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.
In the last week two cool things have been confirmed:
- I am returning to volunteering in the museums department, based at the Royal College of Surgeons
- I am on the committee for a new conference entitled ‘Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies’
I’m really excited about both of these and can’t wait to get stuck in.
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
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!
Twitter: @sssbconf or #sssbconf
My last blog was at Christmas and I’ve been meaning to do another one for the last few weeks but never seemed to get around to it – so here it is finally!
Since the Christmas break (which was lovely and lazy!) and settling back into work I’ve really started to get going with my project. The first step of my project was to propose an adjusted method for recording dental wear in human molars, which was completed before Christmas. This also included identifying the aging method, using human dentition, that would most be the most accurate and easy to apply and came to the conclusion of using the AlQahtani et al (2010) London Dental Atlas. About 2 years ago I wrote another blog piece discussing the accuracy of three different dental age estimate charts, including the London Atlas. The article describes the AlQahtani et al (2010) method in brief but the atlas itself can be viewed here.
The next step was to test out the method that I had created to assess how it worked when practically applied to human skulls. In order to do this I needed a good skeletal collection of the correct time period for my project (neolithic to medieval) that included juvenile and adults skulls. Luckily for me there is such a collection at Southampton and so it was very easy for me to get started! You can find out a bit more about the teaching collection and courses that Southampton University at the following blog: BOS, curated by the wonderful Ellie!
So it’s now the beginning of February and I’ve managed to apply my method to the juvenile skulls twice and the adults once. My plan is to do this a few more times for each set of skulls and there are a few reasons for this. The first is that this will enable to tweek my method where necessary so that it is as easy and accurate to use as possible. The second reason is so that I can become comfortable with handling and identifying teeth, but also so that I get used to the process of recording the data. This will be particularly useful when I move on to different skeletal collections, where I will only have a short period of time with them.
Finally, and probably most importantly, recording the data from the same set of skulls, multiple times will allow me to test the repeatability of my method. In order for this method to be robust and accurate it must produce statistically similar results when applied to the same collection, this will ensure that any results obtained using this method can be comparable. When recording the data from the same collection of skulls I am making sure that there is a period of time in between each data collection. This ensures that I cannot remember any particular individual and all of the collected data is ‘new’ again.
So far, the data collection is going well and I am getting through the skulls in the time that I wanted. Another key aspect of my project is to produce a method that is quick and easy to apply, and at the moment that’s going to plan so fingers crossed it stays that way!
I probably won’t do another blog post on the progress of my PhD for a little while as I won’t have much new to say until I’ve finished my data collection. However, I do plan to do a new blog post on molar identification (seeing as I’m getting pretty good at it now!). Hopefully, I’ll sort that out soon and get it posted!
I haven’t been around to do a post on a particular pathology for a while but as I was looking through the International Journal of Paleopathology I came across an article looking at osteomalacia. During my pathology course at Uni we touched on this and therefore thought it would be a good article to focus on.
Osteomalacia is a softening of the bones due to a vitamin D deficiency. This is commonly known as rickets in children. It is often identified in juveniles by the characteristic bowing of the long bones. As vitamin D is used for enhancing the intake of calcium and phosphorus it is vital for solid and strong bone growth. A reduced level in these minerals delay and prevent the mineralization of newly formed organic bone matrix resulting in bowing and a weakening of the bones.
Although osteomalacia can be fairly straight forward to identify in children it is much harder in adults. As the long bones have fully developed in adulthood no bowing occurs but a period of vitamin D deficiency can cause a weakening of the bones producing pseudo fractures. These differ from fractures caused by accident and injury as small linear or stress fractures are produced at weakened sites. In Fig. 2 a microscopic view of osteomalacia is presented with arrows highlighting areas where mineralisation has not occurred.
There are two ways in which vitamin D is obtained. The first has been briefly mentioned and occurs by being exposed to UV radiation. The second is by consuming particular food including oily fish and eggs. In modern life these things are easy to come by and therefore the prevalence of osteomalacia is low. However, in the post-medieval period, which the study sample is from, people worked in dark conditions will little exposure to the sun and oily fish or eggs were hard to come by as it was expensive. This resulted in a higher rate of vitamin D deficiency and Osteomalacia during this time.
This article by Ives & Brickley (2014) investigated the skeletal manifestations of Osteomalacia in a large sample dating to the post-medieval period. This includes examining 1181 individuals from 6 post-medieval urban sites plus a collection of 142 burials from a previous study (Brickley et al. 2007) from Birmingham. This gave a total sample of 1323 individuals to examine for the presence of osteomalacia.
When examining the skeletons the spinious process of the scapula appeared to be a common site for pseudo fractures. In total there were 9 cases of this type of fracture, of which 6 also had pseudo fractures in the ribs. Other sites of these fractures also included the pelvic girdle and vertebrae (see fig. 3 for all off the locations of pseudo fractures from this study). Microscopic analysis of some individuals also showed a weakening of the bone and were comparable to the study by Brickley et al. (2007). This method of detection was also used on individuals who did not have any pseudo fractures of the scapula spinious process, but in the femoral head and ribs to confirm the diagnosis of osteomalacia.
From the sample 19 out 1323 individuals were identified as having osteomalacia giving a prevalence rate of 1.43%. When this result is compared to what is known about rickets in children of this period this rate is very low. The authors of this paper provide a few explanations for this. A conservative approach was taken with the study assigning osteomalacia only to those individuals with strong indications of the condition. They also suggest that some adults may have suffered from vitamin D deficiency for a short period and therefore had fully recovered which meant the traits of the condition were not viable on the skeleton. Finally the authors state that between pseudo fractures can be difficult to differentiate from those produced from injury and as they were taking a conservative approach the individual would not have been included.
From this study it appears that you osteomalacia can be accurately identified using characteristic patterns of fractures. It was found that at least 11 individuals from the sample had died before acquiring adequate levels of vitamin D, however in some cases a skeleton may have been so fragile from the deficiency which would complicate an accurate diagnosis. The findings from the study also suggest that individuals who lived in the post-medieval period may have gone through multiple episodes of vitamin D deficiency though these may not have been severe enough to cause a collapse in the bone.
The identification of multiple sites of the skeleton where pseudo-fractures formed provides new information about osteomalacia, and the microscopic analysis confirms this. Although these fractures may not always be present they may be used an indication for the condition and easily appilcable to future study samples.
M. Brickley, S. Mays, R. Ives (2007).l “An investigation of skeletal indicators of vitamin D deficiency in adults: effective markers for interpreting past living conditions and pollution levels in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Birmingham, England.” Am. J. Phys. Anthropol., 132: 67–79
Ives, R. and M. Brickley (2014). “New findings in the identification of adult vitamin D deficiency osteomalacia: Results from a large-scale study.” International Journal of Paleopathology 7(0): 45-56.