Nutrient foramen

A nutrient foramen is a small, smooth-walled hole for blood vessels found on the external surface of a bone. Size-wise these tend to be in the range of what you’d expect if you poked the tip of a pen through the bone itself, especially for the largest foramina that appear on long bone shafts. There’s some variability to the locations of nutrient foramina, particularly on irregular bones, though on long bones they’re almost always found on the shaft.

Fortunately, the directionality of the apeture itself is a constant that you can use to help orient long bone shafts, even if the proximal and distal ends are broken off. Generations of osteologists have even taken the time to distill their knowledge into one strikingly memorable line of verse, right up there with “Had we but world enough and time” or “Turning and turning in the widening gyre”. To orient a fragmentary long bone shaft, all you have to do is repeat the mantra that nutrient foramina go to the elbows, and flee the knees, which is catchy enough that you don’t even need to be into the metaphysicals or modernists to remember it.

I always find thinking about what direction a needle would point if I stuck it into the foramen to be a useful trick. In the case of the tibia below, the tip of the needle is “fleeing the knees”, or pointing distally, a trait that would allow you to side this bone even without access to a larger portion of the shaft.

Posterior tibial shaft. Proximal end is up. Nutrient foramen circled by red dashed line.

Posterior tibial shaft. Proximal end is up. Nutrient foramen circled by red dashed line.

Image Credit: Sewing needle found here. All photos of bones taken at the Museo de Jaén, summer 2014.

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Glenoid fossa

The term glenoid fossa can refer to a smooth indentation on either the scapula or the temporal bone.

On the scapula, the glenoid fossa is located on the lateral side of the bone. It comprises a smooth, oval, and lightly indented surface where the head of the humerus articulates with the edge of the shoulder. In contrast, the glenoid fossa on the temporal bone is much smaller; it’s located on the inferior and anterior aspect of the bone, present as a little thumb-sized divot for the top of the mandibular condyle.

The Glenoid Fossa

The glenoid fossa is also one of those perplexing terminological decisions that makes you wonder whether early anatomists ever pulled their heads out of their cadavers and communicated with their living colleagues:

Old-Timey Anatomist 1: “I’ve just found an absolutely fascinating indentation on the lateral scapula! What have you been up to all morning?”

Old-Timey Anatomist 2: “Oh, still examining this temporal bone, and let me tell you, there’s a doozy of a dimple where the mandible articulates…It’s really something!”

Old-Timey Anatomist 1: “How curious that we’re both focusing on areas that remind me of a socket that a pupil or eyeball could fit into! Say, what’s the word for that in ancient Greek?”

Old-Timey Anatomist 2: Glēnoeid?

Old-Timey Anatomist 1: That’s it! Well, we should probably focus on our work and avoid talking to eachother for the next decade or so while we get these features mapped out. Cheers!”

If you’re still curious, here’s an  excellent post on the etymology of the term glenoid by Dr. A. Carey Carpenter, whose blog Anatomy Words scores extremely high on the osteo-nerd scale.

Image Credits: Photo of the scapula from Study Blue, here. Inferior view of the temporal bone and maxilla originally from, here.

Posted in Anatomy, Bioarchaeology Vocab | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Series of Posts – Bioarchaeology Vocabulary

A month or so ago I attended a brief workshop on academic blogging held at my university. For most of the session I sat in the corner, raising my right eyebrow and nit-picking the recommendations listed on the handouts.

Probably the face I was making. Subtlety has never been my strong suit.

Probably the face I was making. Subtlety has never been my strong suit.

Post three times a week? Who has time for that!? Inconceivable – no graduate student I know keeps a schedule that allows them to post several times a week!”

Keep posts short? But I love writing rambling missives that only Caroline will read in their entirety! Why on earth would I want to fine tune my writing and make it more focused and succinct?”

Link to other blogs frequently? I mean, I understand that it’s great to showcase colleagues’ wit and talent, but to do it all the time seems obnoxious; that’s like being the Facebook friend who tags twenty people in a photo with no humans in it!”

And so forth and so on.

I know, I know – hard to believe someone only a year out from her PhD can demonstrate SUCH high levels of maturity SO consistently.

I digress. Despite my initial skepticism, after allowing some of the advice to ferment for a few weeks I’m ready to give some of the tips a shot. In particular, I’ve continued to be intrigued by the idea of a pithier series of posts that will force me to winnow my typically expansive output into something more concise. Twitter for the lazy bioarchaeologist, basically.

V. Gordon Childe

I bet old school archaeologists would have been good at Twitter, because they were used to sending telegraphs.

So this summer, I’ll be testing this out with a series of Bioarchaeology Vocabulary posts*. Each post will cover one key bioarchaeology-related word, phrase, or person, and will be a paragraph long or less. The post title will be the word, phrase or person being discussed, and I’ll keep them all searchable within a new “Bioarchaeology Vocab” category.

If you have suggestions of topics you’d like me to cover, or have strong opinions on the matter  (e.g, “What a fabulous idea, you’re the next V.Gordon Childe!” or “What a terrible idea, you’re the next Jared Diamond!”) let me know what you think in the comments. The first post will go up later today.

Happy weekend everybody!

*I vaguely remember paleopathological having a similarly-themed glossary of anthropological terms a while back, but because it is 930 pm and my brain is a wobbly mass of turgid mush after a day of ploughing through Spanish archaeological writing, I cannot find the page.

Image Credits: Angry puppy found here. V.Gordon Childe and bear companion found here.

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What I’m Doing With My Summer (Part I)

What’s that you say? Have I been absent from the blog for the past several weeks due to exciting travel to exotic locales, traversing the desolate morains of Iceland, scaling the heights of Peruvian peaks, and exploring the stark desert beauty of the American Southwest? CLOSE. My last two weeks have been spent here:

Current digs
I’m currently participating in the Sweetland Dissertation Writing Institute at the University of Michigan, a program I applied for back in the early spring. The Institute runs for seven weeks, from early May to late June, and is essentially a paid opportunity that encourages doctoral students to work on their dissertations by giving them financial support and space to work (this relationship between private space and writing may have been remarked upon before… ).

Each group has a Sweetland faculty mentor, who meets with us to discuss any particularly thorny writing problems we’re tackling, and we also get opportunities to workshop our current chapters with other Institute participants. We’re required to spend six hours a day in the building, actively working on our dissertations the entire time.

This isn’t just about us graduate students. There are broader experimental aspects to the program, in that some of the data that is being collected on productivity and PhD attrition or persistence is being used to develop strategies to help more graduate students finish and defend.

Desk 2

However, this does mean that I’ve spent every weekday from 9am-3pm for the past two weeks mired in the materials chapter of my dissertation, which involves translating, untangling and then re-weaving segments of numerous site reports and articles into what is going to be the MOST ENGAGING and LEAST BORING background chapter ever (or at least that’s the mantra I repeat to myself when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed). That also explains the collage of necropolis maps and structure diagrams currently papering the wall behind my desk.

I’ll be back to more regular posting again soon enough. Till then, you can content yourself with attempting to find the 6 clues scattered around my office that reveal my true osteo-nerd nature….There’s a guide below in case you’re striking out. Happy Friday everybody!


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Identifying and Siding the Hamate

Newest addition to the collection

For the most part, I am a dependably frugal human – I pack my own lunch, I live with a roommate, and the average garment in my closet is curated for at least four years. However, when it comes to osteological replicas, all of my good sense flies out the window. Whenever I attend the American Association of Physical Anthropologists meetings, I treat myself to some small bone-related item. This year, I bought both a pair of osteologically-themed earrings, and a little carpal keychain that I’ve been carrying around like a totem for the past several weeks. In its honor, I’m devoting this post to learning how to identify and side the hamate.

I enjoy working with carpals because they’re each so distinctive in shape, so they’re hard to confuse for one another. However, it can be a little overwhelming to learn how to differentiate them and side them if you’re trying to learn all of the bones of the wrist at once. Accordingly, I find it easiest to proceed on a carpal by carpal basis.

The first step is learning the overall shape of a particular carpal, and being able to recognize its most distinctive feature (hint: here it’s the hamulus). Importantly, all of the photos and drawings shown in the guide below are of the right hamate.

Step 1: Identifying and Orienting the Hamate

After you know you’re working with a hamate, examine the medial and lateral articular surfaces of the bone. These can be used to side the element.  The process is particularly easy if you compare the element to a brachiosaurus:Step 2: Using the Medial and Lateral Articular Surfaces for Siding

Finally, the palmar and dorsal surfaces of the hamate also have distinct features and orientations, which can be used to confirm your siding of the bone itself (though now you’ll be comparing the element to some of dinosaurs’ living descendants rather than dinosaurs themselves).
Step 3: Using the Palmar and Dorsal Surfaces for Siding

A pdf of this guide to identifying and siding the hamate is found below. I’ve included an extra page with my sketches of the hamate in labelled views, so that you can jot down some of your own strategies for identifying and siding the bone when in lab:

Bone Broke Guide to Identifying and Siding the Hamate

Image Credits: Bell found here,  fat-bellied brachiosaurus from here, hollow-bellied brachiosuarus from here, brachiosaurus head from here, steps to the right from here, Duck from above found here, Ice cream in waffle cone found here. All other photos are of Bone Clones Magnetic Skeletal Hand and France Casting Hamate Keychain.

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SAA 2015: Reconstructing Iberian Copper Age Mortuary Practices

Golden Gate Bridge

During my recent trip to San Francisco for the Society for American Archaeology meetings, I was co-author on a poster detailing new research on the Bioarchaeology of Looting. While I devoted the remainder of my trip to sampling as much regional cuisine as possible (e.g. dim sum, churros, tacos al pastor, It’s-Its, spicy shrimp tacos, paletas, pho, crispy ahi tacos, secret breakfast ice cream), I also somehow found the time to present a talk that covers a sampling of my current Iberian bioarchaeological research.

For the uninitiated, an It's-It is an oatmeal cookie ice cream sandwich, made with either vanilla or mint ice cream, dipped in chocolate.

For the uninitiated, an It’s-It is an oatmeal cookie ice cream sandwich, made with either vanilla or mint ice cream, dipped in chocolate.

The fifteen-minute presentation was titled “Commingled, Communal and Complex: Reconstructing Iberian Copper Age Mortuary Practices”, and was part of the session “Bioarchaeology and Mortuary Archaeology in Europe”. The abstract is here:

SAA talk abstract 2015

In the event that for some reason you weren’t in Hilton conference room Golden Gate 6 this past Saturday at 1:00 pm, yet still want to hear my presentation, I’ve uploaded a video of it below*. It’s pretty much a verbatim copy of the actual presentation, including my signature cheesy jokes. It’s also worth noting that the values for my % of expected values and my dental MNIs have shifted slightly since my AAPA poster – I reconfigured my dental MNI calculation strategy (now using only the RuC1 for each mortuary area), which means the values produced by this study are different from my initial analysis. This is the sort of quantitative aspect of my research that I’ll be playing around with a considerable amount in the next few months as I conduct my exploratory data analysis, so bear with me.

*Recording the audio for this video was a rude awakening. Like most people I know, I’m consistently astonished when I hear my voice on tape. Though I’ve always been viscerally certain that my voice is deep, commanding and authoritative, falling somewhere between a more feminine Alan Rickman and a less musical Annie Lennox, in reality it’s irritatingly high-pitched, like the voice of a cartoon cat. Vocal issues aside, take a look at the video if you’re interested in the Copper Age or fragmentary remains.

Finally, if you’re ever in San Francisco and find yourself in need of a pick-me-up, I highly recommend a trip to the Presidio area underneath the Golden Gate bridge. I don’t think I’ve ever seen happier dogs, and there were so many of them! They made the last day of my trip to the West Coast pretty fabulous.

The Presidio - dog heaven

Image Credits: Image credits are listed on the last slide of the video. All photos of skeletal remains were taken at the Museo de Jaén in summer 2013 and 2014, and photos and scans from site reports were accessed at the Consejería de Cultura, Delegación Provincial en Jaén.

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SAA 2015: The Bioarchaeology of Looting

San Francisco

I’m typing this from the lobby of a hotel in downtown San Francisco, which has been one of the most unique cities I’ve ever visited – cars parallel parked sideways on the insanely steep streets, thick blankets of fog rolling down from the hills to envelop the city, and a jostling juxtaposition of immense wealth and entrenched poverty. However, I’ve been here for the past few days not to sight-see, but to present at the 80th annual Society for American Archaeology meetings. I both gave a talk and was co-author on a poster, so recounting my conference trajectory is going to be a two-part post.

Katie Kinkopf (L) and Jess Beck (R)

First, on Friday moring, Katie Kinkopf and I presented our poster titled “Bioarchaeological Approaches to Looting: A Case Study from the Sudan.” Katie is currently in her first year of the Berkeley PhD program, but received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan. I was her graduate mentor for her undergraduate honours thesis, and we’ve since been collaborating on analyzing the results. This research focuses on determining whether looted burials demonstrate patterns of anatomical preservation that are distinct from those of undisturbed burials.

Kinkopf and Beck 2015 Bioarchaeological Approaches to Looting - A Case Study from Sudan

We’ve uncovered some statistically significant differences in skeletal preservation between looted and undisturbed samples, focusing on the parts of the body (skull, cervical vertebrae, hands, and feet), that looters would most likely have disturbed when removing grave goods from an interment. Our results are particularly relevant given how many archaeological sites are looted, and we’re currently working on getting this work published. We had a lot of enthusiastic archaeologists visit the poster, and we’re eager for even more feedback, so if you’re interested in either bioarchaeology or strategies for detecting looting, take a look! The poster is below, and a link to a pdf is also included at the bottom of the post. In the next few days I’ll also be uploading a video of my talk – unfortunately this will just be my voice recorded over slides, so you miss out on all of the wild, theatrical gesturing that typically occurs whenever I describe something that I’m excited about.

Stay tuned!

Kinkopf and Beck 2015 Bioarchaeological Approaches to Looting – A Case Study from Sudan

Photo Credits: Photo of Katie and I standing in front of our poster is courtesty of Elizabeth Nelson – thanks Betsy!

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