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!

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 🙂

Into the New Year…A PhD Update

My last blog was at Christmas and I’ve been meaning to do another one for the last few weeks but never seemed to get around to it – so here it is finally!

Since the Christmas break (which was lovely and lazy!) and settling back into work I’ve really started to get going with my project. The first step of my project was to propose an adjusted method for recording dental wear in human molars, which was completed before Christmas. This also included identifying the aging method, using human dentition, that would most be the most accurate and easy to apply and came to the conclusion of using the AlQahtani et al (2010) London Dental Atlas. About 2 years ago I wrote another blog piece discussing the accuracy of three different dental age estimate charts, including the London Atlas. The article describes the AlQahtani et al (2010) method in brief but the atlas itself can be viewed here.

The next step was to test out the method that I had created to assess how it worked when practically applied to human skulls. In order to do this I needed a good skeletal collection of the correct time period for my project (neolithic to medieval) that included juvenile and adults skulls. Luckily for me there is such a collection at Southampton and so it was very easy for me to get started! You can find out a bit more about the teaching collection and courses that Southampton University at the following blog: BOS, curated by the wonderful Ellie!

So it’s now the beginning of February and I’ve managed to apply my method to the juvenile skulls twice and the adults once. My plan is to do this a few more times for each set of skulls and there are a few reasons for this. The first is that this will enable to tweek my method where necessary so that it is as easy and accurate to use as possible. The second reason is so that I can become comfortable with handling and identifying teeth, but also so that I get used to the process of recording the data. This will be particularly useful when I move on to different skeletal collections, where I will only have a short period of time with them.

Finally, and probably most importantly, recording the data from the same set of skulls, multiple times will allow me to test the repeatability of my method. In order for this method to be robust and accurate it must produce statistically similar results when applied to the same collection, this will ensure that any results obtained using this method can be comparable. When recording the data from the same collection of skulls I am making sure that there is a period of time in between each data collection. This ensures that I cannot remember any particular individual and all of the collected data is ‘new’ again.

So far, the data collection is going well and I am getting through the skulls in the time that I wanted. Another key aspect of my project is to produce a method that is quick and easy to apply, and at the moment that’s going to plan so fingers crossed it stays that way!

I probably won’t do another blog post on the progress of my PhD for a little while as I won’t have much new to say until I’ve finished my data collection. However, I do plan to do a new blog post on molar identification (seeing as I’m getting pretty good at it now!). Hopefully, I’ll sort that out soon and get it posted!

A Quick Update From Me…

Jess Skull card

As Christmas is nearly upon us I thought it was about time that I did a bit of an update of the PhD is going. As I’ve been saying to anyone who asks me this question ‘So far, so good!’ I’m enjoying the work and the people are great at Southampton University so I settled in almost straight away.

One of the reasons I haven’t written a blog piece for a while is that I didn’t think I had much to say regarding my PhD. Looking back over the past couple of months I realise that I have actually achieved a good amount of work. I’ve been reading a lot of articles surrounding dental wear, dental development and the methods to record these processes. I’ve used all of this information and have started writing and compiling my literature, and I have even written and very rough first draft. (Of which I am currently avoiding to edit and restructure by writing this post!).

From the literature review I have also been able to put together a methods section for the first part of my research. This was one of my, and my supervisor’s aim, so that it was ready to be tested after Christmas. At the moment I feel really happy with the method and I am really looking forward to testing it out, once I get back to Uni. The plan is to carry out a small sample study to see how my ideas work, and to make some observations and adjustments. Hopefully, once this is completed I will be able to apply the finished, and refined, method to a large sample of juvenile skulls. 

Between now and then I intend on enjoying the Christmas break by seeing family and eating too much! (And hopefully at some point kick myself into gear to start editing my literature review!)

Merry Christmas all and see you in the new year x

Week 42 Volunteering At the Royal College of Surgeons

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from http://nobelbiocare-eyearcourse.com/fgdp.html.

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from http://nobelbiocare-eyearcourse.com/fgdp.html.

This week at the College I started photographing and recording the deciduous teeth in the current collection. This is an extremely delicate task as the teeth are so small and fragile. I had to carefully line the teeth up, arranged by tooth type, and take a photograph using a 1cm scale bar for reference. 

It has been a little while since organising and arranging teeth so I had to refer to some textbooks to be certain. I attempted to arrange the teeth by type (incisor, canine and molar) and where possible I identified whether the teeth came from the maxilla (upper jaw) or mandible (lower jaw). This wasn’t too difficult for the incisors but I couldn’t always identify the molars and it was very hard to work out which jaw the canines came from. The difficulty of identifying theses teeth was a result of their size and age. The individuals I was working with were fetal or neo-natal and therefore only a small amount of dental development had occurred. This means that there is little to no development of the roots resulting in the crowns of the teeth being present, for example the canines only consist of a small triangle of enamel. The image below in the first pictures gives you an idea of the stage of development I am dealing with.

The stages of deciduous tooth development. Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teething#/media/File:TemporalTeethDeveploment.gif

The stages of deciduous tooth development. Image taken from here

By the end of this project I am going to be very well experienced in handling, tiny specimens as well as increasing my knowledge of deciduous teeth.

Giant subfossil lemur graveyard discovered, submerged, in Madagascar

High resolution, in situ photographs of Aven subfossils. (Taken from Rosenberger et al. p. 3).

High resolution, in situ photographs of Aven subfossils. (Taken from Rosenberger et al. p. 3).

Yesterday my friend at work sent me this paper because she had heard of my interest in bones. This article features a graveyard – not of humans but of fossil lemurs and other fauna. An expedition of some flooded freshwater caves in Tsimanampetsotsa National Park, Madagascar was undertaken to investigate the paleontological potential of the caves.

On this preliminary investigation several species were identified including birds, reptiles, small mammals and large vertebrates and that this assemblage represents ‘a reasonable cross-section of the known extinct fauna found in the region of Tsimanampetsotsa National Park’ along with some species that are still living today. From this range of fauna discovered the most abundant were the giants lemurs and appears to be one of the most richest sites in Madagascar. 

As this expedition was conducted to explore the site no specific measurements or counts were made regarding the skeletal remains. However, future investigation may be able to shed light on past biodiversity in that area and the time period that they existed. I will try to keep an eye on for developments of this site in the future as it has great potential.

You can read the article here which also includes a video taken during a diving trip into the caves. 

Reference: Rosenberger, A. L. et al. Giant subfossil lemur graveyard discovered, submerged, in Madagascar. Journal of Human Evolution. [In press at time of writing].

Week 39 at the Royal College of Surgeons

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from http://nobelbiocare-eyearcourse.com/fgdp.html.

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from http://nobelbiocare-eyearcourse.com/fgdp.html.

After a week off due to moving house I’m back at the College where I’m starting on a new project. This time I will be working with a collection of infant teeth.

As with the previous protects I’m creating an inventory of the collection by taking photographs of the specimens and the associated paperwork. This information will then be uploaded and added to the museums database.

The collection includes the teeth of fetal or neonatal individuals. Each set of teeth have some personal information associated with them making it a very sensitive collection. I’m not sure why such a collection war created but it has a very high potential for research due to the quality of the specimens and it’s data.

When I first started my course looking at human remains at university I was never a huge fan of teeth. However, as time has gone on I’ve become more familiar with teeth and their uses in research. If you know how to use them teeth can tell you a lot including the age and diet of an individual. During this project I hope to learn even more about teeth and what information they can provide.

Week 38 Volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from http://nobelbiocare-eyearcourse.com/fgdp.html.

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from http://nobelbiocare-eyearcourse.com/fgdp.html.

Today I went through the remaining documents for the collection I have been working on at the College. This meant recording the content of photographs and paper documents and then matching any relevant information relating to any specimens.

As with last week most of the photographs were of skulls with pathologies. However there are a few photos of some x-rays including one of an antenatal individual in uteruo.

When looking through the documents there were very interesting pieces. These included draft handwritten versions of writings by the original collector of the specimens. These writings focused on the condition anencephaly which many of the specimens had.

Finally there was also a CV of Trusty, the collector. This included a photocopy of his passport and a list of his academic and work experience. It was pretty cool being able to learn a little more about the man who made this amazing collection. He clearly had a great interest in development pathologies, particularly anencephaly, and shared his research in at least a few articles. 

I’ve been very lucky to work with such a great collection that is so delicate, interesting and amazingly preserved. I really hope that now we are sure what the collection consists of that it can be used for some form of research as it would be a shame if it sat in a storage room unused. 

Week 37 Volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from http://nobelbiocare-eyearcourse.com/fgdp.html.

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from http://nobelbiocare-eyearcourse.com/fgdp.html.

I’ve been quiet for the last 2 weeks because I haven’t been into the College. The last time I was there I had finished photographing and creating an inventory of a Pathology collection. It’s taken the curator these last few weeks to find the associated notes for project which we wanted to add to the collections records. However I could come in this week and start looking through the files.

When I arrived at the College I met the curator who was carrying a box. We then proceed to go through it to work out what was in there and the best way to record the various bits of information. The information included original photographs of the specimens of the collection, hand written notes and drafts of possible publications.

Once we had worked through the box I started on the photographs. I had to try to match the photos with specimen numbers from the collection, make a digital copy other photographs and then update the museum’s database.

I think I got through at least half of the photographs and have the remaining ones to do next week. After that I will start working on the paper records. Again I will try to match them with previous specimens from the collection and also make summaries of the documents.

I’m finding this aspect of the collection just as interesting as the bones themselves, but in a different way. It’ll be quite a satisfying feeling to be able to match up the records with the specimens as well as to read the original notes made by the collector.

Week 36 Volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from http://nobelbiocare-eyearcourse.com/fgdp.html.

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from http://nobelbiocare-eyearcourse.com/fgdp.html.

Today was a good day. I was expecting bad weather and feeling very stiff from returning to hockey training on Wednesdays but it’s only been a bit windy and I’m no where near as I thought!

When I got into the College this morning I bumped into Carina who told me that she had gotten the final skulls out from the Tlusty project I’ve been working on. I’m really pleased that I’ve managed to help in such a positive way and is been a great collection to work on. I think the plan now is to find another project for me to start on. I’m hoping that there’s some associated paperwork or documents with this project so I can learn more about the collection.

In addition to a few skulls I had to photograph there was also a small box containing lots of small plastic bags each with a pair of clavicles in them. At a guess I think there were about 40 pairs which makes a lot of tiny clavicles. They were so small and delicate but it had definitely improved my ability to side clavicles!
I’m looking forward to next week to see what the museum had for me to work on next!