[personal profile] marieldraconis
Sorry it took so long to update--you guys may have noticed I don't use my journal on a regular basis. Anyway, this post involves dealing with human bones, so if you'd rather not read about that, please skip this.

July 15th: In Which My Plans Change and I Learn About Bones
Originally, I expected to be on the dig site for both weeks. I’d applied for the Introduction to Human Remains course, but there was a long waiting list and I didn’t expect to get in. At breakfast Sunday morning, though, I was told there was a slot available if I was still interested. I was, so I went to the Human Remains hut after breakfast and “Morning Prayers” [announcements]. As a side note, my entering the class screwed up the kitchen wash-up and lunch prep schedules all week, because students in a class can’t be on kitchen duty. I’d been signed up for two shifts and didn’t realize at first that I couldn’t do them. In the end, though, everything worked out.
For those of you who’ve done CTY, the first day of class will sound familiar. We went through our syllabus, and then launched straight into the course material. We spent all morning cramming in the meaning of lateral, medial, proximal, distal, dorsal, ventral, etc. as they applied to the bones and how they lie in the human skeleton. Then we got a thick packet on bones and raced through a naming and description of every bone in the human body, naming every projection or indent that normally occurs on each (abnormal things come later in the week), and learning how to use those markers to figure out which side of the body the bone was from. By lunchtime, my head felt like it would explode any second—which, again, was familiar from CTY.

A note on scheduling at SHARP:
8:20 am: Morning Prayers, just after breakfast. After announcements, everyone heads to class or work, except for those on breakfast wash-up (8:30-9:30 am)
10:30 am: Morning Tea Break. Tea break consisted of tea, coffee, and juice for free (and also hot water that was supposed to be used for steeping tea bags. As the weather grew worse I often poured hot water and held my cup to warm my hands), any leftover desserts from last night, and a box of sodas, candy, and chips for purchasing.
11:00-12:30: Class or excavation. There were an 11-12 and an 11:30-12:30 lunch prep shift
12:30-1:30: Lunch consisted of sandwiches, a soup, salads (pasta, potato, rice, and green), and the drinks listed above (available at all meals). I often wandered off to study or read after eating, or stayed in the marquee (the main tent) and played cards while chatting.
1:30-3:15 pm: Continue class or excavation, with a 1:30-2:30 lunch wash-up shift
3:15-3:45 pm: Afternoon tea break. Same as morning tea break, but with leftover sandwiches from lunch instead of leftover desserts. The times on this break got a little muddled, depending on what the group was doing when the supervisor noticed it was nearly time.
5 pm: work or class ends.
6 pm: dinner time
7:30 (ish): evening activity begins

After lunch, we had our first practical—we divided into four groups and began to unpack the skeleton we would work on that week. Our first challenge was to correctly lay it out, siding the bones as we went. All skeletons on site, excavated with permission of the locals from the Saxon-era cemetery, are labeled with both names and numbers.
Our group’s skeleton was called “Ray.” Since the excavator who finds the skeleton gets to name it, and few excavators are well-trained enough to determine gender at a glance, names often have nothing to do with the actual gender. In Ray’s case, though, I had a hunch he was male—and huge. His skeleton took up a lot of space on the table we were laying him out on (I say “he” because we later decided the skeleton was male) and it seemed very robust. Bones can show where the muscles were attached, and Ray’s muscles, in life, must have been huge. Other interesting features: he had a hole in his head (we later learned that this occurred during excavation), most of the teeth on his upper jaw were missing, and two of his thoracic vertebrae (the ones attached to the ribs) had fused. In layman’s terms, he had back problems late in life. After reassembling Ray’s bones, we began to analyze the quality of the bones based on amount remaining. The goal was to determine if the bones had enough remaining to take accurate measurements and determine if the bones had pathologies.
To assist in our studies, we also had two wired-together skeletons to work with. George was your standard plastic skeleton. George II was a man who had donated his body to science, and as such was complete but showed the wear and tear of a normal human life. Ray, George, and George II were constant presences over the next week.

I had a quiet evening, eating dinner then heading back to my tent to read. I hadn’t gotten to know people yet, but I would soon, on...

July 16th: Pub Quiz Tonight!
We learned about determining age, sex, and height (stature) of human remains on Monday morning, and put it into practice Monday afternoon. The people who lived in this area at the time were unusually tall, but Ray was tall even among them, being between 5’10” and 6’3”. We confirmed, based on evidence of the skull, jaw, and pelvis shapes, that Ray was most definitely male. Another group had a very ambiguous skeleton—its skull was masculine but its pelvis was feminine. They finally concluded it was female, based on measurement of the femur using a technique that is not standard but is being tested at SHARP.
Age is tricky beyond the juvenile years. After all of the bones have fused, age is determined by teeth and pelvic bones, but unusual wear on either bone could give confusing information. We couldn’t get most of the information from Ray’s pelvis—one of the pelvic bones was missing most of the critical parts. From the other one, we guessed he was about 35-45, most likely in his early 40s, at time of death. This is probably fairly old for the time period.
We also finished up analyzing the research quality of the skeleton today. After tea break we had our first quiz, on the material we learned yesterday. I did terribly on it—I didn’t have enough time to practice beforehand, I think.
In the evening was pub quiz, so I spent lunch and afternoon tea break trying to build a team. You can have up to five people participating in the pub quiz as a team. The team, as a group, tries to answer forty trivia questions. All this happened in the local pub, and there was a bit of a running competition between the locals and the SHARP excavators, with us always trying to beat the locals and get one of our teams into first place. There were also money prizes. My teams didn’t win either week, but it was a good way to get to know people.
The first week, my team included Coralie (who was on the dig site, having completed basic training the week prior to my arrival), who had played last week, David, a former actor who loved being melodramatic, Casey, who was, along with David, in the Human Remains course, and Martin, one of the site supervisors who joined our team at the last minute. We did reasonably well, getting 27 questions right. The first-place winner that night got 37 points—these were hard questions. We were tripped up on the sports questions and the questions about British comedians who were famous before any of us except Martin were born.
I don’t remember when it rained on Sunday, but it rained every morning Joe and I were in London, and the rain came back Monday night, starting with a lightning storm as I headed back from the pub. I woke up in the middle of the night and heard/felt rain on my tent, and then I slept until morning. It appears that, aside from occasional four a.m. awakenings, I sleep very well in tents.

July 17th: Dentition, or All Hail the Toothbrush
This was the morning we learned about teeth. Teeth don’t heal any damage that occurs to them after the crown forms, so wear on teeth can be a useful confirmation of age. At this time period, teeth wore down very quickly due to their methods of grinding grain. In Ray’s case, his teeth confirmed our belief that he was about 40-45 years old. He also had a cavity so bad that one of his first molars fell out and the adjacent premolar was badly damaged. We knew that the molar fell out before death because bone can heal itself, and his jaw showed signs of partial healing. He also lost several more teeth, mostly on his upper jaw, before death.
One of the jaws we saw had a diagonal downwards wear on the second molar and wisdom tooth on each side, as if they’d been pulling something. However, physically that made no sense. It requires yanking the lips back two inches, and why would you pull something with your teeth? No one could think of any better explanation for it.
We also discussed non-metric traits: possibly inherited traits which don’t seem to cause any problems, but also don’t occur in most humans. Most of these are parts of the skull that failed to fuse as the skull developed. Almost all skeletons on site had squatting facets, a non-metric trait caused by a great deal of squatting—the ankle and lower leg bones rub against each other until the ends are shiny. This can be painful, but was so normal that it is not considered a pathology.
Today was the first of many days in which we got sidetracked for a half-hour discussion on something else—I think the British health care system, most days, and also inoculations. We were ahead of time on our skeleton recording, so we didn’t lose too much time to that.
There was an evening activity—a lecture on Neolithic Flint Mining—but I chose not to attend because I’m not as interested in the Neolithic period.
Weather report: rained at nighttime. This was our last relatively mild day for quite some time.

July 18th: Skeletons and Soccer Balls
We spent the morning, until tea break, in the Old Village Hall, where SHARP stores its data and skeletons not currently being studied. In years past, when the graveyard was being excavated, Human Remains students would get to watch an actual skeletal excavation. This year, and when it rained in past years, we watched it on a video.
For those of you who plan a career of graverobbing: first, don’t, because ethically and morally it’s a very bad thing. Second, if you must do it, keep in mind that several-hundred-year-old bones are very fragile. They’re used to the soil they’ve been in, not the open air with all its nasty nitrogen and oxygen. The same holds for all artifacts, but bone in particular. So today was about “how to get all the bones out, while not destroying them, and making it easier for the lab to tell which bone goes where.” Trying to figure out which rib is which from scratch? Not at all fun.
We had a pretty free rest of the morning—we were supposed to have spent all morning on the movie, so from tea break to lunch we finished up all the analysis we’d done. When we still had time left over, we began discussing the presentation the class had to give on Friday, and flipped through some of the books in the Human Remains hut (portable, actually). I came across some interesting case studies in forensic anthropology and archaeology in one book.
After lunch we had a lecture on bone pathology—how to identify certain diseases from the marks they left on the bones, and which ones were most common in our skeletons. This particular lecture compensated for our morning’s freedom—we were let out fifteen minutes late, and due to some peculiar quirk of fate, all of us were sleepy that afternoon. It was nearly impossible to keep our eyes open. After tea break, the rain starting pouring down in sheets, so it was at least pleasant to be inside. By Coralie’s reckoning, this was the first day that the archaeologists were soaked to the bone trying to get final measurements on the Saxon layer.
It was supposed to be sports night that night, but because Order of the Phoenix just opened in England in the last week, it was movie night instead. The options at the local theater were OoP (not ready to see again), Shrek III (definitely didn’t find it worth seeing again), and Die Hard IV (I will see it with Joe or not at all). The weather had cleared up by then, though, so I went down to the new Village Hall with some of the others. I wrote for a bit, then joined them in a game of football (soccer).
My approach to sports: ballistic. The rules of this game: no hands on the ball, and anything else goes. My position: human Bludger. Yes, I know it wasn’t Quidditch. I like running into people, and they all said it was OK. We won, because my teammates knew how to use me and one of my opponents injured both her legs. After the game stopped, I got some lessons in actually aiming the ball and kicking it before I went back and took three wrong turns trying to reach the campsite.
I think it was about this day that I ran out of reading material and started reading Shakespeare’s histories in my free time. One or two would be good—five in three days probably did something horrible to my sanity.

July 19th: The Obligatory "How to Do Scientific Research" Lecture
The advantage of the SHARP classes is that there were eleven of us, and we were quite good at achieving all we needed to with time to spare. Based on my notes from Thursday, we got sidetracked at least once into a completely different line of conversation.
We learned about identifying the minimum number of individuals who could have produced a set of bones. Then, after a discussion of how scientific method applied to archaeology (I think here is where we were sidetracked), we got to practice designing an excavation on the SHARP site with a given budget and research question. We ended up 1000 pounds under-budget, but they forgot to tell us some important information.
In the afternoon, it started pouring rain. The archaeologists stopped working after break, but we had our second assessment to do—identifying bones, aging, and sexing, and determining MNI. About half the class mislabeled MNI because they forgot to consider age and sex in their results.
We also finished up our skeletal analysis, with a surprising result—Ray had an extra lumbar vertebra! We didn’t notice earlier because it had fused to his sacrum (a bone between the pelvic bones). On further investigation, we realized that his sacrum was also starting to fuse to his pelvic bones, especially on the right side. Keep in mind, he had an arthritic arm—on his right side only.
My conclusion was that Ray was right-handed, and he was having some real back problems and possibly difficulty walking by the time he died.
After dinner, we had the general meeting, in which they discuss problems at SHARP and then a topic of the week. This week’s was: “Does Size Matter: Open-Area Excavation vs. Evaluation Trenches” (types of excavation), which fit rather well with the discussions in class earlier.
Read a bit of Macbeth as well. I think this was the day that I discovered David would squirm, cringe, and go theatrical whenever someone mentions the Scottish play. It was probably too amusing, but I consider it payback for his attempts to emotionally blackmail people with “My heart will be broken if you don’t....” whatever the activity of the day was.

July 20th: Ethical Ramifications of Excavation
The last day of the course. We spent the morning in a role-playing situation to explore the ethics of excavation. I was the developer who wanted to build a road underneath and near which we found Saxon and Iron Age graves. Thus, I would have to fund the excavation, and the longer it went on, the more money I lost. My role was thus to try to lose as little money as possible We also had a priest, a druid, a concerned citizen who didn’t even want the development (played by David—and how concerned a citizen is he when he is late to class?), the county archaeologist (who would rather leave it until we had better means to excavate), etc. The teacher wanted the excavation for educational reasons, the Old Age Pensioner didn’t want it because what if it were her buried there, the planning office had already given the permits but was willing to arrange for new ones if we moved the development, we all had our own opinions. There was no eventual conclusion, but the discussion segued into a discussion of illegal antiquities trading. We also finalized our plans for the afternoon’s presentation and put our skeletons away.
Because we’d finished all of our analysis already, we lingered after lunch when the storm kicked in. It grew worse and worse. I think this was Martin’s fault—he said that people leaving today were to “fill in the escape tunnels behind them”, so of course that’s the day it has to flood, the day we lose drainage from escapees. Finally (I think not long before tea break) we ventured out into it to find the person with the key to the Human Remains hut so that we could take our props into the marquee. The presentations are open to the public, but with the weather the way it was, we doubted anyone off-site would come.
Our presentation came first. The noise of the rain on the marquee was so loud at this point that we had to shout to be heard. Of course, most of my group didn’t notice, so I worked on making sure everyone knew to shout. We had to go afterwards to get our course completion certificates. As we were leaving, the next group was presenting, and the group leader said “If there’s anyone in the Human Remains group who doesn’t have to rush off somewhere, we’d like them to stay and listen,” so we had to explain that we weren’t being rude.
In the evening there was the punch party. Each week had a theme—I hadn’t managed to get to town to develop my costume, so I decided to go as Birnam Wood. The fact that this came to me as I woke up Friday morning made it clear that I needed to read something other than Shakespeare soon. At the party were the Seven Dwarfs and Snow White, R version. We had Sleazy (who for some reason used a lot of yellow-and-black caution tape in his costume), Happy (=Gay), Dopey, etc. Sleazy and Happy (both of whom I’m assured are heterosexual, although Happy went around all week wearing pink hats and pink nail polish) were both very willing to act out their roles. Apparently there was pole dancing, although I left before they played Sweet Transvestite.
And thus ended week one of SHARP.
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marieldraconis

June 2017

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