Anatomy

A Day with Macedonian Archaeology – Epigenetic characteristics of the medieval population at the site “Crkvishte” v.Morodvis.

In addition to the attempts of forming an anthropological/morphological image for one researched population, the epigenetic characteristics that can be seen on the skeletal material are of a great significance. They are used in anthropological analysis to determine any genetic link between certain individuals (skeletons) because they are genetically conditioned.

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In this regard, the epigenetic variations that were present and carefully followed on the skeletal material from the medieval necropolis at the site “Crkvishte” v.Morodvis, brought valuable conclusions for the shaping of the anthropological profile on the population that lived between XII, XIII and XIV century.

From the epigenetic variations of this population, we can see that in most cases we have: intra sutural bones in the lamboid, sagittal, parieto-mastoid and occipito- mastoid suture ; parietal foramen that is missing on the both sides ; metopical suture.

We can see the presence of the very rare : os epiptericum, os incae unipartitum, os apicis multipartitum and os asterion.

 

 

From the epigenetic variation of the postcranial skeleton, we found the rare – sternal foramen, suprascapular foramen and a curved sternum (so called chicken breasts).

The great percentage of some specific epigenetic characteristics in this population indicates the possibility of setting up a hypothesis that most of them were in family relations.

By MA Mimica Velova Graorkovska

Dead deer and ancient cattle: A day in the lab

A day in the life of an archaeologist can consist of many things. My own experiences have ranged from digging in ice filled holes in freezing midwinter to throwing projectiles at hay bales in some attempt to experience prehistoric technologies. A rather less active pursuit involves processing excavated material in the lab.

This summer most of my days are spent working on an assemblage of animal bones which were excavated in the late nineteenth century and have been sitting in a museum store house without much work done.

Working with this sort of material is a little different to working with material which might be excavated today, because the recording methods have developed so much over the past hundred years of archaeological investigation. Much material which was stored in museums in the 1800s was not always deposited with proper plans and diagrams, which make it rather difficult to piece together the exact story of what, went on on-site.

My work involves looking at the bones in detail, starting off with basic identification of the species which were present on site, and moving on to look closely for evidence of human use of the bones, in the form of cutmarks from butchery, as well as evidence for what happened to the material after the prehistoric people who used and ate these animals threw the bones away.

The material I’m looking at mainly consists of cattle remains; these seem to be of domestic animals, though there are also remains of now extinct aurochs, an ancient form of massive wild cattle. We also have red deer, with some absolutely huge antlers from them present on site. In addition there are horse bones, and some from wild boar and wolves.

Closely inspecting an ulna in the lab. This is where the magic happens.

There are claims that much of what I’m looking at is from the Mesolithic period, which dates approximately between the end of the last Ice Age, and the arrival of agricultural practices in Britain, when the main form of subsistence for the human occupants was hunting and gathering, but I compare a lot of the specimens to reference material, and it looks to me like there are a lot of domestic animals, especially cattle and horse, possibly dating to the Bronze Age, which is rather later, as well as earlier Mesolithic material.

These zooarchaeological studies allow archaeologists to piece together the story of what past people were doing with animals, their diet and their economy. What I’m hoping to do is to be able to tell the story of the site and shed some light on material which hasn’t been looked properly in the modern period. For me it involves sitting in the lab working through boxes of sometimes rather crumbly bones and Excel spread sheets where I record the data. Once this is finished I should be able to write it all up in a stylish report.

Dusty Muddy Stuff (“I think you will find its called Archaeological Mateeeeriaaal!”)

Elena Jones: Assistant Registrar/Registration Assistant, Department of Prehistory & Europe at the British Museum.

Today I am sitting down in an ancient and threadbare office swivel chair at my bubble-wrap and acid free tissue covered desk. I am in a British Museum office – away from the main Bloomsbury site – that has been little changed, by my reckoning, for 25 years or so.

To fill you in on what I do, my current work here is on the same project it has been Monday to Thursday for over a year now. It involves the registration of an archaeological assemblage from an excavation of the Etton Landscape in Norfolk (if you want to know more see http://www.eaareports.org.uk No.109, 2005: Archaeology and Environment of the Etton Landscape, by Charles French and Francis Pryor ISBN 0 9520616 2 7).

This site, of late Neolithic and Bronze Age features has delivered to us, in the department of Prehistory & Europe, a large assemblage of flint implements, pottery sherds, animal bone and human remains. It has been my privilege (and my job!) to sort, identify, photograph and document the finds, working from the finds themselves and the site publication.

All this, often very repetitive work, eventually culminates in a well-organised collection of objects properly housed in long-term storage and marked with a unique registration number which refers to a detailed online digital record which can be found on the British Museum website

But back to today! and this snap shot into the world of museum Registration. I am ‘registering’ the last of ten Etton Bronze-Age human burials. I have a particular interest in human remains and as such I take my time to carefully identify, side (is it from the left or the right side of body?) and individually bag each bone of this skeleton. The burial in question is of a young male with relatively good preservation and no apparent health problems. It is quite common for me to come across the bony growths, spurs and polished surfaces of an individual with arthritis or the carious legions on the teeth that tell me this person probably had tooth ache. Moreover, after working with so many burials from numerous sites you soon come to appreciate the splendid variations in the dimensions of people’s facial bones. Beetle brows, high cheek bones and prominent chins are all in the mix!

The burials from this particular site are taking a little longer than one might expect because, although they have been given a burial number, many of the bone fragments have also been assigned an individual field number. This means that I must transcribe the full site details onto the new bag for each of these pieces of bone rather than just noting down the burial number.

After accurately transcribing the site details from the original, and now rather ropey, finds bags I group bones and fragments within larger bags and label them with general skeletal parts such as “pelvis”, “ribs”, “skull” or “right foot”. I hope that when someone- probably a student- comes to study this individual, my careful bagging and labelling will speed up their task and reduce any possible confusion. To those of us who work in registration and documentation it is always essential that things are well ordered, accurate and above all, make sense.

Throughout this packing process I keep a detailed list, for the database description, of the various pieces of bone I come across and the proportions that have survived. I also use a visual method of recording the burial and colour in, on a schematised drawing of a skeleton, the portions of each bone we have, annotating the number of fragments or loose teeth and any oddities or pathology. Finally, the burial and this skeleton sheet are carefully packed into archival boxes, with bubble wrap and acid-free tissue for protection, which are marked in permanent marker with their individual registration number and the number of boxes for that particular number.

It will be a very satisfying day when the last of this Etton Landscape material is marked and placed in its cabinet or on to its shelf, the table is stripped of its cushioning bubble wrap and I begin to consider how to tackle the next- and there always is a ‘next’!- dusty unregistered archaeological assemblage. Any day now!