About Jess

Apuseni mountains, October 2016
I’m a bioarchaeologist and human osteologist, which means that I study human skeletal remains from archaeological sites to answer questions about what people’s lives were like in the past. I received my PhD in Anthropology from the University of Michigan in 2016, and I’m spending the 2016-2017 academic year as a visiting scholar at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Comparative Archaeology.

Human bones encode a wealth of information about prehistoric individuals and communities. They contain tell-tale signatures that allow us to reconstruct patterns of diet, disease, nutritional stress, and mobility. Comparing skeletal estimations of age and sex to mortuary treatment also tells us about how social identities were conceived and performed, and an archaeological perspective allows us to examine how these dynamics changed over time.

My research focuses on the Late Prehistoric period in Europe, a time of significant cultural change. During the second and third millennium, people began to farm more intensively, trade with other communities over vast distances, and settle down in larger villages and settlements. This lifestyle brought with it difficult new social demands like navigating complex interpersonal relationships, establishing property ownership, and organizing labor. These same demands are faced by most contemporary societies, which is why it is important to understand how such social structures first arose. To that end, I examine how mortuary practices shape and were shaped by agricultural intensification, population aggregation and political centralization, in order to delineate the social strategies humans use to mitigate the biological and social stresses associated with living in early complex societies.

If you’re interested in my ongoing scholarly research, the following pages provide an up-to-date overview:

Academia.edu:   http://umich.academia.edu/JessBeck
University website:  http://www.anthropology.pitt.edu/node/1055

If you’re interested in my field experience, you’ll find a map below of selected projects that I have participated in. Blue pins represent archaeological fieldwork, green pins represent bioarchaeological data collection.

Photo Credit: Photo above by Colin Quinn.

Postscript I: It goes without saying that all of my posts reflect my own opinions and are in no way associated with my current department or university. Especially the Jurassic Park references.

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18 Responses to About Jess

  1. Melina says:

    Hello, I stumbled across your site from tumblr and I was wondering if I can ask you a few questions regarding majoring in anthropology. Right now I’m a bio major, but I’m going to change it to anthro soon, I’m hoping to get some insight on majoring in anthro. Apologies if this isn’t an appropriate place to ask questions.

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  2. JB says:

    Hi Melina! You can definitely send me your questions (now is actually the perfect time to do so as I still have a few days before the semester starts). I’ll send you my email address post haste.

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  3. What an excellent and informative blog you have! Definitely an inspiration to people like me! Thanks 😀

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    • JB says:

      Thanks! I really like your ‘Skeletal Series’ posts – if anyone ever lets me teach an osteology class I’ll definitely send students your way…

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      • Thank you, lovely to hear!

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      • Also love the Jurassic Park references! Before our first anatomy exam during my Masters one of our teaching assistants got us to sing Jurassic Park and then the Indiana Jones theme tunes, and then asked us to sing Jurassic Park again, nearly impossible! Definitely calmed our nerves before the exam! (Jurassic Park is amazing, and definitely set me off on the osteology route!).

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  4. Morgan says:

    Hi Jess- I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your writing. I’m currently an anthropology undergrad with bioarchaeology/paleopathology research aspirations and am about a year away from applying to grad school. Your siding tutorials and other osteology discussions are awesome study resources! They’re pretty much my go-to when White and Folkens are confuddling me. I also really enjoy your reflections on the grad school experience as it is such a mythic, daunting prospect most of the time. Thank you for sharing- Jurassic Park references and all!

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    • JB says:

      Hi Morgan,

      Thanks for the compliment! It’s always good to know that someone is getting some use out of the osteology tutorials. And don’t worry – grad school isn’t THAT daunting. You just have to have a tenacious attitude and a high caffeine tolerance. Keep me posted on where you wind up and what you’ll be working on!

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  5. Kelly says:

    Hi Jess! I also happen to be an archaeology undergrad/hopeful future grad student, like others who have posted here, and love reading your page for the helpful osteology tips, challenging bone quizzes, and your witty writing. I am about to head over to Europe for an extended visit, and I would love to pick your brain on any maybe lesser known archaeological sites to visit while I am over there, or anything you might recommend for an archaeologist travelling overseas. I’ve read your posts on your travels, but again, anything specific would be awesome! Thank you for all of your posts and good luck in your future work 🙂

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  6. JB says:

    Hi Kelly,
    Exciting news about your upcoming trip to the Old World, and glad to hear you like the blog! Shoot me an email to let me know what part of Europe you’ll be in – if you follow the academia.edu link above it will lead you to my cv, which has my academic email on it. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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  7. I came into anthropology last Spring with a gung-ho attitude for archaeology and no one could change my mind. I am in the middle of taking an osteology class with a great professor and I believe I have found my new calling. I found your blog from another random bioarch person on Facebook. I really look forward to reading your blog 🙂

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  8. Damien says:

    Nice to find you in the global bioarch blogosphere! You can in turn find me at http://itsurfaceddownunder.blogspot.com. I look forward to reading more and following your particular adventures 🙂

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    • JB says:

      Hi Damien!
      Great meeting you at the conference, I’ll keep an eye on your blog for looting and antiquities-trade related news. Cheers,

      – JB

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  9. Lexy Holfeltz says:

    Hey would you ever be interested in doing a podcast? http://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/profiles/ I would love to hear from you.
    I also have questions about bioarchaeology if you have time? Thanks!

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    • JB says:

      Hi Lexy,
      Yes, I would be interested in doing a podcast (though maybe in another month or so – November is a busy time of the year for me). Also, I’m happy to answer any questions about bioarchaeology that you have! Fire away.

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  10. Kenna Lohr says:

    Hi Jess! I’m a third year Forensic Science major at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh who is really interested in forensic and biological anthropology. Unfortunately Duquesne does not have a strong concentration in this area. I really love my program and my life here but also want to become more acquainted with osteological techniques and anthropology as I really hope to go to grad school one day and to get my doctorate in anthropology. I was wondering (since we’re both in the same city) if you had any upcoming talks or presentations that I could listen in on or even if you would be available to meet with me. I understand if you are incredibly busy and do not have time but if you are available I would really love to get your advice on some things and hear about your own personal experiences, as well as get to know you better.

    Let me know if that is at all possible. Thanks!

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    • JB says:

      Hi Kenna! I would be happy to talk to you, and I have a talk coming up at Pitt in the next few weeks.

      Also, Margaret Judd teaches a number of upper level bioarchaeology courses at Pitt that you might be interested in – I don’t know if there are any exchange programs between Pitt and Duquesne.

      Why don’t you email me at jlb360@pitt.edu and we can discuss things further?

      Also, no worries about the duplicate post, I deleted it and the explanation. Hope to hear from you soon!

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