A Trip to Cardiff

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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!

Week 9 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.

It’s that time again, I’ve been at the College again today which means I’ve been sorting through boxes of bones.

This week consisted of a lot of vertebrae in varying conditions. Each week we seem to have boxes that consist of predominately one skeletal element. It’s good in some ways – we get to grips with a particular bone each week which really helps me remember the anatomy of each bone. The downside is that it can get a little tedious and we then start to look forward to opening a next bone which consists different bones – just so there’s a bit of variation!

There wasn’t any particular bone or featured that stood out this week. We had a few pathologies, mainly on the vertebrae. The most interesting pathology we saw involved three thoracic vertebrae which were fused together. This isn’t so unusual in itself but more that fact that there were only two spinous processes. Below I’ve included an image of a normal vertebrae and you can clearly see each vertebrae has one spinous process. I’m not sure what was going on with the specimen we had today but it was clear than some fusing had taken place! Unfortunately I am not allowed to taken my own photos of the bones to show you due to ethical reasons.

Left image shows an individual thoracic vertebra. (Image taken from: ). Right image shows how normal thoracic vertebrae are arranged.  (Image taken from http://masajivarna.com/Galery1/pages/Thoracic%20Vertebrae%20Assembled.html)

Left image shows an individual thoracic vertebra. (Image taken from here). Right image shows how normal thoracic vertebrae are arranged. (Image taken from here)

The only unusual thing we found today consisted of a bit of pig bone. When we pulled it out of the box we were pretty sure that it wasn’t from a human but had no idea what it belonged to. I took it to the curator, who also studied animal bones at university as well as human, and she said that it was probably pig. Both me as the other volunteer felt pleased with ourselves – at least we had identified it correctly as a non-human bone!

Another week gone and I still enjoy looking at bones! I’m so glad to be given the opportunity to refresh my knowledge of bones again. I’ll need it too as next week is the other volunteer’s last week for a couple of months (she’s off on a dig in the north of England for 2 months). This means I’ll be on my own. I’m sure I’ll be fine but I’ll miss having that second opinion there. I guess it’ll push me out of my comfort zone – especially when it come to the bones of the hand and feet! It’ll make me trust in my own opinion too, which isn’t a bad thing as I have a tendency to doubt myself. But that’s not for another week! Until then I will enjoy the company of the other volunteer and playing with yet more bones!

Week 8 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.

Back again! Another week at the college going through boxes of bones again. I guess there isn’t much out of the ordinary this weeks part from a few interesting finds!

These cool finds and from one small box and contained a couple of gems! Firstly there were two first ribs which on their own weren’t particularly. However, it was what written on them which made them interesting. One had ‘4000 B. C. Egyptian’ and the second ‘Bronze Age Minorca’. I know hat writing on the bones directly isn’t great but in this case at least it meant we had some context. The one with ‘Minorca’ written was particularly interesting to me as Minorca is an alternative way of writing Menorca where I went on holiday recently! Pretty cool.

Another small bag in this little box contained three foetus scapulars. They were so small – the body of each one was no bigger than my thumb and my hands are small! These are the finds that always make my day and it just goes to show that you can never be sure of what you’ll find!

I also had a nice chat with the curator to give me some advice about my future career plans. Basically I have to think about what I want to do an how I’ll get there. Currently I have a few paths before me and it’s coming closure to the time where I’ll hear to pick one. I now need to do some hunting for information then sit down with it all in front of me. Only then will I be able to make some form of decision. At the moment I’m feeling calm about it but I’m sure I’ll become panicked at some point – I just need to remember to breathe and that it’ll be ok in the end!

Week 7 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 weeks holiday I’m back at the college sorting out bones! I am enjoying my time here volunteering – I now really need and want to find a paid job doing something similar. Oh well fingers crossed something will come up.

So what did we get up to today? Well basically more of the same stuff really – sorting out boxes of human bones and making a complete inventory of them. As we’ve been going we’ve made a note of potentially how useful each individual bone would be for teaching both surgeons and osteo-archaeologists. Today we decided to take this one step further by also sorting the bones in to boxes classified as poor, moderate and good condition, and then a final box for osteo-archs. Hopefully this will make the curators job easier in the future when it comes to identifying them.

In addition to the sorting the curator took us on a your of all of the store rooms that are used by the museums. This included both the Hunterian and Wellcome anatomy and pathology museum. As with most muss there was a wealth of objects and specimens in each store room. These ranged from wet specimens showing pathologies and abnormalities to paintings and historical surgical instruments.

As well of these objects there was of course a huge oteology collection which included both humans and animals. I could have spent hours in some of the store rooms just looking over the bones. Two particular collections were of interest to me – the primates and the infant collections. I didn’t actually get to see any of the primates but there were boxes and boxes of skulls from a variety of species and I would have loved to peer into some of them! The second collection consisted of infant and neo-natal specimens. Most of them showed some example of pathology and again I would have loved to spent some time with them. I don’t know why but ever since starting my studies in osteology I have always been interested in the infant and juvenile skeleton. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that at some point I might be able to work with some of these amazing specimens.

I’m so lucky to be volunteering at the college and I’m really enjoying it. I think that would be my ideal job – working with the vast collections. It would combine everything I like: bones, pathology, research and increasing my knowledge in different areas. Maybe if I’m lucky…?!

First Full Day Volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons

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

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

I was really excited to start my first full day of volunteering yesterday – I don’t think I really slept that well! I was very much looking forward to working with human bones again, and to see the people I had met the week before. Overall I can say it was a very good day!

Both of us, there is another lady volunteering with me called Diana, started where we finished from last week. This was with three boxes full of assorted bones – oh and there was also one hat box containing a skull! All of the bones were jumbled up and we had no idea what was in those boxes so we started off by taking every bone out and grouping them in their elements, e.g. humerus’s together, feet together etc.

We then attempted to put together elements which looked like they came from the same individual. This is was predominately based on length, colour, and whether any elements seemed to articulate with another. We managed to group some elements together although it was quite difficult at times, for example if you didn’t have two of the same element (a left side and a right side) it was tricky to be sure whether different bones of the body went together. However, we tried our best and managed to identify about 4 partial skeletons and to be honest it was quite a lot of fun but difficult – like doing trying to identify many puzzles with only some of the pieces and all jumbled up! I haven’t had the chance to do this before so it was quite nice to put the theory and my knowledge into practice.

As well as just assorted bones there were quite a few skulls (including a dog skull!) – most of them with their skull caps removed. So like the other bones of the skeleton we had to piece together any loose skull caps or mandibles and I think by the end of if we had about 8 partial or complete skulls with a couple of skulls and jaws left over! 

One thing that is really interesting about this project is getting the chance to see how people in the past used bones for study. As many of the skeletons we are sorting through were teaching tools a lot have either pen markings, for the muscle attachments, or are wired together. It’s quite odd to see this as they have damaged the bones. The majority of these will be unusable as teaching tools for the current and future students due to this damage caused. I don’t have any issues with reconstructing the full skeleton – if it is done well and with suitable material (not as we saw in one vertebrae column wire which had completely destroyed many of the bodies of the individual vertebrae). These bones were also in living humans and therefore demand respect when being handled. I know attitudes were different in the past but it’s still hard to comprehend sometimes.

Overall I had a really good day at the College and am very much looking forward to going back and sorting some more bones next week!   

First Day Volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons

My badge for the Royal College of Surgeons

My badge for the Royal College of Surgeons

Today I started my new volunteering opportunity which has allowed me to start handling human bones again. What can I say – it was awesome! I met some really nice people and I got to work with human remains, which I haven’t been able to do for the last couple of years.

My day started with meeting the other volunteer, Diana, and a tour of the areas I would be working in and would need. This was followed by a health and safety talk (a little dull but necessary) and shown where the necessary fire exits were. This meant going down the back staircases of the building which was pretty cool. We then got a bit of lunch were I met some of the other people working in museum department. Two of the women I met work with the wet specimens, one helps conserve the specimens and the other makes models, such as brain, for surgeons to practice on. They were really lovely and funny people and am looking forward to getting to know them a bit better.

After lunch we started work on the human bones. The museum basically has a large amount of human bones in their storage which has been donated to them from various collectors and organisations. These have been used as teaching tools and have very little known about them. Our job is to go through the various boxes and to take an inventory of the bones present. The three boxes we got through today included half complete skeletons so out job was pretty straight forward to begin with. As well as noting which bones were present we had to side them, note any pathologies and decide whether they would be useful as future teaching tools. Next week we have four boxes waiting for us which came from someone like the St. John’s Ambulance  service and contain many bones. Our aim will be to put out all of the bones and try to identify if any of the bones belong to the same individual. I’m very much looking forward to this and cannot wait for next week!

I am so grateful for this opportunity and have been waiting for something like this to come up for ages and am so happy that I am getting the chance now. I can’t wait to get more aquainted with more bones and of course the people working there.