Bones & Culture: Huesitos chocolate in Spain

Milka HuesitosI’ll admit, American candy bars often have names that are slightly confounding. To my mind, the combination of peanuts and caramel has never inspired derisive amusement, a milk chocolate and nougat confection does not immediately provoke contemplation of the vast wonders of the galaxy (or, for that matter, the red planet),  and what whipped nougat has to do with 18th century French guardsmen is beyond me. British and Canadian offerings are a bit better – at least Aero bars, Crunchies and Coffee Crisp all give the consumer a hint as to the contents of their packages (though I’ll freely concede I have no idea what reaction the moniker Wispa is supposed to evoke).

Huesitos McFlurry

In Spain, one of my favorite candy bars is called Huesitos. Incidentally, it’s also one of the country’s most popular ice cream flavors. Now, when it’s 40˚C and you’re craving something sweet, I’m not sure the first thing that leaps to mind is “little bones”, but that’s what the name of this chocolate translates to in English. Hueso means bone, and -ito  is a diminuitive used to mean ‘little’, as in the popular epithet pobrecito (“poor little one”).

Huesitos at Heladería Tentación in Jaén, Spain

Huesitos is a fairly simple candy bar, consisting of multiple layers of thin, crispy wafers that are sandwiched together with chocolate cream, the whole ensemble dipped in milk chocolate to bind it together. In essence, the candy bar is a little bit like a KitKat, though flatter and wider and without the thick chocolate bulwarks characteristic of the sides of  the latter confection. The candy is popular enough that a number of Spanish recipe sites show you how to make them at home, as in the image below.

Homemade huesitos

I was initially tickled by the appropriateness of the chocolate to my professional interests – how could a bioarchaeologist not love a candy that’s named after skeletal elements? However, while researching the etymology of the name using only the most refined and high-brow academic resources (read:, I stumbled upon some interesting facts about the history of the candy bar itself. Huesitos were initially developed in 1975 by family-owned company Hueso Chocolates, whose name derived not from a morbid fascination with human remains, but from the eponymous Francisco Hueso, the entrepreneur who founded the business in 1862.

Despite the name’s familial origins, the company did decide to capitalize on the osteological undertones of the product when marketing it to consumers. Perplexingly, they chose to do so using an advertising campaign with troublingly racist overtones – their cartoonish ads depict a caricature of a small “African” child (Wikipedia’s assessment of ancestry, not mine) sporting a leopard-skin loin cloth, who has a bone woven into his hair, exclaiming “That….that chocolate bone!”.

Huesitos original adI could give the company the benefit of the doubt – perhaps Francisco Hueso travelled widely in the areas Melanesia where bone septum piercings are popular, and so the depiction is actually meant to reference his worldly interest in the anthropology of body modification. However, this seems highly unlikely. The visual reference that the Hueso company was far more likely keen on invoking was that of the popular television show The Flintstones, as that program premiered some 15 years before their candy bar was invented, and the get-up worn by the child depicted in the ad campaign is suspiciously similar to the easily recognizable outfit of Pebbles, one of the show’s young protagonists. The Flintstones’ specious portrayal of Paleolithic lifeways notwithstanding, the parallel being drawn is unpleasantly familiar to any anthropologist as it evokes a “living fossil” portrait of current human groups, one which implies that contemporary non-agricultural lifeways are anachronistic lost worlds that are holdovers from our hunter-gather human past. More explicitly, it signals that the amorphously “African” individual being depicted is a throwback to an earlier stage of human evolution, rather than a member of a modern culture that has been subject to the same historical processes of change  as contemporaneous agricultural societies. And let’s not even get started on how sadly appropriate it still is in this day and age to draw attention to the implicit exploitation of African children that major chocolate exporters rely on to market cheap candy to the developed world.

However, the Huesitos story doesn’t end there. In addition to illuminating the insidious ways that racism pervaded advertising in the late 20th century, this saga also illuminates the increasingly large purvue of the capitalist juggernauts that are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in the modern world. While Hueso was initially family-owned company, in 1989 the company was bought out by Cadbury-Schweppes, a British brand that was itself bought out by Kraft Foods in 2010, which is owned by the Mondelez Corporation. Which is, of course, owned by the Scheinhardt Wig Company.

The reason this chain of ownership is relevant to the status of Huesitos today is because up until 2013, the candy had been made in Ateca, a municipality located in the province of Zaragosa, Spain. However, in April 2013 Kraft Foods proposed moving the factory to Poland. This caused a predictably loud outcry among the citizens of Ateca, who started a social justice campaign agitating against the closure of a factory that had been a key thread in the local socioeconomic fabric for more than one hundred years.

Ateca protest leaflet

The agitators garnered over 16,000 signatures using the social change platform Protesters used the hashtag #AtecaEsChocolate to promote their cause on Twitter, and took to the streets to participate in more traditional forms of protest.

Ateca ProtestsWhen even handsome locally-born footballers started to get involved, it became clear that the social change campaign was getting serious.

Ángel Lafita
In the face of all of the uproar, Mondelez abandoned their attempts to relocate the factory. Clearly deciding to wash their hands of all contumacious Zaragosan laborers, they instead sold the business to Spanish chocolatier Chocolate Valor  (if you’ve visited Spain, they’re the ones who make the massive blocks of “chocolate a la taza” that are used for churros and breakfast chocolate).

Huesitos - Valor brand

For now, things appeared to have settled down for the Huesitos brand. Instead of acting as a reminder of an era of overtly racist advertising, or a serving as a vanguard in the fight against the encroachment of monstrous corporations on local economies, Huesitos have reverted to something even more important: functioning as the sole appealing candy bar sold in the vending machines of Media Distancia trains in Andalucía.

Clearly I jest. However, it is fascinating that a post that was initially intended as a one-paragraph missive to a quirky osteological sobriquet became an exploration of various forms of cultural and economic oppression, incarnated in a simple candy bar. What a complicated, confounding world we live in.

On that note, time to get back to my equally complicated and confounding dissertation.

Image Credits: Photo of the Milka candy bar from Kraft, here.  Image of Huesitos McFlurry found here. Homemade huesitos photo taken from Recetas Confidenciales, here. Image of original troubling Huesitos ad found here. Ateca protest flier found here, and protest photo found here. Photograph of Zaragosa-born Ángel Lafita found here. Huesitos – Valor brand – found here.

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Strategies for organizing and photographing loose human teeth

Dental chaos

Before leaving for the field in May I arranged to meet with top-notch classical bioarchaeologist Sherry Fox. One of my advisors had put me in touch with her via email, insisting that I reach out to her as her research interests were so pertinent to my own dissertation foci, and she kindly agreed to meet with me for coffee. I had a plethora of ulterior motives for the rendez-vous besides my persistent caffeine addiction; I wanted to pick her brain about strategies for dealing with commingled and fragmentary human remains, get some advice on best practices for MNI calculations in prehistoric necropolises, and, as it turns out, to catch up on what life in Athens is like in the 10+ years it’s been since I’ve spent time in the city. One of the pieces of advice she offered that stuck with me was to take photos of all of my teeth.

Bag o' teethAt the time I remember thinking it seemed a daunting task to re-photograph the ~200 loose teeth I’d examined the previous summer. I’d be forced to make decisions about orientation, keep track of each individual tooth relative to its unique identifier, and manage to tag or organize the photographs in such a way that I’d be able to pinpoint a specific tooth without much effort if I needed to double-check an identification or re-assess pathology or age estimates. Should I photograph each individual tooth? Should I only photograph teeth with caries or pathology? Should I only photograph one view of the teeth (e.g. only the occlusal surface)? All in all, a lot of tedious, time-consuming work seemed necessary to come up with a useful system. Even thinking through the process was a little overwhelming. However, once I realized that one of my necropolises contained so much fragmentary human bone that a dental analysis was the only efficient way to garner information about age and MNI, I was forced to come up with a system, and quickly.

I’m sharing that system below, both because I found these sorts of guidelines and templatesextremely useful when organizing my own initial research in the summer of 2013, and because I’m eager for feedback from fellow bioarchaeologists on how they handle these types of logistical quagmires.

The first step in my dental analysis entailed sorting every bag of bone for loose human teeth, or any fragments of alveolar bone that contained alveolar sockets (open or resorbing) or articulated dentition. While occasionally the site archaeologists threw me a bone (see what I did there?) by bagging all of the teeth in small, interior bags like in the photo above, for the most part I had to go through things by hand:

Hand sorting small fragments of bone

After I had all of the teeth pulled, my strategy was to:

1. Sort the teeth into groups by category and arcade: I began with the lower central incisors, and then moved through all permanent mandibular dentition, moving in a mesial –> distal direction, ending on with permanent lower third molars. I followed this up with all permanent maxillary dentition, saving developing permanent dentition and deciduous or developing deciduous dentition for last. To sum up, I kept the following groups separate:

  • permanent mandibular dentition,
  • permanent maxillary dentition,
  • developing permanent dentition,
  • deciduous dentition and
  • developing deciduous dentition,

Then, within each group I organized the teeth in rows based on category (e.g. incisors, canines, premolars and molars), moving from mesial to distal within each group, so that the groups always started with incisors and ended with molars. This system meant that it was easy for me to compare all of the teeth in a given category to see if there were any left-right pairs that mirrored each other, since all of the teeth in a given group were from the same arcade and at the same level of development.

2. Arrange the sorted teeth into rows of ten on a tray: Private lab space is rare, and the chances of other individuals frequenting the desks and tables where you conduct your analyses are high. Accordingly, in the event that I needed to move teeth around, whether to facilitate the access of cleaning staff, clear space for behind-the-scenes museum visits, or simply reorganize my own work, I always laid out loose teeth on trays. My upper limit tended to be about 50-60 teeth a tray; any more than that became difficult to handle if the tray was accidentally jostled and re-sorting was required.

I stuck to rows of ten because I would input that many teeth into my spreadsheets as a group. For example, if I had a group of ten incisors I would generally move column by column, weighing them all sequentially, or examining them for calculus or caries sequentially, as I found this moved analysis along faster than inputting all fields for a single tooth. Analyzing teeth as a batch was particularly useful when they didn’t demonstrate pathology or were all at the same level of root development, as I could then drag and paste common cells like “Roots – apex complete”, filling in columns more quickly. However, I found that over ten teeth per batch became too confusing, and too difficult to backtrack through when I was unravelling a mistake.

Finally, the organization of the rows of teeth reflects their unique alphanumeric identifiers, which are sequential. I always started with the lowest number in the upper left-hand corner, with numbers increasing as the teeth moved right and down. Basically, the sequence would proceed along the same lines as the directionality of the English script, proceeding left to right and from the top to bottom of the sandbox. In the photo below, for example, the first tooth in the upper left-hand corner is T.01, the tooth to its right is T.02, and the final tooth in the sequence, the molar on the bottom right just above the photo-scale, is T.53. This method makes it easy for me to peruse photos and pinpoint a specific tooth – for example, I can tell that the large upper molar with the massive caries in the lower left-hand corner of the frame would be T.041 in this provenience sequence (I just checked my spreadsheet, and that tooth is indeed T.1.006.41, so thus far the system works, n = 1).

Occlusal surfaces

3. Prepare the loose teeth for photographs by using a sandbox: This was the part of dental analysis that required the most mental fortitude. Handling many loose human teeth is, frankly, an enormous pain in the gluteal muscle group. However, if you conduct your research abroad and access to collections is a one-time boon, such photographs may provide your only means for sorting out analytical quandaries or inconsistencies in your dataset that crop up as analysis proceeds. While I wish I was a rigorous bioarchaeological automaton capable of collecting thousands of rows of data with nary a single error, I know that mistakes have a Hydra-like tendency to spring up and multiply as a field season progresses, and redundancy (e.g. having your data “present” as both quantitative spreadsheet data and photographs) is one of the key safeguards against basic human error derailing the rigor of your research.

Despite my commitment to analytical rigor, I would rather chew off my own foot than photograph 3800 teeth individually, so I attempted to maximize both efficiency and information by photographing teeth in batches, from multiple views. I decided to take photos of the mesial, distal, buccal, lingual and occlusal sides of all teeth, using a sandbox to hold the teeth in position. This strategy was not the result of blind adherence to arcane principles of ‘thoroughness’, but rather designed to make the process of taking photographs require as little thought as possible. Orienting the teeth to take one photo so that, for example, all caries were visible, or all hypoplasias were apparent, would have required a lot more thought and consultation of spread-sheets, and when dealing with 175 loose teeth in a bag, I didn’t want to get lost in the minutiae of orienting and attending to each individual tooth. This strategy meant that I had an automatic system in place for photographing the teeth that (a) required very little thought to set up, and (b) would give me at least one view of every side of each tooth, thereby providing documentation of any caries, enamel pearls, hypoplasias, pathologies, etc., and (c) one view of the occlusal surface of each tooth, allowing me to go back and double-check attrition scores if necessary.

Mesial and distal views

4. Photograph the teeth: I also needed to develop a system that I could easily replicate each time I took a photo, one that would also allow me to automatically identify what the orientation of the photograph was without relabelling it. I decided that the least painful strategy to pursue was to position each group of ten teeth in the sandbox as soon as they were analyzed, orienting them so that their mesial side was visible (as in the photo DSCN0128 above). I began with the mesial side of the tooth as mesial and distal are the trickiest orientations, that require knowledge of what side the tooth is from in order to position the element. This orientation was most easily achieved right after analysing a row of ten teeth, as it was simple to go back through my identifications and check siding – distal orientation then simply required flipping the tooth 180. After that, buccal, lingual and occlusal views were always easy to identify, even without remembering the side the tooth is from. Whenever a tooth was unsided, it was oriented as if it was from the right side of the arcade, simply for reasons of consistency. The maximum amount of teeth I would photograph in one session was about 60, as any more than that would have required sacrificing the level of photographic detail  possible for each tooth. All told, this system took between 10-15 minutes for larger-batches of teeth, and the process got faster over time.

Buccal and lingual views

5. Organizing the photos: I kept a concise log of what I did each day in a word document on my desktop, and every day I input the order in which I took photos. At the end of every workday, I input all photos from that day and arranged them by provenience, using different designations for teeth, mandibles and maxillae. One key step to undertake before starting a project of this scope is to make sure your camera date/time is correctly set, because this can help you to back-track and figure out the subject of specific photographs. Combing through several days worth of photos is an arduous process, however, and makes it easy to misidentify photos, so I would strongly recommend loading and organizing photos at the end of each day of analysis, when you are most likely to remember what photographs were of if your notes lead you astray.

As an example of how I organized photographs themselves, the teeth in the photos above were from bag 1/006, and were given unique identifiers using a sequential numeric system – hence T.1.006.01 – T.1.006.53. In my photo files, all three of the files shown below would be housed in a larger file titled “1/006″.

Folder oragnizationFinally, when taking photographs I oriented teeth exactly the same way each time, in the following order:

  • Mesial
  • Distal
  • Buccal
  • Lingual
  • Occlusal

While this made for some frustrating afternoons attempting to flip tiny little deciduous incisors onto their distal sides, it also means that I can look at a sequence of photos like the one shown below and know that they are sequentially ordered according to that organization. Gaps in numbering systems occurred whenever I took a bad photo and deleted it, but the ascending sequence would always follow the sequence of orientations outline above. Accordingly, if I wanted to examine the lingual view of a specific tooth from 1/006, all I have to do is open the folder and go to DSCN0132, the fourth photograph in the sequence.

Photo numbering

And there you have it – my tedious, but thorough, system for photographing thousands of loose teeth. If you’re a bioarchaeologist, osteologist or paleoanthropologist reading this blog, how do you organize and photograph loose dentition? What are strategies you use for keeping dentition organized without going insane?

Image Credits: All photos were taken at the Museo de Jaén in summer 2014.

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  • After analyzing 4,784 human teeth (~3000 of which were loose),
  • Identifying and examining 2,480 individual bones,
  • Conducting a full bioarchaeological analysis of ~100 pounds of human bone and ≥80 individuals from two necropolises at Marroquíes Bajos,

Marroquíes Altos materials

  • Screening >700 pounds of human bone and sediment for loose and articulated dentition,
  • Completing a dental analysis of ≥180 individuals from the necropolis of Marroquíes Altos,
  • Teeth, teeth, and more teethLocating and scanning four site reports at the Regional Ministry of Culture,
  • Pulling samples of 113 mandible and molars for isotopic analysis and AMS radiocarbon dating,
  • DSCN9983spending eight months in Jaén over the course of two consecutive years,
  • and receiving a mountain of assistance from committee members, regional archaeologists, museum colleagues, and friends,

Catedral de Jaén

I am finally done with my dissertation data collection.

I think we all know what time it is.

Irreale reward

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Birthday Bones

Los Morteros

This past weekend I took a hike in the Sierras de Jaén to celebrate my birthday, figuring that a day spent outside in the fresh air would be gentler on my liver than my usual celebratory exploits. Gasping for breath after hauling my suddenly anvil-heavy body up yet another series of steep switchbacks I began to reconsider this perspective, but on the whole the trek provided an enjoyable way to avoid contemplating my ever-increasing age.

DSCN0289There are a series of summits just outside of the city limits that are accessible off of main roads as you cross into one of the outer barrios of Jaén. However, after a certain point the paved roads dwindle to gravel roads, the gravel roads dwindle to dirt paths, the dirt paths dwindle to goat tracks, and occasionally the goat tracks dwindle to nothing.  At such points, I focused on the few meters in front of me and kept climbing higher and higher, trying not to spend too much time looking down, because when I did I would see views like this:

Thank God for goats.After summiting Los Morteros (the jagged dark gray ridge line visible in the first photo), I decided to return to the Castillo Santa Catalina via El Neveral, a gently domed peak that appeared to lead directly back to the fortress (appeared being the operative word here; a story for another time).

View of Castillo Santa Catalina from El Neveral
While springing from rock to rock as gracefully as an arthritic chamois, I looked down to find that the mountains had decided to grace me with a birthday gift:

It's your birthday? How humerus!After the initial excitement wore off, I realized there might be more comparative specimens just lying around for the taking – possibly even a cranium. I explored the area for a few minutes, and while I didn’t find a cranium, I did spot a few other tell-tale splashes of white in the landscape, marked with arrows in the following photograph:

I found the bones fairly close to the summit, and while I’m not a zooarchaeologist, there’s a few things I was able to tell right off of the bat. My questions for you, intrepid and equal-opportunity osteologists, are as follows:

1. Given the local environment and the size of the specimens, what species would you guess these bones belong to?

2. Was this animal’s death recent? How can you tell?

3. Was this animal’s death the result of predation? How can you tell?

I’ve provided anterior and posterior views of the fragments of bones below, with a Euro for scale. For any zooarchaeologists reading, feel free to be as specific as possible as to species – I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what these are, but I would love a chance to double-check!

Anterior viewPosterior view


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Pop Culture Osteology: The Blacklist

The Blacklist

I left the U.S. just before a number of the TV shows that I watch (e.g., anything that streams for free on Hulu) concluded their first seasons, meaning that I departed the country while at least three different plot lines had reached maximum cliffhanger saturation. NBC’s The Blacklist was one such show: the heroine’s marriage was in peril, her professional life was skirting the edge of disaster, and the antihero/hero/sometime villain was beset by nefarious and powerful foes.

Like Once, another one of my favorites, The Blacklist is ridiculous and nonsensical, although instead of applying the panacea of true love to untangle convoluted narratives, it relies far more heavily on a (likely misplaced) conviction in the omnipotence and omniscience of both the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the higher-end criminal underworld. It’s the sort of show where  helicopters arrive just in the nick of time, surprise gunshots ring out from behind the villain holding the protagonist hostage, and an apparently ubiquitous array of long-distance, high powered cameras manage to capture every illicit personal and professional interaction that could possibly be relevant to the current story arc.


“Magnify. Enhance. Can we move the helicopter two feet to the left?”

This all becomes osteologically relevant because during the final episode of season one, our dogged FBI task force is on the hunt for an escaped convict named “Berlin”, who is purported to be one of the deadliest and more powerful criminals in the world. While interviewing a prison guard who had interacted with the convict in the past, Agents Ressler and Keen are treated to an in-depth, if slightly mythologized, account of Berlin’s rise through the ranks of the criminal underworld. The hospitalized guard (played by the fantastic Peter Stormare, who you will likely recognize from Fargo), indicates that it all began when the criminal mastermind was imprisoned in Siberia.

A former higher-ranking colonel in the Soviet army, Berlin had previously taken a brutal approach to individuals who did not toe the party line, and after his imprisonment his many enemies began to send him pieces of his daughter. Yes, that’s right, not missives from his daughter, but pieces of her. They started with an ear:

The first delivery...and then moved on to some packages that packed a more visceral punch (excuse the pun). Below we can see a few oddly shaped ribs – which I assume are lower ribs, given their size, relative lack of curvature, and the absence of clearly delineated heads – as well as what appears to be half a brain and a liver:


before finally progressing to the dentition. Here, at least, I understand Berlin’s horror. Not only is the Soviet Siberian postal service jaw-droppingly lax about shipping regulations, but now he has to deal with LOOSE HUMAN TEETH? Having just analyzed some 3,869 human teeth, I feel his pain.

Teeth - the horror!These gory gifts understandably piqued our imprisoned colonel’s wrath, and he was able to transform his rage into a single-minded focus on escaping his imprisonment. As Peter Stormare explains “No one knows how he did it, but he did. Some say that he carved a knife from one of his daughter’s bones, and slaughtered all the men that had held him captive for so many years”.

Well that certainly seems like poetic justice. However, I do wonder, as a bioarchaeologist, which bone would be most appropriate for such an endeavour. Let’s see what Berlin used:

Judging by the width of the shaft and the size of the bone, this must be some sort of long bone. Considering that Berlin’s daughter was a young woman who grew up in the U.S.S.R (not a socio-historical context notorious for abundant access to subsistence goods), had been incarcerated at least once before (again, a context in which she likely would not have received adequate nutritional resources), and had likely been tortured before she died, I’m assuming that she would not have been a particularly robust individual.

[As an aside, while this line of reasoning no doubt seems terribly callous and glib, let us remember that this woman is a fictional character, invented solely to provide a plausible motive and backstory for an antagonist who was no doubt created largely to drive viewership in Season Two by creating a rivalry between criminal masterminds.]

Anyhow, let’s see if we can find a close-up of the bone. Based on its size in the screenshot above, it has to be one of the larger long bones, right? A humerus, tibia or femur? Let’s take a closer look:

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 8.52.07 PM

The show was gracious enough to give us a clear shot of the cross-section of the shaft while we witness Berlin sharpening his clever osteo-knife, and I must say, this curvature is troubling. I paused the episode when this first came up, because while the sharp, steep crest shown in the top of this photo could be an anterior tibial crest, the mediolateral dimensions of the rest of the shaft, and what would be the posterior border of the bone, are so narrow that I don’t think it can be a tibia. As you can see, tibial cross-sections, even mid-shaft, tend to be much broader posteriorly:

Tibial shaft cross sections

That sort of torquing and angular curvature that we see on Berlin’s bone knife is more characteristic of fibular shafts, but the bone in his hand is clearly too robust to be a fibula, and is particularly too robust to be a fibula if we’re talking about a young woman who has likely witnessed all sorts of nutritional setbacks and should be relatively gracile. Here’s another shot of the crest portion:

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 8.45.47 PM

And here, as Berlin merrily begins his first killing spree, we get a better sense of the dimensions of the entire shaft – too broad to be fibular, unless we’re talking a very large, very robust individual.

The only thing I could think of was that the long bone Berlin received might be faunal. Some of the larger ungulates, e.g. a large deer or elk, might have tibiae in this size class, and the anterior tibial crests for these sorts of animals does tend to be steeper and more pronounced than the crests on human tibiae (see below), though I’ve never seen one in cross-section.

Fossil Deer Tibia

However, it’s a difficult call based solely on the portion of bone observable during the prison break. Osteology readers, do any of you think this could be an oddly-shaped human tibial shaft? Or am I right in thinking there must be something strange going on? Either way, that Berlin may have begun his murderous rampage and life of crime after his enemies sent him faunal bones that were intended to look like the remains of his daughter is unfortunate.

Agent Keen is troubled
I agree Agent Keen, I too am troubled.

Image Credits:
 The Blacklist header photo was found at here, the second image of crack team members clustered around a computer was found at the Blacklist Wiki here, while the sketches of tibial cross-sections come from a University of Tokyo report, here. The deer tibia was pulled from fossilsonline here, and the image of Agent Keen looking troubled is from razorfine, here. All other photos are screenshots taken from S1.E22 of The Blacklist, which is the sometimes gory property of NBC, etc., etc.

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Bone Quiz 15.1

Mystery item

What’s that, you say? An intriguing package wreathed in bubble-wrap? Maybe it’s something exciting, like a scale that can weigh more than 2 kilos at a sitting, or a bowling ball, or a cactus to brighten up my desk, or a parcel of Pop-Tarts that some glorious well-wisher FedExed to the museum for me!

What dreams are made of.
Who am I kidding.

Contents of mystery package
Painstakingly wrapped crania are why I spent ten hours at the museum today. On the one hand, my brain feels like an Alka Seltzer tablet slowly dissolving in a vat of Coke Zero. On the other hand, the last two hours flew by because of what was in the bubble-wrapped package shown above. The skull that this bag contained was particularly intriguing, enough so that I didn’t realize exactly how long I’d spent huddled at my desk, and I found it inspiring enough that I wanted to share it with you. This particular skull and its associated dentition will form the subject of a special two-part bone quiz. This time around, you only have to answer three questions. The first:

1) Human/Non-human?

Kidding, kidding, I’m not that burnt out!

1) Assess the sex of this cranium, providing a brief summary of the observations that justify your estimate;

2) Identify (broadly to category), the bone preserved in the sedimentary pedestal underneath this cranium and

3) Explain why this bone you identified in question 2 might be relevant to my understanding of mortuary practices at this necropolis.

Right Lateral View of Cranium
Craneo 2/167

Close-Up of Refit Mental Eminence
(This is a terrible photo, my apologies)

Mental Eminence

Bone embedded in sedimentary pedestal underneath cranium

(The area to focus on is surrounded by a red pentagon, 3 cm scale).

Mystery Bone

Happy Friday everybody!

And, on a more serious note, somebody please send me some Pop-Tarts. I have less than three weeks of data collection remaining, and I am starting to run on fumes. Dire straits, people.

Image Credits: All images were taken at the Museo de Jaén in summer 2014, except for the photo of Pop-Tarts ,which is taken from Serious Eats, here.

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Huerta del Manco

View on the road between Las Quebradas and Los Atascaderos

“It’s called Huerta del Manco,” she said in Spanish. “You know what that means?” “Huerta, si.” I told her. I’d come across the word before while translating archaeological texts and it was always used to describe orchards, groves or other types of cultivated land. “But… manco? No.” Rocío nodded, knowing it was time to resort to gestures “A manco is a person that has suffered from this”. She made a chopping motion over her left wrist.

I thought for a minute, melding the translations together in my head. “Orchard of the Amputees?” She grinned and started laughing as she could tell by my face that I’d figured it out.

Huerta del Manco is not the only unusual toponym in this part of Spain. My friend hails from the northeastern corner of Andalucía, a region famous for its exquisite mountain landscapes, which are protected in 2100 square kilometers of natural parks. These natural reserves are divided into three separate regions: Sierra de Cazorla, Sierra de Segura, and las Villas. In addition to “Orchard of the Amputees”, La Segura boasts such toponymic gems as Poyo Catalan (Catalonian Seat), Las Quebradas (The Broken Ones), and Santiago de la Espada (Santiago of the Sword).

The toponyms of La Segura We caught a large ALSA bus at the station in Jaén, spending three hours weaving through Jiennense campesiña, the endless, rolling hills of olive groves so characteristic of the southern frontier of the province. Released from the museum, I was content to simply sit and gaze out the window, taking in the undulating terrain that rushed past us. I grew increasingly more excited as the occasional stand of pines broke the arboreal monotony of the continuous squat silver olive groves. I explained this to Rocío and she shook her head firmly, indicating that the campesiña was all very well and good, but not really worthy of aesthetic note. “Wait until we catch the next bus” she told me, “wait for the mountains”. After three hours we reached the town of Puerte de Genave, where we boarded a smaller bus with a capacity of only sixteen people. The bus-driver gave me a curious look while we were loading up. “You going to Espada?” she asked skeptically, before Rocío jumped in assured her that yes, the strange, pale foreigner was already being supervised.

What with luggage, passengers, and a large cardboard box that appeared to contain an anvil based on the effort required to move it, it was a already a full ride. However, within minutes of getting on the road the small vehicle stopped once more, to admit a grandmother, mother and granddaughter onto a bus with no remaining seats. This proved no deterrent – the trio of fashionably dressed teenage girls behind us squished together in a single row, and the young girl perched on her grandmother’s lap, everyone laughing and grinning at the jostling, uncomfortable ride that would have been considered an inconvenience anywhere else. This was clearly an area where everyone knew each other well. We wound through a narrow road that passed through the steep, stepped town of La Puerta de Segura before passing into a more open plain that revealed broader glimpses of the local topography. I craned my neck, ducking and weaving to catch a glimpse of the view as we flashed past a small be-castled town, La Segura de la Sierra, perched on a distant high peak. The mountains were towering and sparsely forested, vast inclines that sprung up impassively a few kilometers away from the road. As we continued deeper into La Segura the road became more tortuous, and the broad expanse of the deep blue reservoir El Tranco hove into view as we motored steadily upward.

El Tranco

Rounding a bend, the vehicle startled three small mountain goats (likely representatives of Capra pyrenaica, the Spanish Ibex), who bounded down the steep slope into the forest. Every ten minutes the bus stopped at another little hamlet to unload more old women laden with shopping bags, all of them talking continuously. Within an hour, and after a brief spate of negotiation with the bus driver, Rocío and I were dropped off at a local crossing Cruz de la Revuelta, and her parents drove down in their white four-wheel drive to collect us. I peered eagerly out the window as dusk settled over the fields. We had arrived in Huerta del Manco just as the local shepherds were taking in their flocks for the night, and the car creept past a vast number of the braying creatures, every one in ten bedecked with a large metal bell on a leather collar. A large mixed-breed dog jauntily trotting down the road after them, ears pricked up and tail held high.

DSCN9946 Dinner consisted of a tortilla Española that Rocío’s mother Pepa deftly slid out of a cast iron pan and quartered, plus the typical array of simple yet staggeringly delicious Spanish fare: jamón Serrano, lomo, local bread, and sheep’s cheese. Pepa had also made small ceramic pots of arroz con leche for dessert, a sweetened rice pudding made with sugar and lemon, topped with a dash of cinnamon. While helping to clear the dishes, I realized that the family had an entire hock of jamón Serrano elevated on a stand on one kitchen counter. I was entranced. “What is that called?” I asked Rocio, pointing at the massive slab of meat. “Una jamonera” she told me simply, as if it were an apparatus as mundane as a coffee-maker or toaster.

Dapper ChicoMountain nights provided a welcome contrast to the bustling and oppressive heat of late summer evenings in Jaén. The air was tinged with a slight chill that hinted at the gradual encroach of autumn, and the alpine silence was deep and near total, only occasionally punctuated by the cascading barks of local dogs. I woke the next morning after a death-like slumber, stumbling downstairs to find a massive pot of chocolate steaming on the gas stove. Rocío and I breakfasted on what she facetiously termed “churros de pan”, dipping thin slices of bread into glasses of the heated mixture of milk and melted chocolate. Her uncle joined us for breakfast, eating in a fashion that I came to realize was typical of the inhabitants of these mountain villages, eschewing the use of a fork and relying instead on a small, sharp knife called a navaja as his sole form of cutlery. He deftly carved off of hunks of bread, pieces of sheep’s cheese and bites of salchichón, cupping the food in one hand, with his thumb braced to act as a bulwark against the swift progress of the blade.

La Fuente del Sancho

We set off soon after, to explore the village and its environs. In sharp contrast to my own far-flung upbringing, all of Rocío’s family history is nestled in one small valley in this mountain chain. Her father grew up in a village called Los Ruices, a stone’s throw to the northeast of Huerta, while her mother hails from the slightly larger town of La Matea, only a few kilometers southwest. Rocío showed me the fountain just beneath her house, explaining that most people in this part of the world still get their water from mountain springs since it tastes better than water from the tap. We visited her parents’ huerto, a large field a short distance from their house, where they grow potatoes, beans and peas, as well as tomatoes and cucumbers in their invernadero, or greenhouse. The northwest corner of the plot is marked by a flourishing pear tree; somewhat unwisely I told Pepa that the one pear that I had pilfered from it was delicious, and almost immediately received several pounds of pears in a large plastic bag to take back to the city with me.


After our brief and desultory perambulations we returned to the house for lunch, which in this part of the world is traditionally the largest meal of the day. Pepa had outdone herself, roasting chicken and potatoes in a broth of “garlic, lots of onions, and a little olive oil”. The potatoes turned the bright, buttery yellow that signals roasted perfection, and I mused, as I have many times since my arrival in Spain, that they know how to cook potatoes in this country, a feat that has yet to be accomplished in my homeland. The next afternoon Pepa prepared migas, a sort of deconstructed dumpling made by pan-cooking a mixture of flour, water, shredded potato and salt, one that can be topped with everything from roasted pepper to cured meat. Watching me gleefully spear several links of chorizo to adorn my migas, Pepa gestured at them with her hand. “Those were made here,” she said off-handedly. After further questioning it came out that not only does Rocío’s family cure their own jamón Serrano, but they have also always prepared their own spiced sausages. “I bought some from the store once” Pepa told me, by way of explanation. “They were not very good. ”


Over the next two days we passed all of our time either sleeping, walking or eating. The local roads wound up and down hillocks, linking chains of tiny mountain villages that sometimes contained as few as four houses. The sun coating the hills and peaks was warm but gentle, the brutal glare of Andalucían high summer having burned off several weeks before. As the afternoon progressed clouds rolled across the valley, momentarily plunging small peaks and valleys into shadow, and wafts of the sweet, viscerally rural scent of dried sheep dung provided a constant perfume. We trekked for several miles to visit a local waterfall and riverbed, both of which were dry after the pronounced aridity of the summer. Rocío joked that she was ushering me around a ghostly landscape, deeming the local site “la cascada fantasma”.

View of the valley from Los Teatinos

While exploring the caves around the waterfall I heard the hushed rustling of furtive animal movement in the tall grass, and glanced up to see a fox tail flicker across the opposing slope. This was still a region where animals outnumbered people – in addition to extensive gardens, the local populace tended herds of goats, cattle, and horses, most of which were guarded with by quiet professionalism by large mixed-breed dogs. Traversing the valley’s tranquil hills, ambling through quiet streets where old men sipped coffee and women collected laundry, I marveled at the remarkable preservation of the traditional country way of life in this part of Spain. It was as if the world had taken a deep breath in 1952 and forgotten to ever exhale; time, if not frozen, certainly seemed to proceed at a more languid pace in these mountains, effecting change as slowly as honey being poured over the hills. In America, these small rural communities are rapidly disappearing, a socioeconomic shift wrought by the government’s increasing support for large-scale commercial agriculture. On one of our strolls I asked Rocío if she ever planned to return to her town, a part of me fearing the inevitable negative response that characterizes so many young Americans’ reactions to their home soil. “Of course,” she assured me in Spanish “Es mi tierra” – “It’s my earth”.

Migas lunch

My last morning in the village I trooped down the cement path to La Fuente del Sancho, to fill the dark blue plastic water jug used to replenish the household drinking supply. The squat yellow-capped bottle has a length of twine tied around its neck to make it easier to handle, and you must forcefully plunge its buoyant, empty base into the fountain pool to lower the vessel beneath the spigots. I was filling the last third of the jug when I heard a sudden rush of noise behind me. I felt a momentary panic and looked up, expecting to find a pack of feral dogs or irate locals defending their turf, until I realized it was just one of the town’s ubiquitous flocks of sheep. Bleating and rolling their eyes back, they crowded behind me in fearful surprise, slamming into one another in their haste to avoid the strange alien creature pirating their water supply.

Local signage Forearms dripping wet, I muscled the bottle out of the water and backed off as I screwed the cap on tightly, granting the rightful owners of the water supply access to their territory. As I headed back to the house, I realized that not even the sheep in this region made me feel unwelcome. I will always remember ambling through impressive peaks in the tranquil afternoon haze of late summer, fondly recollect the amazing hand-made delicacies unearthed from local larders and hear echoes of the jangle of bells announcing ovine movement several kilometers distant. However, what I know I will keep with me longer than any fleeting sensory memories of my trip is a deep and lasting appreciation for the incredible hospitality that I was shown by everyone I met on my visit to these timeless mountains.

Animal life in Los Atascaderos


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