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




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.’

A Lecture by Prof. Sue Black

This post will give you a little update on my PhD work, but mostly I’m going to talk about a lecture that I attended yesterday presented by Professor Sue Black at the Royal Society of Medicine.

Since my last post I have been carrying out the first round of measurements and recordings to test my new method for recording dental wear. The next step to do complete some statistical analysis and to highlight and issues that need to be rectified. I think the plan is to do these tests, make some adjustments and additions to the method and then repeat the recordings. I should imagine that I will be doing this a few times to ensure a robust and accurate is produced.

To take a little break from my PhD work a couple of friends and I had a trip into London. A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me about the Royal Society of Medicine‘s Jephcott Lecture. This year’s lecture was by the esteemed Professor Sue Black, and entitled: the Real World of Forensic Anthropology

I had didn’t really have any expectations before going into the lecture, although I had heard that Sue Black was a wonderful speaker – which I can confirm! I thought that there might be a discussion of the differences between the public’s perception of forensic anthropology and the reality, and there was a bit, but the lecture was so much more than that. It started off pretty light hearted by highlighting some of the skills needed by a forensic anthropologist, e.g. the ability to distinguish between human and animal, but quickly moved onto some case examples.

The first example case was of a young man whose remains were found in some woods, it was later discovered that he had committed suicide. The following case was of a women, murdered by her husband. In both examples, Prof Black explained clearly how each case was solved, and expressed the importance of particular bits of evidence. For example, a shard of bone was discovered in the second case and instead of being destroyed, to provide DNA evidence, it was examined and identified as being part of the sphenoid bone, located within the cranial vault. This meant that the case could be increased to a murder or manslaughter charge because anyone who had that part of their skull damaged would not have survived. If the bone had been used for  DNA only it would have only revealed the individual’s identify, a fact that had already been confirmed from blood spatter. It was clear that Prof Black wanted to demonstrate the importance of forensics and the impact that it can have on a case’s direction and intent.

Following these cases the lecture focused on the forensic anthropologist’s role in the identification of sexual predators. When I first read about this lecture I had not realised that it would have taken this route, however, it was extremely interesting, although very sad. In some cases of sexual assault the abuser will take photographs that will include parts of their body, as well as the victims. Professor Black informed the audience that a recent approach in the identification of such abusers related to the pattern and visible variation in the veins, freckles, wrinkles and other physical characteristics. Over time Prof Black, and her department, have helped to compile a database to investigate this variation and have conducted research to identity whether it can prove useful in a court of law to convict an individual of a crime.

As I have said it was an extremely interesting lecture, and there was certainly food for thought afterwards! I do hope that more research and funding can go into the area of forensic anthropology.

In addition to the lecture content there were two other take home messages. The first was to not believe any of the science on CSI, or similar detective shows. It’s true that they are (extremely loosely) based on a type of forensic anthropology, but they are incredibly misleading. I have recently started watching Bones (a bit late on the band-wagaon I know!) and I must admit I do enjoy it, whilst ignoring some of the horrible inaccuracies! However, if I was a member of the public, with no or little real knowledge about forensic anthropology, I can see how damaging these shows are. They create an expectation of what could be achieved that the real world just can’t live up to. My personal recommendation would be if you enjoy watching these shows – great, but please read around the subject, read biographies of real forensic anthropologists, watch real (and creditable!) documentaries. It is a fascinating subject, but the public must be accurately informed. 

The second message that Professor Black gave was that if you want to work in the world of forensics study a hard science. Forensic anthropology is a huge field and taking a course to study the subject in general will not be enough. Study chemistry, biology, anatomy. These are just a few of the subjects that are a part of the forensic sciences. So to any aspiring forensic anthropologists – take Sue Black’s advice, she is the one to follow!

My visit to the Wellcome Collection and British Museum

Body slice from the Wellcome Collection

Body slice from the Wellcome Collection

As I was in London to day I visited both these museums and took some pictures – find out more on my page or go to my tumblr account to see my photos.

Click here for my pictures from the Wellcome Collection and here for the Bristh Museum.

A Quiet trip to London

An empty carriage in London!

An empty carriage in London!

I enjoy going up to London but sometimes the traveling can be annoying/busy/uncomfortable. Not this time! I had a carriage all to myself which is pretty rare! OK it was on the Waterloo and City Line Saturday morning but still! So  where was I going?  Only to see Richard II at the Barbican as well as the Museum of London – both were amazing! See my ‘What I’ve Been up to Page – December 2013‘ for more.

Museums Showoff – What a great idea!

Museums Showoff

Really cool idea – an open mic night for people who work in or love museums. Must get myself to one of these!