Data Collection in the Cotswolds


My last blog post found me in Cardiff to visit the National Museum of Wales, to see their human remains collection. Since then I have continued with my museum trips and data collection, and so far so good!


On Monday I went to the Museum in the Park. A local museum in Stroud, a town in Gloucestershire. Although my boyfriend lived there when we first went out I never got round to visiting the museum, so here was a great opportunity. It’s a lovely museum located in a beautiful park so is a great place to visit with the family. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to go round the museum apart from walking to a few display cases to measure a couple of skulls! However, from what I did see it looked really nice and well laid ou t- certainly a place to go back and visit.

Whilst at Museum in the Park I was able to measure a number of teeth dating to the Neolithic for my PhD research. These predominately consisted of mandibles but as Neolithic material isn’t great in number these are a welcome addition! It was great working with the collection and I have to say a special thanks to the Documentation and Collections Officer for the museum, Alexia Clark. Alexia was extremely helpful and accommodating and I very much appreciated her help. I don’t see myself heading back to Stroud Museum to collect any more data but if I’m in the area again I may make a special trip to have a proper look around.

In addition to Stroud I also went to the stores of Corinium Museum, Cirencester. As I was born in Swindon, about 20 miles away, I went to the Corinium Museum as a kid. However, I only really remember the Roman exhibits and displays that they have. For this trip I was again looking at Neolithic remains from the site of Hazleton North. Again, I managed to examine some lovely Neolithic teeth, there was also the added bonus of a complete individual and a number of skulls. This is pretty impressive as many of the Neolithic material is dis-articulated and therefore it is difficult to determine specific individuals. This collection will be a great addition to my research.

At some point in the future I will be returning to the Cirencester stores as they have at least one other collection that I wish to use. This is the Anglo-Saxon material from Butler’s Field. Plus there may be a few additional sites dating to the Bronze Age and Iron Age, so I will definitely be going there again soon. Again, the staff at the museum have been incredibly helpful and so everyone I have met have been amazing. They definitely adding to my PhD experience and reinforces my desire to work within the museum sector in some capacity one day!

Although my data collecting has so far been straightforward and without any issues there is one aspect that leaves food for thought. Whilst at working through the Hazleton North material I found that a number of teeth, predominately molars, had been removed for isotopic analysis. This of course means that I cannot use them for my project. This isotopic work has increased the understanding of the individuals within the collection, including what food they ate and where they originated. In some aspects this will aid my research as the diet can be determined, which is vital for understanding the factors contributing to dental wear. On the other hand, I am now unable to include those teeth in my own research. This means that there are some individuals that I can no longer use, as no molars are present, therefore reducing my sample size. I see this an unavoidable annoyance. I respect the other researchers, and certainly their research will contribute to my own work in an alternative way, and most importantly their work will provide useful insights of the past. None-the-less, I can’t help but feel a twinge of irritation – especially if it effects a juvenile individual!

Next week I hope to visit some of the collections held by Hampshire Cultural Trust, and in the mean time I have to finish taking measurement from my photos of the collections and attend a friend’s engagement party, oh and play two hockey matches! At some point I will have a day off!

A Trip to Cardiff


National Museum of Wales. Image.

This week has been a good week so far. I had a successful weekend playing hockey, I feel like I’m making progress with my PhD writing and I went up to Cardiff Museum to check out their prehistoric human remains. Oh and this Saturday it’s my birthday so I’m going to my mum’s to spend the weekend with the family!

It was my first trip to the museum in Cardiff, the National Museum of Wales. I’ve been to Cardiff before a few times (the last one was to visit the Doctor Who Experience last year!) but this was the first time I’ve been to the museum. It’s in a lovely building in the center of the city. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get a chance to have a wonder around but from the few rooms I did see it looked great!
The whole point of going to Cardiff was to look at some prehistoric remains and determine whether they would be suitable for my project. This meant going through quite a few boxes to see what dentition was present and I definitely found some individuals that can be used! This is great news as it means that I am making a start on my data collection and that I will have some Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age specimens under my belt. So in a months time I’ll be returning to measure some teeth and take some photographs.
Alongside the collections work I’m also working hard on my written stuff as I’ll have to submit my upgrade in 6 months – which is terrifying! However,  I have written quite a lot and so at the moment it’s a case of editing and working out what I need to add. I’m hoping that it will come together quite easily and by Christmas I’ll be submitting a full draft to my supervisors!

The New Plan – Weekly Updates!

So I’ve been a bit rubbish with my blog (again!) but Ive told myself that I am going to be better from now on. I guess I haven’t written much as I haven’t felt that there’s much to say. HOWEVER, I am now back volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons and I’m going to start visiting museums to access their collections for my PhD work. That means there should be plenty to talk about so I have no excuse for not keeping up with the blog!
So first things first, I’m back at the Royal College of Surgeons volunteering. It’s been about a year since I was last here but I couldn’t help but come back! I enjoyed working here so much and the people are lovely so I was just waiting for the right time.
Now I’m back I’m doing something slightly different then previously, where I was tasked with creating inventories for a couple of collections. This time I’m packing objects/human remains ready for decanting and moving them to a new site. This is because the building in which the museums department is based is getting renovated and so most of the collections have to be moved off site. So far the boxes of remains I have been working on have been straight forward. This has included sorting a couple of boxes of loose ribs and one half (a complete right side) of a skeleton. I’m having to think about how best to wrap and pack each box so that the bones are safe and secure, ready to be moved. As I said the boxes so far have been relatively simple to sort out, but I’m sure there are going to be some tricky ones coming my way!
So that’s my volunteering stuff, now for a quick update about my PhD. I’m now at the stage where I am contacting museums in search of human remains that would be suitable for my project. At times this has been fairly straightforward. I’ve identified a collection, either from some literature or an online resource, then contacted the museum and have been able to find exactly what I am looking for. On other occasions it’s been a little more complicated. For example, I may have found the original excavation report that identifies a collection but it is then difficult to locate the remains. In these situations I have contacted the most likely institutions or commercial archaeological company and went from there. It’s taken a little bit of time but I now feel that I have identified a good amount of skeletal collections, at least as a starting point.
So what’s next? Well I’m visiting the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and Cirencester museum over the next 2 weeks. Here I  hoping to have a preliminary look at the remains that they have to see how suitable they are for my project. I will (hopefully!) arrange another date to go back and measure any of the remains that can be used in my research. In the mean time I’m going to start contacting the museums that have collections that are appropriate for my work and get some dates for visits in the diary. My aim is to see and measure as many skeletons as possible before April next year, when my PhD upgrade will be. So lots of work to do but I can’t wait to get started with the data collection!
As I said before, now that I’ll be visiting new places and collections, plus the volunteering, I should be able to write an update of my progress and experiences every week! Here’s hoping! Skeleton-Hands-Facebook-Cover

New News!

In the last week two cool things have been confirmed:

I’m really excited about both of these and can’t wait to get stuck in.

The Volunteering


Inside the Hunterian Museum. Image taken from here.

About 2 years ago I started volunteering at in the museums department of the Royal College of Surgeons and enjoyed it so much that continued to work there until I started my PhD. Whilst there I was lucky enough to work with some amazing osteology collections and saw some interesting pathologies. I really enjoyed working there and was sad to leave, however, I knew I needed time to settle into my PhD.

A year on I have made the decision to return once a fortnight, so not to impact with my studies too much, to volunteer once again. I am so happy to be returning and to see some of the people I had met previously and can’t wait to get started. I am hoping to start this week, although I am waiting for confirmation, but already know what I will be working on – but I’ll wait until I’ve started to tell you all about it! It will be so lovely to go back, and a positive (and useful!) distraction from my PhD work.

Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies

SSSB logo

The SSSB logo. Check the conference out here.

A fellow PhD student and friend of mine from Southampton (archaeosarah) and colleagues have set up a new conference called Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies (SSSB) and I have offered to be a committee member. It will be an inter-disciplinary conference for discussing topics surrounding death, anatomy, attitudes to the body, mortuary practices, and more! This will be a joint conference by the Osteoarchaeology group (Department of Archaeology) and the Centre for Learning Anatomical Sciences (CLAS) at the University of Southampton.

Since volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons I have become more and more interested in anatomy and therefore saw this as a great opportunity to learn more about the subject. Last year I helped out with the University of Southampton’s student conference, PGRAS, for the archaeology department. I therefore thought helping out with SSSB would be a great way to build on this experience.

Part of my role as a committee member will be to help with the general organisation of the conference and  to read submitted abstracts and proposals. In addition to this I have been asked to help out with promoting the SSSB on social media. This will certainly be a useful skill to develop as so much is carried out in this way now – plus it should help with my networking skills. I’m sure there’ll be lots of other things to help with and I’m definitely going to get stuck in – I may even run a workshop!

Please go and check out the conference and sign up to our mailing list for updates!



Twitter: @sssbconf or #sssbconf



New Page – Identifying Molars

It’s been a while since my last post and I’ve been meaning to create a page for identifying and distinguishing molars a while now, but I’ve finally gotten round to it.

At university and during my time as an undergraduate I found it quite difficult to  distinguish between the different teeth – particularly the molars. As my PhD project focuses on these teeth I had to quickly gets to grips with identifying molar teeth correctly. I’ve therefore created a new page to help other osteologists out there who need some extra help!

This page only includes the upper and lower permanent molars as they are the teeth I am most familiar with. Also, some of the tips and features I have mentioned below are from my own observations although the majority come from Simon Hillson’s book ‘Dental Anthropology,’ (1996) which I highly recommend if you are going to spend any time looking at teeth.

Go and check it out here! Also, I’m always happy to receive feedback and comments🙂

SWWDTP Session: Connections with Collections

I recently attended a really interesting session called ‘Making Connections with Collections: Meet the Professionals,’ an opportunity to discuss, hear and learn about some of the aspects of working with museum collections. The aim of the session was to aid doctoral students to improve their understanding of effective collaborations with museums and their collections to locate resources, develop methodologies, and engage with different audiences and communicating research outcomes. It was also a great opportunity to meet of the professionals who are involved in museum work and collections. Before I go into too much detail or discussion about the day and how it has helped me I should say that this session organised by the South, West & Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWWDTP) and hosted by the University of Reading and the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL). You can also see a program from the day here.

A range of topics were discussed, and there were plenty of opportunities to raise any points of interest or any issues that were project specific. Although I did not have any particular points to raise it has given me plenty to think about! I have come away thinking about my project and how to make it more accessible to the public, as well as some issues that could be dealt with regarding osteological collections. Before today I hadn’t given much thought to these issues, but they will now be unlikely to go from my mind!

My PhD project, as I’ve probably already mentioned, is to assess an existing method for estimating age of human skeletons from the amount of dental wear present. Until now I had faintly considered the use and implications of the method in relation to archaeologists, particularly in the commercial sector. This is because an aim of my project is to create something that is easy and simple to use, but is also accurate, as the method may need to be applied in an environment where time could be restricted. However, interacting with a wider, more amateur, audience was not really a consideration due to the assumption of basic osteological knowledge that would be needed in order to apply the method.  Yet the SWWDTP session has allowed me to consider a wider setting, in which my knowledge would be applicable to a more diverse set of people.

Some thoughts that have occurred to me, thanks to the session, include:

  1. A discussion of the ‘A History of Teeth.’ Linking teeth with diet through time.
  2. A conversation about why are some archaeological methods taken as verbatim: why is there a lack of accuracy tests for some ‘traditional’ archaeological methods?
  3. The production of a UK osteological collections database.

The first idea is extremely very large and ambitious as it would need to include a wide range of resources, materials and time. However, I intend discuss the relationship between dental wear and diet through my period of study (Neolithic – Medieval). It would be a great project, or exhibition, to view diet through time and how is this reflected in the dentition. Many people have said to me when I have told them about my project that would I be able to age them from their teeth? My answer is always ‘no, not from dental wear.’ This is because the modern diet is much softer and more processed than in the past so dental wear is not prevalent, and therefore cannot be applied as an aging method. It would be great to address this on a wider scale and educate people on their teeth. I am sure few know how useful teeth are, other than for eating!

The other two ideas are, I feel, important aspects of archaeology. My project is based on a method that was created in the 1960s and has not been altered since. During my literature review I have also found little evidence of accuracy or reliability tests to confirm the precision of the method – even though it is one of the most popular methods for age estimation of adult skeletons. This is a huge problem and one in which I cannot quite get my head around! In discussion with other archaeology students I have been informed that this is not a unique occurrence and other methods have been applied without question for many years. It would be really interesting to start a conversation about why this has happened and what would be the ways of tackling this. I am not sure how I would start going about this, but it is certainly something to think about!

It would also be of great use to produce a database that provided information about osteological collections within the UK. I have not found one that currently exists – please correct me if I am wrong! However, I do feel that it would be extremely useful if such a database existed and included information such as period and links or references to research papers that had been conducted on each collection. I do understand that are potential issues for creating such a database, however, it would allow greater accessibility – and a much more collaborative approach – for researchers. It would certainly provide a quicker and easier method of finding relevant resources, which leaves more time for new research!

I hope that one day I can come back to these ideas with answers or ways to tackle them, but for now they are some interesting topics to think about. All thanks to the great SWWFTP session ‘Making Connections with Collections: Meet the Professionals.’

First Presentation as a PhD Student

SEW PGRAS Logo black

Logo for PGRAS 2016. Designed by the wonderful Stephanie Evelyn-Wright. Follow her on Twitter @archaeowright

Sorry that it’s been a while since the last post, I’ve been busy collecting preliminary data, doing some stats and writing stuff up for the PhD. There’s nothing overwhelmingly exciting just yet as I’m laying the ground work for my future research but it’s going ahead nicely, which is the important thing!

In addition to the more practical side of my PhD I have been preparing for my first year presentation, which I had to complete as a ‘milestone.’ This was given yesterday (20th May 2016) as part of a departmental symposium. On the whole I felt that the presentation went well. I tried to explain my research clearly using simple definitions in order to suit an audience with little osteological knowledge. There was also a question asking if I would be sexing the skeletons to compare rates of dental wear, which I answered yes. I also intend to compare the wear rates of the left and right molars, and the molars from the upper (maxilla) and lower (mandibular) jaws. My aim with this is to test the assumptions that there is an equal an regular rate of wear across the mouth. So on the whole I think it was OK – but I’ll have a meeting with my supervisor soon to discuss how it went, so I will know for sure then!

So where was this presentation? At Southampton Uni as part of the PhD I have to give a first year presentation. I guess this is to make sure of all the students progress, but also to give us a chance to present, which may not be very often for some students. In some departments all of the first year students presents together on the same day. However, in Archaeology we have a two day conference like event where first years, plus many of the other PhD students, present to the rest of the department. This is a great chance to find out what other research is going on in the department and who’s doing what!

Now this conference, called the Post Graduate Research Archeology Symposium (PGRAS), has to be organised by the students themselves. This usually consists of first year PhD students who form a committee. The committee has to put out a call for abstracts, arranging the conference schedule, sending emails, promoting the conference via social media and hosting the symposium. This is a great way to get some experience of what ‘real’ academic conferences are like and what is involved when organising them. Therefore I signed up to help out.

It was a great experience and by volunteering to be on the PGRAS committee I got to meet some wonderful people within my department. I also got the chance to gain some valuable experience, which I am sure will help me out in the future. I didn’t have one specific role within the committee, but assisted where help was needed. This including arranging the schedule, which involved sorting the submitted abstracts into themes/sessions for the conference day, taking into account that some submissions had requests to present on a particular day or time. This was quite a difficult task, but after a couple of hours we as the committee were able to produce a schedule that was suitable for everyone.

I also helped out on some of the social media side for PGRAS. This included adding stuff to our Facebook account, updating the blog and scheduling tweets for Twitter. Of course I was there on the day as well to help man some cake and book stands (we were raising money for the charity Smile, based in Southampton). There were a lot of little things to sort out and organise but I think that we as a committee pulled together really well and were able to produce a successful symposium! It was definitely worth doing – even though as I write this I’m lain on my sofa, knackered from the past two days of the event!

So this week has been a good week and been able to add two new experiences as a PhD student: my first presentation and being part of a conference committee. This are some extremely valuable experiences, ones which I am sure I will build upon in the future!

P.s. If you want you can check out my abstract for the presentation, via the PGRAS blog here.

PGRAS poster