Archive | January, 2013

Neolithic Craftsmanship In Central Europe

22 Jan

A recent paper by Tegel et al. (2012) demonstrates the intricate wood crafting abilities of the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture, known as the LBK, in the construction of water wells from planks of wood dated from 5500 BC to 5098 BC.  From the analysis of four wooden wells, and a total of 151 oak timbers from the wells, the precise history of their construction can be confirmed.  This is exciting news as it is firsthand evidence from a range of LBK sites of the carpentry skills, as practiced by the builders, that were apparent during the culture’s existence.  The LBK are typically known as one of the first major European cultures that helped spread agriculture via a number of different mechanisms (Bogaard et al. 2011), and are noted for their use of  cemeteries (Zvelebil & Pettit 2012), differential deposits of shoe last adzes in graves, and uniformity of small settlements and clustered long houses throughout Central Europe, although tantalizingly little remains of their famous long houses.

Bentley et al. (2012) have recently delved into extensive strontium isotope testing of cemetery populations and have released a slew of papers suggesting that, due to different ratios in the presence of male and female adult individuals, the LBK culture practiced patrilocality, i.e. that women moved around to other sites to start families or join different villages, whilst the fathers and sons largely stayed within their birthplace landscape.  Although it should be noted that there are some regional differences, with certain populations practicing transhumance with cattle, possibly moving with them throughout a varied landscape (Rasteiro et al. 2012).  Furtheer to this, there has been little coverage or investigation of infant or juvenile remains in the LBK culture, and this is a research bias that is similar to the under-consideration of of such populations in the wider Neolithic archaeological record (Lillie 2008).


A detail from some from some of the water wells excavated from sites in Eastern Germany that were used in the dendro-chronological analysis and reconstruction (Tegel et al. 2012: 2). The majority of the wells were block lifted from their Neolithic period excavation sites and micro-excavated in wet lab conditions to allow preservation, greater photographic resolution, laser recording and stratigraphic recording. A reconstruction of their wooden joints was possible, because of this technique and the care taken to preserve the wood in-situ.

Article Abstract:

“The European Neolithization ~6000−4000 BC represents a pivotal change in human history when farming spread and the mobile style of life of the hunter-foragers was superseded by the agrarian culture. Permanent settlement structures and agricultural production systems required fundamental innovations in technology, subsistence, and resource utilization. Motivation, course, and timing of this transformation, however, remain debatable. Here we present annually resolved and absolutely dated dendroarchaeological information from four wooden water wells of the early Neolithic period that were excavated in Eastern Germany. A total of 151 oak timbers preserved in a waterlogged environment were dated between 5469 and 5098 BC and reveal unexpectedly refined carpentry skills. The recently discovered water wells enable for the first time a detailed insight into the earliest wood architecture and display the technological capabilities of humans ~7000 years ago. The timbered well constructions made of old oak trees feature an unopened tree-ring archive from which annually resolved and absolutely dated environmental data can be culled. Our results question the principle of continuous evolutionary development in prehistoric technology, and contradict the common belief that metal was necessary for complex timber constructions. Early Neolithic craftsmanship now suggests that the first farmers were also the first carpenters.”

Read more here.

Below are further sources to delve into the intriguing LBK culture.

Bibliography and Further Sources:

Bentley, R. A., Bickle, P., Fibiger, L., Nowell, G. M., Dale C. W., Hedges, R. E. M., Hamiliton,. J., Wahl, J., Francken, M., Grupe, G., Lenneis, E., Teschler-Nicola, M., Arbogast, R-M., Hofmann, D. & Whittle, A. 2012. Community Differentiation and Kinship Among Europe’s First Farmers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. doi:10.1073/pnas.1113710109. 1-5.

Bogaard, A., Krause, R. & Strien, H.-C. 2011. Towards a Social Geography of Cultivation and Plant Use in an early Farming Community: Vaihingen an der Enz, South-West Germany. Antiquity. 85: 395-416.

Bramanti, B., Thomas, M. G., Haak, W., Unterlaender, M., Jores, P., Tambets, K., Antanaitis-Jacobs, I., Haidle, M. N., Jankauskas, R., Kind, C.-J., Lueth, F., Terberger, T., Hiller, J., Matsumura, S., Forster, P & Burger, J. 2009. Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers. Science. 326 (5949): 137-140.

Lillie, M. C. 2008. Suffer the Children: ‘Visualising’ Children in the Archaeological Record. In: C. Barcvarov (ed.) Babies Reborn: Infant/Child Burials in Pre- and Protohistory. Conference Proceedings, UISPP, Lisbon. BAR International Series. 1832. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp. 33-43.

Rasteiro, R., Bouttier, P., Sousa, C. C & Chikhi. 2012. Investigating Sex-biased Migration During the Neolithic Transition in Europe, Using an Explicit Spatial Simulation Framework. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences. Doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.2323 accessed on the 20th of May 2012.

Tegel W., Elburg R., Hakelberg D., Stäuble H. & Büntgen U. 2012. Early Neolithic Water Wells Reveal the World’s Oldest Wood ArchitecturePLoS ONE. (12): 1-8. e51374. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051374

Vanmontfort, B. 2008. Forager-Farmer Connections in an ‘Unoccupied’ Land: First Contact on the Western Edge of LBKTerritory. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 27 (2): 149-160.

Zvelebil, M. & Pettitt, P. 2012.  Biosocial Archaeology of the Early Neolithic: Synthetic Analyses of a Human Skeletal Population from the LBK Cemetery of Vedrovice, Czech Republic. Journal of Archaeological Science. In Press.

Human Osteology Courses in the UK

22 Jan

This is something I should have done a while ago.  Regardless, whilst I was doing some light research for another article I made a quick list of every course in the UK that offers human osteology as a taught masters (either as an MA – a Masters of Arts or as an MSc – Masters of Science) or offer a distinctive human osteology module or component within a taught masters degree.  England is well represented within the universities highlighted, Scotland only comes in with two entries whilst Wales and Northern Ireland, as far as I know, offer no distinctive osteological courses at the Masters level.  Further to this the reader should be aware that some universities, such as the University of Leicester, offer commercial or research centers for human and animal osteology yet run no postgraduate courses that provide the training in the methods of osteoarchaeology.  Thus they are excluded from this list.

This information is correct as of the 8 January 2014, but please expect at least some of the information to change.  I think we could likely see a raise in the tuition fees for MSc and MA courses within the next few years, as a direct knock on effect of the upping of undergraduate fees.  It should be noted here that the education system in the UK is well-regarded, and it’s educational institutions are often in the top 10% in world league tables; however it can be very expensive to study here, especially so in the consideration of prospective international students.  Please also take note of the cost of renting (especially in the south east of the country) and the high cost of daily living.  The list is not an exhaustive attempt and I am happy to add any further information or to correct any entries.

As well as the list below, the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology also have links to human osteology and bioarchaeology courses in the UK – check it out here.


A example of an archaeological skull. Image credit: source.

MA/MSC Degrees in England

Bournemouth University:

University of Bradford:

University of Cambridge:

  • MPhil Human Evolution (amazingly there are 18,000 skeletons in the Duckworth Collection).

Cranfield University:

Liverpool John Moores University:


University College London:

University of Durham:

  • MSc Palaeopathology (Fees available on request, expect UK/EU £5000 and International £14,000).
  • MSc Evolutionary Anthropology (Fees available on request, expect UK/EU £5000 and International £14,000).

University of Exeter:

Universities of Hull and York Medical School:

  • MSc Human Evolution (A very interesting course, combining dissection and evolutionary anatomy) (UK/EU £4620 and International £16,540).

University of Liverpool:

University of Manchester:

  • MSc Biomedical and Forensic Studies in Egyptology (course under review).

University of Oxford:

University of Sheffield:

University of Southampton:

University of York:

MA/MSc Degrees in Scotland

University of Dundee:

University of Edinburgh:

Please be aware of changing program fees, as some of the above information has come from the 2012/2013 course fees, and these can, and are likely, to change during the next academic year.  In conjunction with the above, a number of universities also run short courses.

The following universities offer short courses in human osteology, osteology, forensics or zooarchaeology.

Short Courses in England

Bournemouth University:

Cranfield University:

Luton Museum

Oxford Brookes University:

University of Bradford:

  • On occasion run a palaeopathology course, please check the university website for details.

University of Sheffield:

I am surprised there are not more short courses in the UK.  If you find any in the UK please feel free to drop a comment below!


A University of Hull and Sheffield joint excavation at Brodsworth carried out in 2008 helped to uncover and define a Medieval cemetery. Image credit: University of Hull.

Note: A final note to prospective students, I would strongly advise researching your degree by visiting the universities own webpages, finding out about the course specifics and the module content.  I would also always advise to try and contact a past student and to gain their views on the course they have attended.  They will often offer frank advice and information, something that can be hard to find on a university webpage.  Also be aware of the high cost of UK tertiary education as prices have been raised considerably in the past few years and are likely to rise again.

Furthermore if you know of any other human osteology Masters or short courses in the UK please comment below or send me an email and I will add it to the list here.

Further Information

Highlights: Disability in History, A 7 Year Walk, & Science Writing

14 Jan

The first few weeks of 2013 have been pretty busy so far, but I have noticed several interesting articles that are worth a read.  Regular readers of this blog will know I have a personal interest in disability and it’s effects upon the individual and society, from both the prehistory and historic periods.  As such I am excited to highlight the work of English Heritage and their information on the European centered ‘History of Disability: From 1050AD to the Present Day‘ webpage.  The site has a wonderful overview of the changing attitudes and roles that disabled people faced throughout this period.  Taking in the broad categories of the Medieval period, the Tudors, and the later centuries block by block, the website helps provide information on the social aspects of physical and mental disability in the various period societies.  In conjunction with the website, I also came across this article ‘Graciosi: Medieval Christian Attitudes to Disability‘ by Cusack (1997: 414-419), published in the Disability and Rehabilitation journal, which is free to view on the Academia website.  It is an interesting read, and helps to  introduce the Medieval and later period views on disability and the social implications for individuals affected.

Meanwhile over at the BBC website there is an article on Paul Salopek and the journey he hopes to make over the next 7 years.  Starting in Ethiopia in East Africa and ending near the southern point of South America in Tierra del Fuego, Salopek hopes to walk the entire journey to retrace the journey of early humans and the evolution and expansion of Homo sapiens.  Specifically the biologist and journalist will be relaying his thoughts and encounters with people each and every day of his journey, helping to detail the explosion of modern man, whilst also taking the time to articulate his views via ‘slow journalism’, as opposed to today’s fast paced news sites and blogs.

Directly related to this is a recent entry on John hawks’ weblog, titled ‘Online Communication Bias Upon the Public Perception of Science‘, where the renowned palaeoanthropologist highlights a recent Science article by Brossard & Schuele (2013: 40-41) on the negative effects of science representation in online and digital media.  The comments by Hawks are quite eye opening, as is the original paper (unfortunately behind a pay wall).  The article highlights and relates to the way we (as a public body) consume science articles in the fast moving digital world of journalism through popular and established media, particularly the main papers.  The authors found that the main body of the article is often misunderstood, with the comments sections in particular affecting the readers comprehension of the articles themselves.

So this is a brief update into my recent readings.  The next few blog entries will concentrate on the next Skeletal Series update, which have admittedly been a long time coming.  Further to this I will also write about an exciting and informative methodological update in relation to the ‘Bioarchaeology of Care‘, as espoused by Tilley & Oxenham (2011).  Generously Tilley has emailed me a copy of her recent paper, and it provides further detailed information on how the disabled individuals found in the archaeological record are assessed for care.

AJA Report: ‘Archaeological Site Looting in “Glocal” Perspective: Nature, Scope, and Frequency’

5 Jan

There is an open access article in the latest American Journal of Archaeology by Blythe Bowman Proulx (2013: 111-125)  entitled ‘Archaeological Site Looting in “Glocal” Perspective: Nature, Scope, and Frequency’, that debates the nature of archaeological looting on a global scale.

The abstract of Proulx’s article is below:

“The looting of archaeological sites undermines the preservation of cultural heritage. The purpose of this study is to broaden and refine our understanding of the nature, geographic scope, and frequency of looting and archaeological site destruction and to place looting in global perspective. Situated within a “glocal” (global and local) context, this study focuses on a large sample of field archaeologists working throughout the world and their opinions about and personal encounters with looting. Some key findings are presented: first, that the overwhelming majority of surveyed field archaeologists have experienced looting firsthand on more than one occasion; second, that archaeological site looting is in fact a globally pervasive problem and is not limited to certain parts of the world to the exclusion of others. The paper ends with a consideration of the implications of such findings for the broader cultural heritage debate.”


The after effects of looting, in this case the desecration of two mummies, at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising in January last year. Whilst highlighting the effects of looting, it is also good practice to show the response to it, in this case members of the public and professionals of the city forming ‘a human chain’ around the museum to protect the artefacts and heritage inside the museum (Source: National Geographic/AP).

Context is king, and without this we risk losing cultural heritage and understanding on a massive scale due to the looting of archaeological artefacts and sites worldwide.  This is a strong article helping to document first hand experience of looting at archaeological sites from around the world.  It is well worth a read and presents a recurrent archaeological problem in careful consideration of the world wide context.  Proulx’s (2013: 123) devastating conclusion is that:

“archaeological site looting is a globally pervasive, commonplace, iterative, and not decreasing appreciably is a critical finding.  Looting- and, consequently, the role it may play in the antiquities trade- can no longer be dismissed as simply exaggerated, nor can concerns about looting be cast off as mere products of scaremongering archaeologists with overblown imaginations and thinly veiled preservationist agendas.”


Proulx, B. B. 2013. Archaeological Site Looting in “Glocal” Perspective: Nature, Scope, and Frequency. American Journal of Archaeology. 117: 111-125.

2013 & Beyond

3 Jan

As is custom at this time of year a quick review of the previous year’s views is presented in this post.  The statistics can also be useful in spotting trends and popular posts on this blog.  2012 was a particularly popular year for this blog (just nearly over two years old), with a recorded number of views of 530,000 during the previous 12 months, bringing the current total to 680,816 views.  There was a total of 41 new posts bringing the total to 91, with the most popular day being the 3rd of October 2012 with 4,354 hits.  The top 5 blog entries of the year were:

1.  The Biological basis of Bone and Anatomical Directional Terms.

2.  Skeletal Series Part 9: The Human Hip.

3.  Skeletal Series Part 5: The Human Rib Cage.

4.  Skeletal Series Part 10: The Human Leg.

5.  Skeletal Series Part 3: The Human Skull.

So quite clearly the most popular posts were those that dealt specifically with osteology and anatomical related features.  This is, in part, due to the multidisciplinary attraction to the posts themselves.  Crossing, as they do, the boundaries between archaeology, osteology, medicine, anatomy, physical anthropology, forensic science, palaeoanthropology, and bioarchaeological fields.  It is also probably down to the plain old inquisitiveness of the human species to know thy self!  The fact that the most popular posts are those that detail the bony anatomy is gratifying to know, as this is the primary reason I set the blog up; to help educate people who are interested to know how to identify human skeletal features, what archaeologists do with human skeletal remains, and what they (he bones) can tell science about our past populations.

This blog includes a variety of other posts, and I’ve tried to widen this out to include Guest Posts from a number of different sources.  The aim has been to introduce various opportunities or interesting material from other sources and colleagues.  I hope to introduce further posts related to my interest in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, but also hope to write about the different aspects and projects that being an archaeologist can involve, as it is a wide spectrum of activities, including report writing, historic building recording and surveying, archival work, excavation, post-excavation analysis and data entry to name a few things that have been experienced in the past year.

This year also saw the introduction of a separate page, entitled the Human Skeleton, for the collected and so far published Skeletal Series post entries.  Upon completion of this aspect of the blog it is hoped that the page can be used as an overall source for the blog, and for the main information on the human skeleton to be found there.

The majority of visitors to the site have come from the United States, The United Kingdom or Canada, but has successfully been viewed in 207 countries around the world.  I am particularly proud to have been viewed in every continent as this blog was started to help educate both myself and the readers.  The most popular sources to have viewed this blog by include Bones Don’t Lie, Facebook, Reddit and Past Horizons.  The most popular search terms, perhaps unsurprisingly, include ‘scapula’, ‘tibia’, ‘ribs’, ‘femur’ and ‘shoulder anatomy’.

Views by country, beginning the 25th of February 2012 up to the present day (03/01/2013).

Views by country, beginning the 25th of February 2012 up to the present day (03/01/2013), but not including the year 2011.

So 2012 was a particularly good year for the blog, yet their remains the need to complete the Skeletal Series entries amongst other things that need writing up.  In 2013 this blog should hopefully update to include entries on how to age and sex skeletal remains, how to identify basic diseases present in archaeological skeletal populations, alongside the usual posts highlighting relevant or interesting archaeological or historical/prehistorical cultures, sites or remains.  If you think there is something I should correct, change or blog about, feel free to comment on this post or contact me through my about the author page.