biological Anthropology Graduate Students group at the University of Michigan.


Osteology and Anatomy
In 2015 I crafted a number of osteology and anatomy guides that I’d had sitting on the mental back burner for quite some time. These included a palpable anatomy post about the Palmaris longus tendon, and guides to identifying and siding the radius, metacarpals, tibia and hamate. I also organized my osteology posts so that they are more easy to navigate. They’re now all arranged by anatomical region on a page titled Osteology + Anatomy Tips, that can be found under the Resources tab. I must admit, the osteology post I am most proud of is Hip hip hooray: Orienting and identifying features of the os coxae because now Caroline VanSickle can no longer nag me about the lack of pelvis posts on this blog.


Osteology Everywhere
As I mentioned, this year was the first time I spent the summer in Michigan, and no doubt due to all of the teaching and dissertating I saw osteology everywhere, from orange peels to summer sidewalks, Ikea, Target, and local breweries. I also caught a few skeletally-themed displays  on my travels through airports, in Madison, and in the Mission in San Francisco. I of course also spotted the brief osteological cameo in one of my favorite guilty pleasure tv shows: the ever entertaining Scandal.


“Harrison, can’t you see I’m trying to examine this metatarsal using these tweezers? I don’t have time to talk to you!”

Bioarchaeological Vocab and Bone Quizzes
I road tested a new category of posts this year, writing a series of short definitions of important bioarchaeological vocabulary. These covered key anatomical terms, regions, and features (nutrient foramen, glenoid fossa, splanchnocranium), paleopathology (caries), anatomical movements (supination, abduction and adduction) as well as an introduction to bio- and geochemical approaches in bioarchaeology (isotopes). Looking back on all of this year’s posts, I realized that I only gave three bone quizzes, asking you to identify a dirt-covered tarsal, estimate a dental MNI, and use a single feature to ID an extremely small fragment of bone. I suppose that one of my 2016 resolutions should be to write more bone quizzes.


Anthropological Miscellanea
Finally, I incorporated a few posts about archaeology into my osteology obsessed world. I helped distribute a survey for an archaeologist in the Netherlands that examined the relationship between public archaeology and blogging. I tried to provide a clear answer for the oft-asked question  “how do archaeologists find sites?” I publicized the fascinating research of some of my closest friends from grad school  in a post on the Homo naledi discovery, and finally, and most importantly, I told you all what you should get your archaeology friends for Christmas.

All told 2015 has been a hectic, but productive, year. I am to keep blogging regularly in the 2016, so if you have any ideas for any posts you would find useful feel free to post suggestions in the comments. In the mean time, HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Image Credits: Photo of Katie and I standing in front of our poster is courtesty of E.Nelson, photos of playdoh making courtesy of Z. Cofran. Pelvis post images of mouse lemur found here and alien found here. Scandal screenshot taken from episode 3×19, on Netflix. Thor abducting his arm while holding Mjölnir found here, Thor adducting his arm while looking pensive found here. All other images my own.

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