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Blogging Bioarchaeology: Advice on Best Practice, Engagement and Outreach

28 May

The latest issue of the peer-reviewed Internet Archaeology journal is titled Critical Blogging in Archaeology and features an article titled Bones, Bodies, and Blogs: Outreach and Engagement in Bioarchaeology by two notable bloggers, Kristina Killgrove and Katy Meyers Emery (Emery & Killgrove 2015).  Killgrove runs the Powered by Osteons site focusing on Roman bioarchaeology, classical archaeology and bioanthropology, whilst Emery runs Bones Don’t Lie, a site focusing on mortuary archaeology, bioarchaeology and reviewing the pertinent literature.  I admit here to having an interest in the article as I am, amongst others, one of the bloggers discussed in the article who also helped to provide a quote for the article.

Regardless, I feel that it is important to raise the publishing of this article as it represents an excellent example of an overview of the pertinent issues in blogging bioarchaeology.  These include understanding the benefits, both personal and professional, of running a bioarchaeology blog, understanding the role and importance of authority in blogging archaeology (see also Richardson 2014) and advice on best practice for bioarchaeology bloggers themselves.  In a way this article specifically builds upon a small raft of recent archaeology and anthropology-blogging focused papers (de Konig 2013, Richardson 2014) by focusing only on bioarchaeology as a still nascent archaeology blogging specialism dominated by several main sites.

As Emery and Killgrove (2015) highlight, there is a remarkably small online presence of bioarchaeologists, even though there is a large public hunger for knowledge on the methods used in both the bioarchaeological and forensic sciences.  The authors also raise one of the interesting blogging demographic trends in bioarchaeology – the strong representation of females compared to males in skeletal-based specialisms, such as biological anthropology or palaeopathology. This is something that is replicated in the discipline itself across both the academic and commercial field.  I won’t go any further into the article here as it is wonderfully open access and deserve to be read in its entirety.  I particularly recommend any researchers interested in archaeological blogging to read the article as it offers sage advice that can apply to the whole field rather than just the specialism of bioarchaeology.

It’d be somewhat remiss of me if I did not mention here the other fantastic bioarchaeology bloggers and their sites also referenced in the post.  I’d highly recommend checking them out and seeing what they have to offer as each blogger bring their own unique view on bioarchaeology and tackle a wide variety of subjects within the discipline.  They are as follows:

  • Bone Broke, by Jess Beck – an excellent site to learn about the finer points of human osteology and then have the opportunity to test yourself on the bone quizzes.  Keep an eye out for the various mini series that Jess runs on the site, from anatomy vocabularies to the osteology everywhere series.  The occasional travelogue also highlights the travels that the author heads out on.
  • Powered By Osteons, by Kristina Killgrove – sick of the inaccuracies in the TV show Bones?  Head over to PbO to learn about the real methods used in the study of skeletal material in forensic circumstances.  The site includes fascinating research posts on Roman bioarchaeology, a remarkably little studied specialism on the classical world.  Furthermore you can entertain yourself by looking through Who Needs An Osteologist series to figure out which skeletal element has been misplaced.
  • Bones Don’t Lie, by Katy Meyers Emery – a regularly updated site which features a wide review of current and past academic articles focusing on mortuary and funerary archaeology.  Katy carefully dissects the context and content of the articles and highlights the most important and pertinent parts for the reader, an invaluable service in a world where many bioarchaeological articles are still locked behind a paywall, inaccessible to most.
  • Deathsplanation, by Alison Atkin – Black death research galore as Alison elucidates the finer points of bioarchaeological research as applied to historic populations devastated by this still captivating medieval epidemic.  Keep an eye out for her series on disability in archaeology and for the occasional entertaining and thought provoking art pieces.
  • Strange Remains, by Dolly Stolze – Dolly’s site focuses on the stranger side of death and human remains, whether this is the varying approach that humans have taken to body deposition or funerary treatment, or to the more somber forensic aspects of skeletal recovery and analysis.

Alternatively if you yourself are a bioarchaeologist, or have an interest in bioarchaeology, and want to build up your communication skills and outreach experience then I’d advise joining the crowd and get blogging!

Bibliography

de Koning, M. 2013. Hello World! Challenges for Blogging as Anthropological Outreach. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 19 (2): 394-397. DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12040.

Emery, K. M. & Killgrove, K. 2015. Bones, Bodies, and Blogs: Outreach and Engagement in Bioarchaeology. Internet Archaeology. 39. http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.39.5. (Open Access).

Richardson, L-J. 2014. Understanding Archaeological Authority in a Digital Context. Internet Archaeology. 38. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.38.1. (Open Access).

Blogging Archaeology: What Does It All Mean To Me?

15 Mar

This is the fourth entry in a blogging carnival that Doug Rocks-Macqueen, of Doug’s Archaeology, started back in November last year.  Just another quick recap: the whole idea of this blog carnival was started by Doug after he saw that the Society for American Archaeology are having their 79th annual conference in Austin, Texas, next month (just shy of the SXSW festival).  Doug specifically noticed that they are including a session on the rise of blogging in archaeology and, since he cannot be there himself, he thought it was pertinent to start a blogging carnival online to get the archaeology blogosphere alive with monthly questions.  The questions are posted on his site in the first week of each month.

blogging-archaeology3333

Displaying the slightly softer anatomy of the human body with the skeletal tissue in this months blog banner. (Image credit, remixed with MS Paint).

Last month a total of over 50 amazing bloggers joined in answering the December topic of the Best and Worst of blogging archaeology.  This is an awesome number of people involved in spreading the word about the joys and sorrows of blogging about archaeology.  My entry for January can be read here.  Remember that if you are a blogger writing and posting about archaeology and you want to take part then go right ahead!  Feel free to join at any point, answering the past questions is very much encouraged.  The previous past few months questions can be found here, please do jump in and join us!

This month (although I realise it is already March and not quite February any more) Doug has decided to do something a little bit different.  This time it is up to us bloggers to choose our own topic to discuss.  As I have cunningly already missed the deadline for this entry you can also go ahead and read other peoples entries here.

What Does It All Mean?

Well first let me define that for you.  What does it all mean is a question I often find myself asking when I look at my blog, when I think about the hours I have spent researching and writing posts.  But let’s take a minute to think how we got here in the first place.

I am writing this now on a free service that is hosting words and images that I post, and you are now reading this for free.  I do not get paid in any way to produce this content (although I could in a small way I don’t think I will), and I do it of my own free volition.  You decide in roughly ten seconds or so whether you will stay and read any articles that I have produced, or if you will click off the site and go on to search for something else instead.  We often have multiple browsing windows open at once: currently I am watching an episode of the Flight of the Conchords as I type this post, while open in other windows I am logged into a social networking site, one of my email accounts and I also have open a few news articles ready to digest.  For good measure I further have a program lined up and ready to watch on the BBC Iplayer as well.

The world-wide web, as we know it, is a grand 25 years old this year.  There is a pretty astounding 2.3 billion pages on the surface web at the current time, although no one really knows how many pages or sites there are on the web as a whole, or are on the deep web in total (Naughton 2014).  The deep web is, largely, only accessible when using certain pieces of software to access it (Tor, for example) and it is full of sites that are not indexed by any search engine.  It is also often, but not always, used for nefarious practices.  By far the biggest engine browser is Google, a powerful broker in how the internet is interacted with, and how it is indexed and searched.  Every once in a while it re-configures its search algorithms to disrupt any sites that try to play the search engine optimisation game (by setting up dummy sites with links towards a selling site, for example).  This can sometimes permanently disrupt a normally regular flow of visitors to online businesses and entrepreneurs (and, dare I say it, blogs as well) (Naughton 2014).

The blogging platform that this site uses is called WordPress, a self hosting blogging site which was created in 2003.  Wordpress is a free open source blogging tool which supports and boasts some 60 million+ sites on the web today and is host to a very active community (read more here).  It is a peer supported and fully customize-able platform where help is often provided by other users.  Alongside this there is the wordpress.org site, which acts as a primary support network.  Wordpress can, if it feels it necessary, shut down your blog instantly with little to no warning (largely due to backlinks, so be careful of this).  This though, to the best of my knowledge, rarely happens although all users of WordPress or other such hosting sites should read carefully the terms and conditions of the service that they are signing up for.  (And also make copies of posts if you want to have them stored safely elsewhere).  It has been stated that WordPress is perhaps vulnerable to SQL injection attacks, though security is regularly updated .

The quick figures above are a snapshot of the current time and a very short chronology of how young this technology is.  Although I have raised my concerns about the long-term staying power of blogs before, there are plenty of efforts ongoing that are helping to actively archive the websites that litter the internet.  The maxim ‘blog often’ also seems to hold weight for long term bloggers.  The utterly beguiling Wayback Machine has managed to archive an incredible 398 billion web pages over the current period of the webs life.  Quite wonderfully this has included 20 ‘snapshots’ of this blog.  Much like WordPress itself with its active community, the internet archive site mentioned above works with a large volunteer community to help store and archive digital cultural artefacts from across the web in a repository of knowledge.

At this point all of this somewhat randomly asserted bits of information may seem trivial, but I hope to show that the internet is, largely, a community of like-minded people who seek to strive to learn from each other.  As such the interface between the internet, knowledge and academia (particularly archaeology blogging) is something that I think about fairly often.  Also as a blogger I know that we (that is, in this instance, archaeology bloggers) are all vying for the attention of an audience that has the broadest possible range of distractions at their fingertips.  A key thing to remember here of course is the fact that the majority of bloggers write because they want to write.

Digital Witnesses

But the question remains: what does it all mean to me?  I have partly answered this question on a personal level before (here), but I think this question can be approached again from a different angle with help from a few friends.

This blog first took digital form in 2011 and has since been regularly updated with short and some not so short posts (to a degree).  What was the urge to start publicly writing (for it is deeply public, no matter if you get 1 view or 1 million)?  In part, and at large still, it was to improve my own knowledge.  To make myself sit down and take stock of what I know, what I thought I knew and what I definitely didn’t know but thought I maybe knew (to paraphrase Rumsfeld).  Of course it soon became more than that, primarily because I became part of an active online community.  This, I believe, is vital as a part of blogging generally, a dynamic that can vitalise the blogger to change, adapt and evolve during the course of their own work.  Related to this is Tim Berners-Lee’s original and sustained idea that to have a great open online expanse where it is not who shouts the loudest that counts but having the freedom to shout at all that really matters, to have that utter online freedom to take part in something.

“What’s the point of even sleeping, if  I can’t show it if you can’t see me, What’s the point of doing anything?”

Digital Witness, by St. Vincent.

As such shouldn’t we take this opportunity to present our own voices, our own knowledge and our own experiences of who we are, what we do and why we do it?  Could we, in effect, ignore the call of public interaction when it could offer so much?

In my own view now is the time that will test for future generations what direction the world-wide web will ultimately head in and in what direction.  Will it retain its original liberty, freedom and privacy?  Or will it be slowly squeezed of its freedom of use?  Yet this is perhaps too simple a view of a very complex and amorphous question, after all you can have different webs, different connections and different servers (or you know, send a letter).  There are always ways and there are always means to communicate.  The web just happens to be able to reach a lot of people awfully fast.

Personal Academia

By personal academia I mean an ongoing independent interaction with education and interaction in a field of study, specifically in this case in the realms of archaeology, human osteology and human evolution.  Because at the end of the day that is what this is, for both you and me.  However I think it is also pertinent to take a brief look at the context of this blog, because context in archaeology plays a decidedly vital part of our interpretation of the material evidence.  (As a side note it is always worth remembering that although a blog isn’t a physical object that one can handle it does rely on servers, which eat up both physical space and energy).

So lets take a quick case study to highlight just how blogging and academia can fit together.

Recently my blog was mentioned by name in an article by Stojanowski & Duncan (2014) who examined public engagement in bioarchaeology in the American Journal of Human Biology.  The authors briefly examined the rise and history of bioarchaeology as a field, and then moved onto discussing popular topics discussed in the public outreach of bioarchaeology.  Importantly they highlight that bioarchaeology is, like blogging, a young and developing field.  However blogging itself came in from some criticism as the authors believed that bioarchaeology bloggers represented the “perspectives of insiders writing largely (we would argue) for other specialists and students”  (Stojanowski & Duncan 2014: 5).  Stojanowski & Duncan also asserted that “despite this professional vibrancy, it is clear that bioarchaeologists are (to some degree) marginalizing themselves from public discourse because popular presentations of their work are not representative of the field as a whole” (2014: 6).

The first instance that I had heard that my blog had been mentioned in the article was through a message from Alison Atken, of Deathsplanation, on a social media site.  There was a second when I logged onto Kristina Killgrove’s site, Powered By Osteons, and read her article on the value in response to Stojanowski & Duncan.  This discussed detailed examples that her blog had on the public’s perception of bioarchaeology and examples of her own outreach, whilst lambasting the article authors about their negation of the effects of blogging archaeology.  At this point you could consider me intrigued and amazed that my blog had been mentioned by name in an academic article (although annoyed it was negatively framed).

I couldn’t personally access the article at the time though, which was published in the American Journal of Human Biology, because it is pay-walled as the majority of academic journal articles tend to be.  (Although the list of open access publishers in archaeology is growing).  So I emailed Kristina Killgrove to see if I could get a copy of the article.  Wonderfully she duly replied and I managed to read an article referencing my own site, but which failed to actually name the people behind the blogging sites despite being a fairly prolific.

At this point I wrote my own quick reply (here).  At this junction the wonderful Bodies and Academia blog highlighted to me in the comment section that the second author, Duncan, had made the article publicly available on academia.  I also became aware of the recently released Meyers & Killgrove’s (2014) article in the Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin on bioarchaeology outreach.  Although not directly in response to Stojanowski & Duncan’s article, Meyers & Killgrove (2014) highlighted the value of blogging and possible future directions, which included the greater use of video and audio resources.  The article was similar to Rakita’s (2011) article in the same publication, espousing the use of social media and blogging as an educational force of outreach for good.

Alexandra Ion, over at Bodies and Academia, in response to Doug’s question of the month for February discussed the gap between academic and blog writing in regards to the above mentioned Human Biology article and the various blogging responses to it.  

As the Bodies and Academia post by Ion highlights:

This also highlighted the gap that exists, in most cases, between those involved in ‘real academic’ work and the ones doing the popular science stuff, often through blogging. More precisely,’real’ science is still associated with the classic means of communication journal articles, intended for one’s peers, while ‘popular’ science is associated with the more modern means of communication, like blogging, media etc” (from here).

This is an interesting comment and one that has riled the academic community for some time.  Many academic bloggers used either hide their blogs or do not mention to their supervisors or departments their blogs.  It has been well documented that some bloggers in the commercial archaeological sector have even lost their job over blogging exploits.  The tide though, I feel at least with academic blogging (if we must label ourselves as such), is turning.

Kristina Killgrove will be arguing in her tenure case that her expansive blog provides an important means of education outreach, as will Katy Meyers, of the ever popular Bones Don’t Lie, during the course of her PhD studies.  Scott Haddow, of A Bone to Pick, has some fantastic posts on what it is like to work in the (bioarch) field, and highlights some very interesting burials at the legendary prehistoric site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey.  Scott is also a great photographer and his shots of field life make me itch to get back in a trench (though I’ve no idea when that will be).  Jess Beck, over at Bone Broke, has an excellent blog discussing various anatomical and physiological aspects involved in bioarchaeology research.  In particular I enjoy reading her summaries of the Evolution and Human Adaptation lectures that she has attended, and her posts on human physiological adaptation.

Jamie Kendrick, a recent graduate of the MSc in Palaeoanthropology at the University of Sheffield, has a blog called The Human Story which discusses various aspects of human evolution.  He asks some of the bigger questions that archaeology and palaeoanthropology can offer such as who are we?  Where did we come from?  What changes happened along the way?  We round off this part with two other Sheffield bloggers, namely Alison Atkin of Deathsplanation and Alexandra Ion of Bodies and Academia, who share a similar focus in discussing the attitudes to the human body, archaeology and death.  Both tackle subjects that surround the periphery of academia and mainstream topics.

If the above examples are not examples of public digital outreach, then I am not entirely sure what is.

Is This Social?

Navigating my post post-graduate life (before a fabled PhD, if that is the path I am to tread) I quite often feel like a ship without a rudder, nor destination in mind.  Simply put I am my own and online I am this, in this guise (this is an important caveat).  Through this blog then I am anchored to a greater whole, partly though my own choosing and partly through lumping.  I’ve positioned this blog as a starter, a prompt into the world of human osteology and bioarchaeology.  It is still a journey I am travelling and I am happy to have you along for the ride if you care to join.  Could this, then, be considered social anthropology as well?  Possibly a social anthropology of me, a reflection of the self?  Before we get to metaphysical here let me just say that if this is a blog detailing my own dalliance in bioarchaeology, the core underpinning must always be how I position myself to those around me and how I interact with them.  I recognise that I manage to get a fair few views (although not every blog is open to discussing statistics) as such I feel that I should highlight other blogs of note.  This is just a personal view.

“Cause we’re all sons of someone’s, we’re all sons of someone’s, I wanna mean more than I mean to you”

Prince Johnny, by St. Vincent.

 Another aspect should probably be mentioned here.  Blogging, or any social media interaction, is profoundly personal yet it is also a two-way mirror.  What you think you may get out of it, the reader may get something else out of it.  Generally the blogger is in control of the personal information that they write and distribute online.  It is up to the writer themselves then how much, or to what scale, that they do this.  It can be easy to get carried away.  Many of my blog entries mention the fact that I have a bone disease, I do this because the disease is little known outside of the medical world or of people who are diagnosed with it.  Thus my blog, as well as the more academia archaeology/osteology, has a profoundly personal aspect to it yet I am inherently aware of the danger of exposing myself too much online.  For a long time I did not have my name displayed on the blog and it is only recently that I added it again to assert ownership of the content of this blog (via Creative Commons).  As for contact it is again only recently that I set up a dedicated email contact.  The blog isn’t linked to a social media account in any way nor it is linked to an academic profile.  Far too many social media sites are advertisements, I do not want to become an advert.

The drawbacks of this are the fact that the blog may, or may not, have been overlooked by researchers looking to critically assess the ‘health’ of academic archaeology blogging.  The flipside of this is that this may mean it appeals to a broader audience, an audience which is not immediately intimidated by the academic overtone on first view.  This is an assumption however and should be treated as such.  I also hope that it invigorates a person to email me and think about what they are going to say (1) – there isn’t the instant backlash of social media.

In effect then the site becomes my own personal academic environment, the above blogs often highlighting to me new research, studies and popular pieces.  The refrain that bounces around my head becomes not ‘what does it all mean?’ but ‘this is what it means’, that I belong to an online community where I know that my work (or at least some bits of it) are appreciated by both my peers and by a lay audience, especially in an arena where (for now) I know I lack a voice.  To become a part of the vanguard of the online bioarchaeological world.  To make others appreciate the great, good and real value of archaeology and the stories that are oft hidden in bone.  To know the value of your own body.

The final blogging carnival question is already up at Doug’s Archaeology for April 2014 and it is about the future of blogging, so please do jump aboard and join in!  The summary of this month’s questions are available at Doug’s site together with links to all the wonderful bloggers who took part.

Notes

(1).  Please note that although I am not active on certain social media sites I always happy to answer any and all questions, and I am happy to take part in questionnaires, interviews or offer views on archaeology and human osteology.  Contact thesebonesofmine at hotmail.com.

P.S. If you have made it this far, congratulations!

Bibliography

Meyers, K. & Killgrove, K. 2014. Bioarchaeology. Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin37 (1):  23-25. (Open access).

Naughton, J. 2014. 25 things you might not know about the web on its 25th birthday.  The Guardian. Accessed 09/03/14.

Rakita, G. 2011. Bioarchaeology. Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin. 34 (4): 27-28. (Open Access).

Stojanowski, C. & Duncan, W. 2014. Engaging Bodies in the Public Imagination: Bioarchaeology as Social Science, Science, and HumanitiesAmerican Journal of Human Biology. In Press. (Open access on Academia.edu).

St. Vincent. 2014. Produced by John Congleton.  St. Vincent. Republic Records. [Music CD].

What Not To Do In A Morgue: A Lesson For The Archaeologist?

4 Feb

The fantastic Chirurgeon’s  Apprentice Facebook page has highlighted this rather dark but entertaining article by Simon Winchester on his experience of working in a morgue for a summer in the early 1960’s.  In it Simon explains the many lessons he learned when dealing first hand with cadavers of the recently dead, but he also highlights one big mistake he made with a particular gentleman.

Winchester explains:

All this may have been a mistake of judgment. It was not, however, the Mistake. That came a month into my employment when a couple of attendants wheeled into the mortuary the lifeless and, except for his bare feet, rather well-dressed corpse of an elderly, white-haired man. By this time such a delivery was quite routine: I had already had many similar encounters with the lately dead. But this fellow was different, mainly because he had a large tag tied around his big toe. On it was written a question mark and in large letters the word LEUKEMIA.

I was alone in the building at the time of the delivery, and I wasn’t immediately sure what to do. But a bit of riffling through Mr. Utton’s desk eventually fetched up a tattered old manual describing what to do in the event of discovering gunshot wounds, for example, or upon finding an eruption of angry-looking and possibly infection-laden spots on a corpse. It offered me a single line of advice on leukemia: “Remove femur,” it said, “and send it for examination by the laboratory.” (Winchester 2014).

Duly having removed one of the gentleman’s femora for testing and then prepared and dressed the cadaver, Winchester waited for the undertaker to come and take the man away.  However the undertaker was not impressed by the rather floppy state of one of the man’s thighs and told Winchester to put something inside it to stabilize it whilst he went away for dinner.  Unfortunately Winchester chose a zinc metal rod to replace the removed femur, unaware that the individual in question was due to be cremated, not buried, the next day.

Morgue1

A familiar scene from morgues across the land. Tags were often kept on the toes of bodies to identify them and highlight any pathology in the body (Image credit: Bettmann/CORBIS, from here).

Fortunately a good dose of black humour from the family saved any law suits appearing, but the article did make me think about the implications for this in archaeological record.  For example for a person to practice a trade they must first learn and train, often undergoing an apprenticeship under a master or a tradesman.  Mistakes are bound to made in any field of trade, particularly where high technical skill is needed to carry out a procedure.  I wonder if sometimes, especially in the field of prehistoric mortuary archaeology, some things are held up as examples of ritual activities where there has perhaps been a simple mistake that has been covered up or not uncovered, or a result of the taphonomy processes at play.

It also reminded me of a particularly fine biography by Joel F. Harrington of a 16th century Nuremberg executioner that I read late last year.  Meister Franz Schmidt (1555-1634) was a remarkable man, known principally as a highly skilled executioner who attained a particularly high rank in the famous city.  Contrary to his official position Schmidt also became a well-respected healer in his later life.  He carried out his job, indeed his life, with the up-most respect for the sanctity of the position that his father passed down to him, even though he was largely excluded from society because of his job during the majority of his life.  Amazingly the intimate details (names, crimes and last moments) of the many individuals that he dispatched, and the execution methods that were used, were all kept in a personally sparse diary that Schmidt himself wrote.

Schmidt executing

The only reliable picture of Franz Schmidt in action, seen here executing Hans Froschel on the 18th of May in 1591. A brutal but quick death by the sword, a method that required a quick and a steady arm stroke to dispatch the victim. It could easily go wrong if the stroke was not powerful enough to slice and separate the head from the body. (Image credit: Staatsarchiv Nürnberg here).

Harrington makes the point that the young executioner, during the process of learning his trade from his father, likely used butchered animals and stray dogs to practice the various execution methods that were used during this period.  Whilst the book is full of grisly details (being broken on the wheel must have been hell for one), Harrington (2013) puts Schmidt, his life and work, into a broader German and European political framework that effectively illuminates the value that the executioner played in the keeping of law and order in the 16th century.

Being an executioner also often took a physical and mental strain as it was a demanding office to hold, having to both torture and execute criminals but also having to take part in the often elaborate processions of walking the criminal (Harrington 2013).  Further to this there was always the constant reminder that executioners who were accused of a botched torture session or execution could find themselves being penalized or outcast, or even executed, much like the doctors of the day who were accused of failing a patient (Harrington 2013).  I also recommend Winder’s (2011) informal free for all journey around Germany, which also wonderfully places the country in a historical context and is well worth a read alone for some pretty interesting historical hangouts.

Further Information

  • The article, by Simon Winchester, can be found here.
  • An extract of Meister Franz Schmidt’s diary and of a talk by Harrington can be read here.
  • Head to medical historian Dr Lindsey Fitzharris’s enthralling site The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice to learn all about surgery in the early modern period.
  • For all your mortuary archaeology needs head to Bones Don’t Lie, a regularly updated blog by Katy Meyers who is a PhD candidate in mortuary anthropology at Michigan State University.

Bibliography

Harrington, J. F. 2013. The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honour and Shame in the Turbulent 16th Century. London: Picador.

Winder, S. 2011. Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern. London: Picador.

Thoughts on Academic Archaeology

5 Jan

There have been many excellent blog lists highlighting the incredible archaeological and palaeoanthropological finds from 2013.  Off the top of my head here are four blogs (and one site) that are fantastic at summing up the advances that 2013 have brought:

  • John Hawks reviews his year in Human Evolution, and may I just say what a year it has been in the study of human evolution (for some reason very hard to link to the specific blog entry, just scroll two down or so or look at the whole amazing site!).
  • Katie Wong looks at the fantastic list of human evolutionary finds and studies at Scientific American, with links to the articles for your further perusal.
  • Katy looks at the year’s most interesting and important mortuary archaeological finds at Bones Don’t Lie.
  • Paige, at Imponderabilia, highlights some remarkable archaeological finds from the past 12 months.
  • …and of course Past Horizons is the site where you can keep up to date on all manner of archaeological and palaeoanthropological finds throughout the upcoming year and previous years!

So in highlighting the finds of 2013 I think it would be dreary of me to create my own list because so many great bloggers got there ahead of me (and I wouldn’t know when to stop).  Instead I am going to do something slightly different.

I am going to highlight what I would like to see change in academia regarding my own past experiences  of academia itself and those that I have heard from friends.  Now hear me out – I am aware that this will be a quite personal list relating to human osteology and funerary archaeology but I also think some of the categories stretch over the whole subject of how archaeology is taught at the university level education, where there could be improvements and what I believe could enhance the under-taking of an archaeological degree.  In a way it is also wish list for what I (looking back on my undergraduate and masters education) wish I had been taught.

So without further ado I introduce to you my thoughts on what could improve the academic experience for the bioarchaeologists and archaeologists at university level education:

1) Human Evolution

I highlight human evolution first because there is often a human origins module in most undergraduate archaeology programs.  The past few years have seen tremendous change in how much our knowledge has grown and it continues to grow with the application of new techniques and discovering new remains.  My main worry is that many universities may teach outdated theories or not teach human evolution at all.  For me human evolution contains the best combination of archaeology: science, anatomy and fieldwork.  Granted not every student who takes archaeology may be interested in human evolution or palaeolithic archaeology (and very rarely have the chance to dig at a palaeoanthropological site), but just to give that basic bedrock knowledge of who we are would be one worth keeping as a core module.  In my eyes it is a vital basic module, one that can be hard to keep on top of agreed but surely one fundamental to archaeology and the study of our origins as we are today.   Further to this it helps to contextualise archaeology as a subject itself, the importance of evolutionary biology and the continuing role of the historical context of science.

2) Genetics

Genetics is mentioned primarily due my background because when I was studying for my MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology degree, I felt that having a basic introductory module in genetics would have been fundamentally beneficial to understanding the scientific literature.  Of course a student of archaeology at the university level may have already attained a college level knowledge of biology (how I wish I had chosen it now!), but a tailored course on the importance of genetics and the understanding of molecular biology would reap benefits for the modern zooarchaeologists, palaeobotanists and human osteologists.  My view is based on the belief that although macro study and recognition of skeletal material is fundamental to the bioarchaeological sciences (and to the maintenance of a job), a paradigm shift is possibly underway (1) in the way in the fact that genetic studies have fundamentally opened up a new and developing understanding of human evolution and the continued evolutionary adaption of organisms to their environment (see Hawks et al. 2011).  Although there will always be a need for human osteologists etc in the archaeological and academic sector, an understanding of genetics and an ability to study the results of such studies and original examinations would provide the bioarchaeologist with a much more informed toolkit to assess archaeological remains and their context, either in a commercial environment or in a research post.

3) Media Relations

Kristina Killgrove has an illuminating short series on her blog entitled Presenting Anthropology.  This is invigorating, dynamic teaching of archaeology as a social media outreach.  It also makes the students think of how they are presenting archaeology to the public.  We all know of the repeated failures of presenting the skeletal system properly in shows such as Bones etc (definitely check out Kristina’s Powered By Osteons if you haven’t!).  Blogging is fantastic and I’d heartily recommend any student of archaeology to give it a go, but I also realise it is not the be all and end all of outreach and media relations.  Sometimes you have to actively engage with the very people who misrepresent you.  I’d quite like to see the extension of the teaching of social media and active outreach to the majority of archaeology courses if it was possible, especially to highlight the value of those avenues of outreach.  Archaeology is easily cast aside by the people that lead us but that need only be the case if we let them.  Therefore I would actively encourage each and every person who identifies as an archaeologist to promote the value and worth of heritage to as wide of an audience as you can!  Again, at a university level, I think a simple guest lecture on this topic would hopefully sum up the current state of play whilst lecturers and course leaders could actively encourage their students to get out there, both in person and online.

4) Reviewing Each Other In Class, Writing Articles & How to Apply for Funding

Reviewing each other in class is not an especially new idea as many academic modules across all distinctions include active seminars and student participation.  However I believe that, as an marked component of a module, individual and group marking of a student’s paper could encourage active and valuable feedback that reflects the peer-review process and academic publishing.  I asked a few of my friends whether they think they would value such an idea, of scoring an essay a student in the class has wrote individually and then discussing it in a group, and many said they would feel uncomfortable with the idea.  I can understand that but I also think it could be a valuable exercise in understanding the different approaches and viewpoints that a university level class facilitates.  There is a variation of this when, often in seminar setting, a published article is handed out and the individual students have to discuss it and then the group discuss the article’s merits together, but it is my belief that comments on your own writing would be more helpful or the approach could be combined to provide a comparison of the literature and approaches used.

This naturally leads into another facet of this idea that under-graduate and master level students are, in my experience, not given advice on how to write an article for a journal.  I do not just mean content alone but style, diagram placing and referencing as well.  Many academic journals have strict guidelines on what particular format or program the article should have been wrote in before acceptance or the peer review process takes place (if you get that far!).  A class or two could help inform the students of such basic knowledge.  As a part of this idea I also think it would helpful be to be told on what to look out for in an academic journal.  We all know there are predatory journals out there in the academic publishing world, waiting to snap up an article to boost the publishing houses qualifications or ‘seriousness’.  (Two fantastic sites to check out are Retraction Watch and Scholarly Open Access).  Another natural extension of this is (for those who are either looking at MA or MSc courses, PhD or post-doc funding) for students to be given advice on how to apply for funding, to be informed on what bodies fund what research depending on the applicants research area, and how to write a funding form or grant efficiently and effectively.  I am aware that this already happens for PhD students but this is normally at an individual level, wouldn’t a concise one off lecture be helpful to all?

5) Guest Speakers

A relatively simple wish, for archaeology departments to regularly hold guest speaker events either at the department or at the Student Union.  The University of Sheffield’s archaeology department is very active in bringing in a wide range of guest speakers for the weekly Tuesday Lunchtime Lecture and I was grateful for seeing some invigorating and inspiring guest speakers.  This may be a wish that is already largely fulfilled but it is one worth highlighting anyway.  Guest lectures can be relatively easy to organize, with social media definitely making it easier to make contact with a variety of archaeologists both in the commercial sector or in the academic sector.  Guest speakers are also a great way to introduce the great variety of strands in archaeology to an already dedicated and largely interested audience.  I think there could be great scope in grading the guest speakers for a variety of audiences, from introductory talks to the various aspects that make up archaeology a a whole right up to the cutting edge specialist researchers whose knowledge would be beneficial to a select audience.

6) Active Science

Sometimes in academia it can be difficult to think that you are actually contributing anything to the great font of knowledge, especially at the masters level were you are not entirely sure your work will have any impact.  It should be stated here that the majority of universities that offer archaeology also have an active on-going field archaeology project with the undergraduate courses especially stating that fieldwork must be completed before beginning the 2nd year of study.  However I think that there is the opportunity for university students to participate at a deeper level, particularly if the university department runs specialist and technical equipment.  In my own experience there was limited opportunity, outside of the normal fieldwork sessions, to join in with scientific research opportunities.  This may have been a consequence due to the nature of the archaeology departments of where I studied (and the lack of technical equipment) but I cannot help but feel that a greater integration of student and lecturer would provide numerous benefits to both, including gaining all important technical and research experience.

7) Improve Field/Commercial Skills

From informal chats with David Connolly (BAJR leader), reading Doug’s Archaeology and carefully reading the Institute For Archaeology‘s quarterly magazine a common gripe from commercial archaeological units is the fact that many students require training for commercial fieldwork after they have joined an archaeological unit.  As stated above many universities that offer archaeology as an undergraduate degree course state that 2-3 weeks (sometimes more) of fieldwork during the 1st year must be completed before the student can proceed onto the 2nd year of the course.  However this is generally conducted at a research excavation which is quite unlike a commercial excavation.  After the 1st year many students will take modules that they are particularly interested in, thus the opportunity to excavate may not be taken up again before job seeking starts.

I would argue that commercial excavation is very different from university led research excavation and that time and monetary constraints are major factors involved in the excavation ahead of building work (as if so often the case at commercial sites).  Further to this the skills needed often need to be quickly learnt and applied to help record the archaeology effectively and efficiently.  You only ever get the chance to dig and excavate once.  It is also well known that the environment of commercial digging is fundamentally different to research led excavations.  Therefore I propose that, at some stage and preferably at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, guest talks or lectures are given on the differences between excavation types.  Ideally the skills needed to excavate on commercial sites should also be taught and maintained (I do realise not everyone wants to dig though!).

8) Contact Time

It has been noted that many non-EU students who come to study archaeology at the post-graduate level can be put off at first by the lack of contact time, either in scheduled tuition meetings, lectures, practical/lab classes and/or seminars.  This is generally the way with British academia, it is normally standard that the student must allocate his or her time carefully to allow the full maximum use of the university’s resources for their needs.  Modules often have a stated hour learning limit (ie 50hrs reading time, 24hrs lecture time) in the modular handbooks over the semester or year, given out at the start of each term.  However some students have started to question the amount of active contact time in consideration of, and relation to, the hike in university fees in the UK.  This is a tricky situation as students should receive quality education but also accept that the lecturer has other research needs and a whole raft of students and colleagues to work with and projects to proceed on with.  Archaeology, as a discipline, places varying pressures across the department and as such there is no easy answer to this one.  I wish I had more contact time but I also wish I had made slightly better use of the time I was given to access the human osteology lab.

Notes

(1) This may be hyperbole!  The importance of genetics in understanding the relationships between hominin species in the Homo genus however is helping to suggest relationships and interbreeding that could not be conclusively evidenced from the fossil anatomical record alone.  The picture is far from clear but recent DNA studies of the Altai Neandertal suggest that genetic drift and interbreeding are distinctly important mechanism in understanding the evolution of of the Homo species (if indeed they are different species or sub-species).
 
Bibliography

Hawks, J., Wang, E. T., Cochran, G. M., Harpending, H. C. & Moyzis, R. K. 2007. Recent Acceleration of Human Adaptive EvolutionProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences104 (52): 20753-20758.

Future Steps?

15 Oct

I have recently had surgery on my lower right leg following the transverse fracture of the tibia and fibula a few months ago, so I haven’t posted for a while.  The surgery, in which osteotomies were performed on the tibia and fibula to re-align the bones and re-distribute the weight along with having the tibia internally fixated with a locking plate and screws, was quite successful thankfully (x-rays to come if I can get my hands on one, quite looking forward to seeing the new hardware for the first time!).  It also gave me some more time to ruminate on the meaning of this blog: of the blog’s form, function and interactivity.  The basic thinking behind the site remains, as per my established aim, for it to become a repository for both my own continual learning and to provide a place for a wide audience to learn about human osteology, specifically the role human osteology plays within archaeology.

knee-osteo

An example of a high tibial osteotomy near the knee to improve the angle of weigh-bearing and biomechanical properties of the leg: where (a) represents the presenting angle, (b) the surgery to access the joint and (C) highlights the wedge of bone removed in the osteotomy procedure and finally (d) the corrected angle post-surgery.  In my case the distal tibia and fibula were surgically fractured and osteotomies carried out on the medial aspect of both bones to improve the biomechanical loading of the lower limb with internal fixation applied to improve strength (Source: SOTRS).

Development Of A Medium

This blog has developed naturally over the two and a half years since its inception to include what I like to think of as a ‘three-pronged’ approach:

Firstly, the development of the Skeletal Series to introduce the individual aspects of a human skeletal to a general audience.  This is ongoing and has proved relatively successful I think, with some lovely feedback from both members of the academic and public spheres.

Secondly, the ongoing Guest Posts in which various organisations and individuals have agreed to write an informed blog entry on their specific area of knowledge or interest.  This has been a  particularly fruitful approach in widening the topics of discussion on this blog.  This has also led to the development of the first interview on the site, of which I am particularly happy as it has allowed the elucidation of a new methodology in a clear and straightforward manner.  I am hoping that these interviews will become a much a feature of the blog as the guest posts have, and it is something I shall try to develop on the site.

Thirdly, general posts by myself on a wide variety of topics that perk my interest.  Within this I have included posts on specific articles, brief book reviews and personal posts.  The personal posts often discuss the effects of a bone disease little mentioned in the public sphere helping I hope, in a small part, to raise the profile of McCune Albright Syndrome.  As a person with McCune Albright Syndrome, and its component bone disease Fibrous Dysplasia, I have found little online in the form of information from other individual’s with the same syndrome, as such I hope my efforts in describing what I have been through, and what I continue to go through, remains useful in providing information on the syndrome and in providing a personal perspective.

Further to this the site also has numerous links to many resources including links dedicated to researchers, journals and other blogs.  These links are located in the categories side bar (referring to categories discussed in my blog posts), and the blog roll (links to external sites) which can be found underneath the body of the posts.  I hope these provide further in-depth information for the dedicated learner and explorer.

Whilst I am deeply happy that this ‘three-pronged’ approach has developed organically, I cannot help but think of the future of the blog.  I do not post as often as a should, nor as often as I want, but I post because I want to, the pressure to actually post being purely self-contained so to speak.  As such there may be periods where this blog is silent, but that does not mean that it has ceased to function.  Indeed I often wonder how many hours of work have actually gone into producing this blog, as it can be quite time intensive to source, write and produce the blog posts themselves.

There are remarkably few dedicated and consistently updated bioarchaeology/human osteology related blogs on the internet (there is a whole delicious raft of archaeology blogs however) and, whilst my site is certainly one of them, the other two are fairly well-known and well-regarded blogs.  Kristina Killgrove, the bioarchaeologist behind Powered By Osteons, has stated that she sees her site as an open lab book where her own research is presented in detail to the public.  Her site is regularly features posts on popular presentations of human osteology in the public domain, as well as updates on themes and articles in bioarchaeology (particularly Roman bioarchaeology).  Katy Meyers, a doctoral researcher who blogs at Bones Don’t Lie, regularly writes about the main topics in bioarchaeology including posts on mortuary approaches and reviews of academic articles (articles often not available to the public).

In sum Katy’s blog helpfully introduces a wide audience to the many facets of what it is bioarchaeologists actually study and why.  Katy is also arguing that her site should be taken and perceived ‘as a scholarly publication’, which would be recognised and credited as a function of her research, in particular as a dedicated source and evidence of her public engagement.

What Does It Mean?

Having mulled over many a thought in relation to open access, public outreach and viewing blogs as scholarly publications, I have thought and developed several ideas in my relation to my own creation.  Could I argue that this site is a scholarly publication?  Whilst I try hard to reference scientific articles as and when possible, particularly open access articles, I am overtly aware that my site is purely written, edited and overseen by me alone.  There is no peer review process, no-one looking over my shoulder for factual mistakes, scientific faux-pas or grammar mishaps.  A blog is a fluid, dynamic interface which, by its very nature, can be changed, edited or deleted in an instant.  They are, essentially ephemeral in tone, having no physical basis in reality (the average blog lasts for just 3 years).  Not that this last point mitigates the content of a blog just it’s possible permanence.

As highlighted in a previous entry there are plenty of scrupulous ‘journals’ out there, willing to discredit real research and plagiarise hard-working researchers, but there are also blogs which are peer-reviewed and monitored for content.  A key counterpoint is to remember that blogs can have a real immediate impact on an audience’s  understanding of a topic.  The nature of a blog is that it is fast fast fast: posts can be produced rapidly and posted online extremely quickly, reaching an international audience within minutes.  This is their inherent value, that research that has been carried out can be produced rapidly to an interested or already developed audience, as well as reaching new people continually.  On a personal level I am astounded and honoured to be mentioned in a few academic articles as a resource for human osteology/bioarchaeology online and for the value of the content of this blog (see previous posts).  It is, of course, wonderful to be acknowledged and recognised in such a way, particularly by your peers and established academic researchers.

I try to edit older posts for content and spelling/grammar mistakes, update posts detailing ongoing research programs or news items and new scientific methods or evidence (I often cringe when re-reading the earlier blog entries!)*.  Of course I also maintain control over what is exhibited and shown on the site itself.  Friends have suggested that I move the site and place advertisements to gain a small stream of revenue from the internet traffic.  I have always resisted this line of thought as I want the blog to be educational and free, without any pressure to buy a book or click on adverts.  Wordpress, necessarily, add a single advert into posts when they are viewed alone but these are largely unobtrusive to the reader.  My view may change in the future, if I decide to host the site myself or pay WordPress to upgrade the site, but ethically it does not bode well for me to place adverts over a site such as this, especially if I am espousing the spread of free education.

On a personal level this blog is my main interaction with academia now that I have finished my Masters degree, as it allows me to engage with a wide and disparate international audience, to dream up collaborations, ideas and possible research projects.  So far however I have not mentioned any original research on this site conducted by myself (minus my MSc thesis abstract).  Although this is something I hope to change within a relatively short time, it can feel as if this blog could (and sometimes does) become an eternal feedback loop (co-incidentally there is a fantastic blog post here, by Benjamin Studebaker, that discusses echo chambers in journalism and blogs).  Interactivity on the site has been mostly conducted via personal email or over Facebook, and I admit I have been slow to advertise the site itself on any other social media platform.  It is only recently that I have installed the ‘social media’ advertisement buttons on the blog site itself; I have yet to make a personalised Twitter or Facebook handle for the blog (frankly this is something I am loath to do).  In a way I want the site to stand alone, on its own merits as such.  This may be foolhardy, especially in the sense that I want this blog to help educate a general and interested audience, but it is also perhaps just a factor in my own beliefs regarding the use of social media.

Future Steps

So what are the future steps for this blog?  The social buttons that are now an integral part of the posts, which also feature email and print buttons, are ready for the sharing.  I am pretty keen that information on this site should be shared if possible.  There are issues regarding the printing of separate blog entries from this site as it is likely that copyright issues, with regards to the images specifically, would be a problem (I would expect the use of Creative Commons attribution attribution share alike licence to apply for any use of the written material on this site).  Is there a way around the copyright image issue?  The image below highlights what the printed pages would hopefully look like in physical form.

spinespinespinetbom

What the option to print the skeletal series looks like, with the example of the human spine entry. Note that the hyperlinks in the body of the text present as full website addresses in the text itself when printing the entries on paper. The copyright of the image would also be a problem.

So what can I do to mitigate this problem?  I could make the posts unavailable to print, but that would make the rest of the post inaccessible to print.  I could remove the images from the posts themselves and produce my own diagrams, but at this current period in time I do not have the photographs or drawings necessary to illustrate the posts.  What I have thought of is to go through each of the skeletal posts again, edit and add to them and produce a cheap ebook to sell online, a kind of basic introduction to the human skeletal system and its range of applications in human osteology.  The writing would be somewhat clearer and more concise, and I have thought about the illustrations as well and where they could possibly originate from.  At the moment this is a possible pipe dream, but one in which I have been ruminating on as a natural extension of the skeletal series posts when they have been completed eventually.  The posts themselves will remain up and free, as this is one of the main aims of this site.  I am a firm believer in giving the audience options where possible on how they should invest or use social media, so would you, as a reader of this blog, be interested in such a product? (I’ll need to do market research beforehand of course!).

Returning back to the eternal feedback loop comment above, I have often wondered about the content on this blog, what to post and what not to post.  Where osteological articles or news are especially well covered in the national news or respected archaeological/osteological blogs (see Richard III for example), I do not think that this blog has much more to add to the in-depth coverage already written and produced.  What I hope this blog introduces is both my specialist interests and the little seen tidbits of information and useful resources.  I am particularly keen on open access sources for academic articles, especially since having finished university my own access to osteological and archaeological articles is somewhat limited.  I will also continue to post about tertiary education and how it is changing, as previously mentioned in articles on human osteology courses available in the UK and on MOOCs for example.

As stated above this blog has developed guest posts and interviews (more to come hopefully) alongside the typical posts, and I hope to further use the medium of blogging to explore different methods of communication.  Therefore there should be a photographic essay or two gracing this site within a few months, helping to show what exactly goes in archaeological departments at Universities.  From there I think many topics within our bone-obsessed realm could be opened up by photo-essays; sometimes the word can only hope to capture what a picture can capture (but we’ll see how the photographs develop first!).  Ultimately of course this blog is merely an expression of my passion and love for human osteology and archaeology, as such it remains a place where I document this.

So these are my thoughts on where this blog has come from and where it hopes to go and to develop.  We shall see what the future holds.  But dear reader, what are your thoughts, what do you want to see on the blog?

* I’ve edited this entry more times than I care to remember!

Influence:

Chapple, R. 2013.  What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been!  Reflections on Two Years of Blogging. Robert M. Chapple, Archaeologist.  (A delightful entry on the journey of blogging for the author, an Irish archaeologist, on what it has been like and what he has done.  It is certainly worth a read).

Anthropology & Academia

25 Aug

Whilst having a break during attempted statistical analysis of some data I found this interesting article on Al Jazeera, via the ‘Archaeology’ group on a social networking site.  The author, Sarah Kendzior who is an an Anthropology PhD graduate,  draws attention to the plight of the anthropology postgraduate in academia.  Her article focuses on individuals who are facing tough times in gaining employment, and a living wage, in certain sections of American Academia due to the rise of adjunct professors and unpaid internships.  Added to this are the prohibitive costs of annual conferences that can cost a crippling amount of money to attend and which may not always deliver in content.

Graduates in Silhouette

From an article in the Guardian on networking and flexibility in the academic job market. Photo credit: Paul Barton/CORBIS.

This is similar to the upswing of a larger trend of unpaid internships right across the jobs market, in which competition is tough to gain vital work experience.  This has partly became prevalent due to the ongoing financial crisis, as it’s effects continue to ripple across the world, and various countries and businesses tighten their belts.  Part of this is also probably due to making academic work pay in a world where academic jobs can be scarce and the funding opportunities limited.

The article also rightly highlights the ‘walled garden’ effect of academic research, where access to research articles in respected journals can cost universities and institutions thousands of pounds a year to maintain.  I know that once I finish my MSc course a number of important and interesting journals will be unavailable for my perusal, due to the prohibitive cost of maintaining a subscription.  However, with the rise in the number of anthropology related blogs, such as Bones Don’t Lie and Powered By Osteons and websites such as Past Horizons, amongst many others, research is continuing to be disseminated freely across the internet.  The debate continues as to whether this type of information sharing and writing should be considered an academic publication though.

In other news Iran has recently proscribed a ban on females attending University in over 70 BA and BSc programs in 36 institutions across the country.  Protests have already begun, both internally and internationally, at the decision whilst Shirin Ebadi, a noted human rights campaigner, has called on the UN to investigate the situation.  Meanwhile in England there has been a drop in the number of University applicants this year, especially from mature students.  Although not a damaging percentage, the effects of the increase of tuition fees last year have led to many reconsidering the cost, and essentially the worth, of entering higher education.

If academia seeks to educate the masses, it must in some way help to represent the masses.

Note: Perhaps somewhat relevant to this post is the Editorial from a recent Antiquity issue.  In it Martin Carver denounces the lack of formal training in field archaeology or primary data collection that doctoral candidates are required to do for their award, compared to the amount of time spent in the library.  Also mentioned is the distinction of quality between book publications and research articles, the value of local archaeological groups and volunteers and the news of the recent destruction of Timbuktu’s ancient tombs in Mali.  It is well worth a read.

Another Quick (Neolithic) Update….

7 Jun

I haven’t updated as much as I would have liked recently for a variety of reasons, mainly due to a recent glut of essays, but I’d thought I’d add this quickly.

In my About page, I mention that two of my primary interests within archaeology are the Mesolithic and proceeding Neolithic periods, yet I’ve not wrote much about them on this blog.  However this will change (eventually), but as I have now attended the frankly excellent First Farmers conference at the University of Cardiff (see my post here about it), I’d thought I’d report that there has been some further developments concerning the main thrust of the conference.  The Linearbandkeramik culture, Central Europe’s first Neolithic Farmers (5500BC to around 4800BC), were the main topic of the talks and presentations given in Cardiff, and a recent paper by some of the organisers and presenters at the conference (Bentley et al 2012-see link below), have published the preliminary results from a large isotopic research project as a part of this.

The article is well worth a read, and concerns patterns of patrilocality, kinship and status based on the migration of female and male adults from the LBK culture, gathered from the archaeological evidence and the use of strontium isotopes gathered from human remains.  I want to draw your attention to two recently written blog entries concerning the paper.  Firstly we have Katy Meyers post at her blog ‘Bones Don’t Lie’ here, and her entry dated to the 1st of June entitled ‘The Earliest Evidence of Status Differentiation’.  Secondly, we have Rosamary Joyce’s blog, ‘Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives‘, and her entry concerning the article which is entitled ‘Men, Women and Neolithic Equality‘.

Both of these blog entries take two different approaches in evaluating the article, and it is interesting to note both pick up on different themes.  Katy’ post deals with the interesting revelations of social status and differentiation as taken from the archaeological artefacts (mainly shoe last adzes), and evidence of adult female migration. The paper by Bentley et al (2012) makes note that it was possible that farmed land was passed down via adult males from the same family, and suggest differential land use, as  practiced by the LBK.  Joyce’s article makes the point that there are several sites and individuals that do not fit the overall model that the authors propose, alongside comments of how anthropological thought is always processed through a prism of its own history.

Perhaps a salient point to consider is a remark made by Dr Guido Brandt at the Cardiff conference in the consideration of the fact that we can always do with more bioarchaeological samples, including both human and animal bone, to gather a bigger data set as archaeological possible.  We must also always define isotopic parameters, from the geology, geography,  foods used and procured, and human and faunal data.  A point was made at the conference that over 6000 LBK sites have so far been uncovered and identified in Central European countries.  The questions remains the same; how many samples do we need to gather a representative?  And at what scale do we define patterns of migration?

I will no doubt come to know the LBK culture and the use of stable isotopes in migration patterns well as I have chosen this area for my dissertation topic….

Source:

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

Blog Mention In The Newsletter Of The Society For Archaeological Sciences

23 Jan

My blog, alongside Powered By Osteons & Bones Don’t Lie, have been mentioned in a brief article in the newsletter of the Society for Archaeological Sciences, Vol 34, No4 pp.27-28 (Winter 2011).  The short article, by Gordon F. M. Rakita (Associate Editor),  discusses bioarchaeology and the recent American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting.  It highlights the need for scientific archaeologists, and archaeology as a field a whole, to reach out and make use of social networking sites, blogs and other websites in disseminating news, views, experiments and research data.  It is imperative that as many researchers, educators, lecturers & field workers as possible make archaeology accessible to the public.  After all, we are all indebted to history, and archaeology as a whole is largely government, council &/or business funded.  I am humbled to be mentioned by name and by website, and pleased that my writing is being read.

Also, miraculously, I’m still on the front page for archaeology at the University of Hull– alas the long hair is no more….

My Name In Print! (S.A.S. Vol 34. No 4. pp.27-28)

10.02.12 Update:  Both Kristina Killgrove & Katy Meyers have wrote about this piece at their respective blogs, and provide interesting views regarding the advent of the blog as an important bioarchaeology outreach tool.

Rakita’s (2011: 27-28) article is quoted in full below:

“Of late, there have been several calls for anthropologists to reach out and engage the public. For example, Jerry Sabloff (2011), in his distinguished lecture at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meetings, strongly urged us to actively speak and write to a public audience and develop mechanisms (at least within academia) to reward those who do so. In particular, he suggested (p. 414) that ―One of the most promising areas of outreach—and perhaps the launching pad of the future for public intellectuals in anthropology—is blogging.

Sabloff is just one such prominent anthropologist to advocate for blogging. Likewise, paleoanthropologist and blogger himself, John Hawks (2010, 2011) has continued to advocate for anthropologists to reach out to the public through blogging or other forms of public discourse.

Writing as I do from a public university in the state of Florida, I am keenly aware that the public and our elected officials often have a clouded understanding of the nature of our discipline and our contributions to society. Certainly we make such contributions, but we often fail to tout or otherwise advertise these contributions. As a result, we often have to play catch-up when others define who we are and what we do. In the wake of Florida Governor Scott’s comments regarding anthropology, many rushed into the public debate to emphasize the scientific aspects of modern anthropology. None were more effective than the presentation developed by Charlotte Noble and other graduate students at the University of South Florida.

But I can’t help but wonder if this entire incident would have happened, or if such a response would have been necessary, had anthropologists been more active in communicating the value and knowledge of our field to the public. This is especially true for scientific archaeologists who both seek public funding and require public laws to preserve the cultural resources that we know are so important to our communities. For this reason, I want to highlight several blogs that are dedicated to bioarchaeology or bioarchaeology themes.

These are the blogs I’ve tuned my RSS feed reader to: 

Each of these regularly discusses exciting new finds or developments within bioarchaeology. They help me keep up with the literature, make connections between disparate research threads, and (perhaps most importantly) remind me why I decided to be a bioarchaeologist in the first place. 

So if you’re interested in the field of bioarchaeology, tune in, and don’t drop out. And if you’re not interested in bioarchaeology but some other aspect of scientific archaeology, then I guarantee there’s probably a blog for it out there. If not, then why not start one yourself.

References Cited

  • Hawks, John 2010 Public engagement | john hawks weblog.
  • Hawks, John 2011 Blogs, academic discourse in economics | john hawks weblog.
  • Sabloff, Jeremy A 2011 Where Have You Gone, Margaret Mead? Anthropology and Public Intellectuals. American Anthropologist 113, no. 3: 408-416.” 

Blog News, Views & Reviews

12 Jun

It has been a pretty busy past week or so since I last updated the blog.  As usual I’ve been volunteering in the wonderful city of York, but I’ve also taken the chance to go back and visit my old university friends back in Hull for a few days.  The next post in the Skeletal Series will be added shortly.

In the meantime I’d thought I’d present what blogs I read around the web concerning archaeology and human osteology.

My first port of call is the always informative Powered By Osteons blog by Kristina Killgrove.  Dr Killgrove is a biological anthropologist over at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, whose PhD dissertation on mobility and migration in ancient Imperial Rome, can be found here.

One of her latest entries is an edition of Four Stone Hearth.  Four Stone Hearth is a bi-weekly anthropological blog carnival that is hosted on different blog sites each time.  Each edition has links to a number of articles written by various people.  The articles are often interesting, informative and capture the full plethora of all things anthropological.

On the most recent FSH edition, the palaeoanthropologist John Hawks has a weblog entry on his adventures in Rome detailing the relationship between the anthropologist and death.  This entry from Hawks is beautifully wrote and runs the gamut from ancient to modern populations and perceptions how death is remembered and presented.  Hawk’s weblog includes regular updates (I don’t know how he finds the time!) as well as an extensive back catalogue of blog entries, alongside a dedicated database of articles and where to find them on the internet.

Meanwhile over at Bones Don’t Lie, we have Katy Meyers articles on mortuary and bioarchaeology news.  Quite often fascinating and interesting updates, the blog also details her own research interests as she pursues a PhD at Michigan State University.

Anna’s Bones details the thoughts and journeys that the PhD student Anna Barros (at UCL) has gone through, and it is thoroughly recommended.  Her blog entries are vibrant, elegant and are wonderfully evocative.  Although it can be a while between posts, each one is worthy of several re -reads.  In particular her ‘Stripped‘ series discusses her own personal body idiosyncrasies, and her feelings and tribulations through her life.

Lastly we come to a site I have only recently found, as both myself and Confusedious have exchanged various comments and articles when discovering one another’s blogging sites.  The Confusedious science site deals with interesting views and articles on a full range of biological and anthropological subjects.

This, for the moment, brings this entry to a close.  The above are the four main blogs I often read, alongside the mainstream news and archaeological magazines & journals (when the articles are free!).  A full list of websites I frequent, support or am interested in, can be found to the bottom right of this site itself.

Clearly They Are Apes Though...

Access And Issues In Archaeology

18 Mar

In between the guest blogs on cannibalism by Kate Brown, I have stumbled across this website called Past Horizons– related to the Past Horizons magazine.  As the site deals with various facets of archaeology, it is a veritable treasure trove of information.  Ranging from excavations, cultural practises and opinion pieces (not to mention detailing the best tools for arch jobs!), this multimedia website has something for everyone.  Two articles aroused my interest.

Katy Meyers article on Open Access Archaeology provides interesting information on how archaeology is presented across the medium of the world-wide web.  As a subscriber to the British Archaeology magazines, I notice they  too have a column detailing new and interesting websites related to heritage and archaeology.  The exploitation of the internet as a place to spread (mostly free) information about heritage & archaeology has led to a burgeoning amount of websites available, both to the common public and the academic researcher.  Interactive sites, such as the one mentioned in the article on Chaco Canyon in the American Southwest, commonly include vast databases on archaeological sites.  These often include information on the structures present, artefacts found, cultures present, detailed maps, excavation histories at the sites and everything in between.  This is vitally important in the study of archaeological sites as context and providence is everything.  This can only be a good thing.

As Meyers concludes her article, she states that –

We have a responsibility to make our data available to scholarly, public and online communities, preserve it in a format accessible to future researchers, and do so in a way that faithfully represents the real nature of our data. And it is through this pathway that we can further knowledge of our past“.
 
Katy Meyers informative blog on Mortuary and Bioarchaeology can be found at Bones Don’t Lie.

Further to this, Jane Woodcock also has an article on the website detailing the Catch 22 situation of recent graduates gaining archaeological field experience.  Jane notes that –

Many people, including some undergraduates studying archaeology, are under the impression that once you have a degree qualification you are employable as a field archaeologist. In practice, however, most commercial employers require a minimum of 3-6 months’ on-site experience before they consider offering you a job. A clean driving licence and a CSCS card will put you further up the list. Unfortunately, most archaeology degrees only require you to do very little field work to pass, usually 2 weeks or less”.
As is often the case with access to archaeological jobs, you need experience of excavation before a unit or company will take you on.  You can gain experience by attending field schools or excavations; however these often cost money, sometimes a lot of money.  How can you afford to attend courses and excavations with (often) little or next to no money to gain experience to get an often low paid job in archaeology?  As it is often said, you do not enter the archaeology profession for money, but for the passion you have for the subject!
 
It pays to be in touch with local archaeological units and societies in your area, as well as any universities or academic departments nearby.  Often, if the unit is funded by the local council, community digs can be free to attend and participate in.  It makes sense to try to get a broad range of experience too.  From experiance of watching briefs and desk based studies at sites and monuments records office, to commercial watching briefs & full scales excavation with units.  It also pays to bear in mind the sheer range of jobs and applications available in the archaeological sector.  From being a GIS savvy techno wizard to studying faunal or flora remains, investigating human remains or living the life aquatic with maritime archaeolog; there are a broad range of options available.
 
Although this blog deals specifically with human osteology, it also deals within the wider world of archaeology, anthropology and heritage.  This is because nothing can be seen in isolation.  Indeed, as in archaeological excavation, context is everything.