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.

51ND3YE08ZL

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.

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: 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

Mystery Of Thirty Nine Skulls Discovered At London Wall Finally Solved.

In 1988, thirty-nine skulls were unearthed below the Guildhall in London. Their discovery left many unanswered questions, but after being recently re-examined – it is now believed that these skulls are the decapitated heads of gladiators.

Image

This Roman era skull, believed to belong to a gladiator, shows evidence of sharp force trauma.

Some of the skulls showed signs of ante and peri-mortem injuries, which Rebecca Redfern from the Museum of London, have interpreted as being the result of “sacrificial headhunting, or the remains of gladiators”.

One of the skulls showed evidence that a part of the jawbone had been cut away, which depicts that they were the victims of violence. Others showed multiple lethal blows to the head, as well as healed fractures. These are the first physical pieces of evidence that support that there were gladiators in London, even though it is widely known that this site once held an amphitheatre.

Image

Image

This mandible found at the Roman era site, shows evidence of sharp force trauma – leading experts to believe that these are the outcomes from being a gladiator in Roman London.

Another haul of Roman era skulls have been recently found close to this site. In August of 2013, a team of archaeologists unearthed two-dozen Roman-era skulls, which occurred whilst expanding the underground tunnels beneath Liverpool Street.

The skulls were found within the ancient river sediment deposits, which once belonged to the now extinct Walbrook River. It is thought that the skulls, along with pottery shards, were deposited onto a river bend after being washed away from a nearby burial ground.

Image

One of the two-dozen Roman era skulls found beneath London’s Liverpool Street Station.

These two-dozen Roman skulls have been loosely speculated to have belonged to victims of Queen Boudicca’s army, during her opposition to the Roman presence in Britain, dating around 61 A.D.

References:

Redfern, R., Bonney, H. 2014.  Headhunting and amphitheatre combat in Roman London, England: new evidence from the Walbrook Valley. Journal of Archaeological Science. Available here.

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy? Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

Share Post Sign

Quick Tips: How To Estimate The Chronological Age Of A Human Skeleton – Epiphyseal Closure Method.

This Quick Tips post is the second in the series on age estimation on skeletal remains, if you haven’t read the previous post click here. The previous post provides an overview of the different techniques utilised by archaeologists/anthropologists, which will each be covered in more detail in their own blog post, and the categories that human skeletal remains are placed under according to their chronological age.

One of the methods frequently used by archaeologists/anthropologists to estimate the chronological age of human remains is by studying the level of epiphyseal fusions.

But first what is an epiphysis? An epiphysis is the cap at the end of a long bone that develops from a secondary ossification center. Over the course of adolescence the epiphysis, which is originally separate, will fuse to the diaphysis. The ages of which epiphyseal fusion begins and ends are very well documented, with the majority of epiphyseal activity taking place between the ages of fifteen and twenty-three.

Epiphyses

Diagram showing where the epiphysis is found.

As epiphyseal fusions are progressive they are often scored as either being unfused (non-union), united, and fully fused (complete union). Females often experience the union of many osteological elements before males, and every individual experience epiphyseal union at different ages.

Left: Diagram of a skeleton showing the position of the different epiphyseal elements. Right: A graph displaying the timing of fusion of epiphyses for various for various human osteological elements. The grey horizontal bars depict the period of time, in ages, when the fusion is occurring. All of the data is representative of males, except where it is noted. Data taken from Buikstra & Ubelaker, 1994.

Left: Diagram of a skeleton showing the position of the different epiphyseal elements.
Right: A graph displaying the timing of fusion of epiphyses for various for various human osteological elements. The grey horizontal bars depict the period of time, in ages, when the fusion is occurring. All of the data is representative of males, except where it is noted. Data taken from Buikstra & Ubelaker, 1994.

Archaeologists/anthropologists use standards that are well known and documented, such as Buikstra & Ubelaker’s (1994) depicted in the above graph. From the above data we know that, for example, the fusion of the femur head to the lesser trochanter is begins around the age of fifteen and a half and ends around the age of twenty. So if a skeleton has evidence of an unfused femur head/lesser trochanter, there is a possibility of the skeleton having a chronological age of < fifteen years. If there is full union of the epiphyses then the skeleton is more than likely being > twenty years old. But it should be noted that individuals vary in their development so numerous elements should be examined before coming to an accurate conclusion.

Different stages of epiphysis fusion of human tibias. Ages left to right: Newborn, 1.6 years old, six years old, ten years old, twelve years old and eighteen years old.

Different stages of epiphysis fusion of human tibias. Ages left to right: Newborn, 1.6 years old, six years old, ten years old, twelve years old and eighteen years old.

As several elements of the human skeleton begin the stages of epiphyseal fusion alongside the conclusion of tooth eruption, these two techniques (dentition and epiphyseal closure) are often used complementary to each other to help age sub-adults. The next post in this series on age estimation will focus on the use of dentition to aid with the chronological ageing of human remains.

References:

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

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

This is the second of a Quick Tips series on ageing skeletal remains, the next in this series will focus on the dentition method of ageing sub-adults. To read more Quick Tips in the mean time, click here

To learn about basic fracture types and their characteristics/origins click here!

Archaeologists Discover Tomb of Moche Priestess-Queen.

Archaeologists Discover Tomb of Moche Priestess-Queen.

The archaeologists, led by Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, discovered the tomb within the excavation site situated in San José de Moro, in the Jequetepeque River valley of northern Peru. The tomb belongs to what is believed to be a powerful Moche Priestess-Queen, who was buried 1,200 years ago and is thought to have been a prominent figure in Moche civilisation.

The tomb of the Moche Priestess-Queen, which was discovered six metres underground in San  José de Moro.

The tomb of the Moche Priestess-Queen, which was discovered six metres underground in San José de Moro.

The tomb consisted of a large chamber situated twenty feet underground and the large earthen walls of the tomb were painted red. The Priestess-Queen was found at one end of the chamber and resting on a low platform with a simple bead necklace, consisting of local stones, adoring her neck. Two adult skeletons were also found alongside the Priestess-Queen, who have been presumed to be sacrificed female attendants and five children were also buried in the tomb.

The most important clue that identified the female skeleton as a powerful Moche Priestess-Queen was a tall silver goblet that was found placed next to the skeleton. These silver goblets have been seen in numerous Moche art pieces, depicting scenes of human sacrifice and blood consumption. Other similar goblets were previously found in tombs of other Priestess-Queens.

Another clue to the female’s identity as an important person was the coffin itself. The coffin is assumed to have been made out of wood or cane, as it has decayed over the many centuries leaving only the copper plaques that covered it. The plaques trace out a typical Moche design, consisting of waves and steps, which now lay beside the skeleton where the wall of the coffin collapsed. Near the head of the skeleton was a copper funerary mask, which is thought to have been arranged on top of the coffin at the time of burial, and by the foot of the coffin were two pieces of copper shaped like sandals. Castillo Butters explains that “the coffin was anthropomorphised so that it became a person”.

The funerary mask discovered next to the Moche Priestess-Queen, who's skeleton can be seen in the background.

The funerary mask discovered next to the Moche Priestess-Queen, who’s skeleton can be seen in the background.

“The Moche seem to have believed that the identities that gave prominence to these individuals in life were to be maintained after death,” explains Castillo Butters. “Accordingly, they imbued their burials not only with symbols of religion and power, but [also] with the artifacts and costumes that allowed the priest and priestesses to continue performing their ritual roles in the afterlife.”

Click here to read about the Llullaillco Maiden, a 500yr old Inca child mummy, who was recently discovered to have been drugged before being sacrificed for the Incan ritual of Capacocha.

Quick Tips: How To Estimate The Chronological Age Of A Human Skeleton – The Basics.

Estimation of age-at-death involves observing morphological features in the skeletal remains, comparing the information with changes recorded for recent populations of known age, and then estimating any sources of variability likely to exist between the prehistoric and the recent population furnishing the documented data. This third step is seldom recognized or discussed in osteological studies, but it represents a significant element. – Ubelaker, D. 1989.

There are numerous markers on a human skeleton which can provide archaeologists and anthropologists with an estimate age of the deceased. The areas of the skeletal remains that are studied are:

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.

We can age skeletal remains to a rough estimate, as over a lifetime a human skeleton undergoes sequential chronological changes. Teeth appear and bone epiphyseal form and fuse during childhood and adolescence, with some bone fusing, metamorphose and degeneration carrying on after the age of twenty. Buikstra and Ubelaker, 1994, developed seven age categories that human osteological remains are separated into. The seven age classes are; fetus (before birth), infant (0-3 years), child (3-12 years), adolescent (12-20 years), young adult (20-35 years), middle adult (35-50 years), and old adult (50+ years).

When it comes to ageing skeletal remains, there are numerous problems. This is because individuals of the same chronological age can show difference degrees of development. Therefore, this causes archaeologists and anthropologists to obtain an accurate age estimate, which may not be precise.

It should be noted that it is a lot easier to deduce a juvenile/sub-adult’s age, as the ends of the limb bones form and fuse at known ages and the ages of which tooth formation and eruption occur are very well documented, although somewhat variable. After maturity there is little continuing skeletal change to observe, this causes adult ageing to become more difficult.

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 ageing skeletal remains, the next in this series will focus on the epiphyseal closure method of ageing sub-adults. To read more Quick Tips in the mean time, click here

To learn about basic fracture types and their characteristics/origins click here!

Quick Tips: How can you tell if a skeletal fracture is ante, peri or post-mortem?

There is a relatively easy way to see whether a fracture to a skeleton is ante, peri or even post mortem. It is essential to detail and deduce which category a fracture falls into, as this is very important to see whether the fracture had played a part in the person’s death.

To first classify a fracture, we need to understand what the different categories mean. Some of you will already know these terminology, but here’s a quick reminder;

  • If a fracture is ante-mortem, it means that the fracture was made before death of the persons.
  • With peri-mortem fractures, it means that the fracture was received at or near the time of death of the persons – so could have been the fatal strike.
  • Post-mortem fractures are fractures that have been received after death, so during the time from death to the time of recovery. These fractures are usually from excavation processes, dismemberment, or even natural processes (soil, animal and plant activity).

You will be able to determine if a bone fracture was ante-mortem due to there being signs of healing which is shown by cell regrowth and repair.

With peri-mortem fractures, the person died before the healing started to take place, but the fractures will still contain the biomechanics that are present in ante-mortem fractures.

Post-mortem breaks tend to shatter compared to peri-mortem breaks which splinter, this is because bones which are in the post-mortem stage tend to be dry and rather brittle. Another big indicator of a fracture being post-mortem is the difference in colour.

The ‘Quick Tip’ that my applied anthropology lecturer taught me on how to easily distinguish between peri-mortem and post-mortem is to look at the fracture and decide; is it a clean break, as if you were breaking in half a bar of chocolate? If it is, then the fracture is most likely to be a peri-mortem fracture. If the break looks crumbly, like breaking a biscuit in half, it’s post-mortem fracture. Obviously this tip is not the most scientific, but it’s an easy way to begin your distinguishing process.

Image

Skull with signs of post-mortem fractures. This photo is from a practical lab session.

If you look at the photo above it illustrates a post-mortem fracture. You can determine this easily due to the colour difference on the edge of the fracture, where it is a much lighter colour compared to the rest of the skull and the crumbly nature of the cut.

References:

Most of this is my own knowledge that I learnt during my degree in my anthropology lectures/lab practical sessions. But if you’re looking for a published journal check the one below. It is very informative and easy to understand if you’re a beginner in the world of anthropology/archaeology! It also highlights some problems that can arise when distinguishing trauma, it’s really interesting!

Smith, A.C. 2010. Distinguishing Between Antemortem, Perimortem, and Postmortem Trauma. Academia.edu. Available from here in .pdf form!

Read more anthropology/archaeology quick tips here!

Unusual-ology: Unexpected Items in the Bagging Area…

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

Archaeologists have made a very peculiar discovery in a churchyard near the St Pancras train station in London. The researchers, led by Phil Emery from Ramboll Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, have stumbled upon a coffin dating back between 1822 and 1858.  What has made the coffin so strange is that it had a large selection of bones from many different animals mixed among human remains. Within the coffin were nine bones from a Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), eight mixed sets of human remains – including three skulls, and a tortoise.

Image

Top: Collection of the walrus bones. Bottom Left: The walrus’ back right leg. Bottom Right: The skull showing visible signs consistent with craniotomy.

The coffin was originally discovered in 2003 during excavations of the horizontal burial trench underneath the station, when the Eurostar terminal moved from Waterloo to St Pancras. Emery & Wooldridge (2011) have noted that the bones discovered have marks which are consistent to dissection, which was legalised by the Anatomy Act of 1832, with one skull showing evidence of craniotomy (drilling a hole in the skull to gain access to the brain). As the animal bones were found alongside human remains, Emery believes that the bones were used as a teaching collection from a research institute and has said that:

“The animal bone consisted of a small, moderately-preserved group of eight bones derived from a walrus of a very large size and robust build.’The sample includes bones from a lower fore-limb, a fore-foot, first and second metacarpal, the lower hind limbs, fibula, calcaneum, astragalus and first cuneiform. These bones are significantly larger than their reference equivalents held at the Natural History Museum. Microscopic examination revealed that all the St Pancras walrus bones show some degree of surface erosion and butchery marks. Three clear superficial transverse knife cuts were noted.”

The walrus bones have now been moved to the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre in Hackney, East London.

If you’ve enjoyed this new ‘Unsual-ology’ post feature – leave a comment or a like!

If you want to read more unusual science posts click here, or to read the Unusual-ology post on the Ancient Egyptian use of lettuce as an aphrodisiac, click here. Or to read about the newly discovered ‘Entrance to Hell’ click here!

 

References:

Daily Mail. 2013. The ongoing mystery around how a Pacific walrus ended up buried in a human coffin beneath London’s St Pancras station. Daily Mail News. Article available here.

Emery, P., Wooldridge, K. 2011. St Pancras burial ground: excavations for St Pancras International, the London terminus of High Speed 1, 2002–3. Gifford, London. This book can be found here. 

Telegraph. 2013. Walrus remains found buried under St Pancras station in London. Telegraph News. Available from here.

Photos from my dig experience – DBD’ 2011

 

Image

Panoramic view of the site – Day 5, clearing the topsoil to show off the hidden features.

Here is a blog post with some chosen photos from my time on the Durotriges Big Dig – held yearly by Bournemouth University. I went on this excavation as part of my first year units where I had to be part of this experience for the whole of June. We worked from 8-5pm every day and only had Sundays off. It really opened my eyes to the world of archaeology and gripped me and pushed me to carry on doing my course.This site is aged to be that of late Iron Age – Roman and is situated in Dorset, England and there is a Roman villa situated on site along with numerous houses.

I was allocated my own pit, which was a midden (refuse pit), where I was lucky enough to stumble upon two skeletons – one juvenile and one perinatal. It was amazing to have such a hands on experience so soon after starting my degree.

Image

Here I am in my pit, doing an action shot with my trusty 4inch trowel! I had to wear a hard hat as the midden was more than 1m in depth and there is hard/sharp chalk everywhere!

Image

Here is a whole over shot of my lovely midden.

Image

Here I am recording the contexts of my pit when it was newly uncovered with a clean edge to visualise the different colours/sediment types.

Image

Here is my first ever context plan!

Image

And this is my perinatal skeleton which I lifted and stored away and cared for over the last 2 weeks of my dig. 

Image

On of the many finds trays I went through – you can see the bones, bits of pottery and other goodies I found. In the evidence bag/foil is a huge lump of charcoal which was sent to the lab to be dated.

I had so much fun on this excavation and really enjoyed the teamwork and community whilst we all shared each others wheelbarrows when we needed to get rid of our useless dirt.

– Rosie