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 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!

Week 46 Volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from

I’ve been a bit quiet in this blog recently as I have moved house so there were of things to sort out . However , I have still been volunteering and gave made great progress on the Stack Collection of deciduous teeth.

I have now finished photographing and recording the specimens and I can honestly say my ability to identify teeth has greatly improved. Teeth were not always a strong point for me, mainly because we did not have a lot of practical experience with them at university. However, by using the common osteological text books (including Simon Hillson’s Dental Anthropology, Tim White’s Human Osteology and ‘The Skeleton Keys’ by Schwartz) and drawing on my own memory I was able to identify the teeth quite quickly. By the time I came to the of the specimens I felt reassured of my ability and therefore went back to the first specimen to check them. This was a good idea as I did make some corrections and was able to clarify some of the teeth I was unsure about.

As I have finished with the actual specimens I have moved on to recording the information written in a catalogue of dentition, which was created by the collector. This is enabling me to check some of the information I have already obtained from associated cards as well as adding comments from the Pathologist’s Report. So far these have include cardiac defects, defects associated with the Central Nervous System and pre-eclampsia. I recognised some of the conditions as they appeared in the previous project such as spina bifida and intra-cranial haemorrhage. There were a few defects I did not recognise but a quick Internet search revealed the condition.

I will not be in next week as I am switching my  work days round so I can attend the proffered papers meeting  for the Society for the Study of Human Biology. I am very much looking forward to going to this meeting as there are going to be some very interesting papers being presented. This includes one by Dr Liversidge who has previously used the collection I am currently working so I intend to introduce myself to her.

Week 12 Volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from

Outside of the Royal College of Surgeons. Image taken from

Summer is finally here! It’s a beautiful day and I really enjoyed my walk in London today – London does look good in the sunshine, especially as you’re crossing the river. I also can’t believe that it’s my 12th week volunteering. It’s gone so quickly and my confidence has grown so much, even though I was tested a little but this week!

Most of today was spent looking through boxes which had been marked for cremation. My job was to pull out any of the bones which looked they might be suitable for teaching. I ended up taking out quite a few bones as they only had a small amount of damage to them.

After these boxes I moved on to a very small plastic box with just a few bones in. These bones ended belonging to one temporal bone which had been sectioned (sliced) so you could see the internal structures. I’ve seen this technique before in long bones and it’s really nice to be able to see the internal architecture. The nice thing with this temporal bone was that it revealed the ear canal. I think it’s easy to forget some of the more intricate features for our anatomy but being able to see the ear canal made me stop, think and smile. It’s a beautiful little structure which coils round and reminded me of a small snail shell. It’s amazing that such a small part of our skulls, along with three other tiny bones and some soft tissue, that the ability to hear is achieved.

The final part of my day was spent looking at teeth. I haven’t looked at teeth, in depth, for quite a while. However, I wanted to give it the best go I had and armed with three books (Hillson, White and Schwartz) I attempted to sort some teeth. I could identify the tooth type with very few issues, although there were some which were very damaged or fragmented. The difficulty came with identifying the location of the tooth i.e. whether it was an upper or lower tooth and then which number, e.g. first or second premolars. I managed to do a few and hopefully when I’ve spent more time with I’ll become much better. Next week I plan to build on today and get to grips a bit more with teeth. Until then I need to go and gather as much information on siding and identifying teeth as possible.

If you’re wondering which books I used here are the full references:
– Simon Hillson. (1996) Dental Anthropology. Cambridge University Press.
– Jeffery Schwartz. (1995) Skeleton Keys. Oxford University Press
– Tim White (1999). Human Osteology Academic Press