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A Stone to Throw II: Upcoming Archaeology Conferences

7 Apr

A few dates for the diary as this year sees some pretty exciting archaeology and bioarchaeology themed conferences rolling towards us in the next four months of 2014 or so.  Conferences are fantastic places to learn about new techniques or research approaches in archaeology.  It can also be a thrill watching famed archaeologists and professors speak in the flesh about topics which they are passionate about.  Conferences, depending on their target audience, can sometimes be open to the public and members of academia alike, but they can also vary widely in cost depending on their location, size and prestige.

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Without further ado here are a few conferences that have peaked my interest and some that I hope to attend myself (although Istanbul may have to be missed due to an unfortunate clash with BABAO):

Dearne Valley Archaeology Day 2014, Wath-Upon-Dearne

The community focused Elmet Archaeology group, who were recently mentioned here as a part of an interview with their osteoarchaeologist Lauren McIntyre, are hosting their annual Dearne Valley Archaeology Day in Wath-Upon-Dearne, South Yorkshire, on Saturday the 31st of May.  Open to the members of the public and archaeologists alike, the day long conference costs £18 (£14 unwaged) to attend and boasts a host of speakers on a variety of topics.  The full list of speakers has yet to be announced but so far includes British archaeological stalwarts such as David Connolly of BAJR fame, Prof Joan Fletcher of the University of York and a range of speakers from archaeological units across the country.  There will also be a number of stalls on the day, including information booths on how to illustrate archaeology style by Kate Adelade, Dearne Valley Archaeology Group and a stall with Jenny Crangle detailing the medieval Rothwell Charnel Chapel Project (which has been previously discussed on this blog).   

Exploring Changing Human Beliefs About Death, Mortality and the Human Body, Invisible Dead Project Conference, Durham

The University of Durham is playing host to the Invisible Dead Project conference from Friday 6th of to the Sunday the 8th of June.  The conference has two lectures on the Friday and Saturday nights which are open to the public and two full days of talks for students and academics during the Saturday and Sunday daytime.  The conference is, quite wonderfully, completely free to attend.  The ongoing Invisible Dead Project is a large-scale international collaboration aimed at studying the prehistoric and historic attitudes to death and burial of Britain and the Levant areas.  Information and details of sites under study can be found here at the University of Durham webpage.

The conference welcomes anthropologists, archaeologists and members of the public interested in death and  human remains in prehistory and up contemporary society to attend.  The first public speaker is Prof. Peter Pfälzner, from the University of Tübingen, explaining work carried out on long-term royal funerary processes at Qatna, Syria, on Friday night (6.30pm), whilst Prof Mike Parker Pearson discusses problems and perspectives in funerary archaeology on the Saturday night (6.30pm).  If you are interested in attending the conference forms should be completed before the 30th of April.

British association of Biological Anthropologists and Osteoarchaeologists, Durham

The British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology are holding their annual conference at the University of Durham in September, from Friday 12th to the Sunday 14th.  The three-day conference will feature a broad range of presentations, talks and posters on the great range and wealth of  osteoarchaeology in Britain and beyond.  The call for papers has just been announced and is open until the 9th of June.  Last year’s conference program can be found here.  Although details have not been released just yet of the costs of attending the conference, it is likely that it will upwards of £140 to attend (based on 2013 BABAO member rates).  The information concerning the 4 sessions has just been released and are based around the following clusters:

1) The body and society: past perspectives on the present

2) Biological anthropology and infectious disease: new developments in understanding from bioarchaeology, palaeoanthropology, primatology, and archaeozoology

3) New developments in biomolecular methods

4) Open session

Details on the key-note speakers for each session can be found here, as can further information on conference guidelines for following abstract guidelines and submission dates.  The BABAO conference is the foundation stone of conferences in the UK osteology calendar as it really does represent the best in current research in the UK and beyond.  Although I have yet to attend one (due to costs), I have high hopes of attending this year’s event in the lovely historic (and local to me) city of Durham.

European Association of Archaeologists, Istanbul

The European Association for Archaeologists host their conference in September, from the Wednesday the 10th to the Sunday the 14th, in Istanbul, Turkey.  The call for papers and posters has now closed, but they did receive a very healthy 2400 submissions in total.  The broad topics of discussion for the 2014 session are categorised into 6 different focus areas including:

1) Connecting seas: across the borders

2) Managing archaeological heritage: past and present

3) Ancient technologies in social context

4) Environment and subsistence: the geosphere, ecosphere and human interaction

5) Times of change: collapse and transformative impulses

6) Retrieving and interpreting the archaeology record

The fees for attending the EAA conference ranges in price from €40 to €180 dependent on category of the applicant (see here for the full extensive list, you are enrolled as a member of the EAA on purchase of conference tickets), but all are welcome to join the conference.  It promises to be an interesting conference with the attendance of some of the most important archaeologists in Europe discussing a wide variety of topics, including a number of speakers discussing human osteology related topics.  Istanbul is also a fantastic place to host a conference positioned as it is between the crossing of the West into the East and vice versa, and boasting a city full of heritage, archaeology and art.

Is Gender Still Relevant? University of Bradford

The British Academy and the University of Bradford are holding a two day event on the question of whether gender is still relevant.  The mini conference runs from Wednesday the 17th to the Thursday the 18th of September and it is free to attend.  Guest speakers include Professor Rosemary Joyce from the University of California and Dr Roberta Gilchrist from the University of Reading, who will discussing sex and gender dichotomies in archaeology.  You can find out more information here and, as far as I am aware, there is still time to submit abstracts for the conference.

No doubt there will be more archaeology and osteology based conferences going on so please feel free to leave a comment below.

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Coursera MOOCs blocked in Sudan, Cuba and Iran

29 Jan

I have to say I am loving the Human Evolution: Past and Future MOOC (massive open online course) as it continues into the 2nd week.  I am not currently at university or in a position to access journal articles easily so I really value the fact that the team behind the MOOC and Coursera have put together such an informative and up to date course.  Could you imagine if you were taking part in that course, or any of the hundreds of other free online courses offered by Coursera, and woke up one day to find that your access to the course had been shut off?  Unfortunately that is now the reality for any one taking a Coursera MOOC in Iran, Cuba or Sudan.

In a blog entry dated to the 28th of January 2014 at 8.22pm Coursera declared that the US government had enacted a sanction on the US based course provider effectively blocking any access to courses in the above three countries.  Syria was also blocked but that has since been lifted.

Here is part of the transcript:

Providing access to education for everyone has always been at the core of Coursera’s mission, and it is with deep regret that we have had to make a change to our accessibility in some countries.

Certain United States export control regulations prohibit U.S. businesses, such as MOOC providers like Coursera, from offering services to users in sanctioned countries, including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Under the law, certain aspects of Coursera’s course offerings are considered services and are therefore subject to restrictions in sanctioned countries, with the exception of Syria (see below).

Our global community is incredibly valuable to us and we remain committed to providing quality to education to all. During this time, we empathize with the frustrations of students who are affected by this change and we have made it a top priority to make rapid progress toward a solution” (Read the full entry here).

There are also worries that people living along the borders of these countries will also be affected by the ban.  Although Coursera is based in America there are a high number of its academic staff and organisation partners based all over the world.  This has affected many academic institutions and individuals.

I dearly hope this is temporary.  To my mind it seems a bit of a step backwards to limit the accessibility of free online academic courses.  I have blogged on related topics before about the value of MOOCs, of Iran’s often restrictive attitude to education, and I’ve also highlighted just how little a proportion of the world’s population have access to the internet itself.  I have also blogged before about my worries for net neutrality in a quickly changing world.

It has to be said that there are sadly a number of countries that ban or severely limit access to the world wide web, with China having a particularly strict firewall.  Some countries have a very limited internet capability while others simply have a very mobile population.

There are a number of programs and software installations that can be used to circumvent the IP address ban.  These can include VPN (Virtual Private Networks) or use of the free Tor software (see comments below though), a program which allows anonymity and censorship resistance and is widely used by the public, clandestine humanitarian centers and undercover agents.  There are a number of other methods that can be used as well – see here.  Be aware that the above methods of internet anonymity may be illegal in certain countries and is no way encouraged.

I will try to keep abreast of this development in the accessibility of Coursera MOOCs and I will update this entry as necessary and appropriate.

The Value of CARA & Scholars At Risk Network

7 Jan

In the December entry for the blogging carnival (the good, bad and ugly of archaeology blogging) I mentioned the Scholars At Risk Network, after learning about the network from Sam Hardy over at [Un]Free Archaeology.  As a direct result of my mention of them in my blog post another great blogger, Loretta Kilroe, brought to my attention CARA, the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.

I think it is time to dig a bit deeper to highlight these two fantastic organisations in the work that they do and why they are needed.  Too often in the online blogging community we espouse the knowledge of others and thank the wonders of the internet for bringing everyone together when only an estimated 34-39% of the earth’s population have access to the internet.  We have to realize that many academics today still face being severely curtailed in pursing their research topics or face other consequences (imprisonment/torture) because of political oppression, rife censorship or imposed sanctions in variety of countries world wide.

CARA

CARA’s underlining approach and mission statement is simple:

“Academic Freedom is the principle which underpins and informs CARA’s work defending the right of individuals to explore the world of ideas, literature and science unfettered by political, social or religious oppression, censorship, or sanction” (Source).

Cara

The banner of the CARA site highlighting one issue that often stops refugees (Image credit: source).

The council was originally founded in 1933 by William Beveridge to assist other scholars after he learnt of the displacement of academics from Nazi Germany on racial and/or political grounds and subsequently launched a rescue operation.  The organisation continued to grow throughout the next 70 years, helping out academics not just during the Second World War but also during the repressive Stalinist period in Russia, the unrest in the Middle East and throughout the South African Apartheid period.  Today it’s focus has shifted towards the Middle East, with a particular focus on Iraq, and to certain areas of the African continent.  Although not initially called CARA, the organisation changed it’s name in 1999 to it’s present name as a reflection of it’s world wide operational basis.

CARA are currently running three programmes at the moment in the UK, the Middle East and Zimbabwe.  The United Kingdom program offers, and provides, assistance to “enable persecuted academics  many of whom are refugees and asylum seekers, to return to academia or an allied profession in the UK at a level commensurate with their skills and experience” (source).  The Middle East program is centered on Iraq and Syria, helping academics that have either settled in the UK as a result of conflict or those that are still living in Syria or Iraq.  The Iraq program was launched in 2006 as a direct result of the rise in kidnappings of academics in the country and the continued killings of civilians in the country.  The Syria program was founded as a result of the grim situation that has developed in the country over the past two years.

CARA is helping academics both in Syria, and those that have fled to the surrounding countries and the UK, by providing practical advice on survival and academic help.  The Zimbabwe program was set up in 2009 in response to the flood of academics feeling the country.  Importantly the program also aims to stifle the dramatic decline in quality of the higher education in the country, where it can.  A number of reports on these programs, and others conducted by the organisation, can be found on the CARA site.

Scholars At Risk Network

Scholars at Risk Network (SAR) hold much the same values as CARA in the belief that their work is grounded in the principle of academic freedom, that is the freedom to pursue academic research without fear of censorship, intimidation, fear of violence or of discrimination.  The network organisation has its initial roots in the Human Rights program at the University of Chicago in 1999, and it quickly grew to join other international education and academic advocacy groups within a few short years of its founding.

In particular the SAR network has joined forces with the Institute for International Education in helping to offer an endowed rescue fund to help scholars and academics who are in perilous situations.  Moving it’s base to New York University in 2003, SAR has continued to provide funds for scholars as well as participating in a broad range of advocacy work in centers across the world.  This has been reinforced by SAR developing partner networks across Europe, the Middle East and Africa during the last decade or so.  Further information on SAR’s history can be found here.

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Personal freedom is often underrated until you realise what it is like being able to freely express yourself (Image credit: source).

SAR’s first and foremost task is protecting scholars by arranging positions of sanctuary and safety, often offered as one semester or one year long positions as academic posts at host universities.  Further to this, the network also runs a Scholars-In-Prison project designed to protect scholars who are unable to leave their home countries, as well as keeping an active up -to-date record on attacks and widespread threats to individuals, departments and institutions.  Secondly, the SAR network runs workshops and training sessions as a part of its active outreach work, as well as circulating monitor reports highlighting the recent developments in the root causes of intellectual repression.  Find out more here.

Why Is It Important?

It is vitally important to always resist the powers that seek to limit the intellectual and individual freedom.  Knowledge, invention and imagination are the three crucial foundations for thought that are expressed in higher education and the academic environment.  The persecution, suppression or imprisonment of academics happens for a variety of reasons and I must point out here that I do no ignore the general population at the expense of the academic.  Rather it is due to my passion and experience of higher education that I have wrote about CARA and the SAR network, that this blog is, for me, the ideal venue to help raise awareness of these two fantastic organisations.  Sadly these organisations are necessary in the modern world, very necessary.

The world of higher education is a wonderfully mixed and diverse one where no two people are ever the same and may have strong views and opinions.  It is, like archaeology itself, a very fluid environment in which individuals come and go.  Universities have the strong focused economic base in the areas where they are situated but they operate in a myriad of professional and social entanglements, often crossing borders around the world with research projects, societies and professional links.  If one scholar cannot offer a hand to another in need then that is a very sad world indeed, especially when the binding force of academia is co-operation.

…And Introducing Médecins Sans Frontiéres

Further to the above two organisations that support academics in need I would also heartily recommend supporting Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF, otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders).  Established in 1971 and currently working in over 60 countries worldwide, Médecins Sans Frontiéres has provided medical aid to millions of people during its history whilst remaining an independent organisation which is run and and owned by staff both present and past.  With over 90% of its income coming from individual donors MSF maintains the ability to be an neutral and independent organisation, able to help sick and injured people worldwide independent of national boundaries, institutions or governments regardless of gender, race or religion.  It is also a transparent worldwide organisation, which is split into a number of associations and sections.

The organisation works in a variety of crisis environments (including armed conflicts, epidemics and disease outbreaks, environmental disasters, exodus of refugees or helping people who are excluded from healthcare) by helping to establish centers of treatment.  In a number of cases they have to be clandestine operations to protect the patients and MSF staff from harm and violence in unstable environments, such as in Syria currently for example.

Further to this MSF also carry out medical research to help produce the best results for helping their patients and to help future humanitarian missions.  As a part of this they allow the research produced to be freely accessible to anyone.  I personally have supported this charity in the past (and continue to when I can) because I cannot imagine what my life would be like if the medical facilities for treating my previous fractures were non-existent: I realise I am lucky to have access to such good healthcare.  In short it is also my way of saying thank you.  You can also donate or apply to join MSF during operations if you have a medical background.  You can support MSF here!

D4500: The 5th Dmanisi Skull

22 Oct

A paper has been by published by Lordkipanidze et al. (2013) in the journal Science which highlights the unique fossil finds at the Dmanisi palaeoanthropological site, in Georgia, of the cranial and post-cranial remains of 5 Homo erectus individuals.  In particular the paper discusses the morphological aspects of the fifth Dmanisi skull, D4500 and associated mandible D2600, as a remarkably well preserved find.  Discovered during field work at Dmanisi in 2005, D4500 and D2600 represents one of the best preserved and complete adult skulls of Early Pleistocene Homo fossils so far discovered and described (Lordkipanidze et al. 2013: 326).

The paper in question debates the morphological variation between the cranial remains of the five Homo erectus individuals at Dmanisi, suggesting that there is greater variation in the Homo genus than is typically given credit for.  The paper compares the five Dmanisi crania and their morphological variations between the individuals to early and later Homo species hominins (including early African Homo species and Homo neaderthalensis), modern Homo sapiens and extant apes (including Pan troglodytes).  The conclusions of the article suggest that there is wide variation within the early Homo palaeodeme of morphological variation, much more than has been noted or given credit for with perhaps too many species being named and described as individual species in the early Homo fossil record.  Lordkipanidze et al (2013:330) argue that the Dmanisi collection could represent evidence of the single lineage hypothesis for early Homo.  Of course this is a contentious issues and further research is needed, but this is exciting nonetheless.

There has been numerous online blog entries debating the article and its implication for the evolution of the Homo genus.  To my mind the articles linked to below perhaps sum up the best reactions and thoughts to the article, although I look forward to further peer-reviewed research being carried out.  Outlining the main issues from the article, and the evolutionary mechanism behind the variations present in the Homo genus, is Weiss’s article over at the The Mermaid’s Tale which is informative and exciting.  He also discusses the background to the one species hypothesis within Homo which Lordkipanidze et al. (2013) imply could be a possibility as a result of their study of D4500.  They also suggest it as a mechanism for phylogenetic continuity across continents for early Homo.  John Hawks presents critical comments on the article and evocatively describes just how well D4500 has survived and how beautiful and complete a specimen the individual actually is.  In particular Hawks offers his own interesting comments on early Homo evolution and the importance of understanding the many facets of evolution that are at work, including the genetic differences and how modern populations of Homo sapiens often provide poor comparative models for ancient Homo species.  At A. P. Van Arsdale’s blog there is a nice breakdown of the article itself, including just why the five crania at Dmanisi are so important and just what their discovery may mean for interpreting the hominin fossil record.

Now to end this brief blog post I think it is only right that I post a picture of the articulated skull of D4500 himself*.  It is a beautifully preserved specimen and one worth taking the time to ponder over.

dmanisi skull 5

The articulated individual known as D4500 (cranium) and D2600 (mandible) exhibiting a small braincase with a large prognathic face, found at the Georgian site of Dmanisi in 2005.  The skull also boasts of one of the best preserved basicranial of any Homo erectus known (Hawks 2013) although the dentition displays that most of the teeth were worn past their crowns. Source: Lordkipanidze et al. (2013: 327).

*It is likely that the individual is a male, but expected a flood of research to take place in the next few years on the Dmanisi individuals and their context within human evolution.

Further Information

  • A full list of scientific publications from the Dmanisi palaeoanthropological site can be found here on the official website (though I am unsure how often the site is updated).  The website has detailed information on the formation and geology of the site, including the hominins and the different species of fauna that have been found, plus you can still get a place to dig at the actual site!
  • Check out The Human Story’s take on a new 2014 article suggesting that there could possibly be two hominin lineages suggested at the Dmanisi site.

Bibliography:

Hawks, J. 2013. The New Skull from Dmanisi. John Hawks Weblog. 18/10/2013.

Lordkipanidze, D., Ponce de León, M. S., Margvelashvili, A., Rak, Y., Rightmire, G. P., Vekua, A. & Zollikofer, C. P. E. 2013. A Complete Skull from Dmanisi, Georgia, and the Evolutionary Biology of Early Homo. Science.  342 (6156): 326-331. (Full article here, email if this doesn’t work).

Van Arsdale, A. P. 2013. The New (Wonderfu) Dmanisi Skull. The Pleistocene Scene-  A.P. Van Arsdale Blog. 17/10/2013.

Weiss, K. 2013.  How Many ‘Human’ Species are there? Is it even a Real Question?  Why does Anybody Care?  The Dmanisi SkullsThe Mermaid’s Tale.  21/10/2013.

Guest Post: ‘TrowelBlazers’ by Alison Atkin

30 Sep

Alison Atkin is currently a doctoral researcher in osteoarchaeology at the University of Sheffield, where she is studying the demographic characterization of mass fatality incidents in the past and the present.  Her blog, Deathsplanation, details her on-going research and her general fascination with death and the sciences.  Alison also runs the Penny University, a site where she interviews upcoming researchers on their specialist topics.  If you are a researcher and interested in engaging the public via the Penny University, please contact Alison here.


It never bothered me growing up that I didn’t know about women like Frederica de Laguna, Mary Chubb, and Adela Catherine Breton.  It didn’t stop me from becoming an archaeologist.  The seeming lack of females in the field had no impact whatsoever on my decision to attend university for a degree in the subject for which I am most passionate.  It never crossed my mind.  I never questioned it.  Perhaps I should have.  For it bothers me now.  It staggers my mind that for years, as an individual with an interest in archaeology and related subjects, I never came across these women.  They were never pointed in my direction.  It seems an unlikely impossibility.  And yet, I am not the only one.

Enter TrowelBlazers.

A few short months ago, four individuals decided to do something about this historical void of female individuals in archaeology, palaeontology, and geology.  Because it isn’t a void at all – it’s a remarkable web of women that span the existence, origin, and expansion of these fields, inevitably impacting their current (and some would say future) place in the history of science – and, if I may be so bold, the world.

Victoria Herridge (Palaeobiologist), Suzanne Pilaar-Birch (Zooarchaeologist), Rebecca Wragg-Sykes (Archaeologist), and Brenna Hassett (Dental Anthropologist) created the tumblr TrowelBlazers.  In their own words, “This tumblr is a celebration of women archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists who have been doing awesome work for far longer, and in far greater numbers, than most people realise.  Because we think these women are awesome.  We think you’ll think these women are awesome.  And we want to keep on discovering more awesome trowel-wielding women.”  I also quite agree with the sentiment that in addition to all of the above, they also created this site because “so many of the pictures are, quite frankly, a-MAZ-ing.”  I defy anyone to resist the site for lure of the photos alone.

When I heard about TrowelBlazers I immediately recognised it as something I wanted to support.  I wanted to know about the women who has helped blaze a trail for people like me to enter these fields… often without giving them a second thought (or as in my case, even a first thought).  I wanted to be an active part of the amazing community that exists between scientists in these fields, which fosters an even deeper admiration for the subject with which I have spent my entire life becoming acquainted. I started researching these women.  Within the first week of Trowelblazers launching I had wrote a post for the site about a woman I had not heard of before their endeavour.  I only found her because they pushed me to be curious.  Am I ever glad they did.  Meet Jane.

Jane Dieulafoy TB

Jane Dieulafoy, a Persian pioneer and meticulous recorder, was one of the finest explorers and archaeologists of her age (Source: TrowelBlazers).

Jane (Jeanne) Dieulafoy (1851-1916) was a crossing-dressing, war fighting, horseback adventuring, novel writing, archaeologist – she was, very simply put, amazing.

She is an inspiring human being.

She is not alone.

There are already more than 45 featured posts on Trowelblazers and, with a list of over 100 other women to feature, it already seems a project that will continue for many years to come.  If you haven’t already, you should go and check it out.

If this is a subject that interests you – and you think that more people should be made aware of the influential female individuals in these subjects – then there is a way for you to get involved.  In addition to submitting entries for the tumblr blog, you can participate in the upcoming Wikipedia editathon, which is taking place in London on October 19th at the Natural History Museum.  This event is aiming to improve the visibility of a host of forgotten women in science on the internet, with the TrowelBlazer team focusing on Dorothea Bate, Dorothy Garrod, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Elinor W. Gardner, Etheldred Bennett, Nina Layard, Margaret Murray, Helen Muir-Wood, and Grace Crowfoot.

The event is open both to people new to Wikipedia and to experienced contributors.  There will be practical training in how to edit a Wikipedia page, support and resources on-hand to make editing easier, and they’ve also lined up a team of experts (biographers and historians) to talk about trowelblazing women and to lend their expertise on the day.  There will also be a unique opportunity to see fossils from the NHM collections collected by these pioneering women, which are not normally on display to the general public.

If you interested in the event, but aren’t able to attend, you can follow the activities throughout the day with live-tweets from both the TrowelBlazer and Women’s Room twitter accounts.

While we’re on the subject of improving the visibility of women in the past, there is something that I must mention.  I think this point needs to go hand in hand when promoting endeavours such as TrowelBlazers.  It is, that, when regarding the history of science there can be a tendency to overstate the contributions of women in the past, in order compensate for their lack of opportunity, almost in an attempt to equalise their places in the history books.  I know that I am not alone in this view, as was evidenced by the response to historian Rebekah Higgit  when she stated it ever so well on Twitter a few months ago.  I do think it is important to keep in mind that however unfortunate it is, the past was not equal (let us not broach this matter in the present as that is another post entirely).  While nevertheless some women were defying social conventions and we should indeed celebrate their efforts and their achievements (and huzzah to TrowelBlazers for being at the forefront of this) we should not forget all of the other women who played a role in the history of science (and indeed, all of those who did not).  We should look not only to the women who stood out from the crowd, but also to those who worked behind the scenes.  We should not feel compelled to alter history in an attempt to rectify past wrongs.  We should use it as a reminder to all of us who are interested, involved, and invested in these subjects today of just how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.

I recently discovered an example of these women, in Anna and Susanna Lister, who are firmly rooted in the history of the natural sciences.  Their father, Martin Lister, was a medical doctor by profession but he had, in his own words, “the greatest enthusiasm” for natural history and was a collector of insects, spiders, and shells.  He compiled the first organized, systematic publication on shells and in its final edition, the work was illustrated with 1062 plates of shells – all the work of his daughters Anna and Susanna.  Yet, while their contributions to science were remembered, their identities were almost forgotten entirely.  It was not until Martin Lister’s own words were found in which he proudly referenced the plates as “the original drawings of my daughters” that credit was once again given where credit was due.  It seems there is a lot to learn about these women (and their amazing illustrations).  I imagine that there are many more women like them from history to be rediscovered, recognised, and remembered for their own contributions to science.

It makes me very glad to see that TrowelBlazers is not alone in their aim to spread the word on the role of women in the many fields science throughout history.  Since learning about these women it has made me realise that although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I was missing out.  It didn’t bother me, because I didn’t know any better.  I may have ended up exactly where I wanted to be, but I cannot help but feel that if I had known about women like Dorothy Garrod, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, or Jane Dieulafoy earlier in my life I may have got here in a slightly different way – and I might have been a slightly different archaeologist because of them.  I aim to redress issue this immediately, starting with TrowelBlazers and ending… well, who yet knows where this will end.

Guest Post: ‘Bones in the Backyard: Bringing Forensic Anthropology into the Science Classroom’ by Shivani Lamba.

18 Jun

Shivani Lamba is the Company Director of Forensic Outreach, based in London, which she initially joined as Programme Coordinator in 2009. She spearheaded the organisation’s initiative to create public engagement experiences online. The organisation was established in 2001, and has long been a dynamic and active part of the science curriculum in classrooms throughout the UK and EU. It was conceived to introduce forensic science as an integrative and cross-disciplinary approach to science education, and has delivered programmes to over one-hundred academic institutions and charities.


The Stories They Tell

There are, to put it mildly, some rather surreal moments in my time as a Forensic Outreach instructor.  I’ve cataloged medieval skeletal remains on the wooden office floor, sifting through them next to a newly-qualified doctor with an almost preternatural ability to instantly recognise bone types on sight. These specimens had been selected for shipping to the fabled Bone Room in Albany, California – and the task of wrapping and labelling led us late into the evening.  There were the innumerable times a small portion of our collection had been carefully packaged into a rolling suitcase, transported along with our instructors on the London underground, ready to be handled by keen children and adults across the country (and later the continent). And finally, there was the rather macabre experience of opening a new shipment to encounter a beautiful rib cage specimen – without any prior warning, of course.

forensicoutreachhh

Bodies and Bones, read more at Forensic Outreach.

When I’m pressed by my students to tell these stories, it’s with mixed feelings: concern that this is all too bizarre an existence (for two years, the office housed another medieval skeleton affectionately named Horace) and strangely, gratitude.  Reassuringly, it’s in part because of our small collection that Forensic Outreach has engaged children and adults alike – where possible, we allow our audiences to handle them, to turn them about, to draw themselves close to these bits and pieces.  There’s no better way to inspire an interest in forensic anthropology than to ensure that our students come to grips with it – quite literally – and understand the experiences real field anthropologists have everyday.  In actuality, the forensic anthropology component of our workshops is usually just that: part of a larger day which includes other “forensic” exercises, or a component of a class series.

Still, for years, we’ve found that forensic anthropology – and the bones – are perhaps the most compelling sessions we offer.  It begs the question: just what is it about this field that has everyone intrigued?

Looking Closely at Bonefied Amazement

On a serious note, I’d venture to say it has a bit to do with audiences actually examining their own mortality. Our older audiences, for some reason, seem particularly engrossed. They are eager to ask who these individuals were, and where in time their lives were situated. Our specimens were initially supplied by a company located in the charming old-world Bloomsbury, London, which specialised in models and skeletons for use in medical school lecture theaters. We didn’t know much about their persona lives, other than the fact that their remains had been dated to the High Middle Age (which began after AD 1000). There’s a certain fascination in facing the inevitability of it all — the fact that this is an individual who existed centuries ago, and that perhaps we all face a similar fate as history relegates us to our true position. Of course, this isn’t the case in forensic anthropology, which of course involves the recently-deceased.

Another aspect (also speculative) may be that this is the closest our audiences will come to analysing the “most valuable piece of evidence” or the body itself.  There are no dissection rooms open to the public – for good reason – and a gap therefore exists in their practical understanding of why the body is so significant in criminal investigations. Forensic anthropology usually follows an introductory workshop on death and decomposition when delivered as part of a masterclass; or at the very least, some indication of what normally precedes the “drying out” of the corpse.  Afterwards, our students are told they will have an opportunity to get up-close and personal with real skeletal remains, and examine them for clues that betray the gender, age and health of the individuals in question.  Out they come, then, the plastic containers with pieces of our collection laid neatly inside, surprisingly hardy and prepared for anything.

STEM, Public Engagement and Why We Do It

The aim of our lectures, workshops and other programmes is to encourage an interest in STEM, as well as to improve public understanding of what forensic science entails and what the discipline truly entails. Our organisation originally began as a Widening Participation initiative, and was designed to inspire children from socioeconomically-disadvantaged backgrounds to embrace new career paths in the sciences.  Eventually, the responsibilities became too great for a University department to manage single-handedly, and Forensic Outreach spun off in its own direction – with links to UCL (and now the Jill Dando Institute of  Security and Crime Science) intact.  We’re fortunate to have the autonomy to continue developing our own innovative programmes without institutional limitations, but close ties to ensure that joint-activities are still possible.

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Careers and Classroom, read more about science education at Forensic Outreach.

Without waxing lyrical about CSI syndrome, there is also a legitimate concern that for the layman, forensic science is entirely informed by popular media: Bones, Dexter and even more unfortunately, CSI.  There’s therefore a focus on ensuring accurate information is disseminated – and where possible (especially in our online activities) we integrate the recommendations and suggestions of forensic scientists who watch us to improve our outreach.

Further Information:

If you’re interested in finding more about Forensic Outreach, please visit our website. We also run a Twitter feed (@forensicfix), where we provide a seemingly endless drip of forensic trivia. Considering booking an event with us? Write to hello@forensicoutreach.com.

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

14 Jan

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

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

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

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

A Clarion Call For Guest Blog Entries

19 Apr

Archaeology, and all of it’s related disciplines, heavily depend on collaboration between various people’s, projects, institutions and countries worldwide.  Blogging can play its part in informing a new audience of goings on, recent finds and new approaches in research in various disciplines.  Blogging can open up research projects to the public and allow opportunities for various sets of people with broad-based skill sets to inject their own knowledge into projects, often in new and interesting combinations.   Science is an inclusive discipline and encourages a broad audience to digest and produce results based on research and experiments adhering to a peer review process.  An interesting example comes via John Hawks own advertisement of the Malapa Soft Tissue project, a project which aims to investigate hominin skin preserved from a 2 million year old site in South Africa, and openly calls for people to join in the research.

These Bones of Mine hopes to introduce the basics of human osteology to a new and disparate audience, whilst also discussing and highlighting interesting news from the archaeological world and beyond.  I also hope it to be a site where information can be passed on to interested sectors of the internet audience.  Therefore, I heartily welcome guest posts on a range of topics.  These include, but are not limited to, the following range of subjects:

  • Osteology (both human and animal)
  • Archaeology
  • Physical Anthropology
  • Archaeological Practice (experience of fieldwork, units etc)
  • Prehistoric Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Palaeoanthropolgy
  • Ethnography
  • Palaeontology
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Zooarchaeology
  • Palaeobotany
  • Genetics
  • Palaeogenetics
  • Forensic Anthropology

Alongside outside subjects such as Human Rights Issues, Heritage at Risk, Cultural Sociology, and Literature or Music.  Any subject within these titles will be considered, and I am particularly keen on prehistory, human osteology, and the effects of an holistic and multidisciplinary approach to the research of archaeological remains.

Please feel free to email me at the following address with ideas for blog posts: thesebonesofmine at hotmail.com

Do not be offended if the subject matter is not appropriate or if I do not reply quickly the academic year is quickly filling up with approaching essay deadlines, dissertation research  and conferences to attend.  The guest posts should be referenced as appropriate (Harvard style) and not extend beyond 2000 words.  Images are welcome, as is the inclusion of the writers own thoughts and interests.  I cannot offer any monetary funding, nor will I openly advertise commercial or private sector companies.  Thank you for your time.

Previous guest blogs include the following (top most recent):

Further updated posts can be found on the ‘Guest Posts‘ tab.