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Bone Quiz: Revisiting Germany

14 Oct

Unfortunately I’m only visiting Germany in this blog entry and not personally!  Germany has recently been in both the education news and the osteo news though, so I’m always happy for a tenuous link to one of my favourite countries.

Free Education!

There has been a recent announcement that each of the 16 autonomous states in federal Germany have now abolished their tuition fees at their public universities, with both German and international students being allowed to take academic courses tuition fee free from 14/15 (as long as they are completed within a reasonable timescale).  Each state (Länder government) in Germany is responsible for its own education, higher education and cultural affairs, and higher education is a public system funded with public money.  This is a major step for Germany, although the decision can of course be overturned in the future as states weigh up various options ad political climates change.  Recent economic news has shown that whilst the UK and USA economies are growing (slightly), the Eurozone as a whole is still stagnating and economically contracting – still, Germany is certainly doing better than some of its economic partners in Europe.

Past Populations

Meanwhile, over at the University of West Florida Kristina Killgrove (of Powered by Osteons fame) and graduate research assistant Mariana Zechini have started a new project blog aimed at investigating and digitally documenting archaeological artefacts and biological remains.  One of their first projects was the 3D scanning and modelling of the teeth of individuals from the medieval population of the city of Cölln, in eastern Germany (see here).  Cölln was the sister city to Berlin, each probably founded around the 13th century on opposite sides of the river Spree, which today snakes through modern-day Berlin which now engulfs both sides of the river.

Taking place at the Virtebra lab (Virtual Bones and Artefacts lab) at the university, the aims are to digitally preserve and produce 3D models of the teeth to help kick-start a teaching collection.  The remains, from archaeological deposits identified as the city of Cölln, were recovered from the German excavations of a large medieval cemetery that took place at Petriplatz, Berlin, from 2007-2010, which uncovered the remains of 3718 individuals.  Back in 2013 Dr Killgrove also took the teeth to be tested for strontium isotopes (geographic) at UNC Chapel Hill (read more here) and the latest Virtebra blog post discusses the results of some of these tests (here).  I don’t want to spoil the results, so check out the blog entry and read up on the interesting archaeology of Cölln and Berlin!  The teeth that have been scanned are available and accessible as models at the GitHub site here.

Bones, Bones, Bones…

So this German (osteo and education) news reminded me of the 6 happy weeks I spent in the wonderful city of Magdeburg, on the EU-funded Grampus Heritage organised Leonardo Da Vinci scheme back in 2011.  I worked with a bunch of awesome UK students with a wonderful German team and, rarely for archaeology, it was a fully funded project.  It was on this archaeology trip that I got to excavate human remains in a medieval cemetery, which was a real honour.  But I wonder if anybody who reads this blog wants to test their own osteo skills and identify the bone and its osteological landmarks below….

1. a) Identify the largest skeletal element inside the yellow rectangle.

—-b) Adult/non- adult, and why?  Side the bone.

2. a)  Identify the structures in the red circle.

—-b) Name 2-3 muscles that have tendons that insert on either of the structures.

Memories of Magdeburg, Deutschland. A few of the skeletal elements part way being sorted for cleaning before the specialist documents them. Photograph by author.

I’ll put the answer up in a week or so – in the meantime please feel free to comment away.

LBK Almost Got Away

I almost forgot to mention that I’ve also conducted previous archaeological research into mobility of the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture for my MSc dissertation back in 2012.  The focus was on the statistical testing of the results of a literature review of strontium isotope results from 422 individuals across 9 LBK sites in Central Europe, with the main cluster of sites located in southern Germany.  You can read my research here!

Previous Bone Quiz

Further Information

  • Learn more about the Virtebra Project at the University of West Florida blog site here.
  • Read about how the German state funded universities managed to become tuition-free for both German and International students here at the New Statesman magazine.  Read more here for what the costs involved can be to live and study in Germany, including the costs of attending the private institutions which are not publicly funded.
  • Learn more about Grampus Heritage & Training Limited here.  Opportunities for both undergraduate and postgraduate UK students to take part in field archaeology in Europe can be found here (undergrads) and here (postgrads).  A previous guest post by Grampus Heritage on this blog highlighting the spectacular range of projects that have been available previously can be found here.

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Bone Quiz Answer

Bonequiz2answers

muscles galore.

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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.

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).

journal.pone.0051374.g004

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.

Ancient Places and Ancient Lives

21 Dec

“What survives from the real Middle Ages is a range of, in practice, quite arbitrary objects based on luck and the durability of their materials.  Ivories of great age, generally showing scenes from the Bible, have endured because they have always been valued but also because they could not decay and could not be reused.  Very little decorative gold survives because centuries of embarrassing royal emergencies or changes in taste have taken advantage of its plasticity to remodel it or put it back into ingots or coins.  Clothing, even precious clothing, has rotted, tapestries have faded, paint has worn away.  Much of the texture and visual meaning of the Middle Ages is therefore lost- quite aside from the irreparable problem of our mental and spiritual equipment being so drastically altered by the intervening centuries that we can hardly engage with what we are looking at.”

From ‘Germania: A personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern’ by Simon Winder (2010: 45).

To slake my thirst for reading I have recently borrowed this delightful book on Germany from my brother.  The book is an often funny but always passionate and informative guide to the central European country, and although my aim was to read it before journeying to Magdeburg last year I never quite got around to it.  The quote instantly reminded me of what I had seen myself in Amiens in the summer, of the cathedral lit as it once was with its vibrant, even gaudy colours transplanted onto the bare and ashen stonework, and of the true sights and sounds that are now largely lost to the ages.  Archaeology is in the business of salvaging and conserving finds and sites from the past, and an integral part of this is the study of human remains as this blog has tried to highlight.  Whilst we can investigate many different aspects of past cultures, not just from the relics and the ruins that remain, but of the actual people who had once lived, it is still important that we realise we can only form an impression of what they had once seen and lived through themselves.  I often catch myself whilst handling a person from the past, imagining who they had loved, what they had seen and what they had done in their lifetimes.  Although the answers to some of our questions as researchers may now be lost, archaeology and its related disciplines can still help to shed a little light.  That light is improving as archaeology widens its scope via science breakthroughs and multidisciplinary projects.

Photographs From Germany

20 Feb

I’m writing up the next Skeletal Series entry, and it should hopefully grace these pages soon enough.  In the meantime, as I lie in a post-essay malaise, enjoy some more pictures from my summer trip to Germany.   I might have posted one or two of them before.  I recently spent my earnings from coming highly commended for photography in the annual Leonardo Da Vinci Scheme competition, so I’m going to enjoy reading some free travel books on the archaeological and cultural wealth of Peru, so I hope you enjoy some photos!*  A few friends have kindly pointed out grammatical or spelling errors on these pages, please feel free to point any more out.

Alte Nationalgalerie, Museumsinsel, Berlin.

Magdeburger Dom und die Elbe River.

Mike relaxing; I miss this flat.

*All photographs have been taken by myself.

A Moment of History

12 Nov

My photograph of a photograph, a moment in time. Berlin Summer 2011- Altes Museum for Greek, Etruscan & Roman collections.

The first human musculoskeletal anatomy exam is over, relief and fear temper the awaiting results….

 

Photographs from the German Excavation

29 Aug

Well I’ve just got back to the UK today after 6 wonderful weeks on placement at Landesamt fur denkmalspfliege und Archaeologie Sachsen Anhalt, which was based in the Sachsen Anhalt state capital of Magdeburg, in Germany.  I’ll do a full write up later in the week, but for now enjoy some photos!

The Domersleben Site

Rescue burial excavation at the medieval site at the village of Domersleben, just outside Magdeburg

The skeleton in the above photo before lifting

Neanderthal from Le Moustier, at the Berlin Neues Museum.

Magdeburg Cathedral & Cloister

The Reichstag in Berlin

Max Plank Institute- sadly not the evolutionary anthropology centre!

View of Otto Von Guericke University, waiting for a lift to Post Excavation

Further information:

Berlin Neues Museum

Max Planck Centre for Evolutionary Anthropology & department for Human Evolution

Magdeburg Cathedral

Otto Von Guericke University