My British Osteological Database – An Update

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Finding research material is major component for any PhD. This can often mean extensive online searchers, emails to curators and searching through journal articles for relevant or useful material.

From my own experiences (where I needed large samples of human molars from a range of archaeological periods) this is not always an easy thing to do. A while back I decided to produce a crude database about some of the human remains collections I came across during my search. Recently, I decided to update this to make it more user friendly and to add a couple more sites.

You can find a downloadable excel file here with site names, dates and basic collection information.

Enjoy!

PS. If there are any more collections that you know of (and their information can be shared publicly) please get in touch!

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Oops I Did it Again…

oops i did it again memeI’ve left it a while since writing a blog post! Sorry the PhD took over my life for a while there (a bit more than usual!).

So what have I been doing? Well there has been some more data collecting, more writing, more hockey and the upgrade. For those of you who don’t know about the PhD process some universities conduct upgrades during the PhD. This is an examination type meeting where a couple of lecturers (most likely within the same department as you) question the PhD student on a piece of written work and assess whether they a) have a project that can stand and process onto a PhD and 2) that the student knows what they are doing?!

To be honest mine feels like a bit of a blur and it is quite an odd experience! However, I came through it and received some great advice that I will be using to refine, restructure and focus my project. I’m hoping that I’ll continue my PhD with a slightly new perspective and with the knowledge that it is going well (although I will have to remind my self that constantly. It’s the nature of the beast!).

Please note that for each university this process is different and has different requirements. When I talk about my upgrade it only relates to my experience. I highly recommend attending any training events relating to the upgrade and/or talk to your supervisors and fellow students who have gone through it. I was told that this is to help prepare you for the final viva so it is going to be tough – but worth it in the end! 

So what else have I been doing? Well more data collection for a start. I’ve visited a couple more museums including Cheltenham Museum and a small collection held by the University of Bristol Spelaeologial Society (which also hosts the brilliant cave Gazetteers website that I mention on my British Osteologial Collections page). But I guess the one I would like to brag about is the Natural History Museum! Yup I was lucky enough to carry out a weeks data collection at the NHM London.

The NHM is one of my favourite museums, I went there a number of times and now that I live near London I can go as often as I like. But it was such a great opportunity to go and use some of their collection in my research. The lovely Curatorial Assistant was on hand to help with any questions and queries and it was great getting to chat to her. I hope to see her again at BABAO 2017 where we both hope to present a poster. It was a privilege to work there and can even say that I met the curator of the human remains collections (who was also our first key note speaker at our SSSB conference – see previous post). In addition, as part of the agreement to collect data I carried out some basic osteological curation work on the specimens I examined by completing an inventory sheet of the remains. It may sound like a small thing but it will allow for easier and more efficient inventorying and assessment for future researches and curators – and hey every little helps!

What else is there…Oh yeah I’ve just come off from two excellent training days organised by the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP), who fund my PhD. These two days talked about life after the PhD, getting and applying for funding grants and things to consider when applying for jobs. Even though I am only in my 2nd year to was a great thing to attend. It means I can start thinking about what I want to do now, and start preparing my CV, skills and research so I can look for work/funding efficiently and productively when the time comes. It was also great to meet some of the other CDP students, it’s always nice to hear about their experiences and learn about their research. Through this I was asked if I would like to do a small presentation about object handling at another CDP event coming up in a few weeks (check out those networking skills lol!). They haven’t got anyone talking about human remains so I think I will take them up on their offer. Plus it will give me another chance to practice my presentation skills! I’ll report back in a few weeks to let you know how it went!

Anyway, I hope this gives you a little idea of what I’ve been up to. Next week I’m away in Barcelona (it’s the boyfriend’s birthday treat) and will come back refreshed and relaxed ready to hit the ground running with the PhD. Until then…adios!

 

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!’

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!

New News!

In the last week two cool things have been confirmed:

I’m really excited about both of these and can’t wait to get stuck in.

The Volunteering

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Inside the Hunterian Museum. Image taken from here.

About 2 years ago I started volunteering at in the museums department of the Royal College of Surgeons and enjoyed it so much that continued to work there until I started my PhD. Whilst there I was lucky enough to work with some amazing osteology collections and saw some interesting pathologies. I really enjoyed working there and was sad to leave, however, I knew I needed time to settle into my PhD.

A year on I have made the decision to return once a fortnight, so not to impact with my studies too much, to volunteer once again. I am so happy to be returning and to see some of the people I had met previously and can’t wait to get started. I am hoping to start this week, although I am waiting for confirmation, but already know what I will be working on – but I’ll wait until I’ve started to tell you all about it! It will be so lovely to go back, and a positive (and useful!) distraction from my PhD work.

Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies

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The SSSB logo. Check the conference out here.

A fellow PhD student and friend of mine from Southampton (archaeosarah) and colleagues have set up a new conference called Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies (SSSB) and I have offered to be a committee member. It will be an inter-disciplinary conference for discussing topics surrounding death, anatomy, attitudes to the body, mortuary practices, and more! This will be a joint conference by the Osteoarchaeology group (Department of Archaeology) and the Centre for Learning Anatomical Sciences (CLAS) at the University of Southampton.

Since volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons I have become more and more interested in anatomy and therefore saw this as a great opportunity to learn more about the subject. Last year I helped out with the University of Southampton’s student conference, PGRAS, for the archaeology department. I therefore thought helping out with SSSB would be a great way to build on this experience.

Part of my role as a committee member will be to help with the general organisation of the conference and  to read submitted abstracts and proposals. In addition to this I have been asked to help out with promoting the SSSB on social media. This will certainly be a useful skill to develop as so much is carried out in this way now – plus it should help with my networking skills. I’m sure there’ll be lots of other things to help with and I’m definitely going to get stuck in – I may even run a workshop!

Please go and check out the conference and sign up to our mailing list for updates!

Website: http://www.sssbconference.co.uk/

Email: sssbconf@gmail.com

Twitter: @sssbconf or #sssbconf

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SSSB2017/