Pop Culture Osteology: Once Upon a Time #3

If you read this blog for the osteology and are largely unaware of the plot of the hit ABC show Once Upon a Time, allow me to concisely catch you up to speed:

A 28-year old New York bail bondswoman named Emma Swan opens her door one night to find her eleven year old son Henry, who she had given up for adoption more than a decade ago, standing on her mat. Henry explains that she must return with him to the town of Storybrooke, Maine, whose residents are all fairy-tale characters who were transplanted to the mundane American Northeast some twenty-eight years ago. These ‘characters’ have been frozen in time ever since, as the result of a terrible curse cast by the evil queen, Regina, who is also Henry’s adoptive mother. Over the course of the first two seasons, we discover that because of the chronological suspension wrought by the curse, Emma’s parents from the Enchanted Forest are actually her own age – in their late twenties. Also, Henry’s grandmother, Snow White, is his adoptive mother Regina’s step-daughter, and Rumplestiltskin, Henry’s grandfather on the other side, had a brief affair with his adoptive mother’s mother Cora (Henry’s great-grandmother), several decades ago, and so for all we know Henry’s  biological father and his adoptive mother may be step-siblings.*

Nope, I can’t do this concisely. I give up. All you need to know is that the Once genealogy is basically a kinship diagram designed by M.C. Escher.

In addition to stretching the boundaries of the definition of ‘blood relatives’, the Once screenwriters and prop masters also like to dabble in osteology every now and again. Though I watch this show largely to relieve dissertation data-collection related anxiety, I find myself hard-pressed to ignore the stalwart efforts of the Once team to incorporate human and animal remains into their sets and plot lines. While the show’s dialogue is often ludicrous:

No one steals from a dwarf.“No one steals from a dwarf!”

Lessons on self-acceptance from Ruby“You’re Frankenstein, and I’m the werewolf. I…ate…my boyfriend.”

and its convoluted plots always seem to rely heavily on theoretical principles pilfered from quantum mechanics (Can you really be someone’s step-mother and the adoptive parent of their grandchild simultaneously?), I have developed an inordinate fondness for this show.

Which brings me to the next episode of “Pop Culture Osteology”, as Season 2, Episode 13 introduces not only evidence of birds the size of pterosaurs, but also a heretofore undocumented pathological condition of human skeletal remains.

Pursuant to knocking out the giant (see previous post for backstory), Hook and Emma steal into his castle to search for the magical compass that will guide them back to Storybrooke. While combing through the castle’s vast heaps of treasure, they stumble upon a skeleton. But not just any skeleton – as you can see by the blade clasped in their hand, this individual was known as “Jack the Giant Killer”.

Later in the season we learn that “Jack” is actually short for Jacquelyn, which does not explain the spelling of the name inscribed on the blade below, nor the right-angled mandible in the screenshot above, since 90˚ angles are more characteristic of male mandibles, while females tend to have more obtuse gonial angles. However, sex estimation using the skull is a somewhat qualitative process, a methodological pitfall that the Once screenwriters are correct to call attention to.

That’s not what bothers me about this skeleton, however. First off, if you examine the screenshot above, this individual shows costal cartilage that appears fully calcified, despite the fact that ossification of the costal cartilage is uncommon in individuals of less than 30 years of age, suggesting the involvment of “infections, mineral metabolism, thyroid disease, chronic renal failure” or genetic factors – poor Jacqueline!

I also find the state of Jack’s right elbow particularly troubling:OuchAs you can see the proximal ulna and radius are fused to the distal humerus. It would appear that Jack suffered from some terrible form of osseous ankylosis. Ankylosis is a condition that occurs when the inflammation at a joint surface is so severe that the bones involved fuse together, prohibiting movement, as in the case of the manual phalanges shown below:

Ankylosis of the manual phalanges

While this could be a case of radioulnar synostosis (a fanciful term for fusion of the heads of the forearm bones near the elbow joint), I believe it would be rare for the distal humerus to become involved as well – typically this form of synostosis seems to affect only the proximal radius and ulna, as in the x-ray below. However, perhaps because Jacqueline spent so much of her time wielding a sword and slaying giants she developed a pronounced case of atlatl elbow, one so severe that it led to synostosis. As a caveat, I’m not a paleopathologist, so I don’t know if it is possible for the etiology of that particular ailment to follow such a path (paleopathologists, feel free to chime in here…).

Radioulnar synostosis

What is even more astounding is that despite these numerous and severe skeletal pathologies, Jacqueline demonstrated no apparent discomfort or abnormal patterns of movement during her life. Here, you can see here happily swilling beer with a pint-sized giant only a few hours before her death, with her elbows fully flexed:

While just a few hours later, we see her at the prince’s side, elbows extended. No evidence of discomfort whatsoever.

Perhaps the magical atmosphere of the Enchanted Forest is able to heal not only heartache, but also severe cases of of radioulnar synostosis. Or wait, maybe I’m thinking of “True Love’s Kiss”, a panacea that gets used to cure everything from sleeping curses to impending oblivion.

Whatever the reason, they should definitely write this up as a case-study for the International Journal of Paleopathology.

* I also find it perplexing that Lana Parilla plays the stepmother of Ginnifer Goodwin’s character, since during flashbacks it is implied that Regina is at least 15 years older than Snow White, when in actuality the actresses are only a year apart in age.

Image Credits:
Photo of pensive Ruby and Dr. Whale found here, photo of an irate Grumpy found here. First photo of Jacqueline the giant killer found here,  second photo taken from here. Photo of ankylosis of hand phalanges pilfered from Powered by Osteons, here, though for some reason I have a sense that the photo was probably originally derived from the University of Bradford. Radioulnar synostosis x-ray taken from radiopaedia.org, here.

Posted in Osteology, Pop Osteology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Identifying Human Teeth: The Premolars

Folklore holds that one way to stop a vampire in its tracks is to spill a sack of grain across its path. Purportedly, the creature’s visceral obsession with counting will take hold, forcing it to crouch down and compulsively count every single grain before continuing on its way.

Admittedly, this strategy probably does not work for all vampires.

Admittedly, this strategy probably does not work for all vampires.

That is how I currently feel when faced with loose human teeth. In the past month I have screened over 100 bags of fragmentary human crania, postcrania, maxillae, and mandibles, carefully combing through every sliver of bone to find any dentition that I can. I have become preternaturally good at spilling heaps of bone out onto sorting trays and rapidly plucking handfuls of dentition out of the resulting osteological cornucopia, using a process that closely resembles that of a racoon harvesting crayfish from a stream. As a result, I am starting to hit a particularly severe level of final-push data collection insanity. My hands start cramping into claws every afternoon at about 4 pm due to too much precision grip with the dental pick, I’m constantly muttering crown height measurements and attrition scores to myself as if reciting some sort of macabre incantation, and I start cursing, automatically and inventively, whenever I stumble upon yet another bag labelled “MANDÍBULAS”. It’s a lot like this time last summer, in fact.

All day every dayHowever, the one great benefit of my dentition boot camp is that it has allowed me to come up with many tips and tricks for identifying specific types of teeth. My current favorites are the premolars, which I find to be some of the easiest dentition to identify and side. In attempt to preserve some of the arcane dental knowledge my brain is currently brimming with, I’ve outlined a guide for identifying the premolars below, akin to my previous post on identifying human dentition more generally.

My observations range from advice about root form and directionality to tips concerning cusp size, wear, and orientation. As a caveat, human dentition is highly variable, so these tips likely won’t work for every single premolar you come across. Many of these observations are simply things I’ve noticed after working with hundreds of premolars over the last month or two, features that tend to recur repeatedly when you have access to a broad sample of teeth.

If you’re so inclined, I’ve also posted a downloadable pdf of my premolar guide at the end of the post, for easy access or printability. Happy tooth identification!

Occlusal View
Root tips

Upper PremolarsLower Premolars

Downloadable PDF: Bone_Broke_Guide_to_Identifying_Human_Premolars

Image Credits: Unhappy Spike was found at Persephone Magazine, here. All other photos were taken at the Museo de Jaén in Summer 2014.

Posted in Osteology, Teeth | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pop Culture Osteology: Once Upon a Time #2

Intrepid. Swashbuckling. Fearless. All adjectives that describe my tenacious approach to dissertation data collection. Oh wait, no, I’m wrong again. These are all adjectives that describe the rapscallion Captain Hook and imperturbable Emma Swan on ABC’s fairy-tale soap opera Once Upon a Time.

Why am I so focused on this show, you ask? I have approximately 1,675 reasons to need a turn-off-my brain fantasy outlet, all of them loose human teeth. With a month and a half remaining in my final season of dissertation data collection, I’m rapidly becoming an automaton who is only capable of dry-screening bags of dirt and human bone, entering teeth, and eating sandwiches. Watching Once reminds me that there are other things in life besides osteological to-do lists, and gives my beleaguered brain cells an hour a day to recuperate by languishing in a warm cocoon of televised intrigue.

I must say, however, that this past week the show has not done a very good job keeping my mind off of bones.

TO WIT: Here we are in Season 2, Episode 6, where the rakishly handsome Hook and dauntless Ms. Swan are invading a giant’s castle in order to steal a magic compass that will allow them to journey to small-town Maine, an apparently irresistible destination for all fairy tale characters. Emma and Hook decide that their best shot at disarming the giant is to lull him into a deep, unnatural slumber. However, in order to dose him with a magic sleeping potion, they must first attract his attention. Hook, being your typical high-T costly-signaller, decides to alert him to their presence by banging on a a nearby drum. Logically, he grabs the nearest large object at hand to use as a mallet and races to the drum.

Percussion time

But wait, you ask, what is that he is carrying? Some kind of bone? Clearly it’s too big to be human. Ostensibly it could belong to a giant, since all of the giants at the castle except for the antagonist were slaughtered in a recent war with the humans. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Hook and his ulnaHmmm…definitely not a bone belonging to anything anthropoid. It’s too long and narrow, and exhibits such attenuated proximal and distal ends. It seems oddly familiar, however.

Perhaps because it is a BIRD ULNA.

Here’s what your typical avifaunal ulna looks like:

Typical Avifaunal Ulna

This bone bears a striking resemblance to what Hook is using to drum up some interest from the giant. In fact, it’s basically identical once you remove the pesky issue of scale.

Instructive diagram
Here, you can even see how similar the end of the mallet is to a typical distal bird ulna:

 I rest my case.

Now, if we conservatively estimate that this ulna is about half Hook’s height (actor Colin O’Donoghue is 1.80 meters tall, according to the ever-omniscient Google), that would be in the range of .9 meters, or 900mm long. For comparison, the ulnar length of the wandering albatross, a creature with the largest recorded wingspan of any bird, is around 400mm. When investigating a fossil albatross in 2007, Dyke and his colleagues collected a sample of ulnar lengths for Diomedea exulans, the aforementioned Yao Ming of the bird world. I used their data on the relationship between ulnar length and total wing length to calculate the equation for that line, as follows (note that the axis does not start at 0-0):

Ulnar Length vs Wing Length, the Wandering Albatross

If that equation is used with an ulnar length of 900mm, it predicts a bird with a wing length of 1657mm. To give you an idea of that scale, here’s how that wing would compare to our formerly impressive wandering albatross sample:

Wing Length - Wandering Albatross vs. Once Bird

Now, the average wing length for their sample is around .980 meters, and the Once ulna beats that out by a factor of 1.6. Wikipedia (with citations) lists the average wingspan of the wandering albatross as 3 meters. If we multiply that by our factor of 1.6, this suggests that the ulna Hook is being so cavalier with belongs to a bird with a wingspan in the neighborhood of 4.8 meters, or 15.7 feet. For an idea of how this scales relative to your average human, see the blue representative of the Quetzalcoatlus sp. in the figure below.

That means there is some sort of bird that is as large as a pterosaur making its home in the vicinity of  the giant’s castle. My question is simple: WHY AREN’T HOOK AND EMMA MORE CONCERNED ABOUT THIS? They spend their entire episode swanning around trying to capture the attention of a clearly distracted giant when all evidence suggests that there are BIRDS THE SIZE OF PTEROSAURS in their immediate environment.

Once, you are so full of mysteries. And that’s not the only curious osteological plot point from that particular episode…Tune in for another Once-inspired instalment of Pop Culture Osteology – “Jack’s Curious Case of Osteoarthritis” – next week.

ResearchBlogging.orgDyke, G.J., R.L.Nudds and C.A.Walker (2007). The Pliocene Phoebastria (‘Diomedea’) anglica: Lydekker’s English fossil albatross Ibis (149), 626-631

Image Credits: First bird ulna image taken from palaeo-electronia, here. Second bird ulna image (superimposed over Hook’s avifaunal mallet) found at the Fossil Forum, here. Third bird ulna image found at a washington.edu course website, here. Image of human to-scale with various Quetzalcoatlus species found here.  Exasperated Jennifer Morrison gif found here. All other images are screenshots taken from Once Upon a Time, and are the property of ABC, etc., etc.,

Posted in Fauna, Osteology, Pop Osteology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Bone Quiz 14

Everyone get your thinking caps out, à la this classic story arc…

Thinking Cap Results

because this is a tough one.

Last week I stumbled upon something particularly interesting in my dissertation data set. At first I didn’t realize what it was, since the element hadn’t yet been completely cleaned. Then, after a few minutes with a dental pick and toothbrush, I sat staring at it and scratching my head, rotating it back and forth and peering at it from every angle, before finally running excitedly to share my discovery with Carmen, the colleague I’m sharing lab space with.

I’m 90% certain I’ve got it figured it out. However, I’m curious to see how many other people share my conclusions. Have a go at this in the comments, especially if you have training in osteology or dental anthropology – any input is than welcome!

Quiz structure is pretty much par for the course:

1. Human/Non-Human;

2. Permanent/Deciduous;

3. Tooth category (Incisor, Canine, Premolar, Molar);

4. Upper or lower;

5. Location in arch (e.g. 1, 2, 3 or 4);

6. Side.


All photos are shown with a 3cm scale. I’ve also rotated some of the photos so as to bias your interpretation as little as possible. Good luck!

Buccal/Labial View

Buccal/Labial ViewLingual View

Lingual View

Mesial/Distal View 1

Mesial/Distal View 1

Mesial/Distal View 2

Mesial/Distal View 2

Superior/Inferior View 1

Superior/Inferior View 1

Superior/Inferior View 2

Superior/Inferior View 2
Image Credits: Calvin and Hobbes strip created by Bill Watterson, first strip found posted online here, second strip posted here. All other photos taken at the Museo de Jaén in summer 2014.

Posted in Bone Quiz, Osteology | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pop Culture Osteology: Once Upon a Time


Last night was Friday, so being the diligent graduate student that I am, I spent all evening organizing my spreadsheets, editing a chapter that is soon due and working on conference abstracts. Oh wait, no, no I didn’t, I spent it eating cookies and watching trashy American TV. I was immersed in an episode of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, a show noteworthy for its gritty depiction of life in small-town Maine, linear plot, and subtle script (sample dialogue: “I’m a dwarf, Nova. I belong in the mines. You belong with the other fairies, and that’s never going to change”).

However, mid-way through an episode, I was forced to hit pause. Prince Charming (Yes, I know) and Lancelot (Yup, that Lancelot) were journeying to Lake Nostos, a body of water that had formerly been home to a deadly siren, to try and find a cure for a wound inflicted upon Charming’s mother, who was being tended to by Snow White (See what I mean about linear plots?). Charming had slain the seductive siren in a previous battle, and so they arrived at the lake shore to find it empty and barren, drained of all water and hence of all magical healing properties. Charming blames himself, chalking the newfound aridity up to the death of the succubus. However, while traversing the lake bed they come across a skeleton that likely belonged to the siren (as is implied by the crystal crown that Charming hoists off of the remains), and I realized why this woman had had it out for all visitors in the past.

Remains of the Siren...

Wouldn’t YOU be a little tetchy if you had three fibulae?

Labelled Siren Remains

I have helpfully labelled the elements present in this poor woman’s skeleton here. In addition to the two ribs visible in the first photo, her postcranial remains appear to consist solely of a humerus and three fibulae. While the lowest long bone visible at first seems like it could be the distal half of a radius, you can tell it’s a fibula in the photo below based on the extremely long and narrow shaft that demonstrates the characteristic torquing angularity of this particular leg bone.

Fibulae and the crown

No wonder Charming looks so confused.

The intrepid Charming
Image Credits: Once header photo was taken from Comic Con Geek, here. All other images are screenshots that are the property of ABC,etc, etc.

Posted in Osteology, Pop Osteology | Tagged , , | 5 Comments


View from Parc de Montjuïc

In early August the city is a teeming stew of people. Coastline and latitude make for a heady mix of sea air and heavy humidity, and everyone is covered in a constant sheen of  sweat. Attempting to navigate the major thoroughfares in the city center, you metamorphose into a sticky, bewildered pinball, careening into waddling tourists, aggressively welcoming maître d’s, and irritable locals. The metro is the worst: the trains are air-conditioned, but the stations, swaddled under tons of dirt and radiant city warmth, are fetid cocoons of heat. Waiting for a train feels like sitting in a pre-heated oven. Locals and tourists alike are covered in a moist film of sweat and body odor, curls of hair plastered onto their foreheads and glued to the back of their necks.

Of course I had waited to read the city guides until after arriving, figuring I would hit the ground running and sort out my itinerary as I went. I started by browsing online, looking for some expat advice: “The worst time to be here? August. All the locals empty the city and are replaced by hundreds of thousands of sweaty Italians, French, Germans, Brits and Americans wondering where all the Catalans went.” Unfortunately, early August was the only time I had free, and the idea of cutting out of Jaén when the temperature reached its late-summer zenith was appealing. “I’ll go north!” I thought excitedly, dreaming of strong sea breezes, a hint of Catalan chill to the night air, and the edgy art and culinary scene for which Barcelona is justly famous.

AVE view

As soon as I boarded the train I realized that northern Spain was going to be a very different experience than the familiar, slow-paced Andalucian way of life. The northern high-speed rail has more in common with a 1950s airplane journey than it does with Renfe’s slower and more spacious Media-Distancia trains of the south. On these sleeker AVE models, slate gray seats are packed with people, all facing uniformly forward. Neckerchiefed stewardesses offer headphones to watch the American movies playing on the screens overhead, while vested attendants wheel sandwich carts through the aisles. While it took less than three hours to reach our destination, some of the modifications were more odious than others – the bathroom toilet bowls were filled with bright blue liquid that emitted an ineffably bizarre scent, the strong sweet smell of bananas not quite masking the unpleasant stench of sewage lurking underneath it.

Barcelona brew

I disembarked at the Sants Metro station and was immediately immersed in a brightly colored, multi-lingual crowd. The volume of tourists was unlike anything I’ve experienced anywhere else in Spain. Despite its magnificent cathedral and 12th century Islamic fortress, Jaén is far enough off the beaten path to deter most foreign visitors. Madrid, the other only Spanish city I’ve spent much time in, has its tourist-ridden swathes, particularly within a two-kilometer radius around Plaza del Sol, but it’s easy to strike out and dodge the crowds. Even Andalucian epicenters like Granada or Cordoba offer shaded back streets and secluded bars where you can quietly drink a restorative beer, munch on some morcilla, and get away from it all. Barcelona is a different beast. Having unwittingly arrived at the start of the high season, the city felt under attack; inundated, swamped, and overrun with tourists.

Casa Batillo


Feeling the need to see some of Gaudi’s acclaimed architecture, I struck out for the Sagrada Familia as soon as I got in, and found that every majestic landmark in Barcelona is encircled by a rank, gaudy hub of commercialism. Each cathedral, museum, and monument is fettered by a battalion of matching baseball caps and flashing cameras, hemmed in by aggressively multilingual vendors hawking everything from churros to flamenco to sangria. This experience characterized most of the first two days I spent traversing the streets of Barcelona.

Park Güell

Despite the sheer, stupefying volume of tourists, the monuments were impressive. The Sagrada Familia looks like it was designed by Cthulu during a particularly ambitious bout of universe upheaval. The monstrously brilliant cathedral looms incongruously in the midst of bustling restaurants and leafy, Parisian-style boulevards, appearing to have been just dredged up from some inky underwater abyss. I also paid a dutiful visit to Park Güell, the famous Gaudi-designed suburban community on Barcelona’s northwestern outskirts. However, a niggling ambivalence permeated my experience of the park’s bejeweled lizards and tortuous walkways. It’s difficult to appreciate something as innovative and playful as Gaudi’s approach to architecture when its unique character is plastered on every magnet and coffee mug, coated with an oily gloss of commercialism, and rammed down your throat. Craning my neck to gaze at up at the mosaic roof of the Seussian guard house, ambling along the earthen columns of the Pòrtic de la Bugadera, and peering over the Plaça de la Natura to soak in an unparalleled view of Barcelona, I felt somewhat cheated. The park was an anomaly. Deliberately, painstakingly designed to be lived in, the community now served as an abandoned stage-set, an empty wooden background pierced only by the constant whir and click of expensive cameras.

La Boqueria

The Barri Gotico, Barcelona’s famous old quarter, was similarly unsettling. It was possible to get lost amongst its towering dark allies for minutes at a time, emerging every now and again to witness the erupting ramparts of gothic churches, but every few streets were punctuated with reminders that this too was just for show. English signs for youth hostels decorated doorstops, a slue of bars proudly advertised the atrocious Dutch beer they served on tap, and fluorescent souvenir shops cropped up like weeds. After perambulating all the way down to the delightfully tacky Eurotrash beach-front, I threw in the towel. Stopping in a hostel bar staffed by multilingual American-Spaniards who switched accents and languages as easily as blinking, I gave up on my storied Barcelona dreams, and ordered a Brooklyn Brown Ale, the first dark beer I’d had in two months. Heavy with alcohol, sweeter and more flavorful than any mass-marketed Spanish lager, it was delicious. This was the point at which my experience of Barcelona began to change.

Llaminets from Mercado Santa Caterina

Embarrassingly, I’d forgotten the cardinal rule of European travel, one that apparently has yet to be drilled into my brain after years on the ground in tourist hot spots like Prague and Paris. When you visit somewhere new, don’t do what you think you should do. Abandon the Herculean labor of ticking off every box on a Frommer’s checklist, spending tedious hours in overpriced museums and languishing in the interminable lines that snake tortuously around local landmarks. The necessary first step to fulfilling travel is shrugging off the nagging feeling that you have to do or see specific things in order to make your journey worthwhile. I’ve felt this twinge of traveler’s guilt frequently in the past, a little stab of rueful remorse that pricks me whenever I bypass an archaeology museum or spend a day wandering the streets with no set schedule. However, over time I’ve found that the more I ignore that vexing, misplaced sense of responsibility, the more rewarding my travel tends to be.

Marzipan at La Boqueria

As soon as I abandoned the guidebook itinerary, Barcelona had a lot more to offer. I happily spent the next several days doing things that I would have done if I lived in the city year round. The town has a burgeoning craft beer scene, and a trip to BierCAB, a relatively new cervecería that has 30 beers on tap, was just what the doctor ordered after months of Cruzcampo. Sampling a range of home-grown Barcelona fruit ales, American Black IPAs and a deliciously sour Danish cuvée, I remembered precisely why big-city living is so addictive. I was also amused to find that the bartender, a genial bearded man with a high tolerance for foreigners mangling his language, was also from the south. When I explained that I lived in Jaén he let loose a torrent of furious and incomprehensible Spanish, from which I only managed to pluck out the phrases “only one type of beer”, “don’t know anything” and “terrible”. A visit to Fàbrica Moritz, the restaurant and micro-brewery that produces one of Barcelona’s most beloved beers, was similarly rewarding. The original Moritz was an Alsatian immigrant, and the restaurant pays homage to his heritage by melding traditional Spanish cuisine (patatas bravas, jamón Iberico), with typical northern French fare (flammenkuchen, rösti) with mouthwatering results.

BierCAB bounty

Since I am nothing if not an incorrigible glutton, I was likewise captivated by the city’s food markets. Even La Boqueria, an overwhelming, overpriced assault of color and sound, was well worth the visit. In true frugal graduate student fashion I bought nothing of substance except an apple, spending an hour wandering the stalls and gaping at all the purveyors had on offer, from meticulously molded marzipan candy to whole hocks of jamón Iberico. I made up for lost opportunities later that afternoon at Mercado Santa Caterina, only a twenty minute amble from the far more crowded and bustling Boqueria, sampling llaminets and amassing a collection of morcilla, fuet and manchego baixa en sal for a balcony dinner later that night. However, even the cornucopia of Barcelona’s neighborhood mercados could not prepare me for what I stumbled upon at the summit of Parc de Montjuïc. The entire amble from the Para-lel furnicular to the top of the hill was punctuated by whiffs of a scent that smelled tantalizingly like pancakes. When I arrived at the stock medieval market outside the castle gates, I finally identified its source: a stand devoted entirely to churros, sprinkled with cinnamon, rolled in sugar, dipped in chocolate and, most decadently, stuffed with caramel.

Caramel-filled churro outside of Castle Montjuïc

And so, my last afternoon in Barcelona, I wandered around the grounds of Montjuïc Castle contentedly festooned with diaphanous strands of escaped caramel, taking in the blinding glare of the sun over the Balearic as I watched freighter ships and passenger planes traverse the long stretch of cerulean water. I paused for a minute before heading back down the hill towards Poble Sec. Gazing north over the spires of the Olympic Park and out across the grandiose sprawl of the city itself, I was filled with a momentary regret that it had taken me so long to settle in and appreciate the all that Barcelona had to offer. However, I took comfort in the realization that even though my first visit got off to an rocky start, my second trip to Barcelona will be even better.

Posted in Travel, Travel Essay | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bone Quiz 13

Today is a great Friday. Not only is it a tolerable 31˚C here in Jaén, but the new materials I’ve requested from the museum storage units won’t get to the museum until Monday afternoon. This means that I get to take a two day weekend, that will no doubt be filled with predictable amounts of excess and debauchery.

It has been a long week, involving sorting, identifying and analyzing around 80 teeth a day, while screening material that looks  like this:

Dry screening

and unpacking insidious little bags that look like this:

DSCN9941in order to find even more teeth. I’ve just hit the 1500 mark, and I’ve only gone through about one third of the material associated with this necropolis. September will be a busy month.

However, today is also a fantastic day because one of my good friends, the illustrious Caroline VanSickle, defended her dissertation on the Neandertal pelvis this morning.  Caroline is heading to University of Wisconsin – Madison, as the first recipient of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies prestigious Feminist Biology Postdoctoral Fellowship. Over the next two years she’ll be teaching upper-level seminars exploring the intersection of biology and gender, while continuing her research on changes in childbirth anatomy over the course of human evolution. I will miss her constant presence in the osteology and paleoanthropology lab, as well as her invaluable tips on Excel, Word, and the appropriate number of M&Ms to consume in a single afternoon. However, I’m happy that she gets to start her exciting new postdoc so soon!

The lab will miss you, but I will make sure to always keep a bag of peanut butter M&Ms on your desk to honor your memory.

The lab will miss you, but I will make sure to always keep a bag of peanut butter M&Ms on your desk to honor your memory.

Anyhow, partially due to my excitement at all of the good tidings this Friday has brought, and partially due to the 660ml of caffeine I have just imbibed, I’m presenting you with the following FIENDISHLY difficult bone quiz.

While I was sorting through a bag of fragmentary bone today I found a tooth root that had the crown broken off of it as the result of post-mortem damage. However, I gave identifying it a shot anyways, by using the shape and length of the root and the shape of the tiny fragment of crown still visible. I felt vindicated after laying out all of the teeth from that particular bag, because my (now clearly justified) screening methods had also produced both portions of the fractured crown. When I refit them, I realized that my initial identification had been correct. If I can do it, you can too! I’ve oriented one photo as if this were a maxillary tooth, and one photo as if it were a mandibular tooth, so as not to bias your identifications. Without further ado:

1. Permanent or deciduous;

2. Tooth category (Incisor, Canine, Premolar, Molar);

3. Upper or lower;

4. Location in arch (e.g. 1, 2, 3 or 4);

5. Left or right;

Buccal/Labial View – 3 cm Scale 

Lingual View – 3 cm Scale

Lingual view

                  Shape of the occlusal surface at around the level of the CEJ                                                         (lingual half is lower in the photo)


Answers posted after the jump below. Have a great weekend!
Image Credits: All osteological photographs were taken at the Museo de Jaén in summer 2014.











Posted in Bone Quiz, Osteology | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments