• 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


Posted in Fauna, Long Bones | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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 deadline.com 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.

Posted in Long Bones, Osteology, Pop Osteology | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

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


Posted in Travel, Travel Essay | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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 , , , , , | 2 Comments

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