Textbook of the Week: Forensic Archaeology Advances in Theory and Practice.

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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Forensic Archaeology Advances in Theory and Practice (UK/Europe Link)
Forensic Archaeology Advances in Theory and Practice (US/Worldwide Link)
by John Hunter & Margaret Cox. Rating: ****

“This text book is easy to follow, so perfect for beginners or first year students. It uses numerous case studies and illustrations to show you how to apply it in practice, meaning that you can fully grasp what situation to use it in and how to correctly apply it.

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 dental diseases!

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Quick Tips: Archaeological Techniques – Aerial Photography.

Aerial photography is a surveying technique that involves taking a photographic record from satellites, aircrafts and balloons, to aid with the detection of buried archaeological remains and features, which may be difficult to identify at ground level.

There are two types of aerial photography;

  • Oblique – Oblique aerial photography involves taking a photograph from lower altitudes at an angle. This gives a better perspective and a pictorial effect, and allows for identification of earthworks.
  • Vertical – Vertical aerial photography involves taking a photograph from great heights directly above an area. This gives a bird’s eye view of an area, allowing for easier map making and identification of crop marks.
aerialphoto

Fig. 1: There are two types of aerial photography; oblique and vertical.

These aerial photographs can show numerous phenomena, some of which are sometimes not from archaeological origins. These phenomena include:

  • Crop marks – These types of marks develop when a buried wall or ditch increases or decreases crop growth; this is due to the feature affecting the availability of moisture and nutrients in the soil.
crop mark

Fig 2. An example of a crop mark. You can see in the excavation site the ditch that is affecting the crop’s growth.

  • Soil marks – These marks are caused by changes in the subsoil colour, when a plough brings part of the buried feature to the surface.
Fig. 3: After this field was ploughed, it has exposed the feature which has had parts brought to the surface.

Fig. 3: An example of soil marks. After this field had been ploughed, this buried feature had parts brought to the surface which has caused discolouration in the soil.

  • Earthworks – This phrase is used to describe any features seen in relief. These are also known as shadow marks when viewed from the air.
Fig. 4: This is an example of an earthwork. This particular archaeological site is an abandoned Medieval settlement.

Fig. 4: This is an example of an earthwork. This particular archaeological site is an abandoned Medieval settlement.

It is from these phenomena that we’re able to identify whether there is buried archaeology in an area which can then allow for an in-depth investigation.

References:

Balme, J., Paterson, A. 2006. Archaeology in Practice: A Student Guide to Archaeological Analayses. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing. Pg 218.

Renfrew, C., Bahn, P. 1991. Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. London, UK: Thames & Hudson. Pg 249-53.

Click here to read more Quick Tip posts!

 

Quick Tips: Identifying Dental Diseases – The Basics.

Quick Tips: Identifying Dental Diseases – The Basics.

In a previous Quick Tip post we briefly touched on teeth in anthropology/archaeology by providing a basic answer to the question, “What can an anthropologist tell from the examination of teeth?”, which can be found by clicking here.

“No structures of the human body are more likely to disintegrate during life than teeth, yet after death none have greater tenacity against decay” – Wells, 1964.

Teeth are the hardest and most chemically stable tissues in the body; because of this, they’re sometimes the only part of a skeletal remain to withstand the excavation. Even though teeth are the most robust structures of a skeleton, there are numerous diseases that can affect them. This is due to teeth interacting directly with the environment and therefore are vulnerable to damage from physical and biological influences. It is from these diseases, that archaeologists and anthropologists can learn a wealth of information on an individual or population’s diet, oral hygiene, dental care and occupation.

Lukacs, 1989, classified dental diseases into four categories, which are;

  • Infectious – This is one of the more common disease types found within archaeological populations. An example of an infectious dental disease is caries.
  • Degenerative – This is where the dental disease occurs over time as the person ages. An example of degenerative dental disease includes recession of the jaw bone.
  • Developmental –These dental diseases develop due to environmental and lifestyle factors, such as malnutrition. An example of this type of disease is enamel hypoplasia.
  • Genetic – These types of diseases are caused by genetic anomalies.

The main dental diseases that are observed within an archaeological or anthropological context are;

If the dental disease 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.

Each of these dental diseases has their own characteristics which allows them to be easily distinguished from one and another. In the next few posts of this Quick Tips series, we will be focusing on each dental disease individually, and highlighting their aetiology and physical characteristics.

References:

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

Lukacs, J.R. 1989. Dental paleopathology: methods for reconstructing dietary patterns. In M.Y. Iscan and K.A.R. Kennedy (eds), Reconstruction of life from the skeleton. New York, Alan Liss. Pg 261-86.

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

Wells, C. 1964. Bones, bodies and disease. London, Thames and Hudson.

White, T.D., Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Pg 392-398.

This is the first post of the Quick Tips series on identifying dental diseases. The next post in this series will focus on how to identify dental/enamel hypoplasia and highlight the cause of this dental disease.

To read more Quick Tips in the meantime, click here, or to learn about basic fracture types and their characteristics/origins click here!

3-Million Year Old Fossilised Metacarpals Show Evidence of Tool Use.

A recent study has put forward some important evidence of early human ancestors, in particular Australopithecus africanus, wielding tools in a human like fashion dating around 3 to 2-million years ago.

Figure 1: A recent study has put forward some important evidence of early human ancestors, in particular Australopithecus africanus (pictured), wielding tools in a human like fashion dating around 3 to 2-million years ago.

Figure 1: A recent study has put forward some important evidence of early human ancestors, in particular Australopithecus africanus (pictured), wielding tools in a human like fashion dating around 3 to 2-million years ago . ©Shaen Adey, Gallo Images/Corbis.

The study, led by Matthew Skinner from the University of Kent, compared the internal structures of the hand bones from the Australopithecus africanus and several Pleistocene hominins, which were previously considered to have not engaged in habitual tool use.

Skinner et al, found that they all have a human trabecular (spongy) bone pattern in the metacarpals, and this is consistent with the “forceful opposition of the thumb and fingers typically adopted during tool use”.

Top row: First metacarpals of the  various hominins.  Bottom row: 3-D renderings from the micro-CT scans showing a cross-section of the bone structure inside.

Figure 2: Top row: First metacarpals of the various hominids.
Bottom row: 3-D renderings from the micro-CT scans showing a cross-section of the bone structure inside. ©T.L. Kivell

The evolution of the hand, mainly the development of opposable thumbs, has been hailed as the key to success for early humans. It is thought that without the improvement of our grip and hand posture, tool technology could not have emerged and developed as well as it has.

This piece of research will provide a new discussion into when the first appearance of habitual tool use occurred in prehistory, as this study’s evidence of modern human-like tool use is dated 0.5-million years earlier than the first archaeological evidence of stone tools.

References:

Skinner, M. Stephens, N. Tsegai, Z. Foote, A. Nguyen, N. Gross, T. Pahr, D. Hublin, J. Kivell, T. 2015. Human-like hand use in Australopithecus africanusScience. 347, 6220. p395-399.
You can view this paper by clicking here.

 

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

Quick Tips: How to Estimate the Biological Sex of a Human Skeleton – Pelvic Dimorphism.

This is the 3rd 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 or if you skipped the 2nd post focusing on the skull method if sex estimation, click here.

When it comes to sexing skeletal remains by the pelvic elements there are a few trends, as stated in the first blog post in this series, the female pelvic bones, specifically the sacra and ossa coxa are smaller and less robust than their male counterparts.

Figure 1: Side by side size comparison of a male (left) and female (right) pelvis.

Figure 1: Side by side size comparison of a male (left) and female (right) pelvis.

Although the female pelvic components are smaller in general, many aspects of the female pelvis are wider than males. The pelvic inlets on a female are relatively wider than those of males, as well as the greater sciatic notches – which is thought to aid childbirth.

Figure 2: Basic annotated diagram of the pelvis.

Figure 2: Basic labelled diagram of the pelvic anatomy.

There are numerous features of the pelvic bones that are examined to identify the biological sex of an individual, alongside the trends stated about. These features are as follows;

  • The ventral arc.
  • The subpubic concavity.
  • The medial aspect of the ischiopubic ramus.
  • The greater sciatic notch.

The first three features listed above, are known as the Phenice method – which was proposed by T. W. Phenice in 1969. His paper, “A Newly Developed Visual Method of Sexing the Os Pubis”, contributed greatly to the method of visual determination of sex, as beforehand the methods were subjective and based largely on the osteologist’s experience. The Phenice method should only be used for fully adult skeletal remains, where it is 96 to 100% accurate.

The ventral arc is a slightly raised ridge of bone that sweeps inferiorly and laterally across the central surface of the pubis. It joins with the medial border of the ischiopubic ramus. The ventral arc is only present in females, although males may have raised ridges in this area, but these do not take the wide, evenly arching appearance of the ventral arc.

Figure 2: The ventral arc is characterised by a slightly raised ridge of bone. Males do not exhibit the ventral arc, where as females do.

Figure 3: The ventral arc is characterised by a slightly raised ridge of bone. Males (left) do not exhibit the ventral arc, where as females (right) do.

To observe the subpubic concavity, you should turn the pubis so that the convex dorsal surface if facing you. Then you should view the medial edge of the ischiopubic ramus. Females display a subpubic concavity here where the edge of the ramus is concaved, whereas males tend to have straight edges or very slightly concaved.

Figure 4: Females display a subpubic concavity here where the edge of the ramus is concaved, whereas males tend to have straight edges or very slightly concaved.

Figure 4: Females (right) display a subpubic concavity here where the edge of the ramus is concaved, whereas males (left) tend to have straight edges or very slightly concaved.

To observe the medial aspect of the ischiopubic ramus, you should turn the pubis 90° so that the symphyseal surface is directly facing you. View the part of the ramus that is directly inferior to the pubis symphysis. In females, the ramus has a sharp, narrow edge, whereas in males it is flat and blunt.

Figure 5: In females (right), the medial aspect of the ischiopubic ramus has a sharp, narrow edge, whereas in males (left) it is flat and blunt.

Figure 5: In females (right), the medial aspect of the ischiopubic ramus has a sharp, narrow edge, whereas in males (left) it is flat and blunt.

As with the five features of the skull used to sex a skeleton in the previous, the greater sciatic notch has also been given a numerical score from 1 to 5 relating to the level of expression. It has been generally found that female os coxae are more likely to exhibit a lower level of expression, whereas male os coxae are more likely to have higher levels of expression.

Figure 6:

Figure 6: It has been generally found that female os coxae are more likely to exhibit a lower level of expression, whereas male os coxae are more likely to have higher levels of expression, when it comes to the greater sciatic notch.

To obtain the best results whist examining the os coxae, it should be held in the same orientation as the pictured above. This allows you to match the angle of the greater sciatic to the closest expression that represents it. It should be noted that this method is usually used as a secondary indicator.

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 392-398.

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

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.

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.