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!
oot

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!

The New Plan – Weekly Updates!

So I’ve been a bit rubbish with my blog (again!) but Ive told myself that I am going to be better from now on. I guess I haven’t written much as I haven’t felt that there’s much to say. HOWEVER, I am now back volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons and I’m going to start visiting museums to access their collections for my PhD work. That means there should be plenty to talk about so I have no excuse for not keeping up with the blog!
So first things first, I’m back at the Royal College of Surgeons volunteering. It’s been about a year since I was last here but I couldn’t help but come back! I enjoyed working here so much and the people are lovely so I was just waiting for the right time.
Now I’m back I’m doing something slightly different then previously, where I was tasked with creating inventories for a couple of collections. This time I’m packing objects/human remains ready for decanting and moving them to a new site. This is because the building in which the museums department is based is getting renovated and so most of the collections have to be moved off site. So far the boxes of remains I have been working on have been straight forward. This has included sorting a couple of boxes of loose ribs and one half (a complete right side) of a skeleton. I’m having to think about how best to wrap and pack each box so that the bones are safe and secure, ready to be moved. As I said the boxes so far have been relatively simple to sort out, but I’m sure there are going to be some tricky ones coming my way!
So that’s my volunteering stuff, now for a quick update about my PhD. I’m now at the stage where I am contacting museums in search of human remains that would be suitable for my project. At times this has been fairly straightforward. I’ve identified a collection, either from some literature or an online resource, then contacted the museum and have been able to find exactly what I am looking for. On other occasions it’s been a little more complicated. For example, I may have found the original excavation report that identifies a collection but it is then difficult to locate the remains. In these situations I have contacted the most likely institutions or commercial archaeological company and went from there. It’s taken a little bit of time but I now feel that I have identified a good amount of skeletal collections, at least as a starting point.
So what’s next? Well I’m visiting the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and Cirencester museum over the next 2 weeks. Here I  hoping to have a preliminary look at the remains that they have to see how suitable they are for my project. I will (hopefully!) arrange another date to go back and measure any of the remains that can be used in my research. In the mean time I’m going to start contacting the museums that have collections that are appropriate for my work and get some dates for visits in the diary. My aim is to see and measure as many skeletons as possible before April next year, when my PhD upgrade will be. So lots of work to do but I can’t wait to get started with the data collection!
As I said before, now that I’ll be visiting new places and collections, plus the volunteering, I should be able to write an update of my progress and experiences every week! Here’s hoping! Skeleton-Hands-Facebook-Cover

Week 22 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.

Today I wasn’t feeling great- I’m not sure what’s up I just didn’t feel like myself however the thought if going in to London made me feel a lot better. I also wanted to be in today as I knew that it would be my last week on the current project before moving on to the new one.

It was a great week to finish this project on as I had some great specimens to record. However before I got into the interesting bits I had to finish off from where I left last week. This meant going through the last few boxes of foot bones. These included the navicular, cuboid and the cuneiforms and was therefore tested again on my ability to side these bones. I think I did quite well as I had the Tim White Human Osteology book next to me, which is always useful!

After the foot bones I moved onto two boxes containing perinatal bones. These are bones which belong to individuals who died either at birth or around that time. When you stop and think it is very sad however these specimens are extremely useful to teaching collections. I have also become slightly desensitised to their context and instead I am fascinated by their size and shape, as the bones are very to their adult size.

The first box I looked at had multiple perinatal skulls as well as vertebral column. These were all articulated and it was amazing being able to hold these specimens as it is rare, particularly in archaeology, to get complete infant bones. The bones were so fragile and light that careful handling is needed and some of he specimens had been previously damaged. I have handled enough bones in my university career to be confident when doing this and therefore had no problems.

The final box of the day had a complete perinatal skeleton which was incredible and an amazing thing to finish the project on. As I have already said it is rare to find complete skeletons in archaeological excavations and therefore I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a complete infant skeleton at first hand. It is amazing how many bones there are and how tiny they are! None of the bones of the vertebrae were fused so they were in 3 parts and to get an idea of the size if this individual the femur was the same length as the back of my hand.

I really love looking at these type of skeletons and I’m not sure why. I just find them fascinating and I wish I had the chance to see more. However, hear collections are rare as they are small in number. For example the specimens that I recorded today were the entire handling collection. There are some others in the stores but they will be either too fragile or valuable to be given to eager students! Another reason why I enjoy this type of work is that I can attempt to age the individuals and by doing this use the information I learnt at University and also learn some new things. For example as I have had to age individuals that were so young before I had to use a different method. This included measuring various points and lengths of the bones to get good age estimate.

I really enjoyed today and it was just what I needed after feeling a bit under the weather this morning. It was a very good day and excellent specimens to finish this project of creating a bone inventory. I am now looking forward to coming back next week and starting on the project which will be involving even more perinatal skulls! Bring it on!

The Index of Care for Bioarchaeologists

The skeletal remains of Man Bac Burial 9 used as the first case study for the model. Image taken from http://www.indexofcare.org/About.aspx

The skeletal remains of Man Bac Burial 9 used as the first case study for the model. Image taken from http://www.indexofcare.org/About.aspx

I was looking through some past articles from the International Journal of Paleopathology when the following title caught my eye: ‘Introducing the Index of Care: A web-based application supporting archaeological research into health-related care.’ 

A quick read through the article supporting this application indicates that it aims to do what it says on the tin! Currently there is a lack of insight into the care giving in relation to the prehistoric lifestyle and this aims to address that. The application provides worksheets and guidance on how data should be collected and analysed if there is evidence of human remains who have some form of disability. The concluding paragraph of the article states that it is ‘not designed to produce precise answers to complex questions of past healthcare provisions…But the index is intended to help researchers think through these question constructively and creatively.’ (Tilley & Cameron 2014 p.8)

The index is broken down into four stages/steps which include 1) describing, documenting and diagnose the pathology. 2) Determine the disability, its impact on the individual’s daily activities and functional ability. 3) To derive a ‘model of care,’ i.e. the implication of the disability and the types of support and care needed in order for the individual. Finally there is step 4) the interpretation of the environment, lifestyle and the form of care. In other words the conclusion and story behind the individual and their disability.

This sounds like an interesting idea, if anything to create a database of disabilities and pathologies that were present in prehistoric populations. I would be wary how far some people may go  when completing the final step , but then I come from a background which heavily relies on facts and evidence and avoids making far-reaching scenarios. However, to give credit to the creators of the application they do say with regards to step four that researchers may choose to ignore it, as some  may find it uncomfortable with this level of interpretation.

The Index is currently at its the early beta stage of development and testing. It will be interesting to keep an eye on it and see how it is received by bioarchaeologists out in the field. Unfortunately I am not one so I can’t comment on how well the index works so far – but if there are any of you out there who are let me know what you think! To use the application you can freely access it through this website, where you must register and then go on to create a new case study.

There’s also an interview with Lorna Tilley from These Bones of Mine  about her work. This is also worth a read to a get more personal view of the model.

Reference:

Lorna Tilley & Tony Cameron (2014) ‘Introducing the Index of Care: A web-based application supporting archaeological research into health-related care.’ International Journal of Paleopathology, Volume 6: 5-9, ISSN 1879-9817, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpp.2014.01.003. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1879981714000266)

A Look at the Accuracy of Dental Age Estimation Charts

A child's skull before all of the deciduous teeth are lost.

A child’s skull before all of the deciduous teeth are lost.

So it’s now the 4th of July and I haven’t created a new skull of the month and I don’t think I will. Over the past few months I’ve been really rubbish at updating my blog and the reason behind that – I’ve been applying for jobs and working out what I’m going to do at the end of July (my current contract is ending and I have to decide whether to re-sign it or not!)

Anyway, because of all this I’ve decided that for July I’m going to try and catch-up with some of the articles that I’ve wanted to share over the past couple of months. Some relate to various skulls of the month whilst others are just articles of interest. Ideally, I’m going to do a couple a week (depending on how many applications I have outstanding!) so fingers crossed!

To start with I’m going to read an article by AlQahtani, Hector and Liversidge called ‘Accuracy of dental age estimation charts: Schour and Massler, Ubelaker and the London Atlas’. During my osteology courses at university I used both the Schour and Massler and Ubelaker for estimating age from dental remains. I came across the article a while back and I just haven’t got round to reading it. 

This particular study caught my eye because it’s aim was to compare the accuracy of estimating age from developing teeth from the above methods. When using these types of methods, using illustrations and charts to form an estimate, it is important that they are reassessed over time to test their accuracy. This is essential in subjects like archaeology and anthropology where the outcome of the result could be very fundamental.

I have discussed in the past how teeth are used for aging skeletal collections. These answers help to provide a profile of the individual and in forensic environments could potentially lead to the identification of a missing person. In archaeology age at death is used as an indicator of a populations health, providing an insight into past life and communities. In both situations obtaining an accurate and reliable age estimate is key, and therefore it is necessary that the common methods used for this process are assessed periodically.

The article by AlQahtani, Hector and Liversidge first provides a small amount of background to each of the chosen methods under study.  This image of Schour & Massler should be familiar to any osteology student. It depicts 21 drawings of dental development from the age of 31 weeks in utero up until adulthood. The method was apparently criticized in the early days due to the lack of information about the material or the method to provide the images. Since the original production in 1941 revisions have been made of  Schour & Massler’s atlas with the use of radiographs.

Schour & Massler's 1944 chart, taken from A Test of Ubelaker’s Method of Estimating Subadult Age from the Dentition (E. Smith 1999( p.30.

Schour & Massler’s 1944 chart, taken from A Test of Ubelaker’s Method of Estimating Subadult Age from the Dentition (E. Smith 1999) p.30.

In 1978 Ubelaker attempted to improve the method for obtaining age estimates from dental development and used a number of published sources. This method was seen as one which covered a the range of variation that can been seen at each stage of development. Again, most osteologists will have seen the following chart.

Ubelaker's 1989 chart, taken from A Test of Ubelaker’s Method of Estimating Subadult Age from the Dentition (E. Smith 1999) p.31.

Ubelaker’s 1989 chart, taken from A Test of Ubelaker’s Method of Estimating Subadult Age from the Dentition (E. Smith 1999) p.31.

Finally, there is the London Atlas which has combined many resources to create a dental chart that includes 31 age categories. This cart is tooth specific and defines each tooth by the development of it’s enamel, dentin, and pulp cavity.  The other bonus is that this chart has been made freely available here.

Second page of the London Atlas showing the development of individual teeth avaiable here.

Second page of the London Atlas showing the development of individual teeth available here.

That’s the method under investigation briefly covered now onto the study. As I have already mentioned the aim of the study was to assess the accuracy of estimating age from developing teeth using the three methods above. In order to do this a large sample of skeletal remains of known age at death was used. This included 183 individuals who were aged between 31 weeks in utero to 4.27 years and a further 1323 individuals (649 male and 674 female) aged between 2.07 and 23.86 years. In addition to skeletal remains the archived dental radiographs of living patients were also used. From this the age estimates were made using the three methods chosen for study and compared to the chronological age. To determine the reliability of the aging methods statistical analysis, including a paired t-test was carried out.

Before moving onto the results it is worth mentioning that intra-observer error was taken into account. This means that the same individual contacted the age estimates multiple times of a sub-set of the study sample. From doing this it was found that the error rate was low, meaning taht there was excellent when repeated for all three of the methods.

So the final results. The method which produced the closest age estimate to the chronological age was the London Atlas. For the other two methods it was found that they both under-estimated by around 0.75 years. This result was attributed to the amount of categories produced by Schour & Massler and Ublekaer as their age categories are much larger as the individual ages. This potentially misses out important development phases which can provide a more accurate age estimate. This is true of the growth of the third molar. As can be seen in the dental charts above the development of this molar is not depicted in detail, unlike the London Atlas. Due to this AlQahtani et al. removed the age estimates using the third molar and discovered that both the Schour & Massler and Ubelaker charts still under-estimate the age but only by 0.5 years. In comparison the London Atlas had a mean difference of 0 years.

This study showed, that whilst all three methods of estimating age using dental development is fairly accurate the London Atlas performed the best. As stated above these tests are important to the study of osteology and anthropology. This is because determining the age at death is vital of identifying individuals and establishing the health of a population for their dead. These studies cause researchers to constantly check their methods and to further their work in order to obtain the most reliable system that is possible, which is extremely important.

References

S. J. AlQahtani, M. P. Hector and H. M. Liversidge (2014). ‘Accuracy of dental age estimation charts: Schour and Massler, Ubelaker and the London Atlas.’ In the American Journal of Physical Anthropology Volume 154, Issue 1, pages 70–78, May 2014

E. SMith (1999). ‘A Test of Ubelaker’s Method of Estimating Subadult Age from the Dentition’. A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Human Biology in the Graduate School of the University of Indianapolis May 2005.