Where has Christmas gone?!


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.


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!’

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!

Website: http://www.sssbconference.co.uk/

Email: sssbconf@gmail.com

Twitter: @sssbconf or #sssbconf

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SSSB2017/


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!

Shattered Lives and Broken Childhoods: A Case Study of Child Abuse in the Archaeological Record.

In situ image and schematic of Burial 519. (Fig. 3 page 73). Image taken from Wheeler et al. (2013) article.

In situ image and schematic of Burial 519 (Fig. 3 page 73). Image taken from Wheeler et al. (2013) article.

Recently I have wanted to focus more on human pathologies in archaeology when I came across this article ‘Shattered lives and broken childhoods: Evidence of physical child abuse in ancient Egypt.’ I have never come across an example of this before and therefore gave it a read.

Child abuse is clinically classified as the maltreatment of a child by their parent or caretakers and can include physical, sexual and emotional abuse and physical and/or emotional neglect. In modern cases soft tissue damage and injuries are the most common presentation with 10 – 70% of children showing signs of skeletal trauma. In archaeology it is these latter injuries which may be seen however, it can be difficult to interpret them.

There are many reasons why confusion may occur when attempting to establish child abuse in skeletonised individuals. The first is establishing whether the trauma is a result of an accident or not. Traumas, such as fractures, may look the same no matter how they were obtained. However, the pattern of any pathologies identified, along with their process of healing, may be a good indicator. The use of physical discipline has also been recorded in the archaeology, for example during the Roman Period where it was not uncommon for children to be beaten if they made a mistake. There have been few examples of child abuse found during excavations, which may be a result of poor preservation and preparation, taphonomic processes or adult centred research and therefore does not mean that child abuse didn’t occur in past human societies, only that few cases have been confirmed.

This study by Williams et al. (2013) looks at an individual aged between 2 and 3 years old from the Romano-Christian Period from a cemetery in the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt. In total 770 individuals were excavated, with a possible 4000 burials being present as indicated by an archaeological survey. From these 158 were 0 -1 years old, including the individual chosen for study. Burial 519 was undisturbed and had all of their teeth and bones, the preservation was also very good and therefore some hair, skin and nails survived. This individual was buried in the same manner as the other juveniles within the cemetery and it’s location did not distinguish it as being atypical. In order to study the individual full radiographs, micro-CT scans and tissue samples were taken, in addition to the standard ontological observations.

Burial 519 was aged using standard ageing methods by identifying the dental development and epiphyseal fusion of the individual. It was also observed that cribra orbitalia (an indication of a pathological deficiency) could be seen in both orbits. The authors noted that 60% of 1-3 year olds at the cemetery had this condition, with 95% of individuals having active lesions. The remaining pathologies recorded for the individual in Burial 519 related to fractures, a full summary of which can be found in Table 1, page 75 of the article.

image showing fractures and bone growth in the humerus and ribs (Fig. 5 p. 76). Image taken from Wheeler et al. (2013) article.

Image showing fractures and bone growth in the humerus and ribs (Fig. 5 p. 76). Image taken from Wheeler et al. (2013) article.

These fractures were found in both upper arm bones, the clavicle, two ribs, two vertebrae and the pelvis. The healing process of these injuries differ and therefore suggests that they occurred at different times. For example, both humeri have complete transverse fractures of the proximal third where the bone margins are slightly rounded and the trabecular bone has a smooth appearance. This indicates that the breaks occurred several weeks before death whilst the fractures of the 7th left and 8th right ribs are well healed. In contrast to these breaks the right clavicle has a complete transverse fracture where there are no signs of healing. From looking at these sites alone it is fairly clear that all of the injuries did not occur at the same time.

This pattern of fractures and healing is consistent with clinical pattern of skeletal trauma in victims of non-accidental trauma; i.e. physical child abuse. This point is expanded on in the article with particular focus on the clavicle. The article states that accidental clavicle fractures are rare in children under the age of two (Carty 1997) and are usually a result of violent shaking of the arms by causing sudden traction. In older children these fractures can occur by falling. When combined with information about the ribs and humeri fractures the conclusion of child abuse can be justified in the individual of Burial 519. Fractures found in the humeri can be associated with direct blows of high energy and the bone formation at the diaphysis, mentioned in the article, indicates the limbs being pulled forcefully when being shaken which caused the periosteum to be stripped from the bone. Finally, the ribs are good indication that child abuse has occurs as fractures to these bones are very rare, even in violent trauma. 

shattered live clav

Image showing fracture in the clavicle and bone growth in the scapula and pelvis (Fig. 6 p. 77). Image taken from Wheeler et al. (2013) article.

It is not enough to use the fractures present to determine a case of child abuse, and the authors used isotopic analysis to investigate the child’s diet. It was found that there was a depletion in nitrogen and carbon, and it is suggested that this may have been caused by a reduced consumption of protein rich foods. In addition to this a comparison of Burial 519’s pathologies to other the juveniles to shed light on the causation. The overall trauma rate of the excavated individuals was 5.7% in individuals aged 0 -15 years. There was only one other juvenile who had multiple fractures and it was found that these all occurred in one single event (Wheeler 2009) and related to an accidental event; such as a fall or high-verlocity impact. This makes the skeleton in Burial  519 unique. 

By taking a comparative and holistic approach the authors suggest that the majority of the fractures seen in Burial 519 are a result of non-accidental trauma and could be classified as child abuse. It is suggested that this behaviour is not usual for the society as few traumas were present in other juvenile skeletons. This skeleton may be the oldest case of non-accidental trauma in the archaeological record; although it is unlikely that it will be the oldest on. Other examples may have been looked over due to poor preservation or excavation. 

Article Reference:

Wheeler, S. M., L. Williams, et al. (2013). “Shattered lives and broken childhoods: Evidence of physical child abuse in ancient Egypt.” International Journal of Paleopathology 3(2): 71-82.

An Example of Osteogenesis Imperfecta in the Archaeological Record

Skeleton B532 witj possible OI. Image taken from Cope & Dupras artile, fig. 4 p.196

Skeleton B532 with possible OI. Image taken from Cope & Dupras article, fig. 4 p.196

Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), more commonly known as ‘brittle bone’ disease is a condition which causes bones to be fragile and break easily. I have a personal interest in this condition and therefore wondered if there was any evidence of the condition in the archaeological record. A quick search produced this article ‘Osteogenesis Imperfecta in the Archaeological Record: An Example from the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt,’ by Cope & Dupras (2011).

OI results from a genetic mutation that affects the production of collagen in the body. Collagen, along with calcium, provides strength and flexibility in bones with collagen providing flexibility. When this is removed bones become brittle and therefore will fracture easily. You can see this for yourself by baking a bone, as this removes the collagen, follow this link if you want to try if yourself. In the case of OI a genetic mutation diminishes the production of collagen resulting in multiple fractures and breaks. The majority of individuals with the condition receive it through a dominant mutation, whilst a small portion have an autosomal recessive condition. There are seven categories of OI with type I being the mildest form. I will summarise the different types below but there is also a more extensive table describing the categories on page 189 of the article.

  • Type I: mildest, high risk of fractures, subsides at puberty, individual reaches normal height.
  • Type II: typicallystill born due to a  respiratory complications
  • Type III: likely to die shortly after birth as a result of respirority faliure.
  • Type IV: short stature (smaller than type I), bone fragility not identified at birth. Progressive bowing of bones.
  • Type V: similar to type IV but possible calcification of interosseous membranes of forearms and hyperplastic calluses of bone.
  • Type VI and VII: Rare. Scale-like structure to lamella with type VI having an increase in osteoid thickness and VII with a shortening of femora and humeri.

The article ‘Osteogenesis Imperfecta in the Archaeological Record: An Example from the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt’ proposes that a fetal skeleton, B532 excavated in a cemetery in Egypt, may have OI. The cemetery dates from the Ptolemaic to the Romano-Byzantine period and the grave itself was found in unusual position. Typical juvenile burials of this at this site were orientated East-West in a supine, extended position (how we usually think of a body when it is buried). However, this individual was recovered close to the surface lying partially on it’s back and right side in a semi-flexed position. The skeleton was in excellent condition due to the arid environment resulting in exceptional preservation and was given an estimate age of 36 – 42 weeks.

Typical infant burial at cemetrey (left) and atypical burial of B532 (right). Image taken from Cope & Dupras article, fig. 3 p.192.

Typical infant burial at cemetrey (left) and atypical burial of B532 (right). Image taken from Cope & Dupras article, fig. 3 p.192.

A full pathological assessment of B532 was completed with a summary provided in table 2, p. 194 of the article. The most prominent pathology of this individual was the severe curvature of the long bones and barrel-shaped rib cage. This barrel-shape is a result in abnormal curvature and thinness of the ribs. The curve in the long bones was predominately anterolateral (to the front and to the side) with the femora having the most extensive. In addition to the curves visible in the long bones the left femur, tibia and ulna also had fractures. These were complete in the ulna and tibia and partial in the femur.

The cortical bone was also had an unusual appearance which was coarse and patchy. This was observed in the left humerus and the right ulna and radius. The medullary cavity of these bones, plus the other humerus, was also narrowed. Both of these features are unusual and indicate a problem in the development of the bone. Microscopic analysis of type II OI has found that due to a disorganised osteoid and calcified bone matrix patchy bone mineralization can occur. In addition to this when using a light and electron microscope to examine type II OI sample an absence of mineralization at the distal ends of the growth plates was observed; instead starting further down the diaphysis. This lack of mineralization may account for the uneven surface seen in B532, and when combined with the observed fractures and curvature of the long bones indicates a possible diagnosis of OI, type II/III or IV.

Perimortem incomplete fracturing of the left femur of B532, with radiograph of same bone on the right. Image taken from Cope & Dupras article, fig. 6 p.196.

Perimortem incomplete fracturing of the left femur of B532, with radiograph of same bone on the right. Image taken from Cope & Dupras article, fig. 6 p.196.

In all pathological cases a differential diagnosis is also given for comparison. In this individual many diagnoses were given which may also account for the bowing seen in B532. A full list is given in table 3, p.196 and includes Campomelic Dysplasia 1, a condition which results in bowing of the long bones and hypoplastic fibulae and scapulars caused by abnormal skeletal development during the prenatal period.

This was a very interesting case study of a fetal skeleton who possibly suffered with the condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta. The article is a good example of a through approach to diagnosing pathology in an excavated skeleton. This is not the only example of OI in the archaeological record and I intend to go away and find out more about the other cases. 


Cope, D. & Dupras, T. (2011).’ Osteogenesis Imperfecta in the Archaeological Record: An Example from the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt,’ by Cope & Dupras’ in International Journal of Paleopathology 1: 188-199. ISSN 1879-9817, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpp.2012.02.001. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1879981712000022)



I was searching for some information about the process and progression of infant skull growth when I came across a condition called craniosynostosis. According to NHS Choices it is a condition which causes abnormal shaped heads in babies due to the premature fusing of some of the sutures in the skull. This means that growth may be compensated in the affected areas.

It is a rare condition affecting 1 in 1,800 – 3,000 and of that number 3 out of 4 are boys. There are two types of craniosynotosis 80-95% of which are non-syndomic, which means there are no other birth defects. The remaining cases are syndomic and includes more than 150 syndromes. These include Crouzon and Pfeiffer syndrome and the main treatment if the condition is surgery.

As I read all this information I wondered if any examples had been found in the archaeological record. After a very quick search I found two good examples of craniosynostosis; one of a clinical study by Giuffra et al (2011) and an article by Duncan & Stojanowski (2008). In both cases the individuals there was evidence of partial closure of the coronoid and squamous sutures.

Image depicting the bone of the skull and it's sutures. Image taken from : http://uprightdoctor.wordpress.com/craniopathic-strain-correction/

Image depicting the bone of the skull and it’s sutures. Image taken from: http://uprightdoctor.wordpress.com/craniopathic-strain-correction/

The remains in the Giuffra et al study belonged to a female aged 22-25 years old. These remains were excavated at ‘Fortino delle Donne Seriesi’ (women’s fortress in Sieria). As a result of craniosynostosis the coronal suture had been completely obliterated, with partial fusion of the left squamous suture and bilateral fusion of the occipitmastoid suture. These caused a reduction in the length of the cranium giving an overall much rounder appearance. Interesting this individual also retained the metopic suture which usually fuses by the are of 2 years old. Other than the craniosynostosis no other pathologies were found in the skeleton.

IMage depicting female skull with Craniosynostosis by Giuffra et al. (2011) p.1744

IMage depicting female skull with Craniosynostosis by Giuffra et al. (2011) p.1744

The second skeleton showing craniosynostosis dates to the 16th Centuary and was of a male aged 23 – 45 years old. This individual consisted of a calvaira (skull cap) and portion of the cranial base and nasal bones and was found in a trashpit. There was partial fusion of the left coronal and squamosal sutures with the right sutures still being present. This created an asymmetry of the frontal bones  and elongation of the right frontal bone. This asymmetry is also visiable in the parietal bones.

Male skull with craniosynostosis. Image taken from Duncan & Stojanowaski (2008) p.409

Male skull with craniosynostosis. Image taken from Duncan & Stojanowaski (2008) p.409

Both of these cases show fusion of the coronoid and squamosal sutures producing a disfigurment of the overall skull shape. As also mentioned the modern day treatment for this condition involves surgery however this would not have been avaliable to the individuals above. On the other hand it indicates that it is possible to live with craniosynostosis without too many problems. There are more examples of craniosynostosis in the archaeological record which are listed in the Duncan & Stojanowski (Table 1 p.844).


Duncan, W. N. and C. M. Stojanowski (2008). “A case of squamosal craniosynostosis from the 16th century southeastern United States.” International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 18(4): 407-420.

Giufra, V., Sbrana, F., Caramella, D., Giustini, D., Tixier, B. and Fornaciari, G. (2011). ‘Syndromic Craniosynostosis in a Modern-Age Skeleton From Siena, Italy’. The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery 22: 1743 – 1754