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!
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:
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.’
So I came across this map of collections in the UK and Ireland created by NatSCA (Natural Sciences Collections Association). This map aims to pin point every natural history collection that exists and the type of material and collection it holds. The idea is to help researchers make the best out of the available resources as each collection will hold something special and useful for another individual.
It’s also a great way of identifying where your local natural history collections are!
Click here for the link.
(Possibly) useful advice from Tom Hopkins, Collections Management Assistant at the Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford
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Because dental school is hard.
I study dead babies from the past