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Guest Interview: Introducing the Belgian Osteoarchaeology & Physical Anthropology Society (BOAPAS) with Marit Van Cant, & Co-Founders Davina Craps & Hélène Déom

27 Feb

Marit Van Cant is a PhD-fellow for the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), and in a joint PhD between the Free University of Brussels (VUB, Belgium) and the University of Sheffield (UK).  She completed her Master’s Degree in Archaeology at the VUB in 2012.  Since 2010 she has been specialising in human osteology by participating in several key courses at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) and Leiden University (The Netherlands), and also in the MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology at the University of Sheffield as a part of the European Union Erasmus exchange programme in 2011.  Approaching the final stage of her PhD thesis, Marit has been appointed as Student Representative of the Society for Medieval Archaeology in 2016-2017, for which she has organised its annual Student Colloquium in Brussels, the first time that the event took place outside the UK.

Dr. Davina Craps, finished her doctoral degree at Durham University in 2015 and specialises in palaeopathology (the study of disease in the past), with a research focus on rheumatology.  She completed her undergraduate studies at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) and went on to get Master’s degrees specializing in osteology, anatomy, funerary archaeology, eastern Mediterranean archaeology and palaeopathology from the Catholic University Leuven (Belgium), the University of Sheffield (UK), and Durham University (UK).  She is currently applying for postdoctoral funding, and runs her own freelance osteology company called Osteoarc, which specialises in the analysis and assessment of human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts for commercial units and museums.

Hélène Déom undertook a Master’s degree in Archaeology at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium) then another Master’s degree in Human Osteology and Funerary Practices at the University of Sheffield (UK).  During her studies, she specialised in prehistoric burials from Belgium and England.  After graduation in 2014, she started to work for archaeologists from the Public Service of Wallonia (SPW), examining skeletons excavated from medieval parish cemeteries.  She’s been working freelance since 2015 under the name of TIBIA, which specialises  in the analysis of human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts.


These Bones of Mine (TBOM):  Hello Marit, thank you for joining me at These Bones of Mine!  I know you, of course, from my time at the University of Sheffield a few years ago but since then you have been working on your PhD, alternating between the University of Sheffield, in England, and Free University of Brussels, in Belgium.  How is your research going?  And how did you become involved in helping to set up Belgian Osteoarchaeology and Physical Anthropology Society (BOAPAS)?

Marit Van Cant (MCV):  Hi David!  Indeed a while ago – besides the several times we met at conferences, remember the Society of American Archaeology 2015 annual meeting in San Francisco where I had the privilege to listen to your nice talk on the public importance of communicating bioarchaeology of care research (and not to mention the famous Vesuvio Cafe we frequented afterwards!).  Time flies indeed since we both studied together at the University of Sheffield!

I am currently in the writing up stage of my PhD research, which is about the skeletal analysis of rural and small urban sites, mainly in Flanders, and one rural site from the United Kingdom.  Besides the general health status, I’ll look at entheseal changes on both inter- and intra-population level, and the impact of occupational activities and the environment on these populations, in conjunction with archaeological and historical sources.  But, enough said of this project – I would like to defend my PhD by the end of this year! – and this interview is all about BOAPAS, right?

So, this is how it all started: In October 2015, I was asked to give a presentation at the Dead Men Talking Symposium in Koksijde, Belgium, on the state of the art of osteological research in Flanders. 

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The meeting taking place on the 27th February 2016 at the Royal Belgium Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels. Image credit: Marit Van Cant.

It was clear that, not only in Flanders, but also in Wallonia, (I will not dwell on details of the complex political situation in Belgium, but briefly: Flanders is the Dutch speaking part, and they speak mainly French in Wallonia), many young (and less young) researchers in bone studies are forced to study abroad, such as in the United Kingdom, in France, or in The Netherlands.  Although we do have many skeletal remains in Belgium, previously excavated or even to be uncovered in the (near) future, there is currently no clear overview of which skeletal collection is yet to be studied, or of the depository this bone material is stored at.

So, me and three other participants at the conference, Hélène Déom, Davina Craps and Marieke Gernay, decided to gather not only all osteologists (human bone specialists and archaeozoologists) in Belgium, but also employees working in heritage agencies, museums and archaeologists (both contractors, including commercial and academic researcher and lecturers) in order to provide a platform for everyone working with osteological material from archaeological contexts.

We started with an announcement and a mailing list at this conference, and collected the contact details of c. 30 people on that day.  We created a mail address, which was still called Belgian Osteological Research group as we hadn’t decided on the name of our society yet!  Our next step was to announce our first meeting.  This was organised on February 27th 2016 in the small auditorium of the Royal Belgium Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, with many thanks to Caroline Polet for providing us this location.

TBOM:  I certainly do remember the Versuvio Cafe, and I think if you had told 16-year-old me that he would be drinking where Kerouac and Ginsberg had drunk in San Francisco, he probably wouldn’t have believed you.  (Not to mention visiting the City Lights bookstore and watching an excellent band in a dive bar!).  I wish you good luck with your PhD defense, but I’d like to know more about the topics that were discussed in regards to setting up the society.

I’m impressed that your group managed to pull together and contact a full representation of the individuals who are involved with skeletal remains from archaeological contexts in Belgium, but how did you decide what topics to mention and how did you move forward?

MVC:  That bookstore was indeed amazing!  And the beatnik spirit still surviving in that bar . . .  Good memories will never fade away!

We welcomed 11 members at our first meeting, both from Flanders and Wallonia, and decided to communicate in English to facilitate international accessibility.  On the other hand, French and Dutch translations on our website will be available too.

Further topics we discussed included the aims of our society:

  • To provide information about professionals in the field within Belgium.
  • To improve communication in osteological matters, especially between people from the different regions of the country.
  • To produce a database of skeletal collections and the relevant institutions that hold the various skeletal collections.
  • The legalisation of our society, and whether to become a non-profit society or not, and which steps should be undertaken to achieve that goal.
  • Decide on the name and logo of the group itself.

To choose the latter one, an online poll was created, and finally, BOAPAS, or the Belgian Osteoarchaeology & Physical Anthropology Society, came out as the most favoured name for our new society.

Once the name and vision statement were created, we worked on managing and maintaining our visibility.  Online visibility comprehends a website with a forum as well as social media profiles such as on Facebook and Twitter.  But, there is always room for improvement of course, so we are still working on the design and content of the site itself and how we reach out to individuals and other like-minded societies and organisations.

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The delightful BOAPAS cards advertising the society, and the joy of using sliding calipers to measure skeletal elements and anatomical landmarks. Image credit: Marit Van Cant.

The site gives an overview of our aims and vision statement (why we are doing it) and ways to contact the group (via email address, possibly via social networks).  At a later stage, we would like to include a forum and the database can be linked to it.  All details that will be added to the website can be discussed, tested, improved or removed as appropriate.  We also created a list of people who are currently available for short or long term assignments, or available in the future, with their photograph and biographical details demonstrating their background and skill sets.

TBOM:  I have to say I do adore those business cards, they manage to effectively communicate the message of the aim of the society and the methods used in physical anthropology and osteoarchaeology in a lovely way!  So, do you foresee any major areas where you may run into problems in setting up the society?

Aligned to this question, do you, by starting up BOAPAS, hope to bring into existence a firmer framework for osteological studies, within academic research and commercial work, in the Belgian archaeology and anthropology sector?

Hélène Déom (HD):  Thank you, those business cards are the result of effective teamwork to create them.  We are really proud of them.  There are, of course, major problems, as usual, when a society is being set up and they include time, money and legislation.  I’d say that is a long shot, but I’m dreaming of creating such a strong framework for osteology in Belgian archaeology…  What about you, ladies?

Davina Craps (DC):  Thank you for the nice compliment.  The business cards are one of the many examples of effective teamwork within BOAPAS.  We believe in involving our members as much as possible in the decisions and the running of the society.

We don’t really foresee any major problems, as there is a definite interest in BOAPAS both from the physical anthropologists who are active in Belgium and from the archaeological community itself.  One of the smaller issues that we have to deal with is the time it takes to set up a society.  All three of the founding members have other obligations aside from the society, thus it can be challenging to create enough free time to spend on the society’s needs.  Another issue that we are currently dealing with is how to create a more official platform for BOAPAS to operate from.  We are currently looking at legislation when it comes to societies and other options to allow BOAPAS to continue growing.

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A photograph of the founding members of BOAPAS, left to right: Marieke Gernay, Marit Van Cant, Davina Craps and Hélène Déom. Image credit: Hélène Déom.

We are indeed hoping to create a strong framework, where there currently isn’t really one in place.  The aim of BOAPAS is to facilitate stronger lines of communication between commercial archaeology, museums, and the physical anthropologists.

MVC:  Yes, thanks David for your comments on the cards.  I believe the major challenges we are facing right now is sorting out legal issues on non-profit organisations, and who we should contact for external advice regarding this.  Setting up a society requires after all a whole procedure we need to take into account.  This means in the near future, we have to elect board members such as a president, treasurer, and secretary, and to accomplish this, we hope we can find people with the right amount of time and dedication to work, especially on the further development of our website, FB-page, newsletters, communication on meetings, vacancies, conference calls, etc.

It is very supportive to notice the mainly positive feedback we have received so far, and it is also good to know that the Dutch Association of Physical Anthropologists (the NVFA) has offered to set up joint-events in the near future.  I believe it is important to maintain close relationships with our foreign partners, such as British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteology (BABAO) and the NVFA, as several members (like me) are a member of both societies.  Finally, our main goal is indeed to develop a strong and consistent framework in Belgium (this means both Flanders and Wallonia!) in osteology matters.  On a later stage, another motivation would be the development of offering osteology courses, for instance within the archaeological training at our universities, but that would be another challenge on the long run.

TBOM:  That sounds great about both the future collaboration between The Netherlands and Belgian organisations, and the possible development of offering osteology courses.  I always think that tailored osteology short courses can offer both the public and the practitioner alike opportunities to increase their knowledge base, and also remain up to date on the theories and methodologies that inform osteological research, especially so if some form of accreditation can take place.

So, I think I must ask that, having been a member of the British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) and the Palaeopathology Association, both of which have been around for some time, I’m curious as to why has it taken a while for Belgium to have a osteologically focused society?

MVC:  These short courses would be a good start indeed to show the basic principles of osteological research, both in- and ex-situ to principally archaeology students and archaeologists dealing with skeletal remains.  Outreach to the general public is currently undertaken through workshops to mainly high school students, or even to children from minority families living in ‘deprived areas’ in Brussels.

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Marit Van cant examining human skeletal material. Marit is currently the Society for Medieval Archaeology’s student representative, check out the society’s website for more information. Image credit: SMA/Marit Van Cant.

Although Belgium has a longstanding and internationally acclaimed tradition in palaeontological studies with the discovery of hominid remains in several caves in Wallonia in the 19th century, it was not until the 1950’s when the study of human bones from an archaeological context advanced here, and this is mainly due to pioneer research from scholars working in the field of medicine.  In Flanders, osteological research within an archaeological context have only really developed since the late 1990’s.

A shortage in human osteology studies was also noticed by Leguebe (1983: 28-29) who argued that the expansion of (physical) anthropology in Belgium, compared to other countries, was impeded by a lack in ‘organized teaching ratified by a legal diploma’.  In 1919, plans were initiated to found an institution for anthropology studies in Brussels, but, these attempts were unfortunately unsuccessful.  Other factors that might influence a deficit in an organised osteology framework are scarce funding and resources, alongside the complex political structure in our country.  Belgium has one society, the Royal Belgian Society for Anthropology and Prehistory (RBSAP), founded in 1882, and which co-operates closely with the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels.

DC, HD and MVC:  Although the RBSAP publishes a yearly bulletin with articles, and organises an annual general meeting, their website (which is only accessible in French) has not been updated since 2010.  Further, we believe that the RBSAP is slightly more focused on prehistoric research, which we obviously support since the many findings of fossil remains in Wallonia (e.g. in 2010, the RBSAP organised an excursion to the Spy cave).

In addition, with BOAPAS, we would like to pay attention to osteology studies covering all historic periods from both Wallonia and Flanders, and to offer a vivid platform and discussion forum via social media and our (partially trilingual, but mainly English) website, on current and future research of skeletal remains.  We certainly believe in co-operation and the free flow of information, thus we have reached out to the RBSAP to hold a meeting with the organising committee in order to discuss joint possibilities.  Perhaps this collaboration between the established values of RBSAP and the fresh, motivated perspective of BOAPAS can truly invigorate the scene of osteology in Belgium.

TBOM:  In that case then, I can see why there is a need to set up BOAPAS in order to improve upon the knowledge and research base for osteological studies within Belgium.  Please do keep in touch as both myself and my readers would love to know about upcoming events and courses.

MVC:  Thank you very much for the discussion!  Just to let you and your readers know we do have a collaboration between BOAPAS and the Gallo-Roman Museum in Ath, Belgium, is currently undertaken for an exhibition on funerary traditions, and it is scheduled to open in 2018.  And keep an eye on our website at www.boapas.be for upcoming news and events!  We are also still looking for volunteers to help out with the design and layout of the site, so please do get in touch if any of your readers are interested and able to help us build the website.

TBOM: Thank you very much for talking with me today, and I wish you all the best of luck with BOAPAS!

Further Information

The End of the MSc at the University of Sheffield…

17 Dec

Just over a year ago I wrote a blog entry on the beginnings of the MSc at the University of Sheffield, which detailed the modules that made up the course and the contents of each module.  I graduate next month, and I feel now is a pertinent time to reflect on both the modules and the department as a whole, one year on.  Perhaps first and foremost I should state that I enjoyed the course thoroughly, that it tested me in ways in which I had not been tested in academia before, and offered opportunities I’d never though I’d get to experience.  However, it is also wise to add that this is my own personal experience, and as such, the reader should be aware that this a subjective review.

As I stated in the original blog post I had chosen the University of Sheffield partly because it offered the opportunity to dissect human cadavers and to learn firsthand what the muscles and associated anatomy looked and felt like.  In fact, this is still the only University in the UK that offers a hands on anatomy and dissection class in an MSc in studying Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology.  A second important factor was the fact that many now practicing the profession in the UK undertook and passed this course or it’s sister course at The University of Bradford, as they were both devised and set up by Professor Charlotte Roberts in the late 1980s/early 1990s.  This course is widely respected as a benchmark in osteological Masters, both in the UK and abroad.

However there has also been important recent changes with regards to staff in the archaeology department at Sheffield since the conclusion of my time of study, and this has affected the MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology.  Mike Parker Pearson, who taught the funerary archaeology module on the Masters course, has moved to UCL to teach and carry on research, whilst Dr Andrew Chamberlain, who taught Biological Anthropology I & II & Quantitative Methods in Anthropology, has moved to the University of Manchester (although no webpage is currently up displaying his profile).  Further to this a small number of prehistorians  have also left the department.  Perhaps most importantly is the advent of the new MSc in Osteoarchaeology offered at the University of Sheffield, which combines human and animal osteological modules.  This does however place further stress onto the human osteology lab and skeletal materials in the department.

As per the earlier blog entry a break down of the modules will now be presented.

1. Human Osteology-

A single lecture covered a certain part of the skeletal anatomy whilst a follow up lab session involved a detailed look at the typical osteological landmarks for each element, alongside how to side the element.  The practical was marked in a series of bi-monthly osteological tests in the 1st semester, whilst a essay accounts for the remaining 40% of the module mark.  This module, alongside the anatomy module below, accounted for many many hours spent in the laboratory studying variations and fragments of the skeletal elements.  It is heavily recommended you work both by yourself,  and with others testing you and each other.

2. Human Anatomy-

A single lecture covered a certain part of the musculoskeletal anatomy (anterior ante-brachium for instance) followed by a practical dissection class in the medical teaching unit at the university.  Perhaps one of the more intensive modules, which involved a thorough study and revision of the anatomy before and after the practical classes.  Two timed exams, one covering the upper body delivered half way through the 1st semester and the second covering the lower half of the body at the end of the 1st semester, is the way in which the module is marked.  The exams take the format of ten un-annotated diagrams with four parts each, and the questions asking to name the muscles and actions etc.

3. Biological Anthropology I-

A 1st semester lecture and lab based module, which followed on from the human osteology module.  Included varyingly successful methods of aging, sexing, and palaeopathological markers, alongside indicators of health, stature and overall height.  Competing methods for each of the above, on different elements and sections of the skeletons, were presented, which highlighted the vast range of discrepancies between some solid, and some not so solid methods.  The assessment for this module was a skeletal report on two individuals, one adult and one child, from the skeletal collections, and how well different methods were applied.

4. Biological Anthropology II-

A 2nd semester lecture and lab based module on the wider issues in biological anthropology, including human evolution, diet, health, mass disasters, forensics, recording and technology in osteology.  A single written assessment with preset titles was used to mark this module.

5. Funerary Archaeology-

A 1st semester lecture based module discussing a variety of topics throughout the main topic of funerary archaeology.  This included social and cultural reactions to death, and the dead body, how the body is treated to death, historical and prehistoric traditions from around the globe, and the science behind the decomposition of the human body.  A single essay was set on pre-assigned topics, although free range is given to the discussion and examples used.

6. Quantitative Methods in Anthropology-

Each week in the 2nd semester a different statistical method is used in a case study.  This module introduces the basics of statistical analysis using the SPSS19/20 program, and teaches which statistical tests should be used on both parametric and non-parametric data sets, and how to interpret the results.  A statistical report based on original questions applied to a compiled cemetery dataset is the way in which this module is marked.  I only truly learnt to understand the importance and value of statistical analysis whilst conducting research for my dissertation itself, during long hours of repeating a variety of tests against my own database.  By going through each of the weekly tests a few times a week a core bedrock of knowledge can be formed, but it can still be (and is!) mystifying at times.

7. Biomolecular Archaeology (module choice)-

A lecture based study of the breadth of biomolecular archaeology.  Topics included aDNA, infectious diseases, human evolution and stable light isotopes amongst others.  Although disappointing in the fact that there were no practical classes, the revolving door nature of the lecturers kept the talks interesting and vibrant, as the various researchers were clearly invigorated by their topics.

8. Research Design in Anthropology-

This module consisted of reading various themed articles each week and discussing them in front of the study group.  Ultimately, this was a hit and miss affair, with some articles covered in depth and others lightly skimmed over.  The marked component of this module was a critically assessed research design of the dissertation topic under consideration.

9 Dissertation Topic-

The dissertation consisted of original research, and naturally led on from the Research Design in Anthropology.  Ideally have a topic idea, or area, in your mind before the end of the 1st semester.  Although this is not necessary, it will help you work through any potential problems, and let you decide if a topic is feasible or not.  Depending if you are conducting physical examinations on human bones or carrying out practical tests, or if your topic is mainly statistical or literature based, always make sure you factor in enough laboratory and library time to conduct your tests and research.  In my experience, time with supervisors was severally limited during the summer months due to movement (both student/staff), and conflicting timetables.  I conducted statistical testing on Strontium isotope ratios from 422 individuals from the LBK period in Central Europe taken from the existing literature, with regards to mobility and migration.

Ultimately this course is what you yourself make of it.  The first semester is especially intense, focusing on the osteology and the anatomy, with almost weekly exams testing your new found knowledge.  The second semester is more relaxed, with a focus on research for essays and original research for dissertation projects.  Although this course is a taught Masters, it is heavily advised that you take every opportunity to study in the human osteological laboratory, and make full use of the skeletal elements, skeletal collections, and the muscle marked anatomical models.  Compared to courses abroad, the time spent teaching by the staff may seem limited, so it is heavily advised that personal study is conducted in conjunction, especially in familiarizing yourself with the anatomy and osteological landmarks.

With any future prospective student, I’d advise that you research the type of Masters program that you want, and compare and contrast the varying courses on offer in the UK and abroad.  The UK is currently experiencing a boom in the forensic sciences, and this is reflected by the introduction and rise of forensic archaeology, especially in conjunction with forensic osteology and biomolecular archaeology.  Remember to email and ask specific questions on the courses you are interested in, and ask to see the figures for past students regarding employment or research routes taken.

MSc Abstractions

15 Sep

I am home and I am broke, but I’m thankful my dissertation has been handed in on time!  Whilst it is a sweet relief that it is over, I am not altogether happy with that particular body of work.  I probably shouldn’t, but it’s quite possible I’ll review it and apply a few new tests on the LBK dataset I used just to settle some nagging thoughts.

The abstract for my MSc dissertation is as follows:

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Local and non-local individuals have long been a source of interest in the consideration of the spread of Early Neolithic farming societies in Europe.  This study investigates the strontium isotope signatures of 422 individuals from 9 Linearbandkeramik sites spread across their chronological range, with a focus on SW Germany.  The sites used in this study include: Vedrovice, Neider-Morlen, Vaihingen, Aiterhofen, Schwetzingen, Kleinhadersdorf, Nitra, Talheim and Stuttgart-Mühlhausen.  A variety of sites are represented, including critically important early sites (Vedrovice, Neider-Morlen), sustained cemetery sites (Aiterhofen, Nitra) and a massacre site (Talheim).  Using a battery of statistical tests, this study investigates the differences in the strontium isotopic data (87Sr/86Sr) between males, females and juveniles.   This is carried out at broad levels of the data profile, period profile and site profile, coupled with other variables such as funerary artefacts and age categories, in the light of recent literature categorising the LBK society as patrilocal in nature.   The results indicate no statistical significance between the categories; however a review of the literature indicates that the most appropriate tests have not been applied.  A discussion of the recent literature indicates that the theory of the practice of patrilocality in the LBK culture can be upheld, whilst this study introduces some interesting variable behaviour in the LBK culture.

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Now that I’ve finished the dissertation,  my own blog posts should hopefully become more regular in number.  Whilst researching and thinking about my thesis topic, I have mulled over various osteological and archaeological thoughts.  In due course these should turn into posts, with future topics likely to include the role of disability and individuals in prehistory, and a brief discussion on the role and theory of pain in palaeopathological case studies.  And I will, of course, finish the Skeletal Series.

In the meantime enjoy some Leonard Cohen…

The Beginning of the MSc at Sheffield….

23 Sep

So I have finally landed in Sheffield, ready to start the Masters course in Human Osteology & Funerary Archaeology based in the Archaeology department.  I have had the introduction talks to both the University and to the course, and I am now filled with both trepidation & excitement!

The Sheffield program in Human Osteology offers several key things that made me sign up for their course above all others in the UK.  Firstly they offer the degree setting in a first class department with a wide variety of specialities, and numerous well-known archaeologists.  Secondly, the degree doesn’t just focus on the human skeleton in death but also on the soft tissues in life.  A core module this semester is Human Anatomy, in which I’ll be expected to learn the musculoskeletal system in detail through both lectures & dissection classes in the Biomedical department.  Thirdly, the course offers a more hands on approach to learning, by laying out the skeletons & getting the chance to study an individual in-depth.

The modules in the program include:-

1. Human Osteology

This lab and lecture based module will introduce the students to the core basics of the human skeleton.  Each week we we’ll be examining a part of the skeleton and studying its major muscle attachment features, ossification points and major landmarks.  We’ll be tested with a series of mini quizzes in both identifying fragments of bone & remarking on the major landmarks present.

2. Human Anatomy

A lecture & dissection based module in which all of the muscles of the musculoskeletal system will be studied in anatomical position, and how the origin and insertion points correspond with other muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and bone.  I am feeling quite apprehensive regarding this module as it will be the first time I’ve dissected a human body (wonderfully donated to the biomedical services of the University by generous members of the public), and the first time I’ve had to learn anatomy in detail.

3. Biological Anthropology 1

The BioAnth 1 module will deal with the wider issues, uses and research of the human skeleton in biological anthropology.  This involves the discussion and methods used in the taphonomy of remains, how to age & sex the skeleton, metric and non-metric variations & traits, bone microstructure & chemistry, analysis of cremated material, and finally how the skeletal data is assessed and reported; all taught through lectures & labs.  This allows the core skills to be acquired and built upon in the next BioAnth module.

4. Biological Anthropology 2

The second module builds upon what is learnt from the first module, and deals with the broader issues regarding palaeodemography, growth and development, functional anatomy,  biological evolution, population affinities & dietary reconstruction amongst others.  Again, this module looks very interesting and I’m quite keen to get my teeth into some of the issues discussed.

5. Funerary Archaeology

A core module of the MSc, the module deals with the various ways in which human societies worldwide deal with issues relating to death.  The societies discussed include both past and present throughout the world, and includes the varying funerary rituals present and the human responses to death.  The module will include case studies and focus on interpretation of the material and funerary culture alongside symbolism used in funerary rituals.

6. Quantitative Methods in Anthropology

Perhaps the module I am most nervous about!  This module will introduce and discuss various computational methods used in osteology, physical anthropology and palaeanthropology.  Both lecture and computer lab based classes will discuss various statistical methods used in modern anthropological research; this includes the use of modern computer programs such as CranID amongst others.  The use of statistics in human osteology is really key as a lot of time is spent interpreting the data from metric measurements to discern morphological changes and population affinities in skeletal populations.

7. Research Design in Anthropology

This module is primarily concerned with the dissertation aspect of the Masters so will include discussions such as feasibility studies depending on topic to be researched. (I’d better get thinking!).  Essentially it will prepare the student with critical skills in thinking of original and worthwhile topics to pursue an original program of research for the dissertation aspect of the degree.

8. Biomolecular Archaeology (My one free choice module!)-

This is a lecture based approach to methods & issues used and discussed in the field of biomolecular archaeology.  I’m particularly looking forward to learning more about aDNA & the use of stable light isotopes, both of which are helping to change and improve the knowledge of human evolution & diversity as we know it.  This module also discusses biomolecular techniques on both archaeobotanical and archaeozoological material, something that I’m also looking forward too.  The subjects that will be discussed include isotopes, lipids, proteins, and aDNA, which will be applied to key aspects of the human past such as dispersal, the rise of agriculture & investigation of disease.

The first semester will lay the groundwork for the modules and dissertation research in the 2nd semester and Summer dissertation research period.  The first semester topics include Human Osteology, Human Anatomy, Funerary Archaeology & Biological Anthropology 1.

And Thus

I started this blog to help introduce the field of Human Osteology from a student who is just starting to study the subject.  I also use this blog to update on various new finds or reports in the wider archaeological fields.  I will continue to do this as my program proceeds, however I may be slower in posting as the course is very intensive.  I also want to take this opportunity to thank readers, both past and present, for providing positive feedback thus far into the journey.

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It is hereby noted that the information is taken from the Archaeology Departments information freely available over the internet and from my own personal notes & module information booklets.

My Readings…

13 Sep

Soon I’ll be moving down to Sheffield to study anew.  At the moment, this is my current core collection of books but I feel it will soon be expanded upon…

All the classics… just missing an anatomy book!

Before I left for Sheffield I picked up a DK guide to the complete human body today, alongside a copy of the Concise Book of Muscles; so I have plenty of hard reading and memorising ahead.  Now that I have recently arrived in Sheffield and had the introduction talk for the MSc in Human Osteology today (21st Sept),  I also gained the Human Anatomy Colour Atlas & Textbook by Gosling et al for the Human Anatomy module.  Now I have too much reading!

Any recommendations?  Please comment below!

Updates…

8 Sep

Apologies for the lack of updates; please bear with me.  I’ve had a busy past few weeks & the future doesn’t look any less busy! Preparation for moving down to start the Msc Human Osteology & Funerary Archaeology program at the University Sheffield have begun, but I’m still on the look out for a lab coat!  I move to the city shortly, but I’m still enjoying the time I have left in my hometown.  This year has flown by a bit too quickly!

The next Skeletal Series update will concern the human hip bones, and their form and function.  They are particularly key in both age and sex diagnosis of the individual.  I’ll also shortly start a brief write-up of the German Grampus placement & the activities we got up to, since I’ve finally just got round to finishing their report for the program online.

I did manage to read my way through Waldron’s (2009) ‘Palaeopathology’  manual whilst I was in Germany, and what a delight it was too! I’d highly recommend reading it, especially if you are going to be working with human bones from archaeological sites.  I have a feeling that this book, and the Human Bone Manual, will not be far from my side in the next few months.  ‘Palaeopathlogy’ offers ‘Operational Definitions’ which help to improve the diagnosis of disease in ancient human remains via clinical definitions and backgrounds. I would say this is a must have, especially since a lot of the palaeopathogical literature cannot be cross examined due to the differences in rational & criteria used.

A quick scan of BBC’s online news website reveals that a late stone age skull discovered from Iwo Eleru in Nigeria has some interesting ‘primative’ features associated with human evolution.  The online article can be found here at PLoS online.  The article deals with the chronology and morphology of the Iwo Eleru calvaria.  This is a very interesting article as it deals with a skull that shows similar morphological features present in archaic homo sapiens humans around 100,000 years ago but its found in a  context that is dated to around 15,000BP.  It is also rare that human remains are found during this date in West Africa.  The article states that this cranium fragment represents ‘evidence of deep population substructure in Africa and complex evolutionary processes for the origin of modern humans’, that the archaic homo sapiens didn’t just cut off after Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) appeared.  Frankly, I think this also highlights what is often forgotten in the prehistoric & palaeolithic archaeological record.  It is not just migration out of Africa and the dispersal of AMH that is fascinating and interesting, but also to still keep looking and researching inside Africa to see the evolutionary and populational changes still concurrent with human expansion elsewhere.

I also noticed the other that over at John Hawks’s weblog he has announced the Malapa Soft Tissue project.  This project aims to discover if soft tissues from an ancient hominid has been preserved from the Malapa site cave site, just outside Johannesburg in South Africa.  Recently discussed in the National Geographic magazine, the hominids discovered at this site are believe do to be Australopithecus Sediba, a possible intermediate form between the Australopithecus & Homo genus.  Much information remains to be gleamed from these exciting and relatively complete finds.  Up to date information on the MST project can be found on the John Hawks link.  Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this project is that is it open access science; you are encouraged to take a part and offer your expertise!  Keep an eye on it and see where it leads…

I’ll be back shortly.

Further news on A. Sediba