Blogging Bioarchaeology: Advice on Best Practice, Engagement and Outreach

28 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

KORA Bioarchaeology and Forensic Anthropology Workshops at the University of Kent, June 2015

9 May

The Kent Osteological Research and Analysis unit (KORA) at the University of Kent is offering individuals interested in bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology the chance to get to grips in understanding the value of analysing human skeletal remains by playing host to two workshops in June 2015.  The great selling point about these particular courses are the fact that they are open to members of the public, as well as to archaeologists who are keen to gain experience of handling and analysing archaeologically sourced human skeletal remains.

Details of the two workshops can be found below on the poster.  The first is the Medieval Burials in Canterbury workshop running on the Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st of June at a cost of £75.  The second workshop is titled CSI (Crime Science Investigation) at Kent and runs on the Saturday 27 and Sunday 28th of June, again costing £75.  Taking place at the School of Anthropology and Conservation at the Marlowe Building on Canterbury Campus, the two 2 day long courses offer the chance to learn about the methodologies used to estimate the age-at-death, biological sex and stature with hands on activities in using the methods learned beforehand.  The Medieval burials workshop, offering the chance to handle and analyse skeletal remains from the historic town of Canterbury, also includes aspects on funerary archaeology (such as burial position, grave goods and cemetery analysis).  The CSI workshop includes the opportunity to learn about the nature of traumatic injury and the effect that this can have on the skeletal elements in a human body, both during life and death.

This is a great example of education outreach aimed at highlighting just what it is that archaeologists and forensic anthropologists do with human skeletal material and, more importantly, why.  As long time readers of this blog may know the skeletal remains of humans provide an awful lot of both biological and cultural information pertaining to both that individual and their society.  As such I am enthused that such workshops are opening up to the non-specialist in order for the general public to learn what bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropologists actually do and why it is important.

kora

The University of Kent KORA poster detailing the workshops available.

As always I am very happy to advertise bioarchaeology, human osteology or forensic anthropology short courses, or workshops, taking place in the United Kingdom on this site.  Please feel free to contact me with further information on any upcoming courses and I will endeavor to post an entry about it (time allowing).  I can be contacted via email on the About Me tab or at thesebonesofmine (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Further Information

  • To book your place on either workshop please visit the University of Kent site here or contact Jackie Fotheringham (details here) for further information on the workshops.  The School of Anthropology and Conservation plays host to a wide range of open days, conferences, workshops and education outreach events, please see here for a calendar for the year detailing these (including the anthropology of hands conference in June!).
  • The department at Kent, like the University of Durham and University College London, have a particularly strong anthropology research basis where the fields of biological anthropology, forensic science and bioarchaeology play a key foundation into the study of humanity.  Furthermore the department at kent also boasts a dedicated human osteology laboratory which has the facilities for dental and bone histology alongside stable isotope preparation and analysis.

Death as Life: Guardian Article on the Science of Human Decomposition

6 May

The former neuroscientist and current science journalist Mo Costandi has a new article in The Guardian titled Life After Death: The Science of Human Decomposition.  It is well worth a read for those interested in how the body changes and starts to break down immediately following death, with new insights into the ecology of death itself.  It is well-known that, as the body goes through the initial death and decomposition stages towards skeletonization, it plays host to a wide range of insect life.  However it is only really in the past few years that the study of the so-called thanatomicrobiome has really blossomed, particularly with the rise of the ‘body farms’ across the world where human remains can be scientifically studied and sampled in-situ, in a variety of both buried or non-buried contexts which mimic where bodies are found (Can et al. 2014).  (Although sadly the United Kingdom still lacks a human body farm, there is an animal body farm at Glywndr University in Wales, created by forensic scientists at the university to study taphonomic change in non-human corpses).

There are obvious applications in understanding the mechanisms of the thanatomicrobiome and of the ecology present, particularly with the application of the methods in the forensic sciences in helping to pinpoint the time of death of an individual.  As Costandi demonstrates in his remarkable article the human body can be a veritable oasis of life in death, playing host to many species of insect life – this is particularly fascinating for forensic entomologists and anthropologists, but also to bioarchaeologists who work in conditions where the remains, and life stage, of insects can be identified and placed within a certain cycle of decomposition stage, if found within the context of a body.

It is also particularly interesting for those who study bioarchaeology as it highlights the differentiation found not just between bodies in the act of decomposition but also throughout the same body itself, and how this can change due to body location and environment.  This is highlighted by the observations of certain insects at unexpected places, perhaps taking actions that one would not expect – that is very important for the forensic sciences and bioarchaeological sciences as it can determine the theorised location of the body and if the body has moved after death took place but before retrieval (Lindgren et al. 2015).  The action of the gut microbiome also plays a key role in the decomposition of the body as it aids greatly in the decomposition of the body as whole during the biomolecular breakdown of the bodies numerous and varied cells.  The composition of it can also vary from person to person.  The understanding of the decomposition stages and of the taphonomic sequences in the forensic or archaeological record is thus vital to understanding the context of the body itself; whether this helps to identify if the individual underwent a funerary ritual and/or mortuary processing or to identifying whether the individual was buried in a clandestine or a non-normative manner.

Further Information

  • Mo Costandi’s article for the Guardian newspaper can be read here.

Bibliography

Can, I., Javan, G. T., Pozhitkov, A. E. & Noble, P. A. 2014. Distinctive Thanatomicrobiome Signatures Found in the Blood and Internal Organs of Humans. Journal of Microbiological Methods. 106: 1-7.

Lindgren, N. K., Sisson, M. S., Archambeault, A. D., Rahlwes, B. C., Willets, J. R. & Bucheli, S. R. 2015. Four Forensic Entomology Case Studies: Records and Behavioral Observations on Seldom Reported Cadaver Fauna with Notes on Relevant Previous Occurrences and Ecology. Journal of Medical Entomology. 52 (2): 143-150.

Guest Post: An Archaeologist, an Anthropologist and an Anarchist Walk into a Bar… by Stuart Rathbone

3 May

Stuart Rathbone is a field archaeologist with considerable experience in the UK, Ireland and the United States of America in excavation and project supervising a number of important prehistoric and historic archaeology sites.  In conjunction with field work, Stuart has also held academic positions and writes regularly on a broad range of topics in archaeology for varied audiences.  Stuart has recently left the role of an archaeological project officer, based in the Orkney islands in northern Scotland with ORCA, to pursue an archaeology career in the United States.  His Academia profile, with links to Stuart’s published papers, can be found here.  A previous These Bones of Mine interview, on the nature of archaeological field work and the issues surrounding this, can be found here .  He also runs the Campaign for Sensible Archaeology group on Facebook and is also quite fond of hardcore jungle music.

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There are many different ways of classifying societies based for instance on levels of technology, on economic organisation, on the size of their area of influence and so on.  A very fundamental scheme is to divide societies into those that are organised hierarchically and those which are organised anarchically, i.e. without a hierarchic class or power structure.  Anarchic organisation has long been recognised but it took a surprisingly long time for anthropologists and archaeologists to develop a convincing understanding of them.  The ‘segmented lineage systems’ that were the focus of research by the likes of Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard’s and Meyer Fortes between the 1930’s and 1950’s represent early attempts to understand how complex societies could exist without obvious hierarchical power structures (Evans-Pritchard 1940; Fortes 1945).  Reading these accounts it becomes clear that a major problem was the frequent presence of defined leaders within societies that were not organised hierarchically.

A major breakthrough occurred when Harold Barclay developed his ‘limited leadership’ model which highlighted the widespread phenomenon of anarchic communities that utilised leaders with very defined levels of power and authority, whose rewards from claiming the leadership role are rather difficult to determine, and who are essentially beholden to the collective will of their community (Barclay 1982; 1986; 1989).  The existence of a chief in the limited leadership model is more akin to a spokesman than a ruler.  The leader must discuss with the group to gauge the collective feeling and then present what has essentially already been agreed to as the leaders decision.  With no equivalent to a police force or military guard to call on to enforce their will limited leaders have little individual power.  Attempts to take actions against the prevailing mood fail, and the leader ends up undermined and in danger of ridicule or dismissal, and, in extreme cases, in danger of being killed.  Similarly attempts by such a leader to consolidate their power or to exploit the power they have by claiming too many rewards will likely lead to their expulsion or death.  As William Geddes pointed out in regards to the Dayak tribes of Borneo, “the Dayaks are anarchists” who are led by the nominal headman “only when they agree to be led” (Geddes 1957).

A second very important model was developed by the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres (Clastres 1977; 2010).  Whilst Clastres covers some of the same ground as Barclay, in particular demonstrating eloquently the dangers of a limited leader in over extending their authority, the main thrust of his work is his notion of the ‘Society against the State’.  Clastres argues that the constant levels of warfare seen amongst many ‘simple’ societies should not be seen as an unfortunate social factor restricting the development of more complex social forms.  Rather Clastres proposes that it is a deliberate strategy that has developed specifically in order to stop societies adopting hierarchical forms that would ultimately lead to state formation.  In this model warfare is a vital process that is used specifically to maintain individual and community autonomy, at the cost of forfeiting whatever benefits hierarchical organisation might bring.  Interestingly this model interferes with the commonly used social evolutionary schemes, such as the influential model promoted by Elman Service that sees society progress from band to tribe to chiefdom to kingdom before arriving at the ‘goal’ of statehood.  Instead Clastres model divides all societies into States and Societies against the State which are not stages in a linear progression.  Instead societies switch between the two forms, with the switch to hierarchical organisation often triggered through outside influences.  A switch from hierarchic to anarchic forms can occur through various circumstances, either violent resistance, migration or through social collapse.

r1

Typical ideas of social evolutionary progress as promoted by the likes of Elman Service and Colin Renfrew.

The work of both Clastres and Barclay remained somewhat peripheral until quite recently when a number of researchers began building on the foundations they established.  Recently David Graeber, Charles Macdonald and Brian Morris have all produced interesting work that explores different aspects of anarchic anthropology (Graeber 2004; Macdonald 2008 & 2009; Morris 2005).  In 2012 Bill Angelbeck and Colin Grier published a paper that represented the first time that archaeological data was explicitly examined from an anarchic perspective (Angelbeck & Grier 2012).  The paper reviews historical records of the Coast Salish Indian groups of the pacific coast of North America and identifies a complex limited leadership system that boarders on being a class structure.  The ‘inverted pear shaped model’ takes anarchic organisation to the very limit.  The majority of each group belonged to an ‘elite’ class that are supported by a tiny lower class stratum consisting of war captives held as slaves, and outcasts from other groups.  A clear leadership strata was present, but these positions were held by merit and the boundary between the ‘elite’ majority and the leadership group was permeable in both directions depending on performance.  The paper goes on to examine archaeological data from the Salish Coast area over a two thousand year time span.  The authors identify a repeating pattern of shifts between hierarchical organisation and anarchic organisation with periods of increased warfare apparently preceding each shift towards anarchic conditions.

The curious inverted pear shaped social system of the Coast Salish groups.

The curious inverted pear shaped social system of the Coast Salish groups.

At the start of 2015 Robert Bettinger published a book length account of Californian societies based on a large review of archaeological evidence (Bettinger 2015).  The narrative describes a gradual reduction in social group size, linked to developments in technology and changes in the environment.  Bettinger argues that these changes led to the widespread and prolonged existence of small non-hierarchical social groups he characterises as ‘orderly anarchy’.  A symposium was organised at the 2015 Society for American Archaeologists conference to discuss the implications of Bettinger’s work and this suggests a widening interest in the archaeological use of anarchist theory.

Anarchic Archaeology in Britain and Ireland

Given the much greater separation between archaeology and anthropology that exists in Britain and Ireland than is found in America and Europe it is perhaps unsurprising that developments in anarchic anthropology have attracted little attention.  Earlier this year I published a short paper that might represent the first attempt to produce an anarchic archaeology in either Britain or Ireland, although there may well be earlier examples that I am not aware of (Rathbone 2015).  My ongoing research is attempting to fuse the developments in anarchic anthropology with ideas and theories culled directly from political anarchist literature.  Anarchism as a political movement developed in the mid-19th century and there is a vast body of anarchist literature, a substantial proportion of which deals with an anarchist reading of history and archaeology.  This material can be quite wayward and is often an unrealistic reading of the data.  Nevertheless anarchist history is interesting in that it offers different interpretations of well-known events, presents different motivations for why things may have occurred, offers sympathetic accounts of groups and individuals widely criticised in main stream history, and looks at topics that attract little interest elsewhere.  In addition to anarchist history I have been attempting to understand anarchist political theory with the aim of seeing if any of the numerous proposals (and the smaller number of real world examples) of how complex societies can operate in the absence of centralised government might have useful applications in archaeology.  Whilst this is all very much a work in progress, here I want to present four examples of how such a fusion of anarchism and archaeology might be usefully applied, two dealing with prehistoric subjects and two dealing with the post-Medieval world.

Identifying state formation

I suspect most archaeologists would be comfortable with the idea that anarchic groups were present throughout the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods when we suspect only small mobile hunter gather groups were present.  On the other hand it is clear that several centuries before the Roman invasion of Britain state formation had occurred across large areas and that a reasonably stratified society was in place.  What can be gleaned from the proto-historic accounts relating to the Late Irish Iron Age also indicate that the county was dominated by a number of small states with each community enmeshed in a complex network of obligations and responsibilities to their states rulers.  An important question is therefore whether we can identify the process of state formation somewhere between the onset of the Neolithic period and the end of the Early or Middle Iron Age.  It would seem likely that such a process would be complex and occur in different parts of Britain and Ireland at different times.  This may not have been a simple evolutionary process along the lines of Service’s model.  Instead we might find a repeated flipping between anarchic ‘anti-states’ and hierarchical states.  Such a process could explain the oddities in the settlement patterns where we can observe repeated failed attempts at introducing villages to areas dominated by dispersed settlements (Ginn & Rathbone 2012; Ginn 2013; Rathbone 2013a, Rathbone 2013b & 2015).  Each location where villages began to develop could mark the beginnings of a transition towards hierarchical organisation.  The abandonment of villages in a given area might mark a society rejecting the existence of the hierarchies and choosing to return to an anarchic state.  If so we might expect to find evidence of increased violence coinciding with the end of village life at a particular time and place.

Central to the ‘Society against the State’ model is the use of violence between neighbouring group as a method to stop the formation of hierarchical power structures.  Violence is also a common feature within non-hierarchical groups where consensus building and sanctions such as taboos, gossip and mockery have failed to resolve a problem.  Contrary to the utopian visions of political anarchists it seems that when no method to exert authority exists and an impasse in opinions has been reached violence may be the only solution.  Steven Pinker has explored the level of violence in societies across a great span of time and demonstrated rather convincingly that as hierarchical control expands the aggregate level of violence declines (Pinker 2011).  Pinker argues that as state authority has spread across the world and states have claimed ever increasing levels of control over their populations the effect is a drastic reduction in overall violence that he dubs ‘the civilising process’.  Despite the ability of modern states to kill tens of thousands of people in a matter of moments, the monopoly they have claimed over the application of lethal force has led to ever decreasing death rates.  It would seem therefore that decreasing levels of violence can be directly related to the development of hierarchical authority.  There have been numerous attempts to determine the level of violence present at different points in the archaeological record but it remains a difficult task given the incomplete nature of the burial record.  However it does seem that actual skeletal evidence of violence is most common in the European Early Neolithic period and declines after that point, although both the Late Bronze Age and Late Iron Age do seem to also be particularly violent periods (Heath 2009; Rathbone 2015).

This is clearly not the place to present a full interpretation of several millennia’s evidence.  Instead a few elements from a single time period, the Early Neolithic, are offered as an example of how such analysis might proceed.  Martin Smith and Megan Brickley’s study of the skeletal remains from Early Neolithic long barrows revealed a high level of violence that is certainly consistent with anarchic societies (Smith & Brickley 2009).  Similarly the number of Early Neolithic enclosures in Britain that seem to have been attacked by massed forces are exactly what we might expect among neighbouring anarchic societies.  Recent C14 analysis suggests that the use of large long houses in the Early Neolithic came to an abrupt end around 3600 BC.  Jessica Smyth has detailed the high proportion of Early Neolithic longhouses that were burnt down, but favours this as a ritual burning at the end of the occupation (Smyth 2010 & 2014).  However such burning is consistent with anarchic violence and the number of arrowheads and axes associated with these buildings may be more important in terms of their relationship with violence rather than ceremony.  This evidence would be consistent with a widespread implementation of ‘the Society against the State’ and the far less impressive settlement pattern that follows the Long House horizon may therefore mark a shift to smaller anarchic communities.

Anarcho-Federalist Henge Builders?

The monumental construction projects that form such a prominent part of Late Neolithic archaeology are often described as being the work of a specialised ‘ritual elite’ capable of designing and project managing such great undertakings.  In fact much of the language used in discussions of this phenomenon seems curiously anachronistic, with terms like engineers, architects and man hours appearing jarringly misplaced.  Whilst clearly large scale projects involving sizeable groups of people, the evidence to support the presence of these ‘ritual elites’ is curiously absent.  In general the monuments are not associated with either large settlements or large elite residences, and the designs of the monuments themselves seem ill-fitted to be used for the aggrandisement of particularly powerful individuals or groups.  If an elite was really present they seem remarkably restrained in terms of their desire to emphasise their personal power and authority.  There has been little discussion of the mechanisms through which an elite could coerce a large workforce into undertaking decades long construction projects without leaving any obvious traces of a military force or an economic system that would allow for suitable payment of a willing workforce.  The monumental complexes certainly provide ample evidence of an ability to co-ordinate a large number of people working on a significant task, and an ability to utilise resources drawn from a considerable area.  In the 1970’s there were important debates about the existence or absences of elites throughout the prehistoric periods of Britain.  This seems to have reached somewhat of an impasse and a default position of accepting the presence of elites was adopted in lieu of a better explanation (Parker Pearson 2012).

Two areas of anarchist theory seem to offer useful lines of research.  The first is the idea of the anarchist federation which was initially promoted by Pierre-Joseph Proudhoun and enthusiastically taken up by Petr Kropotkin amongst many others (Marshall 2008).  In the anarchist federation individual groups co-operate in order to undertake tasks that would be beyond their own abilities.  The federation is organised in such a way that the individual groups retain most of their autonomy and only grant the federation the authority to organise for the specific agreed tasks.  Whilst a fully developed federation might superficially resemble a hierarchical power structure the emphasis on consensus building and the limitations placed on the power of its members mean it operates quite differently.  A large number of autonomous groups living over a considerable area might form such a federation in order to accomplish specific tasks, such as the monumental religious building projects seen in the Late Neolithic.  Interestingly there is a significant decrease in the skeletal evidence for violence in the Late Neolithic (Heath 2009).  As explained above this could have resulted from a more authoritarian political structure, but it could potentially have derived from the presence of a non-hierarchical structure that allowed neighbouring groups to co-operate without surrendering their autonomy, thus reducing the need for constant aggression.

Nick Card has suggested that variations in the individual buildings within the oversized settlement at the Ness of Brodgar in the centre of Orkney might indicate that each building belonged to a particular group living in a particular part of the archipelago that came to gather at the site for seasonal gatherings (Card 2013).  The use of distinctive architectural differences between the buildings could have been used to signify the autonomy and independence of the different communities whilst residing in such close proximity.  The colossal construction projects undertaken in the area around the settlement would be a testimony to how successfully such a federation could operate.  Based on a series of early C14 dates it has been suggested that Orkney may have been the origin of the religious practices that came to dominate much of Britain and Ireland during the Late Neolithic.  If this is correct then perhaps the key to the successful spread of the ‘Orkney style’ was not the content of the ceremonies or the design of the monuments, but the development of social schemes that allowed larger scale communal projects to be undertaken without necessitating the surrender of individual and group autonomy to an elite strata that might trigger violent resistance.

The second part of anarchist theory that seems useful in this area is the idea of ‘zerowork’ as promoted by Bob Black in his highly influential essay “the abolition of work” (Black 1986).  This line of argument has considerable ancestry within left wing writing and elements of it can be found in Paul Lafargue’s “the right to be lazy”, in Bertrand Russels, “In praise of Idleness” and even George Orwell’s “Down and out in Paris and London” (Lafargue 1907; Russel 1935; Orwell 1933).  The central theme is that much work is essentially pointless, once you remove the need to generate an excess of wealth to be turned over to an exploitative elite.  If the need to generate surplus profit is removed the overall workload on a society would be vastly reduced.  With an overabundance of labour the remaining work could be evenly shared out between the whole group leading to a vastly reduced amount of work hours for each individual, and given that the work had an obvious utility and was not of an arduous length, work would be transferred into something far more enjoyable, akin to a form of play.  The principles of zerowork do seem to have some justification in the anthropological and archaeological record; it has been repeatedly suggested that the shift to agriculture from hunting and gathering or horticulture can be identified with a large decline in the health of a population and a considerable increase in work hours (Diamond 1987).  Furthermore many accounts of traditional societies clearly demonstrate that many tasks were infused with a very un-work like sense of fun and play, and many societies that were not part of a developed economic system seem to have spent much of their effort creating surpluses in order to throw feasts and parties (Metcalf 2010).

The Late Neolithic monument complexes have produced extensive evidence for feasting at a quite excessive scale.  Traditionally these have been seen to be feasts that took place once the construction phase was completed.  A zerowork interpretation would turn this idea around and see the monuments as something that happened as a side effect of communities getting together to hold feasts.  Rather than attempting to calculate the number of ‘man-hours’ that it would take for a group to complete a construction project perhaps it would be better to try and estimate the number of parties that had been held.  Alex Gibson has argued that timber circles were seldom ‘completed’ and that the building process was what was more important than the finished product, which might conform better to zerowork rather than modern notions of a construction project (Gibson 1998).

The recent discoveries at Durrington Walls would certainly make an interesting example to review in terms of Anarchist Federations and Zerowork; not only was there evidence for co-operation of communities from a wide area, the settlement evidence does not so far support the presence of a defined elite, and the associated animal bones assemblage not only suggests feasting on a phenomenal scale, it is clear that the feasting at the site had begun long before the construction of the main bank and ditch (Parker Pearson 2012).

The author, centre, on a recent trip to the Arbor Low henge and stone circle in Derbyshire, accompanied by Gareth Evans and Sarah Harrison. Co-incidentally Gareth is a practicing anarchist whilst Sarah runs a very hedonistic bar.

The author, centre, on a recent trip to the Arbor Low henge and stone circle in Derbyshire, accompanied by Gareth Evans and Sarah Harrison. Co-incidentally Gareth is a practicing anarchist whilst Sarah runs a very hedonistic bar.

Island Paradises

Islands have special characteristics that have long made them the focus of Utopian thinkers, from Plato to Huxley.  During the development of travel writing and antiquarian investigations during the 18th and 19th century the accounts of the Atlantic Islands around the coast of Britain and Ireland often fall into two camps, those that are horrified by the primitive conditions and those that idealise the rugged isolation and the simple lifestyles of the islanders (O’Sullivan 2008).  Recent archaeological accounts of the Atlantic Islands have presented rigorous re-evaluation of the isolation of island life, contending that the islanders were neither peripheral people nor particularly isolated from the contemporary world (Flemming 2005; Dwyer 2009).  Flemming’s review of St Kilda seeks to reduce the isolation of the island and show that despite the distances involved St Kilda was part of an aristocratic territory, entangled in local politics and in particular subject to enthusiastic taxation and rent collection.

The political organisation of the St Kildans is particularly interesting.  The morning meeting, dubbed ‘the parliament’ by 19th century visitors, involved all the men on the island gathering to discuss any issues and make plans for the days activities.  The ‘parliament’ had no formal offices and each man had an equal right to speak an equal vote.  Apparently the woman of the island organised their affairs through a similar meeting, although this features far less prominently in the literature.  According to Tom Steel when there were no tasks that required urgent attention the meeting could last all day, breaking only for lunch, as the men essentially slacked off and gossiped (Steel 1975).  The resources of the island were shared out equally among the community and many aspects of life were subject to communal ownership. A nominal leader, the maor, was a non-hereditary title awarded through merit.  The maor had some ability to resolve disputes but the principle duty was to take the lead during climbing expeditions.  The maor also had the unenviable task of conducting negotiations with the Steward during the annual visit to collect tariffs.  The maor was expected to represent the islanders wishes to such an extent that the steward would strike him three times about the head with a cudgel in a ritualised act of violence.

Despite the predatory relationship with the adjacent state it seems very clear that St Kildan society was organised anarchically, complete with a limited leader.  The relationship with the neighbouring state was clearly exploitative but the St Kildans did receive goods and equipment from the state that they were not able to provide for themselves.  In addition they were able to actively resist the state to some degree. Flemming includes several brief description of such resistance; when a taxman attempted to apply a new tariff he was driven off by the men of the island, when a policeman arrived to arrest a suspected sheep thief the islanders formed a protective cordon around the man and the attempt was abandoned, when the islanders refused to renegotiate a measurement of corn being taken from an advantageously worn vessel, the way the islanders habitually disguised the quantities of various resources from state officials and, more sinisterly, several tales of suspected spies being murdered to protect the islanders privacy and secrets.

Other Atlantic islands also seem to have aspects of anarchic organisation, particularly the presence of limited leaders such as the Rí Thoraí (king) of Tory Island, County Donegal and the ‘Kings’ of the Blasket Islands, County Kerry and the Inishkeas, County Mayo, which seem to be perfect examples of rulers without power.  At present it is not clear how many of the small Atlantic Islands had anarchic political structures and when these individually came to an end.  Although technically owned by large landlords, it seems that many of the smaller island communities were largely left to organise themselves as long as they continued to pay their annual dues.  Had they offered strong resistance to the state authorities they would surely have been harshly sanctioned and the same sort of compromise was used that we see in place with the essentially anarchic Anabaptist communities in North America (Shuster 1983).  The small Atlantic islands might therefore be seen to lie somewhere in between what Hakim Bey has defined as Temporary Autonomous Zones and Permanent Autonomous Zones (Bey 1985 & 1993).

A secluded harbour on the remote island of Inish Turk, County Mayo.  We know that in the post Medieval period many of the Atlantic Islands were involved in smuggling, but how many of them might have been the locations of truly anarchic societies?

A secluded harbour on the remote island of Inish Turk, County Mayo. We know that in the post Medieval period many of the Atlantic Islands were involved in smuggling, but how many of them might have been the locations of truly anarchic societies?

Pirate Utopias

The anarchist idea of pirate utopias seems to have derived from the writing of William S Burroughs, who developed a whole pseudo mythology based on the account of Captain Misson found in “A general history of pirates” published in 1724 by Captain Charles Johnson (suspected to be a pseudonym of either Daniel Defoe or the publisher Nathaniel Mist).  The account details the apparently fictitious life of Captain James Misson, the ‘articles’ under which his ship sailed and the colony they founded on the coast of Madagascar, Libertaria.  Piracy is a complex subject that has many incarnations around the world, and was often a state sanctioned or sponsored activity.  The anarchist interest in pirate utopias principally focuses on the ‘golden age of piracy’ in the late 17th and early 18th century and centres on the possibility of pirate crews that rejected state authority, organised themselves in a manner consistent with anarchist principles and established communities where they were free to create their own ‘lawless’ anarchies.  Whilst this might seem a ridiculous fantasy, especially given the suspect nature of the original source material, there may be something to it.  Peter Lamborn Wilson has argued that the story of Captain Misson may indeed be fictitious but given how little critical commentary it attracted at the time it was presumably consistent with some common understanding of pirate enclaves (Lamborn Wilson 2003).  In fact the ‘articles’ under which Misson sailed and Libertaria functioned are a reflection of the wide spread codes of conduct used amongst pirates that were indeed referred to as articles.

In the Bay of Honduras these rules of conduct and obligations were eventually formalised by a British Naval officer in 1765 and this version is referred to as Burnaby’s Code.  Crucial to the anarchist reading of pirates, Burnaby’s code operated without empowering individuals with titles such as magistrate or judge, it was an example of a formalised collective justice (Finamore 2006).  The archaeology of piracy is in some regards a new subject, leaving to one side the hunt for the wrecks of known pirate vessels, few of which have been successful until very recently.  A limited amount of work has been undertaken on pirate settlements and the results of some of this work are rather surprising.  Lamborn Wilson has written at length about the history of the Pirate Republic of Salé, a large settlement located across the river from Rabat in Morocco (Lamborn Wilson 2003).  Whilst Salé may have been a pirate utopia of sorts, it is hard to see how it may have operated in a manner consistent with anarchist principles, particularly given the role it had in the slave trade.  It seems that Salé is best regarded as a curiously late example of a European city state which depended on piracy to support its economy.  Ultimately Salé may not pass muster, but historians and archaeologists have been able to locate more convincing examples of pirate settlements that fulfil the utopian requirement to a reasonable degree.

A large number of settlements were established by English pirates along the coast of Belize as the golden age of piracy came to its end.  These settlements relied on trading contraband logwood and the settlement of Bacarades, located along the Belize River, is unique in that it has been subject to detailed archaeological investigation (Finamore 2006).  The archaeological research agreed with historical accounts that describe these settlements as consisting of dwellings of only the most simple forms. Nonetheless the range of artefacts present, and in particular the misappropriation of fine goods, especially ceramics, seems to represent an enactment of Hakim Bey’s  notion of ‘radical aristocracy’ (Bey 1985).  Historical accounts suggest the life of cutting logs may have been tedious and dull in the extreme but the one of the main aims of the work seems to have been to provide alcohol for communal drinking, something entirely akin with traditional anarchic horticultural and hunter gathering groups.

If the port of Salé seems little different to a hierarchical city state and the logging camps along the coast of Belize ultimately seem a little dull, the settlement created by English pirates on St Mary’s Island off the east coast of Madagascar really does seem to meet every expectation of a pirate utopia (de Bry 2006).  In a secluded bay on the islands western coast numerous pirates were resident between the 1680’s and the 1720’s including the well-known Captain William Kidd.  The base was used for activities across the Indian Ocean, and during the monsoon season many pirates spent extended stays at the settlement.  As with the Belize pirates the dwellings were generally of the simplest kind, but the pirates apparently fulfilled every stereotype when it came to bedecking themselves in flamboyant clothes, gold and jewels, another enactment of the radical aristocrat theme.  Eventually a merchant based in the settlement, Adam Baldridge, made enough money to construct a sizeable dwelling on Ils des Forbans (Pirate Island), a small islet located in the centre of the bay, which apparently really was underlain by a mysterious system of tunnels that have yet to be explored!  The settlement on St Mary’s Island so closely resembles the anarchist idea of Libertaria it is difficult not to think that this may have been the real world source for the fictional Captain Misson.  One interesting element of the Misson story is the friendly relationship established with the native groups around Libertaria.  Remarkably St Mary’s even lives up to this and the pirates routinely married local Malagasy women, who they draped with “gold, diamonds, sapphires and rubies”.

The real Pirate Bay? Google Earth image of the bay on St Mary’s Island which was home to a large pirate enclave. Ils des Forbans can be seen in the centre of the bay.

The real Pirate Bay? Google Earth image of the bay on St Mary’s Island (Ile Sainte-Marie in Madagascar) which was home to a large pirate enclave. Ils des Forbans can be seen in the centre of the bay.

Moving away from exotic locations half way around the world, Connie Kelleher has examined the archaeological remains of pirate communities along the coast of County Cork (Kelleher 2009 & 2013).  These pirate settlements were initially occupied by English pirates and their families who had relocated from Devon and Cornwall after piracy was outlawed in England at the start of the seventeenth century.  The pirates operated with the tacit approval of the crown, and the pirate settlements were essentially an early stage in the Munster plantation.  Acting in a semi-official capacity and not beholden to the indigenous Gaelic Lordship whose authority had finally collapsed after the Flight of the Earls in 1607, these pirates enjoyed a rather privileged and secure position.

It could be argued that the close links to the crown removes them from the anarchist ideal, but on the other hand the lack of persecution can actually be seen as adding to the utopian nature of the occupation and they might therefore represent Permanent Autonomous Zones (PAZ).  This official sanction is quite different to the traditional forms of piracy previously operated by the Gaelic Lords around the Irish coast, and from similar forms operating around the Scottish coast.  Gaelic piracy was organised and controlled by hereditary aristocracies and does not therefore meet the anarchist ideal, despite the romanticism attached to characters such as Grace O’Malley, the so called Pirate Queen of Clew Bay.  Furthermore the West Cork pirates operated under the same sorts of codes of conduct utilised during the Golden Age of piracy.  Each crew operated individually but the codes provided a format through which they could combine forces for more ambitious projects, returning us again to the idea of anarchist federations.  The numerous remains of the pirate occupation that Kelleher has recorded may therefore represent the most extensive remains of a pirate utopia that have so far been the subject of archaeological examination.

Conclusion

Obviously what has been presented above are merely brief summaries of complicated arguments.  They were not intending to convince anyone that these anarchic interpretations were correct, rather the intent was to demonstrate how much potential anarchic approaches might have for a whole range of topics. Each of the examples discussed here is worth a much fuller examination, and as it happens I am currently working on a book that will explore many aspects of anarchic anthropology, anarchic archaeology and various aspects of political anarchism that might be usefully appropriated.  These examples will be explored in that book, alongside many others, although serious questions remain as to whether I can ever find a publisher for such an unruly tome.  In the meantime I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to the subject and that some of you might also consider hoisting the black flag over your areas of interest.

Learn More

Bibliography

Angelbeck, B., & Grier, C. 2012. Anarchism and the Archaeology of Anarchic Societies: Resistance to Centralization in the Coast Salish Region of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Current Anthropology. 53 (5): 547-587. (Open Access).

Barclay, H. 1982. People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchism. Sanday: Cienfuegos Press Ltd.

Barclay, H. 1986. Anthropology and Anarchism. In the Anarchist Encyclopaedia. Sanday: Cienfuegos.

Barclay, H. B. 1989. Segmental Acephalous Network Systems: Alternatives to Centralised Bureaucracy. The Raven. 7: 207-224.

Bettinger , R.L. 2015. Orderly Anarchy: Sociopolitical Evolution in Aboriginal California: Origins of Human Behaviour and Culture. Oakland: University of California Press.

Bey, H. 1985. T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy and Poetic Terrorism. New York: Autonomedia.

Bey, H. 1993. Permanent Autonomous Zones. Dreamtime Village Newsletter. (Open Access).

Card, N. 2013. The Ness of Brodgar. More than a Stone Circle. British Archaeology. January/February 2013. 14-21.

Clastres, P. 1977. Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology. Oxford: Blackwell.

Clastres, P. 2010. Archaeology of Violence. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). (Open Access).

de Bry, J. 2006. Christopher Condent’s Fiery Dragon: Investigating an Early Eighteenth Century Pirate Shipwreck off the Coast of Madagascar. In R.K. Skowronek & C. R. Ewen (eds) X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy. Gainsville: Florida University Press. 100-130.

Diamond, J. 1987. The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. Discover Magazine. 8(5): 64-66. (Open Access).

Dwyer, E. 2009. Peripheral People and Places: An Archaeology of Isolation. In A. Horning & N. Brannon (eds) Ireland and Britain in the Atlantic World. Dublin: Wordwell. 131-142.

Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1940. The Nuer. A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Finamore, D. 2006. A Mariner’s Utopia: Pirates and Logwood in the Bay of Honduras. In R.K. Skowronek & C. R. Ewen (eds) X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy. Gainsville: Florida University Press, 64-78.

Fleming, A. 2005. St Kilda and the Wider World: Tales of an Iconic Island. Macclesfield: Windgather Press.

Fortes, M. 1945. The Dynamics of Clanship among the Tallensi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Geddes, W. R. 1957. Nine Dayak nights. The Story of an Dayak Folk Hero. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ginn, V. 2013. Power to the People: Re-interpreting Bronze Age Society. Emania. 21: 47-58.

Ginn, V. & Rathbone, S. 2011. Corrstown: A Coastal Community. Oxford: Oxbow books.

Gibson, A. 1998. Stonehenge and Timber Circles. Stroud: Tempus.

Graeber, D. 2004. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press. (Open Access).

Heath, J. 2009. Warfare in Prehistoric Britain. Stroud: Amberley Books.

Kelleher, C. 2009. Connections and Conflict by Sea. In A. Horning & N. Brannon (eds) Ireland and Britain in the Atlantic World. Dublin: Wordwell. 53-82.

Kelleher, C. 2013. Pirate Ports and Harbours of West Cork in the Early Seventeenth Century. Journal of Maritime Archaeology. 8(2): 347-366.

Lafargue, P. 1907. The Right to be Lazy and Other Studies. Chicago: Charles H Kerr Ltd.

Lamborn Wilson, P. 2003. Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegades. New York: Autonomedia.

Macdonald, C.J.H. 2008. The Gift Without a Donor. Unpublished Manuscript. (Open Access).

Macdonald, C.J.H. 2009. The Anthropology of Anarchy. Occasional paper No. 35 of the School of Social Science, IAS, Princeton. Unpublished Manuscript. (Open Access).

Marshal, P. 2008. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: Harper Perennial (Open Access).

Metcalf, P. 2010. The Life of the Longhouse: An Archaeology of Ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morris, B. 2005. Anthropology and Anarchism: Their Elective Affinity. Goldsmith Anthropological Research Paper 11. London: Goldsmith College. (Open Access).

O’Sullivan, A. 2008. The Western Islands: Ireland’s Atlantic Islands and the Forging of Gaelic Irish National Identities. In G. Noble, T. Poller, J. Raven and L. Verrill (eds) Scottish Odysseys: The Archaeology of Islands. Stroud: Tempus. 172-190.

Orwell, G. 1933. Down and Out in Paris and London. London: Victor Gollanz.

Parker Pearson, M. 2012. Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stoneage Mystery. London: Simon & Shulster.

Pinker, S. 2011. The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. London: Penguin.

Rathbone, S. 2013a. A Consideration of Villages in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland.  Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 79: 39-60.

Rathbone, S. 2013b. The Village People? An Early History of Neighbourly Disputes. Past Horizons Website. Posted August 1st 2013.

Rathbone, S. 2015. It’s All Gone Pear Shaped. Urbanism, Active Resistance and the Early settlement pattern of Ireland. Proceedings of the Spring 2014 I.A.I conference. (Open Access).

Russell, B. 1935. In Praise of Idleness. London: George Unwin.

Shuster, E. M. 1983. Native American Anarchism. Port Townsend: Loompanics Unlimited.

Smith, M., & Brickley, M. 2009. People of the Long Barrows: Life, Death and Burial in the Earlier Neolithic. Stroud: History Press Ltd.

Smyth, J. 2010. The House and Group Identity in the Irish Neolithic. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Section C 111 (1): 1-31. (Open Access).

Smyth, J. 2014. Settlement in Neolithic Ireland: New Discoveries at the Edge of Europe. Oxford: Oxbow.

Steel, T. 1975. The Life and Death of St. Kilda. Glasgow: Fontana/Collins.

Dactyl & Skelly Pad: Apps for Digital Bone Identification and Inventorying

10 Mar

Updates have been somewhat sparse on this site as of late due to varying workloads, both archaeological and osteological in nature, that have thus far maintained the focus of my free time.  So this is just a quick post highlighting new digital applications that have recently been released that have a specific focus and use for bioarchaeologists, palaeopathologists and forensic anthropologists, and that may be of interest amongst other related disciplines.

The first of these is the Dactyl application that has been produced by forensic anthropologists at the University of Teesside, spearheaded by Professor Tim Thompson (with a bit of help from my friend and doctoral researcher David Errickson) through the Anthronomics business.  Dactyl is a 3D viewer with photo-realistic models of actual scanned human skeletal elements that aids in the identification, siding and pathological analysis of osteological material from archaeological sites or forensic contexts.  Further to this the app also provides information on the anatomical landmarks present on individuals bones, indicating both the origins and the growth of the bone under study.  The models themselves can be zoomed in and out off, markers can be placed on the bone, and the models are full view-able from a number of directions and viewpoints (including lighting aspect).  This makes the app particularly handy for the field bioarchaeologist, or osteologist, in the identifying of skeletal material on-site or in the site hut.

dactyl

A screen shot of the Dactyl application as it currently stands. In this view a right Os Coxa (i.e. the hip, consisting of the fused ilium, pubis and ischium skeletal elements) can be viewed and explored. Notice the blue and red pins identifying landmark features and their uses. Image credit: Apple iTunes store and Dactyl App (2015).

The basic app costs £16.99 from the Apple iTunes store, and there are currently three additional add-on packs available.  These are available for a further £1.99 and consist of a) basic trauma, b) basic pathologies, and the c) non-adult pack.  It should be noted here that each of these only include two skeletal models, with the basic trauma containing four individual bone models, rather than a full range of skeletal elements.  Further updates will include more examples, but I am currently unsure whether the app will be available on more than just the Apple range of devices.  Atkin (2015) has written a fairly comprehensive review which is a useful and interesting read on the benefits and limitations of the Dactyl app itself.  The app is currently under review of a second version of the program as an improvement on the first version, but this promises to be an extremely useful application for iPad wielding archaeologists regardless of further improvements on the current model (which, of course, will surely happen).

The second is the Skelly Pad application for tablets, initially a free to use app designed to aid in the digital inventory of human skeletal and dental elements in archaeological or forensic contexts (a professional version of the app may lead to a charge to download it).  The importance of maintaining a proper inventory of skeletal remains cannot be over estimated, as this is the basic task that first allows for identification and analysis of the remains under observation.  Although it is at the early stage of design and production, the Skelly Pad application is now available to download and use on tablets.  It works across a wide variety of different operating systems and devices, including iPads, Kindle Fire and Samsung Galaxy tablets.

The product is the outcome of Gill Hunt’s BSc project at the University of Reading, in an attempt to digitise and streamline the recording of skeletal remains rather than rely on a paper record.  Currently Skelly Pad is only able to inventory the remains of adult individuals in the latest version of the application, although this includes all of the normal inventory sections (including completeness, age-at-death, biological sex, stature, pathology, etc).  The full range of current features that the Skelly Pad incorporates can be found here, and it certainly looks useful for the bioarchaeologist or forensic archaeologist, particularly in a setting where paper recording may be unsatisfactory for rapid recording of a skeletal inventory.  The Skelly Pad is now available through the App store, Google Play and Amazon.

By highlighting the two above applications, I think it becomes clear that as technology advances and powerful computers are now available in the palm of your hand, that innovation in the archaeological world also continues to make use of it, helping to overcome the limitations of access to skeletal collections, dreary weather and taking the weight off your shoulders (literally, if you have ever tried to carry around an anatomical textbook or a collection of osteological reference manuals).  Together with online resources such as Digitised Diseases (where 3D models of the effects of disease and trauma on human skeletal material are available to view for free), we are really seeing barriers being broken down to the access of both knowledge and collections.

An interesting side feature of this is the ethical edge of digitising and replicating the skeletal remains of individuals.  As we model their remains, replicate them on hundreds, if not thousands of machines, or create isolated 3D models of isolated elements, do we dis-embody and de-individualise the person themselves that they (the skeletal elements) once belonged to?  Does the educational need to correctly identify, record, and ultimately protect uncovered remains trump the loss of physical context of the bones that are used for digitisation as we transport them into the digital realm?  Are we distancing the feel and handling of bone itself, by relegating it to a flat screen?  These are broad-based questions with no straight forward answers.

It is clear, I hope, that I heartily approve of the magnificent steps forward that digital technology is allowing researchers to make in the understanding and recording of human remains using innovative techniques, particularly so given the fragile nature of the material (see Errickson et al. 2015 for good practice guidelines regarding scanning of osteological material).  The above are only two such examples of what I am sure is a thriving, independent and growing market.  A balance is always needed between access to physical reference collections, 3D models and osteological manuals, when assessing and analyzing assemblages from archaeological or forensic contexts.  One method cannot replace another.

As satisfying as having a handbook of osteology on your phone or tablet may be, nothing beats the heavy thud of a good reference textbook going into a rucksack or the boot of a car, ready for a days work.

Further Information

  • The Dactyl application for Apple products can be found either on the Apple app website or on Google Play.  The company behind the product, Anthronomics, can be found here.  It is an interesting company started by Professor Thompson himself which aims to invent useful programs, applications or devices to help aid in the recording, identifying and analysing of human skeletal material.  One to watch!
  • The Skelly Pad application for tablets (for use with Android, Amazon and Apple devices) can be found here and is available at each of the device makers stores to download for free.  The Skelly Pad blog can be found here also, which details the current version, and will host regular blog updates as the app as it proceeds to include further sections.
  • Digitised Diseases, a project spearheaded by the University of Bradford with a range of partners, depicts a number of 3D models of scanned human skeletal elements from archaeological sites with evidence of trauma or disease processes.  The models have been recorded and scanned using radiography, CT scanning and laser scanning techniques to produce highly accurate models showing the effects of disease or trauma on human skeletal elements.  These models can be viewed on the website itself or can be downloaded onto a computer, tablet or smart phone for future offline use.  I have previously discussed the open access site here.  You can also have a look to see how useful the site is for bloggers, as I helped illuminate one of my previous arm fractures with an example from the site, see here.

Bibliography

Atkin, A. 2015. Review of Dactyl: An Interactive 3D Osteology App [iPad]Internet Archaeology. 38. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.38.5. (Open Access).

Errickson, D. Thompson, T. & Rankin, B. 2015. An Optimum Guide for the Reduction of Noise using a Surface Scanner for Digitising Human Osteological Remains. Archaeology Data Service. Guides to Good Practice. (Open Access).

Aging: ldentifying Puberty in the Osteoarchaeological Record

15 Feb

Aside from some recent technological mishaps (now resolved!), which has resulted in a lack of posts recently, I’ve also been doing some preliminary research into human skeletal aging and human biological aging in general.  Partly this has been out of general interest, but it was also background reading for a small project that I was working on over the past few months.

Knowledge of the aging of the skeletal system is of vital importance to the bioarchaeologist as it allows age estimates to be made of both individuals and of populations (and thus estimates of lifespans between generations, populations and periods) in the archaeological record.  The aging of human remains, along with the identification of male or female biological sex (not gender, which is socially constructed) and stature in adults, when possible, provides one of the main cornerstones of being able to carry out a basic demographic analysis of past populations – estimates of age, sex, stature at death, the construction of life tables and the construction of mortality profiles of populations, etc.  At a basic level inferences on the funerary treatment on individuals of different ages, and between different periods, can also be made.  For example, in identifying the possible differential treatment of non-adults and adults in funerary customs or of treatment during their lifetime as revealed by their burial context according to their age-at-death.

Growing Pains

However, aging is not quite straight forward as merely understanding and documenting the chronological age of a person – it is also about understanding the biological age of the body, where the body undergoes physiological and structural changes according to the biological growth stage (release of hormones influencing growth, maturation, etc).  Also of importance for the bioarchaeologist and human osteologist to consider is the understanding of the impact and the implications that the environment (physical, nutritional and cultural) can also have on the development and maturation of the skeletal system itself.  Taken as such aging itself is a dynamic process that can depend on a number of co-existing internal and external factors.

For instance, environmental stresses (i.e. nutritional access) can leave skeletal evidence in the form of non-specific markers of stress that can indicate episodes of stunted growth, such as Harris lines on the long bones (identifiable via x-rays), or episodic stress periods via the dentition (the presence of linear or pitted enamel hypoplasias on the teeth) (Lewis 2007).  Knowing what these indications look like on the skeleton means that the bioarchaeologist can factor in episodes of stress which may have led to a temporary cessation of bone growth during childhood or puberty, a period where the bones haven’t achieved their full adult length, due to a lack of adequate nutrition and/or physical stresses (White & Folkens 2005: 329).

It is recognised that humans have a relatively long adolescence and that Homo sapiens, as a species, senescence rather slowly.  Senescence is the process of gradual deterioration of function that increases the mortality of the organism after maturation has been completed (Crews 2003).  Maturation simply being the completion of growth of an individual themselves.  In an osteological context maturation is complete when the skeleton has stopped growing – the permanent dentition, or 2nd set of teeth, have fully erupted, and the growth of the individual skeletal elements has been completed and the bones are fully fused into their adult forms.

This last point refers to epiphyseal growth and fusion, where, in the example below, a long bone has ossified from several centres (either during intramembranous or endochondral ossification during initial growth) and the epiphyses in long bones fuses to the main shaft of the bone, the diaphysis, via the metaphysis after the growth plate has completed full growth following puberty (usually between 10-19 years of age, with females entering puberty earlier than males) (Lewis 2007: 64).  Bioarchaeologists, when studying the remains of non-adults, rely primarily on the development stage of the dental remains, diaphysis length of the long bones (primarily the femora) and the epiphyseal fusion stage of the available elements in estimating the age-at-death of the individual (White & Folkens 2005: 373).

bone growth

A basic diagram showing the ossification and growth of a long bone until full skeletal maturation has been achieved  Notice the fusion points of the long bones, where the epiphysis attaches to the diaphysis (shaft of the bone) via the metaphysis. Image credit: Midlands Technical College. (Click to enlarge).

After an individual has attained full skeletal maturation, the aging of the skeleton itself is often reliant on wear analysis (such as the wearing of the teeth), or on the rugosity of certain features, such as the auricular surface of the ilium and/or of the pubic symphysis, for instance, dependent on the surviving skeletal elements of the individual.  More general biological post-maturation changes also include the loss of teeth (where there is a positive correlation between tooth loss and age), the bend (or kyphosis) of the spinal column, and a general decrease in bone density (which can lead to osteoporosis) after peak bone mass has been achieved at around 25-30 years old, amongst other more visible physical and mental features (wrinkling of the skin, greying of the hair, slower movement and reaction times) (Crews 2003).

Gaps in the Record

There are two big gaps in the science of aging of human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts: a) ascertaining the age at which individuals undergo puberty (where the secondary growth spurt is initiated and when females enter the menarche indicating potential fertility, which is an important aspect of understanding past population demographics) and b) estimating the precise, rather than relative, age-at-death of post-maturation individuals.  The second point is important because it is likely that osteoarchaeologists are under-aging middle to old age individuals in the archaeological record as bioarchaeologists tend to be conservative in their estimate aging of older individuals, which in turn influences population lifespan on a larger scale.  These two issues are compounded by the variety of features that are prevalent in archaeological-sourced skeletal material, such as the effects of taphonomy, the nature of the actual discovery and excavation of remains, and the subsequent access to material that has been excavated and stored, amongst a myriad of other processes.

So in this short post I’ll focus on highlighting a proposed method for estimating puberty in human skeletal remains that was published by Shapland & Lewis in 2013 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Identifying Puberty in Human Skeletal Remains

In their brief communication Shapland and Lewis (2013: 302) focus on the modern clinical literature in isolating particular developmental markers of pubertal stage in children and apply it to the archaeological record.  Concentrating on the physical growth (ossification and stage of development) of the mandibular canine and the iliac crest of the ilium (hip), along with several markers in the wrist (including the ossification of the hook of the hamate bone, alongside the fusion stages of the hand phalanges and the distal epiphysis of the radius) Shapland and Lewis applied the clinical method to the well-preserved adolescent portion (N=78 individuals, between 10 to 19 years old at death) of the cemetery population of St. Peter’s Church in Barton-Upon-Humber, England.  The use of which spanned the medieval to early post-medieval periods (AD 950 to the early 1700) (Shapland & Lewis 2013: 304).

All of the individuals used in this study had their age-at-death estimated on the basis of dental development only – this is due to the strong correlation with chronological age and the limited influence of the environment and nutrition has in dental development.  Of the 78 individuals under study 30 were classed as probable males, 27 as probable females and 21 classed as indeterminate sex – those classed as a probable male or female sex were carefully analysed as the authors highlight that assigning sex in adolescent remains is notoriously problematic (the ‘holy grail’ of bioarchaeology – see Lewis 2007: 47), therefore only those individuals which displayed strong pelvic traits and were assigned an age under the 16 years old at the age-at-death were assigned probable male and female status.  Those individuals aged 16 and above at age-at-death were assigned as probable male and female using both pelvic traits and cranial traits, due to the cranial landmarks being classed as secondary sexual characteristics (i.e. not functional differences, unlike pelvic morphology which is of primary importance) which arise during puberty itself and shortly afterwards (Shapland & Lewis 2013: 304-306).

The method involves observing and noting the stage of each of the five indicators (grouped into 4 areas of linear progression) listed above.  It is worth mentioning them here in the sequence that they should be observed in, together in conjunction with the ascertained age at death via the dental analysis of the individual, which is indicative of their pubertal stage:

1) Mineralization of the Mandibular Canine Root

As noted above dental development aligns closer with chronological age than hormonal changes, however ‘the mineralization root of the mandibular canine may be an exception to this rule’ (Shapland & Lewis: 303). This tooth is the most variable and least accurate for aging, aside from the 3rd molar, and seems to be correlated strongly with the pubertal growth spurt (where skeletal growth accelerates during puberty until the Peak Height Velocity, or PHV, is reached) than any of the other teeth.  In this methodology the stage of the canine root is matched to Demirjian et al’s (1985) stages, where ‘Stage F’ indicates onset of the growth spurt and ‘Stage G’ is achieved during the acceleration phase of the growth spurt before PHV (Shapland & Lewis 2013: 303).

3) Ossification of the Wrist and the Hand

The ossification of the hook of the hamate bone and of the phalangeal epiphyses are widely used indicators in medicine of the pubertal stage, however in an archaeological context they can be difficult to recover from an excavation due to their small and discrete nature.  The hook (hammulus) of the hamate bone (which itself can be palpated if the left hand is held palm up and the bottom right of the hand itself is pinched slightly as a bony protrusion should be felt, or vice versa if you are left handed!) ossifies during the acceleration phase of the growth spurt in both boys and girls before HPV is attained.  The appearance, development and fusion of the phalangeal epiphyses are also used to indicate pubertal stage, where the fusion has been correlated with PHV in medical research.  With careful excavation the epiphyses of the hand can be recovered if present.

4) Ossification of the Iliac Crest Epiphysis

As this article notes that within orthopaedics it is noted that the ‘Risser sign‘ of the crest calcification is commonly used as an indicator of the pubertal growth spurt.  The presence of an ossified iliac crest, or where subsequent fusion has begun, can be taken as evidence that the PHV has passed and that menarche in girls has likely started, although exact age cannot be clarified.  The unfused iliac crest epiphyses are rarely excavated and recorded due to their fragile nature within the archaeological context, but their absence should never be taken as evidence that this developmental stage has not been reached (Shapland & Lewis 2013: 304).

5) Ossification and Epiphsyeal Fusion of the Distal Radius

The distal radius epiphysis provides a robust skeletal element that is usually recovered from archaeological contexts if present and unfused.  The beginning of the fusion is known to occur during the deceleration phase of puberty at around roughly 14 years of age in females and 15 years of age in males, with fusion completing around 16 years old in females and 18 years old in males (Shapland & Lewis 2013: 304).

Results and Importance

Intriguingly although only 25 (32%) of the 78 individual skeletons analysed in this study had all five of the indicators present, none of those presented with the sequence out of step (Shapland & Lewis 2013: 306).  The initial results indicate that it is quite possible to identify pubertal growth stage for adolescent individuals in the archaeological record based on the preservation, ossification and maturation stage of the above skeletal elements.  Interestingly, the research highlighted that for all adolescents examined in this study from Barton-Upon-Humber indicated that the pubertal growth spurt had started before 12 years of age (similar to modern adolescents), but that is extended for a longer time than their modern counterparts (Shapland & Lewis 2013: 308).  This was likely due to both genetic and environmental factors that affected the individuals in this well-preserved medieval population.

Further to this there is the remarkable insight into the possible indication of the age of the females entering and experiencing menarche, which had ramifications for the consideration of the individual as an adult in their community, thereby attaining a probable new status within their community (as is common in many parts of the world, where initiation ceremonies are often held to mark this important stage of sexual fertility in a woman’s life).  This is the first time that this has been possible to identify from skeletal remains alone and marks a landmark (in my view) in the osteological analysis of adolescent remains.

As the authors conclude in the paper the method may best be suited to large cemetery samples where it may help provide a ‘broader picture of pubertal development at a population level’ (Shapland & Lewis 2013: 309).  Thus this paper helps bridge an important gap between childhood and adulthood by highlighting the physiological changes that individuals go through during the adolescent phase of human growth, and the ability to parse out the intricate details our individual lives from the skeletal remains themselves.

Bibliography

Crews, D. E. 2003. Human Senescence: Evolutionary and Biocultural Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lewis, M. E. 2007. The Bioarchaeology of Children: Perspectives from Biological and Forensic Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shapland, F. & Lewis, M. E. 2013. Brief Communication: A Proposed Osteological Method for the Estimation of Pubertal Stage in Human Skeletal Remains. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 151: 302-310.

White, T. D. & Folkens, P. A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. London: Elsevier Academic Press.

The Death of a King

25 Jan

In life he was the absolute monarch of a wealthy and highly conservative country, who wielded influence and power across the Arabic region and whose country (along with Kuwait) currently holds reserves of roughly 20% of the world’s conventional oil supply.  Following his death his body is buried in an unmarked and unnamed grave within 24 hours of his passing, that is in keeping with his religion, with the minimum of both official and public mourning.

It is, of course, the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who passed away on Thursday 23rd of January 2015 after a short illness.  King Abdullah (full name Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud) was the third absolute monarch of Saudi Arabia following the formation of the modern country by his grandfather, King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, in 1932.  To put it simply the House of Saud rules Saudi Arabia completely: for instance the members of the Saud royal family now number into the thousands, although there had been speculation and contention regarding the succession following the initial news of King Abdullah’s ill-health in December 2014.

King Abdullah was something of a slow reformer within Saudi Arabia itself, helping to extend the right to vote in municipal elections to women in 2011 and allowing mild criticism of the government in the press in the later years of his rule.  A firm believer in pan-Arab unity, King Abdullah also helped negotiate and settle numerous contentions in the Middle East during his reign, including in both Palestinian disputes and the American-led actions in Iraq in 2003, amongst other conflicts.  As a predominantly Sunni sect of Islam the Saudi Royal family and the country have also been the focus of some Islamic extremist groups and sectarian violence, particularly during the late 1970’s and early 2000’s.  Tensions have, at times, also been tested with the largely Shia-led country of Iran and their combined vying influence within the Middle East (in, for example, the ongoing civil war in Syria which has divided the two power bases, where each country support different factions that are currently fighting in Syria and across the border in Iraq).  It is pertinent to mention here that Saudi Arabia adheres to the codified system of Islamic law, and that the influence of strict conservative form of Islam known as Wahabbism is still strongly felt in the kingdom to the present day, particularly in the social ethos of government responsibility for the country’s moral code.

Following the announcement of his death, his half-brother Salman was pronounced King of Saudi Arabia.  The country currently faces a turbulent period as oil prices have dropped significantly, Islamist extremists threaten both the North of the country (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and the South (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Pennisula in Yemen), and international condemnation of the harsh sentencing of the Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi continues to mount (amongst other noted human rights abuses).  In an impressive study of current Saudi society the anthropologist Menoret (2014) has detailed the feeling of tufshan among the young and working class in Riyadh, where torpor sets in due to the rigidity of social and political life in the country.  Saudi Arabia is also the country that is inherently the focus of the world’s 1.6 billion strong Muslim population, who worship the Islamic faith, as the twin holy cities of Medina and Mecca are located within Arabia’s borders and the country itself acted as the religion’s cradle in the 7th century AD following Mohammad’s revelations.  It was Mohammad who helped unify Arabia into a single religious polity under the banner of Islam, who is himself considered a major prophet in Islam, alongside the recognition of established prophets (by the time of Islam’s foundation) such as Adam, Moses, Jonah and Jesus, etc.

However, this post isn’t about the socioeconomic status of Saudi Arabia, nor of its strategic importance and international standing (interesting though that may be in itself).  Rather, the news of the King’s passing and subsequent funeral interested me on an archaeological level.  Far too often we associate archaeology from an early age, particularly so the remains of individuals in the archaeology record, with the wealth, power and domination of society’s elite – the Ancient Egyptian pharaohs in their pyramids, perhaps Alexander the Great leading his forces across continents, or the various King’s and Queen’s from European history.  Rarely do the remains of individuals buried in simple graves make the headlines (unless of course they are discovered in unexpected places) or imprint on young minds in association with archaeology itself.  Human osteology and bioarchaeology, as specialist sub-disciplines of archaeology and anthropology, help give a voice to each and every individual excavated and analysed (regardless of their final deposition or storage).

In archaeology, though, context is king.  If a burial is an ‘obvious’ (relatively speaking) wealthy individual for their site, our perceptions can be changed.  The analysis of Richard the III’s skeleton included scientific analysis that would rarely be carried out for normally buried individuals from the same Tudor period.  Context, of course, hinted at the possibility of royalty lying undisturbed in that Leicester car park, palaeopathological and ancient DNA analysis helped confirm suspicions of the finding of the lost king.  In prehistoric archaeology, where no written documents were made or existed and where history was likely only passed down orally or coded in artefacts we cannot read, the archaeological remains of individuals and their burial context are the keys to help the archaeologist unlock their lives.

Therefore, when I read further into the death and burial of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, I was surprised at first to see the funerary procession and burial location as it was presented in various new articles.  Below is a photograph following the burial of the King’s body within 24 hours, as often stipulated within the Islamic faith as it is in the Jewish faith, highlighting a simple grave with a topping of small stones.  There are no obvious markers of the role that this individual played in life and no markers detailing the name or life of the occupant of the grave will be left in-situ.  This is in keeping with the Wahhabi Sunni view of curtailing idolatry and of recognizing Allah as the creator and giver of life, regardless of the social role the individual played in their lifetime.

kingabdullah

The grave site of the former King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with male mourners paying respects (females are banned from cemeteries in Saudi Arabia). His body was buried in a simple shroud within a day of his death, in an unnamed and unmarked grave in the El-Ud public cemetery. This religious observation is a strict interpretation of the Sunni Islamic faith which states that to name a grave would be tantamount to idolatry, which is forbidden in the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam. Note the other stone covered grave plots in the background. Image credit: Faisal Al Nasser/REUTERS & the Daily Telegraph.

It is interesting to note that, in death, Abdullah has resumed the role of an individual once more reflected only by his biological identity that will not be defined by his status during life, and that King Salman has carried onward the House of Saud in the country of Saudi Arabia.

Further Information

  • I have previously written about the Bedu of Arabia after reading Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands book which detailed his time spent living and travelling with the Bedu in the mid and late 1940’s, the period just before the oil boom fundamentally helped change Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  Read the post here.
  • The Economist and the BBC have particularly detailed articles on Saudi Arabia, and the differences between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam.  It is also worth browsing Wikipedia’s page on the history of Islam itself (a monotheistic religion founded in the 7th century in Saudi Arabia by the Prophet Mohammed).
  • Of archaeological and cultural heritage interest is the continued destruction of buildings, tombs and cemeteries associated with the early personalities and prophets of Islam, mainly centered around Mecca and Medina in the country, in an effort to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of pilgrims who attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage; though it can also be seen as iconoclasm as an interpretation of conservative values.  Read more here.

Bibliography

Menoret, P. 2014. Joyriding in Riyadh: Oil, Urbanism, and Road Revolt. Cambridge Middle East Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thesiger, W. 2007. Arabian Sands. London: Penguin Classics.

The Coimbra Method: An Entheseal Scoring Workshop at the University of Sheffield, 28th January 2015

18 Jan

The University of Sheffield is playing host to a day-long workshop on the Coimbra method of scoring enthesophytes on the Wednesday 28th of January 2014.  It is a first come first served basis as attendance (at £10 and £5 concessions) is limited, though there are still some places available – you can find out more information and book here.  Dr Charlotte Henderson from the University of Coimbra, is one of the developers of the Coimbra method of recording enthesophytes in human skeletal remains and will be helping to lead the workshop.  The workshop welcomes anyone who works with the skeletal remains of past populations, although it would be particularly suitable for researchers and students involved in biological anthropology or osteoarchaeology.

Enthesophytes, also known as musculoskeletal markers (often abbreviated to MSM), are observable indicators of activity-induced stress on bone, often appearing as bony projections.  They are present on the origin and insertion of muscle on bone in the form of the ossification of the tendon and ligament attachments that help anchor the body of a muscle to the bone itself.  They are often the product of repetitive movements or of a demanding physical lifestyle and, when scored and recorded at a population level with the correct controls in place, can be used to infer as Markers of Occupational Stress (MOS).  This is partly why it is important to become familiar with musculoskeletal anatomy as a human osteologist because the two systems are so entwined in their action.

It should be mentioned here that enthesopathies are distinct from osteophyte formation on, or around, the joints (and not at muscle origins or insertions) which also look like bony projections.  There can also be a presumption in the palaeopathological literature to use the evidence of osteoarthritis alone in skeletal remains as an indicator of a physically demanding lifestyle; this should only be considered when used in conjunction with the observation and the recording of differences in the size of the left and right-side bones, size and location of any enthesophytes present, other pathological lesions, and certain non-metric traits in the individual (Roberts & Connell 2004: 38).

Although well-studied within the osteoarchaeological literature, there are still gaps in the knowledge of the cause of enthesopathies.  Further to this is the fact that rarely are musculoskeletal markers recorded in detail during the initial osteological analysis of archaeological remains. There is also, for instance, ongoing debate regarding the action of disease processes in the forming, or influencing, of both fibrous entheses and fibrocartilaginous entheses, as well as the difference in left and right side prevalence, and the effect of life course changes on enthesophytes (Hawkey 1998, Villotte & Knüsel 2013).  However, there has been a deepening of the understanding of the cause, development and implication of enthesophytes in the human body in the recent osteoarchaeological literature (Villotte et al. 2010).  Particularly regarding the likely multi-factorial influence in the aetiology, or cause, of these physical alterations (Villotte & Knüsel 2013).  New technology, such as 3D photogrammetry, is also helping to produce large databases of comparative material, as well as clearer macro and micro visual images of the anatomical changes present in enthesophytes.

The data scored and documented on individuals can, when analysed at the population level, lead to observations on the physical repetitive movements needed to produce the musculoskeletal markers.  The Coimbra method has started to become a standard within the recording of enthesophytes, although I personally will have to wait until the workshop to learn about this in detail.  Interpretations can thus be made, and hypotheses tested, on the ability in identifying past-activity patterns of archaeological populations.  They can also be used to hypothesize the actual range of active movement during the life of an individual.  Hawkey (1998), for instance, has demonstrated the ability to reproduce possible movement patterns available to a severely disabled individual in a Pre-Colombian context in New Mexico.  Hawkey & Merbs (2005) later used MSM’s to highlight subsistence change within the Hudson Bay Eskimos, noting that different activities could be differentiated via the skeletal anatomy and related changes to stress.

Although this entry is possible a tad late, I will be attending the 1 day long course and will endeavor to produce a blog entry detailing what I learnt during the workshop itself.  As always with this blog, if you or your department are hosting a workshop or a short course in human osteology, biological anthropology or osteoarchaeology, and want to let others know about it, then please feel free to contact me and I’ll help spread the word.

Further Information

  • Details of the 1 day long Coimbra method workshop at the University of Sheffield can be found here.  The university has a well-developed osteology laboratory and Masters program at the Department of Archaeology – you can learn more about the osteoarchaeological research carried out at the University of Sheffield here.
  • The University of Coimbra’s Department of Anthropology hosted an international workshop back in July 2009, titled Musculoskeletal Stress Markers (MSM): Limitations and Achievements in the Reconstruction of Past Activity Patterns, that has proved instrumental in rejuvenating the scientific study of MSM’s.  A full workshop abstract booklet can be found here and Prof. Charlotte Robert’s thought-provoking perspective on 25 years worth of study on MSM’s can be found here.
  • If you have either academic access or subscribe to the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology journal, it helpfully released a special edition in 2013 (Vol 23 (3): 127-251) titled Entheseal Changes and Occupation: Technical and Theoretical Advances and their Applications, which details and summaries the importance of the many recent approaches to MSM’s and OSM’s.  Read it here.

Bibliography

Hawkey, D. E. 1998. Disability, Compassion and the Skeletal Record: using Musculoskeletal Stress Markers (MSM) to Construct an Osteobiography from Early New Mexico. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. 8 (5): 326-340.

Hawkey, D. E. & Merbs, C. F. 2005. Activity-induced Musculoskeletal Stress markers (MSM) and Subsistence Strategy Changes among Ancient Hudson Bay EskimosInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology. 5 (4): 324-338.

Roberts, C. & Connell, B. 2004. Guidance on Recording Palaeopathology. In: Brickley, M & McKinley, J. I. (eds.). Guidelines to the Standards for Recording Human Remains. IFA Paper No. 7.  IFA & BABAO. pp 34-39. (Open Access).

Villotte, S., Castex, D., Couallier, V., Dutour, O., Knüsel, C. J. & Henry-Gambier, D. 2010. Enthesopathies as Occupational Stress Markers: Evidence from the Upper Limb. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 142 (2): 224-234.

Villote, S. & Knüsel, C. J. 2013. Understanding Entheseal Changes: Definition and Life Course Changes. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. 23 (2): 135-146.

2015: A Year in Preview

7 Jan

Instead of regaling you, my dear readers, with posts of the past let me instead introduce to you posts of the future from my mystical green crystal orb (i.e. my neglected draft folder).  Whilst 2014 has indeed been a busy period, it has also been a particularly downcast sort of year punctuated with moments of beauty and intense clarity.  As such I’d thought it be more interesting to delve into some upcoming posts, highlight a few interesting events in my 2015 archaeological calendar, and also show just where this osteology thing has taken me and where (I hope) it will take me in 2015.  (Remember you can see my haul of 2014 posts in all of their naked glory here, and a quick round-up of the 2014 stats at the end of this post).

It also pains me somewhat to realise at this point that the awesome Blogging Archaeology carnival’s first entry took place well over a year ago.  Ran by Doug Rocks-Macqueen, this online archaeology blogging carnival helped bring together archaeologists from around the world in producing reflective entries on the importance and wealth of blogging archaeology.  In my series of Blogging Archaeology entries I made some vague and, looking back, crazy predictions of what I wanted to do with this blog in 2014.  A lot of this (including a PDF of the ever-popular Skeletal Series entries) didn’t really happen (about do check out Bone Broke’s awesome collection of handy osteo tips for PDF perfection).  Adding to that, I actually barely added to the Skeletal Series at all in 2014 (may the gods of osteo forgive me!).  But I kept blogging, sometimes not as much as I hoped, but the fantastic guest entries kept coming in and the internationally flavoured interviews and mini-photo essay posts began in earnest as well.  I diverged and that is always good.

On a general note 2014 did provide some paid archaeological work, I also got to excavate a few skeletons with friends in the surroundings of the lovely Peak District and I got to take part in some fantastic education outreach in both Sheffield and Manchester.  I also had the great joy of attending excellent conferences in both Belfast and Durham.  Although I was out of action for around 3-4 months mid 2014 due to a broken arm, I did manage to cram a fair bit in alongside the normal non-archaeological day job.

So in this 2015 preview I want to introduce a few blog posts that have been sitting quietly in my draft folder, where I’ve regularly updated them and added in new references, but haven’t completely finished them to post them to the blog itself.  As such this is just a sneak peek of a few thoughts that have been rattling around my mind…

1) The Body as a Weapon: The Bioarchaeology of Terror and Thoughts on Suicide Attacks

Given the rise in the recognition and importance of conflict archaeology and the role of understanding the bioarchaeology of violence in past societies, I think it is probably time we took a look at a modern-day phenomena through a bioarchaeological approach.  For the past few decades terrorism has become a dominant feature of continuing international and transnational conflicts as asymmetric warfare has largely replaced conventional warfare.  I’ll be particularly focusing on suicide attacks, where an individual or group aim to kill both themselves and others in an explosive act of violence.  As such in this post I’ll explore some initial thoughts on suicide attacks from a futurist bioarchaeological perspective (the bioarchaeology of terror).  Primarily focusing on the body as a weapon (both actual body damage and perceived threat based on body type) this post will also highlight a range of suicide attacks carried out by terrorists from across the globe and analyse both the bioarchaeology implications of these, and the differing cultural/national considerations in response to them.

2) Disability at the Movies: Physical and Mental Impairment on the Big Screen

As a fan of film I have long been interested in the representation of physical and mental disabilities in the movies.  As a relatively new artistic medium film has risen over the past century or so to become a vital, and major, part of the world’s culture, helping to document changing attitudes and explore artistic expression.  In this meandering entry I’ll discuss a number of films from the past 100 years or so and highlight the use and representation of both physical and mental disabilities (or impairments).

3) Disability and Sexuality: Looking through the Lens

Sexuality is often taken to be an integral part of the nature of human expression and humanity.  Disability, as either a mental or physical impairment, can be present at birth or occur during the lifetime of an individual and can mean impairments in the cognitive, emotional, developmental, sensory and/or physical sense.  If sexuality is the expression and capacity for erotic experiences and responses, what does this mean for individuals with disabilities and, more specifically, what does this mean for us as a society in the representation of people with impairments as members of that society?  How does this differ culturally?  This post will look at the intersection of the two and discuss the considerations of what is meant by disability or impairment, and how this is approached and understood in the context of human sexuality.

4) Ageing: Puberty in the Osteoarchaeological Record

This is a quick post highlighting some recent articles and books that I’ve been reading lately in understanding the ageing of the human body (particularly focusing on the biology of human senescence).  Being able to age a human skeleton is one of the fundamental skills in bioarchaeology, used as a basic demographic attribute for understanding past population structures.

However, there are still two age stages that can be ‘invisible’ in the archaeological record – old age and being able to identify the advent and process of puberty in the osteoarchaeological record.  The older age categories, used when skeletal maturation has been achieved (when full adult growth has been attained), are largely based on the degradation and wear stage of certain skeletal elements (pubic symphysis, auricular surface of the ilium, cranial suture obliteration, tooth wear stage, etc).  After the fifth decade of life it can be hard to successfully pin a small age range on an individual, particularly if there is no reference population to serriate against to gauge expected differences in bone change at known, or documented, ages.  This will probably be a post by itself.

The focus of this ageing post though is on puberty, as the measure when the non-adult individual grows to become an adult (sometimes taken as juvenile to adolescent to adult).  As both males and females reach puberty at different ages (females normally start it a year or two before males), this has posed bioarchaeologists problems in understanding when past populations reached this.  Shapland & Lewis (2013) have a method for this though, and I’ll post about it shortly!

5) Review: Day of the Dead Conference, October 2014, Queen’s University Belfast

I had the great joy in attending this wonderful conference in Belfast at Queen’s back in October.  Focusing on both bioarchaeology and funerary archaeology, the Day of the Dead three-day conference confidently brought together a slew of new research from both Ireland and the wider world on prehistoric and historic sites and cultures (including an awesome presentation on cannonball damage in deer and a possible universal code for sexing skeletal remains).  The conference was ably hosted by Dr Catriona McKenzie with a keynote speech by Dr Barra O Donnabhain and help from the ever affable Prof. Chris Knüsel.  This post, which detail a few of the presentations in detail, should also be up shortly.

6) The Anatomical Position: A Short History of the Internationally Agreed Standard

One of the first posts where I have actively engaged and sought the views of others before commencing the writing of the post.  I have struggled so far to exactly find what I am looking for, but this has only spurned me on.  In this post I’ll take a quick look at how the anatomical position used in bioarchaeology, forensic science, medicine, and the anatomical sciences, has became so widespread as an internationally agreed standard and convention for the positioning and examining of the human body.  This is one of the posts that may take a while to appear, but it is there!

and finally…

7) Skeletal Series Part 13: How to Age a Human Skeleton

8) Skeletal Series Part 14: How to Sex a Human Skeleton

Two much delayed posts helping to highlight the next stage of the Skeletal Series posts.

This is really just a quick housekeeping post, making me more aware of what I need to do.  As highlighted towards the end of last month there will be a few posts on musical interludes, highlighting the evidence for music ability in the archaeological record.  My one big event for 2015 so far is the upcoming Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in April in San Francisco, USA.  I am particularly excited as there is a session on the Bioarchaeology of Care methodology by Lorna Tilley of Australia National University.  The methodology is an important step not just for understanding physical impairment in the past, but also for collating, using and distributing knowledge of the archaeological record via the Index of Care online tool.

All in all 2015 looks to be rather productive.

Notes

For die-hard stats fans this blog was viewed around 260,000 from 206 countries in 2014 (if I remember correctly this is down from 2013).  Averaged out this is around 5000 views a week, with the majority of the views taking place Monday to Friday rather than on the weekends.  The top 5 annual posts per views were (as it typical for each year that this blog has existed) the Skeletal Series posts.  Blog views, especially toward the last few months of 2014, tailed off noticeably.

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