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Introducing ‘Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets’ by Svetlana Alexievich

24 Dec

As longtime readers of this blog may know I have an interest in both the literature and history of Russia over the past two centuries.  For example, in a day or two it is my hope that I may be gifted a copy of the dystopian novel We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which was published in English in 1924 and is a novel which was a precursor and prime influence on George Orwell who went on to write the arguably more famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, itself published in 1949.  I think it would be fair to state that not many countries have such a strong entwining of literature, outspoken authors and profound political changes as Russia has had, particularly so throughout the turbulent 20th century.  Recent geopolitical events throughout 2016 have again seen a rise in Russia as a dominating global player, but it is important to note that it is China, who early on implemented its own flexible version of the political philosophy of Marxism-Leninism under the umbrella of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which is seen in the ascendant as a major world economic and potential geopolitical player in the 21st century.

International politics has, of course, become both profoundly depressing (for some, not all) and seemingly impossible to avoid with the upcoming inauguration of the 45th American president.  World politics aside (and having read a few pages of Wikipedia I am rather stumped at how little modern Chinese history I know), I’ve started reading a recent English translation of Belarusian non-fiction prose-writer Svetlana Alexievich’s latest publication, Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets.  In a kaleidoscopic approach that crisscrosses a population to reproduce the individual testimonies of witnesses, Alexievich presents numerous viewpoints on the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its transition from a socialist union into a country (the Russian Federation) that embraced capitalism through rapid cultural and economic change.  This separation of the population from the communist ideology, which had provided immense belief in the Soviet republic, and it had a profound social and economic effect.  The implementation of perestroika (reformation and restructuring within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and the policy of glasnost (openness, or transparency) under Mikhail Gorbachev during the 1980’s, foregrounded the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the USSR itself in late 1991 (Applebaum 2013, Merridale 2013).


Front cover of the Penguin edition of the Second-Hand Time publication, the subject of this entry. Image credit: Penguin Random House.

Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 and it is not hard to see why upon my initial forays into her latest publication.  Second-Hand Time follows on from her previous investigations into Russia’s past and exposes the soul of the country.  Chapters are divided and sub-divided throughout the work, each taking on their own aspect as to who the author was speaking to and the setting of the conversations themselves.  The volume works as an oral history, with Alexievich dedicating her time and resources to note conversation between friends, family and individuals scattered across the former USSR, allowing extended monologues to unfurl and discussions to bubble up from personal perspectives.  The volume intricately and expertly develops the emotional wrenching that took place, the confusion, anger and hope intertwined as events developed day by uncertain day.

In one such example Elena Y, in conversation with her friend and the author, remembers and describes the general confusion during the Mikhail Gorbachev years during protests and riots in the latter years of the USSR:

We were preparing for world war to break out … Our greatest fear  was nuclear war – we never saw our own nation’s demise coming.  We didn’t expect it… not in the slightest… We’d gotten used to the May and October parades, the posters, ‘Lenin’s Work Will Live On For Centuries’, ‘The Party Is Our Helmsman’.  Then suddenly, instead of a procession, it was a primordial mob.  These weren’t the Soviet people any more, they were some other people we didn’t know.  Their posters were totally different: ‘Put the Communist Scum on Trial!’, ‘We’ll Crush the Communist Scum!’.  I immediately thought of Novocherkassk… The information was classified, but we all knew what happened there…  How during Khrushchev’s time, hungry workers had protested and were shot.  Those who didn’t die were sent off to labour camps; their relatives still don’t know where they went… And here… it’s perestroika.

Elena’s friend Anna I recalls a slightly different viewpoint during the late 1980’s protests:

Our faith was sincere… naive… We thought that any minute now… there were buses idling outside waiting to take us away to democracy.  We’d finally leave behind these run-down Khrushchyovkas and move into beautiful houses, build autobahns to replace these broken-down roads, and we’d all turn into respectable people.  No one searched for rational proof that any of this would really happen.  There was none.

– The above quotations are taken from Alexievich (2016: 96-102).

In another example N., an individual who presents a rare Kremlin insider view at the time, spoke to the author after much persuasion and delivers his thoughts on the 1991 version of events.  He highlights the fickle nature of truth:

I’ll tell you something else: witnesses can be manipulated, too.  They’re not robots.  They are manipulated by television, newspapers, friends, corporate interests… Who has the real truth?  As far as I understand, the truth is something that’s sought out by specially trained experts: judges, scholars, priests.  Everyone else is ruled by their ambition and their emotions.  [A pause].  I’ve read your books…  You shouldn’t put so much stock in what people say, in human truth.  History records the lives of ideas.  People don’t write it, time does.  Human truth is just a nail that everybody hangs their hats on.

– The above quotation is taken from Alexievich (2016: 190-191).

In chronicling the demise of the Soviet Republics, Alexievich presents what it was like to live in the decade that came after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991; with both the rise of the oligarchs that dominated the economic and political scene, following the rise of Boris Yeltsin taking on the role of the first President of the Russian Federation in the 1990’s, and the associated rise of so-called crony capitalism.  This is discussed alongside the profound impact that the stripping away of a social-political identity had on the population at large, and on a deeply personal level, as indicated above.  I’m currently only a part of the way through this 600+ page tome but it has made for enlightening and fascinating reading on what it was like to live in the USSR, to live through such historic periods as the late 1980’s and 1990’s and to watch your country completely change, or to invest your time and energy into thinking that your country will completely change only for it to not appear as expected or as hoped.

The parallels with today could be made but… well reader do I need to tell you?  This would be incredibly lazy of me however as the topic of Second-Hand Time is not comparable, at least directly, to the modern machinations of politics in the United States of America or of the United Kingdom.  Although the shock presidential election and its outcome has led to much soul-searching within the United States of America, the political process and social fabric has not changed currently – it is still firmly a democratically ran country.  The outcome of the United Kingdom’s European Union membership referendum mid-way through 2016 was, again, another shock political result and although, as with the result of the American election, the political, social and economic ties may be re-assessed, in the short-term it remains the status quo.  It is instead distinctly Russian and although the ideology that guides the country as it is known today is firmly different from the ideology that underpinned the USSR, the history of Russia and its people must be taken in the long view.

This blog entry started by my open enthusiasm of Russian literature and history, and the related bibliography that bookends this post represents some of the volumes I have read within the past few years.  You’ll notice however that they are largely not Russian or Slavic authors (bar the classic novels or accounts that I’ve read by Bulgakov (1), Gogol, Platonov, Sholokhov, Solzhenitsyn, Teffi, Tolstoy, etc.), that the research has largely been either primarily written in English or translated from the Russian sources.  This is largely due to the availability of such volumes, my inability to read in any other language, and my knowledge of such volumes.  As such I’d ask that if you have any recommendations of history books, or collections of the testimonies of the populations that lived in the USSR, translated into English then please do let me know in the comments below.


(1). Bonus osteology points: writer, physician and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940), author of the sublime novel The Master & Margarita (finally published in 1966), described the pathological effect and characteristic morphology that the sexually transmitted disease syphilis had in its later stages on human bone, particularly in the thinning of the anterior aspect of the tibia (saber shin in congenital syphilis) and in the general appearance of abnormal osteophytes.  In the Soviet republics this was called Bulgakov’s Sign, which is also lovingly known as bandy legs sign in the West.

Bibliography & Further Reading

Alexievich, S. 2016. Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets. Translated from Russian by Bela Shayevich. London: Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Applebaum, A. 2004. Gulag: A History of the Soviet Camps. London: Penguin Books.

Applebaum, A. 2013. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe. London: Penguin Books.

Chandler, R. (ed.). 2012. Russian Magic Tales from Puskin to Platonov. London: Penguin Classics.

Merridale, C. 2013. Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia’s History. London: Allen Lane.

Teffi. 2016. Memories – From Moscow to the Black Sea. Translated from Russian by R. Chandler, E. Chandler, A. M. Jackson & I. Steinberg. London: Pushkin Press.

Ancient Water, Deep Life

18 Dec

I haven’t posted here as much as I have wanted to recently due to a combination of factors.  Firstly my laptop broke, secondly I’ve been busy at work now that the arm has healed up (x-rays of the fracture here), and thirdly I’ve also been conducting an osteoarchaeological side project.  (I’m also expertly, somewhat even academically, ignoring a slew of deadlines which are fast approaching for a few writing projects).  However this is just a quick post to say that there should be a few posts over the next month or so.  A few of these posts have been drafted earlier in the year and are half-finished, but it is hoped they’ll be finished shortly.

In the meantime, and in non-osteo news, I couldn’t help but notice two particularly interesting science articles on the BBC news website earlier today.  Both news articles are probably not new to geologists, oceanographers or geophysicists, but they have certainly piqued my interest.  There is evidence that biological life, in the form of microbes, have been found living at a depth of 2400m beneath the seabed off the coast of Japan.  Although the organisms are single-celled they do seem to manage to survive on a diet of hydrocarbon compounds whilst only expending low amounts of energy.  The microbes have been found in coring samples from an ancient coal bed system, which was drilled by the International Ocean Discovery program in 2012 in the Shimokita Peninsula, Japan.  Amazingly the drill was sent down through 1000m of seawater and through 2446m of rock under the seabed itself.  At such depths there is little water, limited nutrients, no light and no oxygen, yet life still survives.  Tantalizingly research still remains to be conducted on how the microbes came to be at this location and at this great depth.  Read the article here on the BBC.

The other science news article deals with water of a different order.  The world’s oldest deep water is present in a much greater volume than previously estimated.  Located within the Earth’s crust, where some of the oldest rock can also be found, ancient water has been sampled through boreholes and mines and the revised estimate of the volume suggests there is around 11 million cubic kilometres present in the crust.  The world’s oldest dated water has been located in present day Canada in a mine located 2.4km down into the crust, estimates put the water at around 1 billion to 2.5 billion years old (yup billion!).  The fact that the water is so old, and preserved so well, has surprised many and also revises the estimates of hydrogen produced on earth.  Previously it was thought that continental crust produced almost zero hydrogen compared to ocean crusts.  Again, the full article can be found here on the BBC (1).

Both news articles are the result of research coming from the currently ongoing 47th American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco (15th-19th December with a whooping 24,000 delegates!), which covers Earth and space science topics.  I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for further news as this is incredibly interesting as scientific research continues to extend our knowledge of where, and how, life not only survives but seemingly thrives.


(1).  The scientific literature has not been referenced in this post but I will update once this becomes either available and/or when I have the time.

19/12/15 Update

In other extreme life news the New Scientist magazine has reported the filming of a fish (a possible snailfish) at the depth of 8143m below the surface at the Marianas Trench, in the Pacific Ocean.  The Marianas Trench is the deepest part of the world’s oceans, and the filmed footage of the snailfish at this extreme depth highlights once again how life can survive in hostile environments.  The intense pressure at this depth places severe limitations on the function of muscle and nerve tissues, however snailfish are known to survive in such intense pressure environments with another species, Pseudoliparis amblystomopsis, having been studied and recorded at depths of 7703m before.

Links of Interest!

5 Nov

A quick post whilst I prepare the next entry!  There are some pretty good blogs out there that focus on bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology that have started up within the past few months or so, so I’d thought I’d highlight a few here:

  • Bone Broke, ran by bioarchaeology PhD student Jess Beck, has some awesome posts on identifying and siding bone fragments.  It also has a great vein of humor running through the blog as well as being wonderfully informative and knowledgeable on human osteology and anatomy.
  • Cakes and Ceramics, a brand new blog ran by Loretta Kilroe, details the adventures of a post-masters pre-PhD Egyptologist living in London.  With a research focus on ancient ceramics and excavation experience at the Post-New Kingdom site of Amara West, Sudan, under her belt you can expect some interesting upcoming posts from this blog.
  • All Things AAFS (archaeology, anthropology and forensic sciences), ran by Rosemary Helen, has some excellent posts split into useful subjects.  The Quick Tips series is particularly useful for learning about how to age a human skeleton and identify fracture types.  Expect it to be updated with various topics as the site grows.
  • Lawn Chair Anthropology, by the biological anthropology assistant professor Zachary Cofran, is an excellent site for updates on bio-anth, evolution and palaeontology.  In particular it is great to see Cofran discuss his own research in human evolution, offer his statistical code for free and regularly highlight free databases.  It is not new site by any means having previously been hosted on the Blogger format for a number of years, but it is new to the WordPress format.

Over at Spencer Carter’s blog at Microburin he has a great post up which skillfully dissects the recent one day conference held in London on archaeology pay and training.  The conference, held by Prospect and The Diggers Forum (part of the IFA), discussed issues relating to pay and performance, the chartership of archaeology, minimum benchmarks for pay and just where archaeology sits as a skilled profession in the UK, amongst many other topics of note.  It is well worth reading Spence’s blog entry (here) and my next post but one will discuss some of these issues from a field archaeologist’s view point in the latest ‘interview’ guest entry.  In the mean time enjoy these blog links above, many more can also be found in the blog roll on the bottom left of this site so get digging!

Broken Bone But Not Broke

6 Jul

Well I’ve managed to break my right tibia and fibula again (a minimally displaced transverse fracture), this time in the pleasant surroundings of a pub.  It’d be fair to say the pain was mitigated by a few pints, but thankfully I was also wearing the plastic splint at the time, a safety precaution after previous fractures, which kept the leg stable and safe until the NHS staff plastered it up.  The upshot is that I am finally employed, alas not in the archaeological sector, but in this environment I am very happy to have the job that I do.


I always choose green for the cast colour as it reminds me of the verdant grasses of summer and of nature; plus it is a bright colour so people will hopefully avoid running or bashing into the leg accidentally.  Take note of the bend in the tibia and fibula, and of the offset angle of the foot.  This represents a natural deformity, enhanced by several fractures of the tibia.

The break has also reminded me primarily why I started this blog in the first place, to focus on human osteology and the skeleton.  It gave me a jolt of joy to once again see my own skeleton lit up on the computer screen, to recognise one’s own skeletal idiosyncrasies.  If I manage to get a picture or a copy of the X-ray for this fracture I shall put it up as well, as it is quite informative on the effect of Polyostotic Fibrous Dysplasia, as part of McCune-Albright Syndrome, on the deformity of the long bones.  It has also highlighted the fact that the Skeletal Series posts have somewhat stalled in the last year due to the completion of the MSc and the subsequent time consuming job search.  So you should soon be seeing Skeletal Series entry 11 on the human foot.


An admittedly poor quality camera phone shot of the an X-ray of the right lower leg, ankle is bottom left. Note the location of the fracture on the mid shaft of the tibia in the red box. The tibia and fibula both exhibit a medial bowing at the mid shaft, with areas of translucence on the bone highlighting the polyostotic fibrous dysplasia lesions. The angle and location of the break indicate a failure of the tibia as a weight loading bone due to the porous quality of both the cortical and trabecular bone, particularly at the angle highlighted.

In the meantime I’ll shortly have a post up on the new facet of education that is drastically widening participation at the university level education level, the indefatigable rise of the MOOC.  I also aim to write up a quick review of a fascinating book by historian Joel F. Harrington entitled The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honour and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century, detailing the life of Nuremberg executioner Meister Franz Schmidt, who kept a detailed record of his 40 plus years in the role.  It is a fascinating book and an excellent view into the legal and cultural context of the role of the executioner in Germany and Europe in this fascinating period, as well as detailing the personal crusade that Schmidt himself took in gaining acceptance into respectable society.

So until then, auf Wiedersehen!

Grampus Heritage German Excavation Write Up

15 Sep

As previously stated, I recently went to Germany for 6 weeks participating in archaeology with Grampus Heritage.  Here is the first post and here is a post with various photos from the dig.  I completed a short report on the placement, and its available here (2011 excavation), on the Grampus website.  I will re-post the report in full to give an impression of what its like to partake in adventure, and encourage all European undergraduates and post graduates to take part.


Ease Magdeburg Leonardo Da Vinci Placement 2011

I had the pleasure of spending six weeks in the city of Magdeburg, Germany, on a Leonardo Da Vinci placement, organised by Grampus Heritage and hosted by the Landesamt für Denkmalspflege und Archäologie Sachsen Anhalt in the summer of 2011.  The archaeological work was based both at the archaeological department and two archaeological sites outside Magdeburg.  The first site was a rescue site ahead of road construction at the village of Domersleben, to the west of the city.  This was a previously unknown medieval cemetery, possibly dating from around the 10th century (the dating wasn’t complete or known), or thereabouts.  The second site was a University of Kiel research dig at a Linearbandkeramik (LBK) site located near the town of Hundisburg, again west of Magdeburg.

Our accommodation was located in the north of the city, in 3 flats in one building.  Before I went I invested in a small guide to basic German Language, and now looking back I wish I had spent a few days learning the basics rather than slowly learning them whilst I was there.  It’s definitely recommended as it helps with basic communication with the residents of the city, and whilst shopping alone.

Magdeburg on the Elbe River

The City

Don’t let first sight of the city deceive you! Magdeburg is a glittering diamond of a city, hewn from a historical smorgasbord of repression and destruction (The 30 Years War, Nazism, & Communism to name a few). Yes, it is plain to see the physical damage wrecked on the city from the Communist city planners, but look a bit closer and it becomes plain that Magdeburg has some rather wonderful and strange buildings.  It also has historical architecture to rival any other German city.  On first entering the city via the RE Bahn, we passed several dilapidated buildings and structures, and each with a nervous glance aside, we wondered what we had let ourselves in for.

But we needn’t have worried.  From the rightly famous Gothic Dom (the first gothic cathedral outside France), to Hundertwasser’s ‘Grune Zitadelle’ & the Jahrtausendturm (Millennium Tower), Magdeburg offers architectural treats in various forms from all sorts of eras.  The wide plazas, from the GDR era, offer lovely views down the long main streets.  The trams that go all throughout the city are easy to hop on and off, and are accessible for wheelchairs, bikes or prams etc.  Just don’t make the mistake of not buying a ticket or sharing the wrong ticket as the tram officers can fairly brusque & rude!  It is very much worth having a good walk around the city to understand the different residential areas & where the main attractions can be located after a few days.

The MIllennium Tower & Dom Cloister

The main drinking outlets of Magdeburg city centre are located in Hasselbach Platz, where the bars tend to be open fairly late and where most people congregate on Friday & Saturday’s.  There are some particularly lovely bars just off this area, and the group located a Turkish Shisha bar just near the main museum.  For a small price you can smoke a variety of flavours of shisha & drink some pretty good cocktails.  Definitely recommended!

After work, I enjoyed nothing more than heading to the nearest lake (in this case Neustadt See- more below), and having a swim in one of the little remote beaches dotted along the lake side.  There is no better way to relax after a hard (and hot) day in the office then to swim in the cool waters.  It also offers a chance to try out some basic German with the Magdeburg residents!  For the more adventurous there was also ‘CableIsland’ at Neustadt See, which offers water skiing on the lake.

There are plenty of shops nearby the flats where we stayed (Neustadt Platz, just North of the city centre and a quick ride on the tram), including a variety of food shops.  One of the first things we noticed was the relative cheaper price of food and everyday goods; beer in particular was also cheap!  Some of our favourite food shops were Kaufland & Pennymarkt, which quickly became a mecca for cheap goods and a wide variety of fresh foods.

The Grune Zitadell

In the city centre there were internet cafes (no disabled access though!), large shopping centres such as the Allee centre & the main post office.  There are plenty of little cafes around offering excellent ice creams and a large selection of foods.  An Italian café near the University soon became a favourite.  Also in the city centre was the Opera House, the main museum, and of course the famous Magdeburg cathedral (or Dom).  These are not to be missed!  Just outside the city centre is the rather impressive and somewhat hidden away Magdeburg Zoo with a wide range of animals on display.  Across the river Elbe to the south of the centre there are a variety of parks such as the Elbaeunpark which houses theMilleniumTower, and the Rotehorn park which has numerous cafes and is ideal for a stroll around. Magdeburg is noted for its greenery and has been noted as one of the top green cities in Germany today.

Elephants at Play

The Work & The Unit

As stated the work in Magdeburg, in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt, involved two archaeological digs & finds work at the base.  The first dig, which was open throughout the whole of the six weeks, was a rescue archaeological site which was a medieval cemetery located in the village of Domersleben.  This previously unknown site was earmarked for road construction & expansion, and so ahead of the diggers the cemetery was excavated fully.  We received lifts to and from the site from the on site archaeologists.

Sam & Me excavate a skelly, and view across Domersleben excavation

Altogether at the site numerous burials were found, aligned East to West in the Christian tradition.  On two of the burials knives were found, and it is thought that they cemetery could date from around the 10th to 12th centuries AD.  This was the first time I had worked with human remains in the field, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!  Although I was only able to get out on site 4 times or so because of how damp the site was and because of my own mobility restrictions, I found it engaging, informative & interesting.  I learnt how to carefully uncover the grave cut, how to record and bag the skeleton, & how to be very careful not to miss out any of the bones in the grave fill.  The German team on this site were kind, instructive and helpful.  It was clear that they expected us to get on with the work, rather than nannying the students.

The other site that opened up in the 3rd week was a research led dig by the University of Kiel, of a LBK site near Hundisburg, around 30 to 40 minutes drive  from Magdeburg.  Although I did not take part in this dig because of accessibility issues, I am reassured it was a hard-working site!  The excavation technique at this site was different then the open air site of Domersleben.  Square meter pits were opened and dug to around 10-15cm with sites found being bagged and pinned in situ.  The hours of work were longer then Domersleben, and the students who worked at this site came back quite tired!

I worked mainly at the finds department, engaging in activities I have little done in British archaeological units.  This included drawing artefacts to archaeological specifications, piecing together medieval roof/floor tiles & helping to glue them, and various Bronze Age pottery pieces, back together when/if they fitted.  I also partook in some finds cleaning including processing of human & animal bone, and the usual suspects of ceramics and tiles.

Drawing the artefacts…

My praise of the German finds department team cannot be higher.  Sven, Rainer, Claudia, Secret, Christine, Angelica & Peter all provided a warm welcoming environment in which to learn new skills and acquire new friends.  The archaeological units in Britain could learn a thing or two from the mighty breakfasts enjoyed here!  At the start of the placement the other students rotated round as to who was volunteering with me, but as the second site opened up I went to the department alone.  I was very happy to work with the finds as they provided help when needed and in particular Rainer Kuhn provided a helpful hand in pointing out points of interest in the city.  He, and others, also provided lifts from the University Platz to the department, of his own accord, which was most helpful to me.

Numerous cleaned finds (spot the human bones!)

At first it seemed as if only Rainer and Claudia could speak English but as the weeks progressed and I tried to speak some basic German, communication became easier, and with the help of the translators of Rainer & Google translate conversations were able to take place.

Life Abroad & Trips Out

We had the weekends free and the days and weeks passed by in an easy hypnotic rhythm as we got used to working and living abroad.  We had day trips out to see archaeological sites around the Magdeburg and Sachsen-Anhalt area.  These were provided by Dr Thomas Webber alongside a few other key archaeologists, and included visits to the Palaeolithic Hundisburg site, a medieval deserted village, a Neolithic Megalithic tomb, a wooden castle, and a road development archaeological site.

Hundisburg Deserted Medieval Village

Neolithic Megalithic tomb near Hundisburg

One of my favourite trips and museums was seeing the Prehistory Museum in Halle.  This has got to be one of the most impressive prehistory museums in Germany, with its range from human evolution (Homo Erectus onwards) up until the Bronze and Iron Ages.  In particular some of the displays of the artefacts and block lifted archaeological specimens were amazing and inspirational.  Whilst in Halle we also got to look at a modern archaeological laboratory and were suitable impressed by the block lifted Neolithic well that Goetz showed us.  Halfway through we also all had a trip overnight to see the sights in Berlin.  This was a fantastic trip, with a delightful stay in a St Christopher hostel in Rosa Luxemburg Platz.

The Reichstag!

We managed to cram in most of the museums on Museum Island (Neues Museum, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Museum etc) alongside seeing the sights such as the Berliner Dom, Brandenburg Tor, the Reichstag, a chilling look around the memorial & museum to the murdered Jews of Europe; as well as a walk to the 1.5km stretch of the Berlin Wall that is now given over to artists.

Museum at the Museum Island, Berlin.

All in all Magdeburg provided the perfect base in which to work and relax, and I’m very thankful that Grampus provided the opportunity to live and work abroad.  I have very few regrets about choosing this placement as it was all set up fine, with enough money given for spending and activities, the training given was competent & the archaeological sites were varied and interesting.  Above all I praise dearly the German staff who provided such a warm environment in which to live, work and learn.

Report online here.


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