A busy few weeks …

Well hasn’t March flown by?! It feels like ages ago when I last updated my blog, but it isn’t really but in the last 2 weeks so much has happen. I have been to two more institutions to see their collections and the conference I was helping to organize took place. It’s been a great – but very very busy – couple of weeks!

So a couple of weeks ago I headed up to the University of Bradford to look at an Iron Age collection they have in their Biological Anthropology Research Centre. I was there for the whole week as it was a large collection but it was very productive. Whilst I was there I was told that there was also a Bronze Age collection and as I was able to get through the Iron Age sample quite quickly I had time to look at the Bronze Age stuff as well. So I got two collections for the price of one!

As well as the great collections at Bradford I have to talk about the amazing facilities they have there. I gather that a few years ago the Archaeology department moved buildings and were provided with brand new lab spaces, and I must say they are wonderful! They are spacious, well organized and very modern. It made collecting my data much easier. I hope that the Bradford students realize how lucky they are!

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Some of the facilities at University of Bradford. Image from twicopy.org/en/BradToothFairy

Oh and a bonus thing that happened whilst I was in Bradford. I met Prof. Keith Manchester. For those who don’t know much about bioarchaeology /osteology Keith Manchester is quite big in paleopathology – my key textbook I used during my undergraduate degree to learn about the subject was co-authored by him. He was so lovely and was kind enough to show me around some of the other lab and teaching spaces in the department. It was so nice meeting him and not at all scary!

So my week was in Bradford was over. As I said it was a great week and I got a lot done, but my travels were not over. The following week I was in Sheffield visiting the museum’s collection. Before getting onto that, however, just a quick side note. I’ve probably mentioned before that I play hockey (field not ice!) and this year my team has been going for promotion. Now this weekend (between my two trips) we had seen very important game – of we won or drew then we were guaranteed first play in the league a promotion. So there was quite a bit of pressure and I was very nervous before the game, but we played really well and won! We were so happy (of course!), we had confirmed our place at the top! It was amazing and I so pleased and proud of the team. We’ve had a couple of ups and downs but we got there in the end. And a special thanks must go out to our coach Chris. If you’re interested you can find the match report for the game here.

After a good week in Bradford and an amazing hockey game I was up in Sheffield visiting the museum’s stores. I had another successful week and saw many Bronze Age remains, and a few Neolithic. One thing that was annoying was the condition of some of the remains. Some of the skulls had been reconstructed using glue and plaster making them heavy and a few had their jaws glued together so I couldn’t examine their teeth. Now I must stress that this is due to a result of old collectors back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and not the museum. Collectors in the past did not seem to have that much interest in studying the remains but just collected them. For this reason many of these skeletal collections only possess the skulls, which is annoying for modern day researchers. I’m sure that there’s a project in there examining the history of collecting and the reason behind these practices but that’s for someone else! Regardless of these specimens there were plenty of others that were of use to my project and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Sheffield, and the members of staff were brilliant.

Before moving on I must give a special thanks to Leigh Ann, the collection assistant, who was really helpful and great to talk to. Leigh Ann knew so much about the various collections held by the museum and I learnt a lot. It’s also a bonus that she recommended some great podcasts to listen to! Hopefully we’ll bump into one another again, maybe at the Society of Museum Archaeologists (SMA) later this year.Leigh-Ann and the other staff members were great, I highly recommend visiting Sheffield Museum and that you use their collections if you are a researcher!

After all of the traveling and data collection the weekend of March 24th offered something else that was very exciting –  the SSSB Conference! I have mentioned this in previous posts but SSSB is an inter-disciplinary conference exploring death, anatomy, attitudes to the body, mortuary practices and more, with SSSB standing for Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies. I am committee member for this and I can’t believe how quickly it came round but here it was!

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What can I say? I think that it was a great success! We had a wide range of speakers discussing everything from mortuary practices seen in archaeology to new approaches to viewing the remains of Pompeii to how should be approach medical students about the donated bodies. You can see a full list of abstracts of the papers and posters presented here to understand the complete variety of work. We also two great Keynotes by Dr Heather Bonney and Prof. Caroline Wilkinson discussing the history of collecting and the history and use of facial reconstruction. I even ran a workshop with another PhD student  introducing delegates to bioarchaeology and how to age, sex and identify pathology on human skeletal remains. All in all it was a great conference and I met so many interesting and wonderful people. If you are interested search for #SSSB2017 on twitter or check our twitter page @sssbconf. 

Over I got the impression that most people enjoyed it and found that it was quite different to other conferences they had been to. Hopefully, the delegates were introduced to new topics, ideas and perspectives that may provide new considerations for their own work. There already been talk of SSSB 2018 so fingers crossed that goes ahead and we can make the conference even better for next year!

Now I have a day of rest, with the in-laws visiting, then tomorrow it’s back to work!

 

Up to Manchester!

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Butterfly mobile taken during my visit to Manchester Museum

This last month I’ve been so busy with writing and sorting out my data that I haven’t had a chance to do anything with my blog. In the last week, however, I’ve visited two more museums to look at some Neolithic and Bronze Age teeth.

A few days ago I took my first trip up to Manchester. I’ve never been to this part of the country but needed to go and visit Lancaster Maritime Museum and Manchester Museum. Both museums were lovely but I only really got a chance to have a look around Manchester Museum. It reminded me of a small Natural History Museum as it had quite a lot of animal specimens – including a lot of skulls! I took plenty of pictures of these and I might write some posts about them, like my old ‘skull of the month‘ posts.

It was really nice to go up north for a bit. I traveled up with my boyfriend, and it was lovely having the company! We also stayed with some friends who I haven’t seen for a couple of years. It was so nice seeing them! We even talked about going on holiday to the Lakes one day – something I’m very keen to do. Oh and they also had very cute cat called Arthur. He was such a sweetie and playing with him made me want one of my own. Maybe one day.

In other news the conference is going really well. I haven’t talked about it for a while but remember that I’m on the committee for a conference called Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies? Well that’s happening at the end of this month. I can’t believe it’s coming up so soon, but everything is coming together and we have lots of people registered. I think it’s going to be really good, especially for a brand new conference! It’s really exciting and I’m really pleased to be a part of it. But before then I have two more collections to visit, and quite a bit of data analysis and write up to finish!

Where has Christmas gone?!

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A shot of London from Waterloo Bridge, taken on my way home from the Hunterian Museum.

My last blog post was before Christmas so that’s nearly a month ago now. How time flies when you’ve got work to do! I would say my new years resolution would be to write more blog posts, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the time. As well my PhD work, the conference I’m a committee member for is getting ever closer! Maybe after March (and the conference) I’ll have some more time. I really want to expand these blog posts to more than ‘what I’ve been up to’ – maybe I’ll have the time soon!

Ah, Christmas feels so long ago now, but it was lovely. I managed to have a week off to see family, catch up with some old friends and generally chill out for a bit. It was great – even with a horrible cough and cold! But a week goes pretty fast when you’re having fun and I was soon home again and back carrying on with the PhD.

The PhD stuff is going well, I’ve booked to go and visit some new museums (that have Neolithic remains hooray!) and started going down to visit the Dorset County Museum. It’s pretty far to go but they have some really useful collections. Plus their stores are in a church, which is quite interesting if a little cold! I’ve said before that I really enjoy going to these museums as I get to meet new people. This week that included Claire Randall a zoo- and osteo-  archeologist. We had a lovely chat and it was great finding out about her work. This week I’ve also been brushing up on my statistics, which I have a love-hate relationship with! It can be a pain to get through but it’s so satisfying once you’ve done it and got it right!

Enough about the PhD work. The other cool thing I’m involved in at the moment is the Skeletons Stories and Social Bodies conference. I’ve talked about in many times (and you can find out even more by visiting our website) but it’s now getting quite close!  We’ve now had all of the abstracts in and produced a draft schedule. I am really looking forward to it as we have some great presentations covering a wide range of things! I know the speakers will be great but I also can’t wait to meet some of the delegates. There are quite a few people on social media who have been really supportive and enthusiastic about the conference and it would be great to finally put some names to faces! Not to long to wait now 😀

Finally, today I was back helping pack the collections at the Hunterian Museum. I think I asy this every time but I do enjoy working there. The people are great and I love the museum, but it also gives me some head space away from my PhD work. It’s so easy to become obsessed and constantly worried that I should be working that it’s nice to escape once a fortnight! So I’ll be back there in two weeks time, still packing away.

 

Data Collection Continues – Into the Hampshire Cultural Trust Stores

hct3I’m a little bit late posting this week as I’ve been really busy collecting data. I’ve had a couple of very productive days data collecting, which should continue next week.

 

Since Wednesday of this week I’ve been in the stores of Hampshire Cultural Trust. Here they hold a lot of the finds from archaeology excavations undertake in the county of Hampshire, including a lot of human remains. I contacted the Trust a month or two ago who sent me a list of their human remains holding. I was so pleased as they have a lot, particularly of Iron Age remains. So this week I started working at the stores, based near Winchester and will be returning for at least one more day next week to finish going through their material.

 

So far I’ve managed to go through the material of some of the small Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, but their are a few more to finish next week. The biggest collection I used was material from the Iron Age Danebury hill fort. I haven’t carried out much research just yet about the site itself but the human remains were in pretty good shape and will be a great addition to any my work. It’s certainly boosted my numbers of Iron Age material, I just need to find some more Bronze Age skeletons now!

 

Hopefully next week I’ll finish at the Hampshire Cultural Trust and there’s a chance that I’ll be heading back to the Corinium Museum stores in Cirencester. I’m also heading into London this week for a talk based at the Old Operating Theatre for a talk about Body Snatchers! I can’t wait!

Data Collection in the Cotswolds

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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

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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