Archive | Osteology

The archaeology of human remains.

Counting and Sorting in the Lab

By Angela Garra Zhinin URS Corporation, Burlington, New Jersey USA

My day in archaeology was a continuation of a week’s worth of sorting and counting catfish bones from a household feature excavated from a site in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA).  I work for URS Corporation in Burlington, New Jersey and we are conducting investigations along Interstate 95 for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.  So far, I have helped sort over 11,000 fish bones from one level of this specific feature, along with some bones from other various animals.  Although we do not analyze the fish bones here in this lab, I noticed some repetition that could be presorted before being sent off for further analysis.  Judging by the amount of a certain type of catfish bone, I was able to determine that there were at least 65 catfish in this particular provenience.  It didn’t surprise me to learn that a fisherman was listed at this property in the Mid-19th Century, and these bones could possibly be linked to him and his family.

My day in archaeology was a continuation of a week’s worth of sorting and counting catfish bones from a household feature excavated from a site in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA)–Angela Garra Zhinin

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Burying a 400lb dead pig

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania (USA) [Posted by the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum webmaster]

I (and my colleague) are burying a 400lb, dead pig at the Rutgers Pinelands Field Station in preparation for a 2-day training exercise for law enforcement professionals. The aim of the exercise is to introduce the concepts and methods of forensic archaeology. Forensic archaeology is the application of archaeological methodology and techniques to forensic investigations including crime scene examination and human remains recovery. Through excavation and the analysis of recovered artifacts, archaeologists compile a picture of human interactions, motivations, and sequences of events. Skills that are routine in archaeology such as documentation, excavation, and a methodical approach, can greatly increase the amount of evidence recovered at a scene.

I discovered forensic archaeology completely by mistake in 2001 when I went to the UK for a Masters program.  It was the best career change I could have possibly hoped for:  bringing archaeology into the present to bring justice and closure to the families of homicide victims. This course first ran in May 2012 very successfully, and the next course will take place in September. More information on the course can be found at:

Digging pit for pig

Pig awaiting burial

By Kimberlee Sue Moran, RPA. Center for Forensic Science Research & Education

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The working day of Cape Town’s Archaeology-Cool-Kids-Club

Cape Town has been relatively grey this week; I woke up this morning thinking I was back in York. Having got my bearings correct I set about the morning getting ready for work. I’m the new archaeology intern at the Iziko South African Museum ( and for Day of Archaeology I’m basically going to play the role of a journalist, going around asking people about their day and taking photos. So let’s start with my day.


Iziko South African Museum

Keneiloe (Kenni) Molopyane


Bioarchaeologist turned Physical Anthropology PhD candidate

At some point in the morning I finally made it to my office in the Archaeology Department bracing myself for a relatively calm day filled with admin work, gathering Physical Anthropology data for my potential PhD proposal and sorting out my relocation logistics… I quickly slip into my general intern routine that includes running up and down the stairs to collect the mass amount of prints I send to the printing machine one floor above us. Then it’s a quick scanning of the notice-board, which I inherited from the last intern. I decided it didn’t need any updating today besides; I have somehow managed to paste the wall around the actual notice-board with short articles, notices, comics and job/funding posts. The actual notice-board is bare!! I seem to have some mad skills there. Right, then it’s my favourite part of the day, reading emails. Depending on how many emails I’ve sent out the previous day determines how many responses I get back and for how long I’m going to be sat in front of my computer. The most interesting bit of news from the electronic mailman is that my new office at the next institution I’ll be tutoring at is in the basement! How awesome, I get a crypt-like office!! My dream of becoming “Bones” is that much closer to becoming reality; I’m a bioarchaeologist by the way. I’m more interested skeletal or mummified remains of past peoples than I am of the artefacts left behind. I’m the creepy chick in the department.

Emails, done; printing, done; coffee *slurp* finished; and so I grab my camera and dash out over to Iziko Social History centre to go bug the guys up at Historical/ Maritime Archaeology. I started my Iziko career over in that building in Maritime Archaeology, so it’s always grand to just chill up there with the guys over a cup of coffee, laugh and be teased at. So, I get there and do my paparazzi gig and stare, dumb-founded, at all the shipwreck material in the lab.
Jaco Boshoff


Getting into the proposal writing zone

Jaco is the curator of Maritime and Historical Archaeology. This morning I found both him and Jake (maritime archaeology intern) in the wet lab calibrating the ph reader, so they can start using it on a series shipwreck material that dots the lab and the balcony. Once that’s out of the way, it’s back to serious curator business…making the hardworking interns some delicious coffee =). Hie, hie, jokes aside, Jaco gets settled in working on publications and research monies to keep myself and Jake coming back for more work experience and most importantly the awesome diving adventures that are in the works. Leaving Jaco to get on with his day, I turn my attention to Jake.

Jake Harding


The “not sure if Jaco is talking to me or himself again” look.

Jake is the maritime archaeology intern on the same funding programme I’m on (DST-NRF). Now Jake, just like Jaco, is crazy about all things maritime archaeology related, aka shipwrecks. He’s day starts out with checking on the many shipwreck artefacts that are in the lab. Documenting and treating numerous cannon balls and strange iron pieces, as well as your occasional knocking off concretion with a chisel and hammer is all a part of Jake’s day. I haven’t a clue what’s going on with all these artefacts, and Jake is just going on about each iron piece in solution and how they all fit together or not, with this pure, unadulterated excitement. I wonder if I get that way when talking about skeletons.

I had a video recording (or at least I thought it was) of Jake taking me through his day and the artefacts, but because technology is way higher grade for me, I can’t find the video on the camera. =(

One cup of coffee later, I’m making my way once more to the South African museum or ISAM as it is known among the inner circles of Iziko.

So, I’m sat in my office after a quick run upstairs to the printers again and I hope to finally sit down and type out the pathology report I put together a week ago. An email pops in and it’s from the University of York’s alumni about taking part in their “where are you and how you doing” survey. I can foresee this is going to take me a while, so I’ll put it off for Monday. Wilhelmina pops in and we sit down and go through her day.

Wilhelmina (Wil) Seconna


Now where would that Khoe pot be?

Wil is the Assistant Collections Manager…actually she’s the best Collections Manager ever! She makes sure that all the operations going on in the department run smoothly and that everybody is happy. It seems that we have similar morning routine going on here. Wil’s morning begins with going through a mass amount of emails and research requests for access to the archaeology collections. All the SAHRA permits applications and all things admin were taken care of with a quick session at the computer, and Wil just make’s it look so easy. A quick run to the printers is followed by a mini adventure in search of a Khoe pot for the Land Act exhibition coming up soon
Naturally, when you have a department filled with girls, you can expect there to be shopping talk involved at some point in the day. Today, Wil & Erica kidnapped Pascal and went out shopping…for safety gear quotes. Overalls, boots, gloves and hard hats aren’t exactly what us girls want to be shopping for, but hey, we’ll take it. Why are we buying safety gear? The museum is currently going through a major revamp and so there’s construction being done in the building…as you would have it, the archaeology collection is required to move. So yes, we need heavy duty outfits that can be worn while we methodologically relocated the storeroom which houses over 100 (at least) sites in and around the Cape. Shopping trip over it’s time to get the shelving out from the storeroom and into the main lab, and Erica takes charge.


Erica Bartnick

SA_WCP_Cape Town_ISAM_Level 3 Store_Sutherland Material_Feb 2012

“Kenni, stop with the paparazzi-ness”

Erica is the Collections Assistant working on the Physical Anthropology collection.
Her day today went along these lines: first task was to photograph the de-installation process of the casts made by former taxidermist, John Drury, in the Ethno Hall. It’s been decided that the casts of the human figures are to be removed and replaced with wire figurines; it’s all very futuristic and arty looking. Then there was the shopping trip followed by admin work regarding the Physical Anthropology collection. New labels for the skeleton boxes were prepared as well as a mapping system for the new layout of the collection. As already mentioned before, the archaeology storeroom is being shifted around and so today’s main activities were centered the moving of the shelving and ensuring that the next site collection (Klasies River Mouth) to be moved is all prepped and ready to go.



The manpower behind moving the shelving and super heavy boxes containing Stone Age material are our resident packers!! Sam, Angus, Pascal and Manzi
These guys do all the heavy lifting so that pretty girls such Wil, Erica and (depending if it’s a bad hair day or not) myself don’t have to.


And that’s a wrap folks, off to the pub I go!!

Ok, it’s the end of the work day and I need to head off to a farewell gig for one of my SAHRA mates and dive buddy. She’s heading out to the USA for some warm-water-diving adventures. Goodbyes always suck, but it’s the one time in what has felt like forever since I hung out with the SAHRA (South African Heritage Resources Agency)Underwater Unit, it’ll be great…they’re great! Here’s a short piece and video link to what my awesome Maritime Archaeology mates do =).

Sophie Winton


Can I get in the water now?

When I sat down to write something for Day of Archaeology, my mind went blank! As a maritime archaeologist in South Africa, there are just too many wonderful things that I want to share about the world below the waves.

So instead of writing a 20 page essay, I thought I would let this video sum it up for me. This was filmed during SAHRA’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Field School in 2012, hosted in Cape Town. Table Bay was a toasty 10 degrees Celsius and we were doing NAS training with some wonderful students from South Africa, the Netherlands, Swaziland and Canada.

If you would like to find out more maritime archaeology in South Africa, visit


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Início de estudos em arqueologia na minha vida acadêmica

Antes de ingressar no grupo de pesquisa e ser bolsista na área da arqueologia, aconteceu um episódio no mínimo interessante. Soube através de um amigo de classe que havia um anúncio, ao qual estava nos murais da Univille. Objetivo era realizar um “intercâmbio” entre alunos da Biologia Marinha junto ao Museu Arqueológico de Sambaqui de Joinville. Desde então começou meu contato com a prof. Dra. Dione da Rocha Bandeira. Entre uma ida e outra no museu, desenvolver algumas leituras, ver como é realizado a triagem do material faunístico, etc.; não obtivemos sucesso na proposta de “intercâmbio”.

Mantive contato com a prof. Dione sobre uma possível bolsa em um projeto que estava para sair. Depois de em encher a caixa de email da Dione com questionamentos, como “Olá prof.ª saiu alguma coisa do projeto?”, nos reunimos no MASJ e concretizamos minha participação no projeto ATLAS. Iniciou-se assim minha participação nas atividades arqueológicas. Leitura de diagnósticos arqueológicos da região da Baía da Babitonga (São Francisco do Sul, Itapoá, Garuva, Barra do Sul, Joinville, Araquari); quadro comparativo dos sítios pesquisados por Piazza (1966, 1974), Rohr (1984), Martin et al. (1988) e Bigarella et al. (1954), apresentação dos trabalhos, reuniões, etc. No ano de 2012 estive vinculado ao projeto Ilha da Rita com o subprojeto “A fauna do sambaqui Ilha da Rita – inferências sobre hábitos pré-coloniais na alimentação”. Vinha trabalhando em cima de um flotador, e hoje está concluído.

Hoje estou trabalhando com o material faunístico do Sambaqui Cubatão I, já pré-curados, terminando a triagem do ano da escavação de 2009. O Sambaqui, objeto deste projeto, localiza-se na margem direita do Rio Cubatão, em Joinville/SC, próximo à sua foz no Canal do Palmital. Este sítio foi parcialmente destruído pela retirada de material para aterro de estradas. Atualmente, o sítio vem sofrendo processo erosivo em sua face nordeste decorrente de ação flúvio-marinha intensificada por atividades antrópicas, como trânsito de embarcações e retificação do rio. Resultando em um perfil de aproximadamente 10m de altura por 80m de comprimento. A erosão tem evidenciado a existência de artefatos de fibras vegetais e madeiras nas camadas inferiores do sítio, aspectos de grande interesse.

Foto aérea do Sambaqui Cubatão I, mostrando a equipe de escavação


Imagem de detalhe da escavação do Sambaqui Cubatão I, realizada pelo Museu Arqueológico de Sambaqui de Joinville (MASJ) em parceria com o Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia da USP (MAE-USP), a Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública da FIOCRUZ e o CNRS/França


As análises arqueológicas no Cubatão I identificaram além dos sepultamentos, artefatos de rocha e concha e os seguintes tipos de ecofatos: ossos de fauna, carvões, rochas e conchas de bivalves e gastrópodes.  Até o momento o projeto está em andamento, mas seguem algumas fotos

Amostra 2

Amostra 3

Dente golfinho

Placa dentária Baiacu


Inicialmente entrei no curso de Biologia Marinha com a ideia de trabalhar com Aquicultura. Entrar no projeto de arqueologia foi uma oportunidade de conhecer uma área diferente e totalmente nova para mim. Aos poucos fui aprendendo a gostar cada vez mais desta ciência.

Hoje o que me impulsiona é a pouca expressão de biólogos trabalhando com a arqueologia; o clima agradável de trabalho, propiciado pelos amigos de grupo de pesquisa; e principalmente a oportunidade que me foi dada, juntamente com o crescente interesse.

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ABC of Swedish planning archaeology and an archaeological paradox

There are many kinds of archaeologist – some are specialized in a region or on a period others do contract archaeology, surveys, work at museums, laboratories or work with planning issues etc etc. We do many many things. We do archaeology!I’ve done it all – more or less: I’m an osteolgist so I do the odd osteolgical analysis. I’m an archaeologist so I’ve done surveys, contract archaeology, research archaeology and currently I work at the County board of Östergöland in Sweden doing what could be called planning archaeology.

Osteology, mesolithic skeleton, Övra Wannborga, Öland, Sweden

Osteology, mesolithic skeleton, Övra Wannborga, Öland, Sweden

So what is planning archaeology? Well lets say it’s a form of archaeological desk-based assessments – what kind of archaeology is needed in a certain situation – for example when someone wants to build a road or house. In Sweden the County boards are responsible for this part, we also order the archaeology and then let the developer pay for it – sounds sweet, it has its ups and downs. Of course I can’t just decide from the top of my head, the decisions are made according to law and praxis.

This is how it works in Sweden, in three easy (or not) steps!

Step one. Person A, the developer, submitting a notification that he or she is planning a development of some sorts. The County Board will make an assessment concerning if there are archaeological needs, based on archaeological records, previous digs, historical maps and other studies. If we find that we don’t have enough knowledge to make a decision or if the data points to the likelihood that one may encounter ancient remains – then we order a preliminary archaeological investigation.

Ismantorp ancient fortress, Öland, Sweden

Ismantorp ancient fortress, Öland, Sweden

During a preliminary archaeological investigation an archaeological contractor, a museum or other arhaeological institution of the County board’s choice is choosen. They do a review of historical sources, archaeological material as well as a survey (field walking) and, if necessary, do search trenches.

Excavation 2010, Västra Götaland, Sweden

Excavation 2010, Västra Götaland, Sweden

Based on the information from the preliminary archaeological investigation we then either say that archaeology in some form is needed or not.

Step two. If needed the next step in the process is an archaeological investigation. During this the ancient monument is to be defined geographically, decide its function, be dated and its scientific potential should be described. For this a limited archaeological excavation is needed. The result should give us the information needed to decide if the final step is needed, a full archaeological excavation, but also facts enough for others to be able to make an excavation plan and a cost estimate.

Excavation, Blekinge, Sweden 2011

Excavation, Blekinge, Sweden 2011

Step three. The final step, if needed, is a full excavation, meaning the ancient monument is to be removed and documented. If this cost is under 890 000 Swedish crowns, ca: 104000 Euro, the County Board can decide who will do the archaeology, if it costs more it needs to be procured.

In most cases the developer has to pay for all archaeology. Among the various steps in the process the developer can of course choose to cancel the archaeological process (and stop the development), they also aim to give the developer the opportunity to look at other opportunities or changes to lower thier costs. In the end the less archaeology being made the better we do our jobs – as the intention is to preserve monuments rather than make them disappear – a kind of archaeological paradox, wouldn’t you say.

A lot of what I do is this – is that boring?

- No, it actually is quite interesting and in many cases complex, and you get to learn new things along the way. I never thought I’d be doing make procurements when I studied archaeology, and by the way I wasn’t taught how to either!

Rock art, Hästholmen, Östergötland, Sweden

Rock art, Hästholmen, Östergötland, Sweden

Is this all that we do? No we do lots of other things concerning cultural heritage, such as signs at ancient monuments, small surveys, projects, meeting land owners, forest owners, looking into environments and landscapes etc. But when the sun shines outside I can feel the trowel luring me, but then again when its rainy/snowy, cold and/or wet it’s quite good to be sitting inside – looking out :)

Winter dig Sweden 2010

Winter dig Sweden 2010

Magnus Reuterdahl, an archaeologist at the County Adminstrative board Östergötland, Sweden and blogging at Testimony of the spade.


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From Community Cheer to Painful Pathologies

Hello. I’m Rob Hedge, and I’m a CBA Community Archaeology Bursary holder at the Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service. The service is based at The Hive, Worcester – a new (and very shiny!) facility that also houses the integrated city and University of Worcester libraries. Being in such a prominent building has meant a big increase in visitors to our public office, where people can drop in and find out about the information we hold on the archaeology of their area in our Historic Environment Record (HER).

The Hive, Worcester

The Hive, Worcester


Besides the staff who maintain and update the HER and carry out ‘searches’ for the public, the Service includes archaeologists who advise developers and local authorities on issues such as planning and countryside management. Our Field Section, Worcestershire Archaeology, are a commercial unit who carry out developer-funded archaeological work. All of this means that we are one of the largest local authority archaeology organisations in the UK, and that my role in helping to plan and run outreach projects is busy and varied!

Today, I’ve been sorting through the records and photographs from our #DigBromsgrove community excavation. The dig was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of a scheme to regenerate Bromsgrove town centre by unlocking the hidden heritage of the town. Throughout the course of the dig we had around 40 volunteers involved in the site work, doing everything from setting out the site grid and drawing scale plans to finds processing, filling out the context records and putting together the site ‘matrix’. We believe that it’s really important that participants in community archaeology projects don’t just ‘dig’, and that they learn about all the other skills that are crucial to being able to carry out an excavation. Many of our volunteers are members of local societies, and the skills they learn with us with benefit those groups when they undertake their own fieldwork.

Teaching Volunteers, DigBromsgrove

Teaching Volunteers, DigBromsgrove


In addition to the volunteers, we had around 500 schoolchildren coming to visit the site, for whom we constructed an archaeological sand-box complete with features and genuine archaeological artefacts for them to uncover.

Constructing an archaeological sandpit

Constructing an archaeological sandpit


We backfilled the trench and dismantled the sand-box on Monday, and are now beginning the post-excavation process. All the finds from the site are currently being cleaned, catalogued and labelled, and will then be analysed by our specialists.

The DigBromsgrove finds, awaiting processing

The DigBromsgrove finds, awaiting processing


I’ve also spent part of the day planning for an event taking place next week at the brilliant Infirmary Museum in Worcester. During a watching brief on building works as the old Worcester Royal Infirmary became the University of Worcester’s new City Campus, archaeologists from our service came across a peculiar deposit: a jumbled assortment of over 1800 fragments of human bone, with various grisly features from saw marks to embedded iron pegs, as well as a whole range of painful-looking pathologies! Were these the victims of some maniacal serial killer?

Femur showing lytic lesion caused by cyst, and saw 'kerf'

Femur showing lytic lesion caused by cyst, and saw ‘kerf’


In fact, Ossafreelance‘s brilliant analysis revealed a much more intriguing source – the bones turned out to be medical waste from 18th and 19th century, including items from amputations, dissections and teaching collections – some still with traces of the fixings that would have held the skeletons together! This gory assemblage is the largest discovered within a post-medieval provincial infirmary, and is a fascinating insight into historic surgical practices.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time today looking through some pretty grisly pictures, and feeling rather lucky to live in the 21st century.

If you’re around in Worcester on Wednesday 31st, come along to Infirmary Unearthed and find out more!

If you’d like to find out more about what I’m up to, I’m on Twitter: @robhedge. You can also follow community archaeology projects supported by our service via @worcsdigs, and updates on events run by us through @explorethepast.

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Making sense of an unusual multiple burial at Çatalhöyük


While it’s been a much slower season in terms of burials excavated this year, the quality of the finds thus far has been exceptional. One particular burial in Building 52 alone – still in the process of excavation – has already provided a number of very exciting discoveries. When the grave cut in the Northwest platform was opened several weeks ago we were confronted with what seemed a jumble of disarticulated juvenile skulls and and other loose bones. As the grave fill was gradually removed, however, we began to make sense of it all. The first intact body we came across belonged to an infant placed in the Northwest part of the grave cut. I’ve already reported on the well-preserved textiles found underneath this infant. Later, however, as we removed the last of the fabric we realized there was an older child lying directly beneath the infant. It seems the textile was placed between the two bodies but did not appear to wrap around either of them. This second child was also found with a wooden object – possibly a bowl – placed over its head. While Mellaart found a number of wooden household objects during his work at Çatal in the 1960′s, this is the first time such items have been found during the current excavations (this post continues here).

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Manila, My Manila!

Nine months ago I tested my adventurous side and accepted a full time position within the Archaeological Studies Program at the University of the Philippines ( ).  I had just finished my PhD at Queen’s University Belfast. I knew it was a gamble….but… has turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. Here’s a snapshot of a typical day as the newest recruit to the full time faculty of ASP.

Me! Happy Digging in Manila

Me! Happy Digging in Manila

06.00am – 11.30am

Friday morning kicks off at home with a coffee and Skype session to the UK around 6.30 am. A quick check I have everything I might need for the day (including a huge umbrella, it’s the rainy season here!) and I head out into the Manila morning. I love the short walk through my local neighbourhood, it’s always bustling with life, and everyone says ‘Good morning’ as you pass by. Arriving at the main road, I flag down a jeepney to take me to Philcoa. I love taking jeeps; they’re great, as long as you remember to hold on! Today I need to stop at Philcoa and visit the cake shop (more on cake later). From Philcoa, it’s another jeepney ride to take me from the frantic traffic of Quezon City into the oasis of the Diliman Campus. Stopping for cake means I’m cutting it fine – just time to stop in the lecture room to say good morning to the early students and turn on the air con, before depositing the cake in the administration office fridge. A quick dash back to the lecture theatre, it’s bang on 08.30 am and I’m good to go! I take two Undergraduate classes for the module, ‘Archaeological Heritage: The Past is Not a Foreign Land’. This is an introduction of Archaeology course and is great fun to teach because you can cover all manner of interesting topics. Today was focused on the discovery of ‘The King in the Carpark, Richard III’ by Leicester University. The classes run back to back, so I will be teaching until 11.30 am.

The home of ASP

The home of ASP

11.30 am – 3.30pm: Class is over, so it’s time for lunch (we eat early here). I’m eating in my room today, working lunch for me while I check e-mails. So far so good; I’m confirmed to present a paper at the IPPA’s 2014 in Cambodia and will meet with some colleagues from another department to discuss a forensic project next Monday. The rest of this particular afternoon is dedicated to grading Undergraduate papers and finishing up a chapter for a book. I also spend some time drafting a check list of tasks for a rescue project I am supervising in Manila. This particular project involves the recovery and recording of a large quantity of human remains which were discovered, quite unexpectedly, by workers on a church restoration project. We have a small team of excellent human osteology students on site cleaning and recording the bone, and it’s a great opportunity for my graduate students to get hands on experience with the identification of fragmentary remains.

Inspecting skeletal remains in Manila



3.30 pm – 5.00pm: Fancy Friday! Merienda

I stole the title ‘Fancy Friday’ from my old office mates back in Belfast. Basically, it means it’s Friday, let’s have cake. It’s a great way to get everyone out of their office and into one place to chat. Also, I love any excuse to eat cake in the Philippines, they taste so much better than in the UK…I wonder if it’s connected to the humidity….anyway, the remaining time until 5pm is spent organising paperwork for a generous research grant I am being awarded by the University of the Philippines. This will allow me to head up my own project, conducting research into the taphonomy of human bone in Island Southeast Asia.


The Director of ASP, Dr Armand Mijares

The Director of ASP, Dr Armand Mijares

ASP Masters students grab some cake!

ASP Masters students grab some cake!

5.00 pm – Beer o’clock. Monday to Thursday, I usually work quite late, but on Fridays most of the faculty go to the near-by watering hole to unwind after a long week. Inevitably, we while away the next few hours discussing our projects and plans over some cold beers. This evening, I imagine, will focus on next week’s conference on Heritage and Prehistory being held in Puerto Princessa, Palawan, Philippines; organised by one of our PhD students. Bring on Monday!!

Excavating beads from the Ille Cave site in Palawan. April 2013

Excavating beads from the Ille Cave site in Palawan. April 2013

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Natasha Powers (MOLA): Head of Osteology and Research Coordinator

Don't mind the skeleton - it's all part of the job

Natasha Powers: Head of Osteology and Research Coordinator

It’s tricky trying to balance the pressures of commercial archaeology with fulfilling the research potential of an assemblage and presenting that to the public, but I like a challenge and I’m lucky enough to have a job that lets me do all of these things.

At the moment I am writing the assessment of a rather interesting assemblage of 30 urned Romano-British cremations from Surrey (including one nice complete subadult). This involved lots of weighing; me getting excited about finding sexually dimorphic bits of bone, unfused epiphyses and the odd bit of pathology; and the polite incomprehension of my finds colleagues (who I share a bay with) as to why it is exciting to find a burial where most of the vertebrae are still complete. Mind you these are the same people who just announced that they’d got another Roman phallus “to add to my collection” – not quite sure what they meant by that!? Things got a bit interrupted by two forensic visits (we do a lot of bone ID for the Met and City police) and a walrus…best not ask…

Analysing human remains and managing what you might think of as the environmental archaeology team is one half of my job (well 4/5ths to be precise). In the other fifth I’m trying to match some of the excellent ideas we all have for synthetic and spin-off projects to people who might fund them and to academic departments and commercial organisations who might be interested in collaborating. Coordinating our research applications I’m learning about all sorts of topics and periods that I have not previously studied (or in some cases chose to actively avoid!) from Roman tile manufacture to maritime archaeology via ginger beer bottles, WW1 housing and GIS mapping of finds distribution.

On the research front, this week has been a bit more hectic than normal as we’re also finishing off a project which we’ve been working on with the University of Bradford and the Royal College of Surgeons. It’s taken my colleagues Mike and Don the past year and a half, but they’ve now laser scanned all of the ‘best’ pathological bone in our collections and come the autumn anyone who wants to (and can get on-line) will be able to look at 3D photorealistic models of some rare and diagnostic bones. Best send out that final invoice now I think of it…then back to putting the final touches to a talk for an afternoon on a boat on the Regents Canal (worse gigs than pootling along at 4mph talking about things that interest you). I’m drawing together osteological things to do with water and death, from prehistory to the 1850s… I just need to borrow the Archbishop’s false teeth and I think we’re set…

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A Day in the Life of Bones Don’t Lie

That's me in a giant trench excavating for Campus Archaeology, found part of the first dormitory

That’s me in a giant trench excavating for Campus Archaeology, found part of the first dormitory

The Day of Archaeology is a digital celebration of the breadth and variety of archaeology that occurs throughout the world. It provides a snapshot of what different types of archaeologists do on a day to day basis. The goal is to increase “public awareness of the relevance and importance of archaeology to the modern world” (Day of Archaeology). I’ve participated in this event for the past two years, and I’m excited to be joining in again for my third year! I’m adding my perspective in two ways, the first is through my primary job as Campus Archaeologist of MSU. You can check out my Day of Archaeology post on Campus Archaeology here: Our Favorite Moments in Campus Archaeology which includes my favorite moment from digging this summer. Second, I can share what I’m doing on a daily basis.

Early Morning: I always start the day with a flavored coffee, and my current favorite is Macadamia Nut Cookie coffee that I have to order special online. Once I get that first sip into my system, I read up on the archaeology news. It’s important to keep up to date on what has been found, what new techniques are being used, and what may potentially serve as a new blog post for Bones Don’t Lie. I’ve found that starting the day like this prepares my brain for work. This morning I’m caught looking up the effects of corsets on bones; an odd topic for breakfast, but oh so intriguing.

Morning: I head into the office to start my job as Campus Archaeologist around 8am. The MSU Campus Archaeologist is a position held by a grad student, and involves running the day to day operations of the program including monitoring construction, excavating prior to construction, engaging with the campus community and conducting research on the archaeology of campus. It is a two year position, and I’ve been Campus Archaeologist for approximately 23 months. This means that my time today is going to be spent preparing for the new Campus Archaeologist. I’m hoping to get all of my reports finished before my predecessor begins. A quick break from writing to meet with the Chair of the Anthropology department to discuss my new job, and then I’m back to working on Campus Archaeology reports. We did about 6 archaeological surveys, so there is a lot of research and writing that needs to be done to complete the summer work.

Afternoon: This afternoon I’m working on writing up my research trip. As many of my Bones Don’t Lie readers know, I’ve been in England examining archaeological collections and meeting with various archaeologists to prepare for my dissertation proposal. Every day over the two weeks abroad I visited a different museum or university. All of that information needs to be collated and written up before it leaves my brain. When I think about my life as an archaeologist, I mostly remember the days in the dirt. Realistically though I spend most of my time at my computer writing up what I’ve been doing or what I intend to do. Archaeology is a few months of digging bookended by months of careful research, interpretation and writing.

Night: If it is a Monday or Wednesday night, that means I’m going to spend a couple hours researching and writing a new Bones Don’t Lie post. One of the things I love about writing a blog broadly on mortuary archaeology is that I get the chance to learn about a lot of different regions and time periods. Burial practices vary so much through time and space, and I love that I have a venue for sharing what I’ve learned about them. Tonight though, I’m doing something less scholarly because its Friday. I was inspired as a kid by Tomb Raider, and I still get a thrill playing archaeology themed video games. Admittedly, tonight I’m playing a grave robbing and completely not politically correct adventure game with archaeological undertones- Uncharted. These types of games allow me to feel something I only feel when digging- the sense of the unknown and the opportunity to uncover it. I’d rather be digging up a burial, learning who the skeleton inside was, and doing the hardcore research- but sometimes we need downtime, and games like these provide a quick fix for that desire.

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