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.


A Night In An Old Operating Theatre!

This week has been a long one! I’m not sure why as it’s been pretty good and quite productive but it’s taken a while to get through. Maybe it’s because I’ve been travelling for my data collection again and I’m not used to driving  so much?! As well as my PhD work this week I went to a really cool talk about Bodysnatching in an old operating theatre – perfect for Halloween!

On Monday I was back at the stores of the Hampshire Cultural Trust to finish going through the various sites they have. I’m pretty pleased with  myself as I’ve managed to get through a lot of skeletons in a decent amount of time. There are two small sites to work through but as they’ll only take me half a day at most I will return another time. At some point in the future I will need to go to their other store to access a Romano-British population.

On Wednesday I was then back at the stores of Corinium Museum in Cirencester. Although it’s a bit of a journey to get there my mum lives about half an hour away so I went up the night before. This cuts my travel time down in the morning and I get the bonus of seeing my mum. I’m really lucky as I have a great relationship with Mum so it’s always lovely to go back home. Whilst at the Corinium stores I managed to get a decent amount of work done. However, the Anglo-Saxon collection  I’m looking at is quite big. This is good news as it’ll be a great source of data for my PhD but on the other hand it will take me some time to complete it. Unfortunately I can’t do a series of consecutive days at the stores as it is only staffed one day a week, but I then get to visit my mum quite a bit so it’s not all bad!
This weeks blog post ends with a trip to the Old Operating Theatre in London to see a lecture. The talk is called ‘Night of the Bodysnatcher’. The Old Operating Theatre is a museum located in the roof space of St. Thomas’s, Southwark just around the corner from London Bridge train station. This is the original site of St Thomas’s hospital and is one of the oldest surviving operating theatres. It is quite an odd place, to access it you have to climb a tight, spiral staircase that leads to a tiny museum displaying some of the instruments and medical equipment used in the past. Going through the museum and around a corner you find the old operating theatre, pictured in the image above. This is where we sat and listened to the talk, but it was strange to think that’s where dissections and operations took place many years ago.
The talk itself was very interesting, I do love learning about the history of surgery and the things surrounding it! This talk was, as the title suggests, about Bodysnatchers or otherwise known as Resurrection Men. These were individuals who took the bodies of the recent dead from their graves and sold them to surgeons, who then used them for dissections to learn about anatomy. It may have been quite a gross job to do, but it could be rather lucrative for a period in the 1700s as surgeons wanted bodies and would therefore pay!

A view of the museum at the Old Operating Theatre, and a replica beak mask.

There were lots of great facts and fascinating bits of information, for example, did you know that the body snatchers stripped the body of corpses of their clothes and possessions and placed them back in the grave? Why – because you could be hung for theft by taking the clothes, as they belonged to the relatives of the deceased, but not for taking the body! It was an incredible insight into the very seedy past of the study of anatomy, and although it was gruesome it allowed many to study the human body. Perhaps without the Bodysnatchers surgery wouldn’t be where it is today! For example, some of the famous early surgeons in the UK, including William and John Hunter, almost certainly would have used snatched bodies in their work!
I very much enjoyed both the talk and museum and I would highly recommend visiting!

Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100

The finish line at the cycle race

The finish line at the cycle race

Today I spent the day in London supporting my friend from back home on the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100. This is a cycle race with a course that goes through London and Surrey, finishing on Pall Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately due to bad weather the course had been cut down to miss out the two major hills as a safety measure. Regardless of this it was a great day supporting a friend (and other riders!) complete the race is horrible conditions.

The riders set off early in the morning but I didn’t get into London until midday where I met my other friends. We then headed up to Green Park walking though some beautiful parts of London. We were also lucky to see the Pro riders come past – something we were not expecting! Quite a few motorbikes came past us and we wondered why that was – I happened to look back and suddenly see this pack of cyclists come through! They were followed by their team cars, carrying mechanics and spare parts/types/bikes.

The Pro Riders and their team cars.

The Pro Riders and their team cars.

After a quick stop at Green Park we headed down to Pall Mall where the finish line was. This meant we had to pass Buckingham Palace I must say it was very nice seeing the Palace without lots of tourists crowding around – instead there were a lot of bikes! We found a spot at the 150 meter sign to wait for our friend to come past – and we made sure that she saw us when she did! She had to deal with a puncture, walking a section of the course because of a bottle neck and horrible weather – so congratulations Zara you did great 🙂

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

After Zara’s race we stayed to watch the Pro Riders cross the finish line. We were lucky enough to find a good spot about 30 metres from the finish so we had a great view. When they came down Pall Mall you could feel the excitement crossing and then they whizzed passed so quickly it was difficult to see! However, I’m glad I can say I watched it and it was made even better by two British riders coming first and second.

Shortly after the finish I had to leave to get home as I’m leaving to go on holiday at a ridiculous time in the morning, and took another lovely route through London passing Big Ben. I had a really good day and enjoyed seeing my friends from back home, even if I got very wet after a short burst of heavy rain! It was all worth it to see Zara cross the line after an incredible run – well done Zara you were awesome!

Big Ben

Big Ben

Week 14 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.

Another sunny Thursday means another day sorting bones! This week I picked up from where I left last time (unfortunately last week I was ill so I didn’t go in). This meant recording and sorting various bones of the skull. I had a few elements left to sort that were divided into small boxes inside on large box.

Previously I had gone through boxes containing maxillas, ethmoid and vomers. Today I started with a box of sphenoid bones. Only since volunteering have I had the chance to look at the sphenoid bone more closely. As it’s tucked into the centre of the skull the element isn’t easy to see but if you have a complete skull you can see it underneath the zygomatic processes (cheek bones) at the side of the skull. It’s a lovely bone and could easily be described as butterfly shaped due to it’s greater wings.

After that box I looked at another small box containing, what I thought were, temporal bones. You have two temporal bones, a left and a right, situated on either side of the skull. This is where your ears are. They are disc shaped bones with the protruding zygomatic processes. As I said I thought this box only contained these bones but to my surprise there were also some very small fragile, neo-nate bones.

Neo-nate bones are very delicate but in my opinion very beautiful. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve always enjoyed studying juvenile and infant bones but I have rarely had the chance to look at bones belonging to an individual who was so young. I didn’t do an age estimate but you could tell that these belonged to an very small individual. For example both maxillas were present and I could tell from their shape and size that these were young bones. In addition to the maxillas the pars basilaris and pars lateralis were present, which make up part of the occipital bone surrounding the foramen magnum. These, plus a miniature sphenoid bone and one greater wing, made up the neo-nate bones in this box.

I would have liked to take some photos for you to see but I’m not allowed unfortauntely. I did try to find an image of these infant bones and after some searching I came across this:

Pars basilaris and Pars lateralis. Orignial image taken from http://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pars_basilaris_ossis_occipitalis#mediaviewer/F%C3%A1jl:Parsbasilaris%28young%29.PNG then edited by myself.

Pars basilaris and Pars lateralis. Orignial image taken from http://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pars_basilaris_ossis_occipitalis#mediaviewer/F%C3%A1jl:Parsbasilaris%28young%29.PNG then edited by myself.

The remainder of the day was spent counting and sorting mandibles. To be honest there weren’t that many exciting examples there but there were few pathologies. These were mainly in the form of dental caries and bone remodelling due to tooth loss. I’m still impressed when I come across an individual who has no teeth left but who obviously survived pretty well without them as the bone has completely remodelled leaving no tooth sockets.

It was good to be back today. I do really enjoy this work. It’s slightly odd but I know there’s a few of you out there who completely get it! I’m looking forward to getting back next week, not only for the bones, but because another volunteer will be joining me. I’ll have to train him/tell him what we’re doing and how to do it. It’ll be nice to have someone to work with again, although I didn’t mind getting lost in my little world of bones on my own!

My Trip to the Grant Museum, London

Lion Skeleton at the Grant Museum of Zoology

Lion Skeleton at the Grant Museum of Zoology

Today I had an interview in London and as it was in the morning I thought why not visit a museum on my way home?! I was already coming back on the Northern Line and knew that it went through Euston, where the Grant Museum is located. I have wanted to visit this museum for a while but as it is slightly out of the centre, and the other touristy parts of London I hadn’t managed to make it there yet.

It’s a very cute museum with specimens held in wooden cases which span the wall of the museum. It is only one room, and for the amount of space they have the specimens are shown off very well. There are skeletons, skulls and wet specimens of all sorts of creatures spanning the animal kingdom and of all shapes and sizes. I don’t know if I had a particular favourite but it was pretty awesome that they had a complete skeleton of a dugong. I think one of the most incrediable skulls that i saw was of a domestic pig. It didn’t say the particular breed of pig but it was impressive none the less!

Dugong Skeleton at the Grant Museum of Zoology

Dugong Skeleton at the Grant Museum of Zoology

I took a few photos of some of the specimens which you can find on my tumblr page. I also took some photos of the Micrarium, a small alcove which presents hundreds of microscope slides of the smallest animals. They were wonderful to look at and reminds you of how intricate biology is and how beautiful creatues can be, even if we can barely see them.

I would recommend anyone who has an interest in biology and/or zoology to visit the museum. It’s quiter and smaller than the better known Natural History Museum but it’s just as wonderful!

Visit both my tumblr posts to see pictures of the Micraraium and other speimens in the musem. Hopefully some of them will be featuring in future Skull of the Months!

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!