Return to Cardiff Museum

Sorry I didn’t post anything late week I was rather busy so it slipped my mind, so this post will talk about my last 2 weeks of work. This includes another trip to the stores of the Corinium Museum, volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons, a trip to the Cotswold Archaeology office and another up to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.
My visit to the Corinium Museum stores was successful again. I got through another load of Anglo-Saxon skeletons for my data collection. It’s such a good collection and its going to be very useful for my PhD project as it includes lots of juvenile individuals. This makes me very happy! However, I’ve got quite a few more trips to make to their stores as it’s such a large collection.
The day after my trip to Cirencester I was back at the Royal College  of Surgeons volunteering in the museums department. It’s been a few weeks since  I’ve been there as the museum has been quite busy and haven’t been able to have me in. However, it was great to be back packing more skeletons into boxes ready for the move. Of course, it was also great to see the staff members again. I do enjoy working there!
So that was last week. I started this week by coming up to Kemble, which is near Cirencester. The purpose of this trip was to visit one of the office of Cotswold Archaeology, as they had a couple of Bronze Age and Iron Age skeletons. Whilst there I got to meet a couple of lovely people, including Sharon Clough who gave me some great information regarding some of the other collections I’m intending to use in my research. I also got to chat to Sharon about commercial archaeology units and learn a bit more about them. I’ve only really visited museums and universities so far, so it was a really good opportunity to learn about the commercial sector – a completely new area for me!
This week has ended with a trip but to the National Museum of Wales, in Cardiff. In my last visit I went through the prehistoric human remains in their collection. This time I was going back to the relevant specimens and taking measurements. I’ve now managed to get collection of Neolithic individuals recorded, plus a few Bronze Age remains, which is always good!
So another day, another lot of data collection completed. I think it’s all going well – I feel like I’ve got a lot done, but then I still have a load more to do! As a little fish called Dory once said ‘just keep swimming!’

Update from Me

20150612_183947So I’ve been pretty poor at maintaining this blog recently for a number of reasons. Over the last month or so a lot a has happened which has meant that I haven’t had the time or energy to keep up the writing. However, these events have been well deserved and long-needed (even if I do say so myself!). The first major thing was that my boyfriend and I finally got to move into our own flat, it’s only taken us 7 and a half years! Since moving in and buying nice things to furnish it with we are both so much happier. It’s amazing how much a difference having our own space in a nice part of town, with only the two of us to worry about. It’s been quite a long wait but it was totally worth it!

The second major thing that has happened to me recently is that I applied for a studentship at the Univeristy of Southampton to do a PhD in Archaeology. After I completed my masters a couple of years ago I wasn’t convinced that further study was right for me and so I took my current job at Reading Univeristy as a Research Assistant. This job has been amazing allowing me to stay in an academic environment and work with some great people, assiting their research. Over the past year or so I have been thinking about my future and career and struggled to find something that I wanted to pursue. I was then shown the job advert for the PhD Studetship and it sounded ideal. My reasons for not pursuing a PhD sooner revolved around the topic and cost, however this one ticked all of the boxes. The studentship aims to improve aging techniques for human skeletal remains in archaeological assemblages which could provide a positive contribution to the field – something that was important to me, plus there was the added benefit for being funded.

I am extremely pleased to say that this week I recieved confirmation that I had been awarded the studentship! I will be starting sometime at the end of September and I’m very much looking forward to it. It will allow me to work in an area that I am passionate, carry out my own research and to potentially meet a lot of interesting and exciting people. To be honest I can’t really believe it still but I’m sure it’ll sink in at some point!

Getting to this point has not been easy – for myself or my family. I have very nearly given up on pursuing a career in the anthropology/archaeology field on multiple occasions even though I knew that wouldn’t make me happy. I have always heard, and even said myself, that you should do something that makes you happy but that it so much easier said then done. It is really difficult pursuing your dream job, especially if it’s in a slightly niche subject or if you need lots of work experience to get anywhere, and getting a suitable income to provide for yourself. I am hopeful in saying that I think that my PhD is that start of my career in a subject I really enjoy, but it has been sheer determination and a lot of support from my family and boyfriend that has really got me through. I feel very lucky to have gotten here, and yes I have worked very hard to get here, but I still feel lucky.

If you are trying to pursure your ideal career, or are attempting to get into a difficult field – keep going. Work hard, be nice to people and take any opportunities that you can manage – you probably won’t be able to do everything but showing you tried will count. Also make sure you are surrounded by people who support you and who you can depend on. If you’re going through things like I have over the past year or so you’ll need help and someone to turn to when you are feeling bad about yourself and your decisions. They are invaluable and are honestly the reason why I have managed to get this far.  However, finally remember that there is an element of luck in all of this. I was luckly to see the job/PhD advert when I did, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen just that it might happen when you don’t expect it!

I don’t usually write posts like this, and to be honest I didn’t really intend to when I first sat down today, but I felt like I’ve managed to get some things off my chest. I also hope that if anyone who has been in a similar position to me over the last year reads this I hope this post can bring them a little comfort or advice. You’re not alone, and keep your head up – I’m pretty certain it will work out in the end!

Cashel Man, A 4,000 Year Old Bog Body

The National Museum of Ireland team excavate Cashel Man. Image taken from the progame's website: here.

The National Museum of Ireland team excavate Cashel Man. Image taken from the programme’s website: here.

I have just finished watching the BBC programme ‘4,000-year-Old Cold Case: the Body in the Bog‘. I have also been interested in the bog bodies ever since reading the poems by Seamus Heaney. I haven’t explored the research around the bodies personally but I will any news article or watch any programme on the subject. 

This programme focuses in on the Cashel Man from County Laois, Ireland and gets forensic pathologists and anthropologists archaeologists and other researchers to investigate the body and the peat. There are also glimpses at other bog bodies, including the famous Tollund Man. It’s a very interesting programme and it may even make me go away and look at some research articles surrounding the subject.


A Look at the Accuracy of Dental Age Estimation Charts

A child's skull before all of the deciduous teeth are lost.

A child’s skull before all of the deciduous teeth are lost.

So it’s now the 4th of July and I haven’t created a new skull of the month and I don’t think I will. Over the past few months I’ve been really rubbish at updating my blog and the reason behind that – I’ve been applying for jobs and working out what I’m going to do at the end of July (my current contract is ending and I have to decide whether to re-sign it or not!)

Anyway, because of all this I’ve decided that for July I’m going to try and catch-up with some of the articles that I’ve wanted to share over the past couple of months. Some relate to various skulls of the month whilst others are just articles of interest. Ideally, I’m going to do a couple a week (depending on how many applications I have outstanding!) so fingers crossed!

To start with I’m going to read an article by AlQahtani, Hector and Liversidge called ‘Accuracy of dental age estimation charts: Schour and Massler, Ubelaker and the London Atlas’. During my osteology courses at university I used both the Schour and Massler and Ubelaker for estimating age from dental remains. I came across the article a while back and I just haven’t got round to reading it. 

This particular study caught my eye because it’s aim was to compare the accuracy of estimating age from developing teeth from the above methods. When using these types of methods, using illustrations and charts to form an estimate, it is important that they are reassessed over time to test their accuracy. This is essential in subjects like archaeology and anthropology where the outcome of the result could be very fundamental.

I have discussed in the past how teeth are used for aging skeletal collections. These answers help to provide a profile of the individual and in forensic environments could potentially lead to the identification of a missing person. In archaeology age at death is used as an indicator of a populations health, providing an insight into past life and communities. In both situations obtaining an accurate and reliable age estimate is key, and therefore it is necessary that the common methods used for this process are assessed periodically.

The article by AlQahtani, Hector and Liversidge first provides a small amount of background to each of the chosen methods under study.  This image of Schour & Massler should be familiar to any osteology student. It depicts 21 drawings of dental development from the age of 31 weeks in utero up until adulthood. The method was apparently criticized in the early days due to the lack of information about the material or the method to provide the images. Since the original production in 1941 revisions have been made of  Schour & Massler’s atlas with the use of radiographs.

Schour & Massler's 1944 chart, taken from A Test of Ubelaker’s Method of Estimating Subadult Age from the Dentition (E. Smith 1999( p.30.

Schour & Massler’s 1944 chart, taken from A Test of Ubelaker’s Method of Estimating Subadult Age from the Dentition (E. Smith 1999) p.30.

In 1978 Ubelaker attempted to improve the method for obtaining age estimates from dental development and used a number of published sources. This method was seen as one which covered a the range of variation that can been seen at each stage of development. Again, most osteologists will have seen the following chart.

Ubelaker's 1989 chart, taken from A Test of Ubelaker’s Method of Estimating Subadult Age from the Dentition (E. Smith 1999) p.31.

Ubelaker’s 1989 chart, taken from A Test of Ubelaker’s Method of Estimating Subadult Age from the Dentition (E. Smith 1999) p.31.

Finally, there is the London Atlas which has combined many resources to create a dental chart that includes 31 age categories. This cart is tooth specific and defines each tooth by the development of it’s enamel, dentin, and pulp cavity.  The other bonus is that this chart has been made freely available here.

Second page of the London Atlas showing the development of individual teeth avaiable here.

Second page of the London Atlas showing the development of individual teeth available here.

That’s the method under investigation briefly covered now onto the study. As I have already mentioned the aim of the study was to assess the accuracy of estimating age from developing teeth using the three methods above. In order to do this a large sample of skeletal remains of known age at death was used. This included 183 individuals who were aged between 31 weeks in utero to 4.27 years and a further 1323 individuals (649 male and 674 female) aged between 2.07 and 23.86 years. In addition to skeletal remains the archived dental radiographs of living patients were also used. From this the age estimates were made using the three methods chosen for study and compared to the chronological age. To determine the reliability of the aging methods statistical analysis, including a paired t-test was carried out.

Before moving onto the results it is worth mentioning that intra-observer error was taken into account. This means that the same individual contacted the age estimates multiple times of a sub-set of the study sample. From doing this it was found that the error rate was low, meaning taht there was excellent when repeated for all three of the methods.

So the final results. The method which produced the closest age estimate to the chronological age was the London Atlas. For the other two methods it was found that they both under-estimated by around 0.75 years. This result was attributed to the amount of categories produced by Schour & Massler and Ublekaer as their age categories are much larger as the individual ages. This potentially misses out important development phases which can provide a more accurate age estimate. This is true of the growth of the third molar. As can be seen in the dental charts above the development of this molar is not depicted in detail, unlike the London Atlas. Due to this AlQahtani et al. removed the age estimates using the third molar and discovered that both the Schour & Massler and Ubelaker charts still under-estimate the age but only by 0.5 years. In comparison the London Atlas had a mean difference of 0 years.

This study showed, that whilst all three methods of estimating age using dental development is fairly accurate the London Atlas performed the best. As stated above these tests are important to the study of osteology and anthropology. This is because determining the age at death is vital of identifying individuals and establishing the health of a population for their dead. These studies cause researchers to constantly check their methods and to further their work in order to obtain the most reliable system that is possible, which is extremely important.


S. J. AlQahtani, M. P. Hector and H. M. Liversidge (2014). ‘Accuracy of dental age estimation charts: Schour and Massler, Ubelaker and the London Atlas.’ In the American Journal of Physical Anthropology Volume 154, Issue 1, pages 70–78, May 2014

E. SMith (1999). ‘A Test of Ubelaker’s Method of Estimating Subadult Age from the Dentition’. A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Human Biology in the Graduate School of the University of Indianapolis May 2005.

A New Read: Bones: A Forensic Detective’s Casebook

Ubelaker bookOn the train on my way home from work I started to read a book which I got for my birthday back in October and have been meaning to read it. It’s called ‘Bones. A Forensic Detective’s Casebook’ by Dr. Douglas Ubelaker and Henry Scammell. Now to be honest I haven’t come across Henry Scammell before but I have certainly heard of Dr. Ubelaker. If you’re a biological or forensic anthropologist you will have almost definitely came across him in one way or another. Ubelaker has published books and papers on forensic and archaeology issues including estimating aging in populations. He is also a well-respected forensic anthropologist who consults on cases. Basically he is one of the big names in physical anthropology.

I have been meaning to read this book ever since I received it. I only managed the first chapter today but it’s already enthralling. I am definitely looking forward to reading about the many cases and experiences he has had. I love reading about forensic cases as my own university course was focused more towards archaeology and so I didn’t get to learn that much about the forensic side of things. Hopefully it will make my journey home go a lot quicker, and I might actually wish it to last longer at times, just so I can reach the end of a chapter!

Article – An attempt to combine skeletal collections and digital information

I had a quick look at the current edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and came across an article by Gordon, Marcus and Wood (2013). The discuss whether it is possible to put information about skeletal collections onto one database so it is accessible to all researchers. The aim for this is to preserve and protect the skeletal collections that already exist as issues such as finance, loss of animal diversity and lack of time may prevent research from advancing.

They focus on the great apes as they are an important resource because they so closely related to humans. It is a really interesting article – and I will definitely  be holding on to it for my future MA course as I’m sure that it will make a great point for discussion at some point.

Click here for a link to the article.