Textbook of the Week: Human Bone Manual.

Every week we highlight one archaeology/anthropology textbook from our suggested readings, a full list of our suggested resources can be found here, on our Useful Literature page.

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The Human Bone Manual (UK/Europe)
The Human Bone Manual (US/Worldwide Link)
by Tim D. White and Pieter A. Folkens.  Rating: *****

“I cannot stress how important this book is to have. It is the ‘go-to’ guide on anything relating to bones and skeletal remains. It’s illustrated as well, so if your course isn’t too hands on – you will still understand what the book is talking about from the detailed pictures. It’s a must for any budding anthropologist, and one of my favourite books to read. It’s a good size and concise so its pretty much a ‘pocket book’ that you can always carry in your book bag.”

If you’re a student – check out our ‘Quick Tips’ posts where we breakdown topics of AAFS into bite-sized chunks. We’re currently covering how to age and how to estimate the biological sex of skeletal remains, and also how to identify a variety of fracture types!  We’re also taking the time to answer the ‘Common Questions’ that get asked about these disciplines, as well as simplifying a multitude of archaeological techniques to make your learning easier.

Quick Tips – Common Questions: What can an anthropologist tell from the examination of teeth regarding either forensic identification of individuals or understanding past populations?

This is a Quick Tips post providing a basic answer to a commonly asked question often faced within the field of archaeology and anthropology.

An anthropologist can obtain a wide and varied collection of information from examining teeth. Information such as paleodiets and palaeoenvironments can be learnt from studying a population, or from studying an individual sample you can identify how old the person was at time of death or whether that person was pregnant/ill. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg on what you can learn from dentition.

Ondontology

An anthropologist can obtain a wide and varied collection of information from examining teeth, ranging from palaeodiets and palaeoenvironmental information to age of death.

From studying a large population dentition sample, a picture can be painted of their past diets, current diets and palaeoenvironments. Isotopes play a huge part in conducting research into palaeodiets and palaeoenvironments.

Isotopes are deposited into the teeth of an individual/population from food sources or environment. A tooth can provide isotopic information from the past 20yrs of the individual’s life. The enamel and dentine can be examined to analyse the isotopic values that will pinpoint an origin of a population or food sources. The carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions found within the enamel are used to reconstruct diet and the oxygen isotopes are used to determine the geographic origin of the food source. The carbon isotopes are absorbed from the diet of the animals that are sources and the oxygen isotopes from the water that the population consume. These isotopic values are vital in helping an anthropologist understand the local ecosystem a population exploited and whether a population migrated to numerous locations which caused changes in the available diet.

The cementum of a tooth can highlight important information about a person which can be used for forensic identification; this information could give an approximate age of death. An example of this application is seen in Kagerer and Grupe (2000) study where they obtained 80 freshly extracted teeth and investigated the incremental lines in acellular extrinsic fibre cementum. From studying the cementum, they were able to determine the age of the patient by comparing it to detailed queries of the patients life history. This study also identified patients who were pregnant. Kagerer and Grupe (2000) concluded that if there was a presence of hypo-mineralised incremental lines on the extracted tooth, the patient was pregnant. This is due to the pregnancies influence on calcium metabolism. A confliction with this is that hypo-mineralized lines can also appear when a skeletal trauma or renal illness was present.

By looking at the dentition of molars the age of the skeleton can be estimated. A recent study by Mesotten, et al. (2002) highlighted the application of forensic odontology. Mesotten, et al’s methodology consisted of examining 1175 orthopantomograms which belonged to patients who were of Caucasian origin and were aged between 16 and 22years. From their investigation Mesotten, et al. were able to conclude that from studying the molars, it was possible to age Caucasian individuals with a regression formula with a standard deviation of 1.52 or 1.56 years for males and females, respectively, if all four third molars were available. This could play a fundamental role in identifying a missing person by estimating the decease’s age and seeing if its estimate matches the individual.

Although the studies from Mesotten, et al (2002) and Kagerer and Grupe (2000) have been written about and applied to individual cases, their methodology and conclusions can be applied to a past population if a group of skeletons were found with preserved teeth. The individual’s age of death can be used as quantitative data, alongside other individuals from the same sample, to figure out a past population’s life expectancy.

References:

Kagerer, P. Grupe, G. 2000. Age-at-death diagnosis and determination of life-history parameters by incremental lines in human dental cementum as an identification aid. Forensic Science International. 118, 1. 75-82.

Mesotten, K. Gunst, K. Carbonez, A. Willems, G. 2002. Dental age estimation and third molars: a preliminary study. Forensic Science International. Volume 129, Issue 2, 110-115

To learn how archaeologists and anthropologists use teeth to age skeletal remains, read our Quick Tips: How To Estimate The Chronological Age of a Human Skeleton – Using Dentition to Age Subadults. Or to read more of our interesting Quick Tips, click here.

Nine-ton Block of Sandstone Unveils Six Utahraptor Remains.

Archaeologists in Moab, Utah, have discovered the remains of six Utahraptors within a nine-ton block of sandstone. This discovery is regarded as the biggest fossil find ever of the Utahraptor, a giant predatory theropod dinosaur who roamed the earth during the early Cretaceous period. The massive excavation, led by Utah state palaeontologist James Kirkland, has been undertaken over the past decade upon the Utah Mountain.

The nine-ton sandstone block revealed the skeletal remains of a 16ft-long adult, four juveniles and a baby Utahraptor which was approximately 3ft long from snout to tail.

The nine-ton sandstone block revealed the skeletal remains of a 16ft-long adult, four juveniles and a baby Utahraptor which was approximately 3ft long from snout to tail.

The sandstone block revealed the skeletal remains of a 16ft-long adult, four juveniles and a baby Utahraptor which was approximately 3ft long from snout to tail. The block also revealed bones belonging to a beaked, bipedal herbivore known as an Iguanadon. It is hoped that the Utahraptors died whilst hunting as a group, which may provide evidence of pack hunting. Another hypothesis claims that the Utahraptors may have wandered into quicksand and died at different times, due to the fossils being stacked 3ft thick.

It is hoped that the Utahraptors died whilst hunting as a group, which may provide evidence of pack hunting.

It is hoped that the Utahraptors died whilst hunting as a group, which may provide evidence of pack hunting.

Kirkland thinks that the Utahraptors were enticed by the promise of the unwary Iguanodon which stumbled into the quicksand itself. Unable to move, bellowing and struggling, the trapped Iguanodon lured the Utahraptors who then, one after another, tried to ‘nab an easy meal’ only ending up stuck and meeting the same fate as the Iguanodon.

Utahraptors are the largest known member of the family Dromaeosauridae, with some specimens reaching 23ft-long weighing around 500kg. They bare a resemblance to their ‘cousins’ – the Velociraptor but are covered in feathers, with a sickle like claw on each of their second toes.

Size comparison of an average sized adult Utahraptor with an adult male human (5.9ft).

Size comparison of an average sized adult Utahraptor with an adult male human (5.9ft).

Quick Tips – Common Questions: Can physical activities undertaken during life be detected on skeletal remains?

This is a Quick Tips post providing a basic answer to a commonly asked question often faced within the field of archaeology and anthropology.

Can physical activities undertaken during life be detected on skeletal remains? Yes they can.

Numerous activities, such as hunting, gathering, exercise and more obviously fighting, can inflict damage or adaptations onto to a skeletal system. Some physical activities can be easily identified by due to the damage they can produce to the skeleton, i.e. fighting, whereas the skeletons adapt to strain caused by sport or a daily activity can be harder to detect.

Stock (2006) investigated hunter-gatherer postcranial robusticity relative to patterns of mobility and climatic adaption. In this study, Stock took four collections of known hunter-gatherers skeletal remains along with the associated data of the environmental factors in the population area and the terrestrial mobility. In every analysis conducted, the effective environmental temperature was found to be negatively correlated with strength. Stock concluded that hunter-gatherers from colder climates tend to have stronger long bone diaphysis, than the groups from warmer regions. Although in contrast, the partial correlations between mobility and robusticity are positive; suggesting that activity has a consistently positive relationship with diaphyseal strength. This study indicates that even the simple ‘easy’ activity of hunting and gathering can affect diaphyseal strength of a skeleton and that the activity can be detected.

Exercise is also one of the most common factors to cause a skeleton to adapt. A recent study by Shaw (2009) was able to correctly predict an athlete’s chosen sport from quantifying the soft tissue properties and bone morphology. In Shaw’s study he focused on examining modern athletes (runners, field hockey players, swimmers, and cricketers) and a control group. Using peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT), Shaw quantified the relationship between the amount of muscle and other soft tissues and the morphology of the bones along the midshaft of the arm, forearm and lower legs. This study concluded that Shaw could correctly identify an athlete’s chosen sport from examining a skeletal system and quantifying the bone mass and strength. Shaw concluded that the changes to the bones structural properties were from the strain of daily habitual training from the athlete’s young age.

These two modern studies, Stock (2006) and Shaw (2009), perfectly highlight how physical activities can be detected on skeletal remains.  But these morphological changes can be harder to detect than more brutal activities such as fighting. This is because war and fights leave tell-tale marks on the skeletons which are detectable from eye rather than quantitating data. Violence within a population whether its ritual/habitual, in times of war or domestic can be easily identified from the fractures and dents a bone receives.

A recent NAI (Non-accidental Injury) study from Day et al (2006), highlighted how skeletal remains could indicate bone trauma caused by violence. The study retrospectively observed cases of suspected NAI injuries sustained by children from X-rays obtained at an Edinburgh hospital. The bone fractures, mostly found on the skull and long bones, were suspected to be cause by domestic abuse and evidence of blunt force trauma was observed in numerous cases. Even though this is a recent study conducted on NAI instances, it does appropriately show how violence can inflict damage onto skeletal remains. An archaeological skeleton could show healed/unhealed fractures sustained via a physically demanding activity which was violent in nature, such as war or ritual fighting.

References:

Day, F. Clegg, S. McPhillips, M. Mok, J. 2006. A retrospective case series of skeletal surveys in children with suspected non-accidental injury. Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine. 13, 12. 55-59.

Shaw, C. 2009. ‘Putting flesh back onto the bones?’ Can we predict soft tissue properties from skeletal and fossil remains?. Journal of Human Evolution. 59, 5. 484-492.

Stock, J.T. 2006. Hunter-Gatherer Postcranial Robusticity Relative to Patterns of Mobility, Climatic Adaption and Selective Tissue Economy. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 131, 2. 194-203.

 

200-Million-Year-Old Ichthyosaur Complete Fossil Discovered.

An ichthyosaur fossil, dating back to around 200 million years, has been discovered on a beach in Penarth, South Wales.

The 7ft fossil, weighing in at 132lbs, was unearthed on a beach in Penarth, South Wales.

The 7ft fossil, weighing in at 132lbs, was unearthed on a beach in Penarth, South Wales.

The 7ft fossil, weighing in at 132lbs, was unearthed by beach walker Jonathan Bow, who spent a whole day excavating it. Cindy Howells, a palaeontologist from the National Museum of Wales said: ‘The ichthyosaur is potentially a very, very important find because it is so complete.’

Ichthyosaur Fossil 3

Ichthyosaur Fossil 2-Head

Ichthyosaurs are commonly referred to as fish lizards, but are in fact large carnivorous marine reptiles varying from 3ft to 52ft in length. They thrived during the Mesozoic era, and are thought to have made their first appearance around 250 million years ago.

It is thought that the ichthyosaur population increased during the later Triassic and early Jurassic Period, but then became replaced by the plesiosaurs during the later Jurassic and Cretaceous Period. By the Late Cretaceous period, ichthyosaurs became extinct.

Ichthyosaurs are commonly referred to as fish lizards, but are in fact large carnivorous marine that thrived during the Mesozoic era.

Ichthyosaurs are commonly referred to as fish lizards, but are in fact large carnivorous marine that thrived during the Mesozoic era.

Quick Tips: How To Estimate The Biological Sex Of A Human Skeleton – Skull Method.

This is the 2nd blog post in this Quick Tips series on estimating the biological sex of human skeletal remains. If you haven’t read the first post on the basics of sexing skeletal remains, click here to start at the beginning.

One of the most widely used methods of sexing skeletal remains is by examining the skull. The skull has five different features that are observed and scored.  The five features are the:

Markers together

Each of these markers is given a numerical score from 1 to 5 relating to the level of expression, with 1 being minimal expression and 5 being maximal expression. Each feature should be scored independently, and without influence from the other identifying features. It has been generally found that female skulls are more likely to have a lower level of expression in all features, whereas male skulls are more likely to have higher levels of expression.

To observe the nuchal crest, one should view the skull from its lateral profile and feel for the smoothness (1-minimal expression) or ruggedness (5-maximal expression) of the occipital surface, and compare it with the scoring system of that feature (Figure 1).

The scoring system for expression levels in the nuchal crest.

Figure 1: The scoring system for expression levels in the nuchal crest.

To observe the mastoid process, one should view the skull from its lateral profile and compare its size and volume, not its length, with other features of the skull such as the zygomatic process of the temporal lobe and external auditory meatus. Visually compare its size with the scoring system of that feature (Figure 2). If the mastoid process only descend or projects only a small distance then it should be scored a 1 (minimal expression), where as if it is several times the width and length of the external auditory meatus, then it should be scored as a 5 (maximal expression).

Figure 2: The scoring system for the size and volume of the mastoid process.

Figure 2: The scoring system for the expression levels of the mastoid process.

To observe the supraorbital margin, one should view the skull at it’s lateral profile and place their finger against the margin of the orbit and hold the edge to determine it’s thickness. If the edge feels ‘extremely sharp’ then it would score a 1minimal expression, if it felt rounded and thick as a pencil it would score a 5maximal expression (Figure 3).

Supraorbital Margin

Figure 3: The scoring system for the expression levels of the supraorbital margin.

To observe the supraorbital ridge, one should view the skull from it’s profile and view the prominence of the supraorbital ridge. If the ridge is smooth with little or no projection, then it would score a 1minimal expression, if it is pronounced and forms a rounded ‘loaf-shaped’ ridge then it would score a 5maximal expression (Figure 4).

Supraorbital Ridge - Glabella

Figure 4: The scoring system for the expression levels of the supraorbital ridge.

To observe the mental eminence, one should view the skull front facing, and hold the mandible between the thumbs and index fingers, with the thumbs placed either side of the mental eminence. If there is little or no projection of the mental eminence, then it would score a 1minimal expression, if it is pronounced it would score a 5maximal expression (Figure 5).

Mental Eminence

Figure 5: The scoring system for the expression levels of the mental eminence.

References:

Buikstra, J.E., Ubelaker, D.H. 1994. Standards for Data Collection From Human Skeletal Remains. Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Archaeological Survey Report Number 44.

Ubelaker, D.H. 1989. Human Skeletal Remains: Excavation, Analysis, Interpretation (2nd Ed.). Washington, DC: Taraxacum.

White, T.D., Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Pg 360-385.

This is the second post of the Quick Tips series on sex determination of skeletal remains. The next post in this series will focus on the use of the pelvis and parturition scars to determine biological sex. To read more Quick Tips in the meantime, click here

Quick Tips: How To Estimate The Biological Sex Of A Human Skeleton – The Basics.

Within anthropological and archaeological sciences, ‘sex’ refers to the biological sex of an individual, based on the chromosomal difference of XX being female, and XY being male. Whereas ‘gender’ refers to the socio-cultural differences placed on the biological differences. In recent times, the words ‘gender’ and sex’ have been used incorrectly as interchangeable words within this discipline.

Therefore, it is important to remember that the word ‘gender’ refers an aspect of a person’s social identity, whereas ‘sex’ refers to the person’s biological identity.

Sexual dimorphism as seen in the human skeleton is determined by the hormones that are produced by the body. There are numerous markers on a human skeleton which can provide archaeologists and anthropologists with an estimate sex of the deceased. The areas of the skeletal remains that are studied are the:

 If the skeletal marker listed above is a link, it means that I have already covered it in an individual blog post and can be found by following the link.

The two most commonly used skeletal markers that are observed by osteologists are the skull and pelvic bone, as these show the most extreme differences.

It is generally noted that female skeleton elements are characterized by being smaller in size and lighter in construction, whereas males have larger, robust elements. Due to normal individual variation, there will always be smaller, dainty males and larger, robust females. Therefore, it is always important to observe a variety of skeletal markers to come to an accurate determination.

It should be noted that it is a lot harder to reliably deduce a juvenile/sub-adult’s sex, as many of the differences in skeletal markers only become visible after maturation, when the skeletal changes occur due to puberty. Therefore, use of DNA has been widely used to sex sub-adult skeletal remains as DNA analysis can now detect and identify X and Y chromosome-specific sequences.

References:

Buikstra, J.E., Ubelaker, D.H. 1994. Standards for Data Collection From Human Skeletal Remains. Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Archaeological Survey Report Number 44.

Ubelaker, D.H. 1989. Human Skeletal Remains: Excavation, Analysis, Interpretation (2nd Ed.). Washington, DC: Taraxacum.

White, T.D., Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Pg 360-385.

This is the first of a Quick Tips series on sex determination of skeletal remains. The next post in this series will focus on the use of the skull to determine biological sex. To read more Quick Tips in the mean time, click here

 

On Location: Durotriges Project, 2014 – Roman Burials.

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Today’s On Location is featuring the Durotriges Project, an excavation in Winterborne Kingston,  Dorset, UK, which is held by Bournemouth University.

This archaeological site shows significant Iron Age and Roman settlement, particularly with the Durotriges tribe and Roman interaction. The Durotriges Project has been a yearly excavation, starting in 2009, which has uncovered many archaeological features. Over the past five years, the site has unearthed an Iron Age banjo enclosure, two Roman villas, an Iron Age burial site and numerous storage pits.

During this years excavation they were able to uncover a Bronze Age food preparation area surrounded by storage pits, and a flint mine – which was used to source the materials needed to construct the settlement’s buildings. Within the flint mine, students discovered the skeletal remains of an 18 month old juvenile.

Food Prep area DBD2014

The Bronze Age food preparation area, defined by post holes with a hearth in the centre, that was discovered during the Durotriges Project 2014. A storage pit can be seen to the right.

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The flint mine that was discovered in Trench 2. Within this flint mine, students unearthed the skeletal remains of an 18 month old juvenile.

The Durotriges Project recently hit the news this year with its discovery of five Roman burials. The burials, thought to date between 350AD to 380AD, were uncovered within a 15 by 15m  square enclosure around 100m away from the previously found Roman villa.

Roman Burials Within Enclosure

The five Roman era burials, dated between 350AD and 380AD, which were discovered within a square enclosure.

The skeletal remains found within the five graves have been identified as two males and three females. The males and two females have been aged between 40-50 years old, and the other female aged between 80-90 years old. The individuals were buried within coffins, with evidence of them being clothed as eyelets from their shoes were discovered.

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One of the five Roman burials uncovered by the Durotriges Project.

It is thought that they were of “high status” as were buried with great care and with burial gifts. It is hoped that the individuals were the occupants of the nearby Roman villa, and that their discovery will help shed light about the Roman’s diet, heath and ancestry.

To learn more about Bournemouth University’s Durotriges Project’s other fascinating discoveries from the site, you can view their blog here. Follow them on Twitter, and keep up to date with them by liking their Facebook page!

Unusual-ology: 800 year old monk’s skeletal remains found in a cliff face.

The recent winter storms that rocked Britain have uncovered a lot of the isles’ hidden archaeology including a petrified forest in Wales, but it has also damaged many coastal heritage sites. In this case, the storms unearthed the skeletal remains of what is thought to be an 800-year-old medieval monk, which were found poking out of a cliff in Monknash, South Wales.

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The femurs belonging to the monk, as they were found within the cliff face.

The skeletal remains were discovered by Mandy Ewington, a member of public out for a walk, who spotted the thigh bones of sticking out the side of a cliff. The femurs were later identified to belonging to a man of good health and in his late twenties, who may have been a monk.

From past excavations in the area and stratigraphic evidence, it is thought that the skeletal remains belonged to a monk from the 1200’s. The Monknash area is well known to have once been the home of Cistercian monks between 1129 and 1535, and was the site of a Middle Age burial ground.

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From stratigraphic evidence it is thought that the skeletal remains belonged to a monk from the 1200’s.

But due to the monk’s femurs being badly damaged by coastal erosion and were found unconnected to any other bones, it is difficult to come to a definite conclusion on whether or not the man truly did belong to the Cistercian monastery.

Unique Aztec Dog Burial Discovered.

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have uncovered twelve dog skeletons whilst excavating in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Dog burials are a common practice within archaeology, but what stands this particular discovery out from the crowd is that there is no human burial, or even building associated to this burial.

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One of the well-preserved dog skeletons found.

The reason why dogs were often found alongside human burials is linked back to the animal’s symbolism in Aztec mythology. It was believed that even after death, dogs still served their masters. The belief was that the dogs helped guide the owner’s soul through the hazardous underworld until they safely reached Mictlan, the resting place of the dead.

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The placement of the dog skeleton’s have no pattern, leaving archaeologists wondering what is the significance behind this burial.

The dog’s skeletal remains have been date back to 500 years, and they were well-preserved and most were complete and articulated . Their placement within the burial ground has no discernible pattern to it, leaving the archaeologists wondering what the significance of this burial is, although archaeologists have deduced from the skeleton’s measurements that the dogs are likely to be common breeds as their stature are much taller than the native Mexican breed of Techichi.