A busy few weeks …

Well hasn’t March flown by?! It feels like ages ago when I last updated my blog, but it isn’t really but in the last 2 weeks so much has happen. I have been to two more institutions to see their collections and the conference I was helping to organize took place. It’s been a great – but very very busy – couple of weeks!

So a couple of weeks ago I headed up to the University of Bradford to look at an Iron Age collection they have in their Biological Anthropology Research Centre. I was there for the whole week as it was a large collection but it was very productive. Whilst I was there I was told that there was also a Bronze Age collection and as I was able to get through the Iron Age sample quite quickly I had time to look at the Bronze Age stuff as well. So I got two collections for the price of one!

As well as the great collections at Bradford I have to talk about the amazing facilities they have there. I gather that a few years ago the Archaeology department moved buildings and were provided with brand new lab spaces, and I must say they are wonderful! They are spacious, well organized and very modern. It made collecting my data much easier. I hope that the Bradford students realize how lucky they are!

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Some of the facilities at University of Bradford. Image from twicopy.org/en/BradToothFairy

Oh and a bonus thing that happened whilst I was in Bradford. I met Prof. Keith Manchester. For those who don’t know much about bioarchaeology /osteology Keith Manchester is quite big in paleopathology – my key textbook I used during my undergraduate degree to learn about the subject was co-authored by him. He was so lovely and was kind enough to show me around some of the other lab and teaching spaces in the department. It was so nice meeting him and not at all scary!

So my week was in Bradford was over. As I said it was a great week and I got a lot done, but my travels were not over. The following week I was in Sheffield visiting the museum’s collection. Before getting onto that, however, just a quick side note. I’ve probably mentioned before that I play hockey (field not ice!) and this year my team has been going for promotion. Now this weekend (between my two trips) we had seen very important game – of we won or drew then we were guaranteed first play in the league a promotion. So there was quite a bit of pressure and I was very nervous before the game, but we played really well and won! We were so happy (of course!), we had confirmed our place at the top! It was amazing and I so pleased and proud of the team. We’ve had a couple of ups and downs but we got there in the end. And a special thanks must go out to our coach Chris. If you’re interested you can find the match report for the game here.

After a good week in Bradford and an amazing hockey game I was up in Sheffield visiting the museum’s stores. I had another successful week and saw many Bronze Age remains, and a few Neolithic. One thing that was annoying was the condition of some of the remains. Some of the skulls had been reconstructed using glue and plaster making them heavy and a few had their jaws glued together so I couldn’t examine their teeth. Now I must stress that this is due to a result of old collectors back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and not the museum. Collectors in the past did not seem to have that much interest in studying the remains but just collected them. For this reason many of these skeletal collections only possess the skulls, which is annoying for modern day researchers. I’m sure that there’s a project in there examining the history of collecting and the reason behind these practices but that’s for someone else! Regardless of these specimens there were plenty of others that were of use to my project and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Sheffield, and the members of staff were brilliant.

Before moving on I must give a special thanks to Leigh Ann, the collection assistant, who was really helpful and great to talk to. Leigh Ann knew so much about the various collections held by the museum and I learnt a lot. It’s also a bonus that she recommended some great podcasts to listen to! Hopefully we’ll bump into one another again, maybe at the Society of Museum Archaeologists (SMA) later this year.Leigh-Ann and the other staff members were great, I highly recommend visiting Sheffield Museum and that you use their collections if you are a researcher!

After all of the traveling and data collection the weekend of March 24th offered something else that was very exciting –  the SSSB Conference! I have mentioned this in previous posts but SSSB is an inter-disciplinary conference exploring death, anatomy, attitudes to the body, mortuary practices and more, with SSSB standing for Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies. I am committee member for this and I can’t believe how quickly it came round but here it was!

SSSB logo

What can I say? I think that it was a great success! We had a wide range of speakers discussing everything from mortuary practices seen in archaeology to new approaches to viewing the remains of Pompeii to how should be approach medical students about the donated bodies. You can see a full list of abstracts of the papers and posters presented here to understand the complete variety of work. We also two great Keynotes by Dr Heather Bonney and Prof. Caroline Wilkinson discussing the history of collecting and the history and use of facial reconstruction. I even ran a workshop with another PhD student  introducing delegates to bioarchaeology and how to age, sex and identify pathology on human skeletal remains. All in all it was a great conference and I met so many interesting and wonderful people. If you are interested search for #SSSB2017 on twitter or check our twitter page @sssbconf. 

Over I got the impression that most people enjoyed it and found that it was quite different to other conferences they had been to. Hopefully, the delegates were introduced to new topics, ideas and perspectives that may provide new considerations for their own work. There already been talk of SSSB 2018 so fingers crossed that goes ahead and we can make the conference even better for next year!

Now I have a day of rest, with the in-laws visiting, then tomorrow it’s back to work!

 

Up to Manchester!

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Butterfly mobile taken during my visit to Manchester Museum

This last month I’ve been so busy with writing and sorting out my data that I haven’t had a chance to do anything with my blog. In the last week, however, I’ve visited two more museums to look at some Neolithic and Bronze Age teeth.

A few days ago I took my first trip up to Manchester. I’ve never been to this part of the country but needed to go and visit Lancaster Maritime Museum and Manchester Museum. Both museums were lovely but I only really got a chance to have a look around Manchester Museum. It reminded me of a small Natural History Museum as it had quite a lot of animal specimens – including a lot of skulls! I took plenty of pictures of these and I might write some posts about them, like my old ‘skull of the month‘ posts.

It was really nice to go up north for a bit. I traveled up with my boyfriend, and it was lovely having the company! We also stayed with some friends who I haven’t seen for a couple of years. It was so nice seeing them! We even talked about going on holiday to the Lakes one day – something I’m very keen to do. Oh and they also had very cute cat called Arthur. He was such a sweetie and playing with him made me want one of my own. Maybe one day.

In other news the conference is going really well. I haven’t talked about it for a while but remember that I’m on the committee for a conference called Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies? Well that’s happening at the end of this month. I can’t believe it’s coming up so soon, but everything is coming together and we have lots of people registered. I think it’s going to be really good, especially for a brand new conference! It’s really exciting and I’m really pleased to be a part of it. But before then I have two more collections to visit, and quite a bit of data analysis and write up to finish!

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!’

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!
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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!

Data Collection Continues – Into the Hampshire Cultural Trust Stores

hct3I’m a little bit late posting this week as I’ve been really busy collecting data. I’ve had a couple of very productive days data collecting, which should continue next week.

 

Since Wednesday of this week I’ve been in the stores of Hampshire Cultural Trust. Here they hold a lot of the finds from archaeology excavations undertake in the county of Hampshire, including a lot of human remains. I contacted the Trust a month or two ago who sent me a list of their human remains holding. I was so pleased as they have a lot, particularly of Iron Age remains. So this week I started working at the stores, based near Winchester and will be returning for at least one more day next week to finish going through their material.

 

So far I’ve managed to go through the material of some of the small Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, but their are a few more to finish next week. The biggest collection I used was material from the Iron Age Danebury hill fort. I haven’t carried out much research just yet about the site itself but the human remains were in pretty good shape and will be a great addition to any my work. It’s certainly boosted my numbers of Iron Age material, I just need to find some more Bronze Age skeletons now!

 

Hopefully next week I’ll finish at the Hampshire Cultural Trust and there’s a chance that I’ll be heading back to the Corinium Museum stores in Cirencester. I’m also heading into London this week for a talk based at the Old Operating Theatre for a talk about Body Snatchers! I can’t wait!

Data Collection in the Cotswolds

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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!

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!