AAPAs 2015

St. Louis SkylineAfter a whirlwind trip to Madison, I’ve landed in St. Louis for the American Association of Physical Anthropologists’ meetings. If you’re interested in visiting my poster, or just taking a look at it, I’ve uploaded both a jpeg and a pdf below.  I’ll be presenting it at the conference tomorrow:

Date: Thursday, 26 March 2015
Session: 9. Bioarchaeology
Location: Archview Ballroom
Poster #: 40

It will go up at around 8am (which will be challenging as for some inexplicable reason all of the coffee in my hotel room is decaf), but I’ll actually be standing in front of it from 10-1030am and 4:45-5:30 pm. If you’re in town for the meetings, please swing by and help keep me company!

For those of you not at the meetings, the poster details some of my initial attempts at grappling with the problem of analyzing commingled remains. N4, one of the three necropolises*  that I examined over the past two years, contained such a massive volume of human bone that I decided to focus on conducting a dental analysis. However, because I conducted a full bioarchaeological analysis for the other two mortuary areas (N1 and N2), I have comparative data that includes both dentition and the rest of the skeleton. Since N1 contains a mixture of distinguishable primary and secondary burials, and N2 contains only secondary burials, I have dental signatures for these different forms of mortuary treatment. Accordingly, I’m trying to figure out ways to suss out what form, or forms, of burial people were likely practicing at N4 by comparing its dental signature to those at N1 and N2. It’s interesting stuff, and this preliminary analysis has produced some intriguing results that I’m hoping to delve into in more depth and run some stats on this summer.

The poster will, of course, be updated in the fullness of time after I correct the myriad grammatical and formatting errors that will surely spring up like the heads of Hydra after I spent five minutes in front of the poster. These generally become glaringly apparent 30 seconds before big name bioarch faculty stop by my poster.

If you want to download a pdf to look at the poster in a little bit more detail, there’s one here:

Jess Beck AAPA Poster 2015

*Yes, in contrast to the vehement argument made by one of my faculty members, “necropolises” is an appropriate plural for necropolis. To paraphrase a classic: I know these things [faculty member], I’ve looked them up!

Image Credits: Photo of St.Louis skyline found here.

Posted in Bioarchaeology, Conferences | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Osteology Everywhere: Madison Edition

I’ve spent the past week visiting Madison, Wisconsin, eating vast amounts of cheese curds, quaffing pints of New Glarus and Capital beer, and generally having a pretty outstanding time. However, despite the fact that I’ve been treating this trip as a vacation, osteology has still managed to creep into my travels on a daily basis. In typical osteo-nerd fashion, I’ve not been able to get away from bones, particularly skulls, over the course of my time here.

I saw this sculpture right as I got off the bus, which turned out to be a good omen for the entire visit. It’s a sculpture by artist Jim Dine titled Ancient Fishing, and it’s located in front of the Chazen Museum of Art, right on campus.

Skull outside of the art museum

Spoiler: I bought one of these shirts. How could I not? It combines both puns AND osteology – two of my favorite things besides cheese curds.

WiSKULLsin - get it?

I couldn’t even avoid osteology when out on the town sampling beer: one of my drinking buddies ordered a Left Hand Nitro Milk stout, which was served in this fanciful glass (admittedly, this skull is actually a cranium, and also looks like it may have been subject to a bit of artificial cranial deformation):

Left Hand Brewing GlassThe next day I found a display of animal skulls in the herpetarium at the Henry Vilas Zoo, which included a human skull for comparative purposes. I was pretty pumped.

What a big nerd
Finally, during my visit I was also able to head to Spring Green to visit the House on The Rock, a bizarre, capacious mansion that houses a massive variety of inexplicable collections of curiosities. If you’ve ever read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, you’ll recognize it as the home of the giant carousel menagerie that acts as the backdrop for one of the book’s pivotal scenes. Gaiman’s description of the place references some of the morbid, coin-operated 19th century dioramas; however, he neglected to mention that these incorporate some pretty cute skeletons. For example, check out this happy cadaver peeking out from behind the bed:

 Mechanical Diorama from The House on the Rock

And this little buddy inside of the clock! These were both from a diorama titled The Death of the Drunkard.

Mechanical Diorama from The House on the Rock

Later on I stumbled upon another diorama, called Graveyard Scene, which was installed in a British R.R. Station during the 1800s, featuring a (presumably female) skeleton, complete with long, flowing locks, that popped up out of her grave when you inserted a token.

A second diorama from The House on the Rock

Finally, towards the end of the self-guided tour, we came upon this winged monstrosity, complete with skeletal horse:

A pale horse from The House on the Rock

All in all this has been a phenomenal trip, filled with osteology, beer, and cheese. I’m hoping to have just as much fun next week, when I head to the AAPA meetings in St. Louis to present a poster. I’ll put a post about that up in the next few days!

Image Credits: Photos 3-6 appear courtsey of Zachary Cofran. Incidentally, today is his birthday, so if you’re an avid reader of Lawnchair Anthropology you should head over to his blog and wish him happy birthday!

Posted in Osteology Everywhere, Skull, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tibial Pursuit: How to identify and side the tibia

Trials and Tib-ulations. Shin Vogue. Ti-bia Determined. Tibia or not Tibia*. I have so many tibial puns on file that it was hard to pick just one for the title of this post.

And if you’re wondering, yes, you are correct, I am much sought after here at Michigan as a conversational partner and social companion due to my witty repartee. Just ask any of my friends. They definitely won’t turn away from you awkwardly with a facial expression that is equal parts exasperation and embarassment. Nope, definitely not.

Indeed, indeed it is.

Anyhow, I’m about to set off on a nearly two week odyssey through the Midwest that involves visiting friends and eating copious amounts of cheese before I eventually wind up at the AAPAs in St. Louis (which is the kind of thing you can do when you are writing up, because you can avoid working on your dissertation just about anywhere). However, I figured I would leave you with one last in-depth osteology post before my departure.

The tibia is a larger long bone that preserves fairly well in archaeological contexts because of its size and relative robusticity. However, I’ve found that the the proximal end tends to degrade rather rapidly, especially after the trabecular bone dries out and grows brittle over time. Accordingly, it’s important to be able to identify and side the bone even if you only have a fragment of the proximal or distal end, or if you only have a fragment of the shaft. The best way to do this is by familiarizing yourself with the features of the tibia that will help you to orient it. I’ve provided an introduction to some of the basic features of the tibia below, and also included a printable pdf (with blank drawings that you can jot down your own siding and feature notes on) at the end of the post.

Anterior Tibia Tibial_Pursuit_1Proximal Tibia Distal Tibia PDF available here: Bone Broke Guide to Identifying and Siding the Tibia

Alright. Shin conclusion, I’m really glad it’s Friday, and I hope that you are too!

(Couldn’t resist getting one last pun in. Ti-bia honest, I know these are terrible, but I really don’t care).

*Final pun courtesy of Katherine Kinkopf, up-and-coming osteological pun wunderkind. Second-to-last pun courtesty of someone who commented on the bio anthro Facebook group whose name I have forgotten.

Image Credits: Hawkward pun found here.

Image Credits for PDF: Sewing needle found here. Wave crest photo found here. Steps figure found here. Isolines figure found here.

Posted in Long Bones, Osteology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Osteology Everywhere: Airport Edition

It’s spring break here in Ann Arbor (Editor’s Note: “spring” is misleading – technically this should read “intractable winter punctuated by copious amounts of unpredictable precipitation, ranging from snow to freezing rain” break). In celebration I’ve been taking this week relatively easy, mixing some exploratory data analysis for upcoming conference presentations with book chapter edits and article translations, and of course pizza and beer. In honor of the relaxed vibe of the past few days, I’m sharing an edition of Osteology Everywhere in which the connection between the image and skeletal material is so blatantly obvious that no one will have to tax their brains this week.

Flughafen WienSince Thursday is traditionally a day of “throw-backs”, the photos I’ve posted are actually from a few months back, when I spent eight hours at the Vienna International Airport, in transit between Spain and Kazakhstan. I ate Pringles, chatted with friends using the airport’s laudable free internet, read half of a book and then, walked around a corner to find this:

Phillip Plein Skull

A GIANT BEDAZZLED SKULL. I don’t know who Philipp Plein is, and I’m sure I can’t afford his clothing, but I must say, I like his style.

Bedazzled skull close up

Image Credits: Photo of Flughafen Wien found here.

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How do archaeologists find sites?

A few years ago I was a graduate student instructor for an introductory biological anthropology class. At the end of an exam review session, I asked my students if they had any questions about the course material. At this point one of my students exclaimed, apropos of nothing, “About archaeology, sometimes I just don’t understand how archaeologists know anything about ANYTHING.”  While my initial response can essentially be boiled down to:

Clearly Indy had not previously considered archaeological epistemology before

upon further reflection I realized that the link between digging a square hole in the ground and, say, reconstructing the origins of agriculture, isn’t always inherently clear. For those of you who share his concerns, I’m starting a new series of posts called  HDAKA3 (or “How do Archaeologists Know Anything About Anything“). And as an archaeologist, one of the recurring questions I get asked is how archaeologists find sites.

It’s a reasonable concern. If you associate archaeology with the process of excavation, it’s not immediately apparent how we discover areas of human activity buried by hundreds to thousands of years of sediment. In order to solve this problem, archaeologists rely upon a variety of overlapping strategies. I’ll break these down one by one.

1. Survey
In simplest terms, survey entails walking across a landscape and looking for artifacts.  Generally, survey works best in areas without abundant vegetation, like deserts and ploughed fields. If you’re on a survey project, you spend most of your time walking with your head down, and there’s a high probability that the back of your neck will get sunburned. The general rule of thumb is that areas with a large number of artifacts are good targets for future excavation, while areas with a small number of artifacts are thought to reflect a lack of past human activity.

Showing elevation change by standing on a possible feature during a survey in Northern Quebec

Showing elevation change by standing on a possible feature during a McGill survey in Northern Quebec – Summer 2009.

Survey can also involve digging small test pits, especially in areas where surface survey is impossible due to vegetation. Test pits are small-scale excavations designed to get a sense of the number of artifacts below the ground surface. I’ve dug small 50×50 test pits the simple way in northern Michigan: you hop on the head of a shovel, pull out the blade and place it perpendicular to the first cut, and then repeat the process until you’ve chunked out a square. All of this dirt is dumped into a bucket and screened for artifacts. A whole line of these small test pits can tell you a lot about where concentrations of artifacts are located.

Fierce and productive archaeologist Ashley Schubert screens a bucket, hunting for artifacts in northern Michigan.

Fiercely productive archaeologist Ashley Schubert screens a bucket, while hunting for artifacts in northern Michigan – Summer 2010.

There are a number of different strategies for conducting surveys – you can sample randomly within a given area of land, you can sample along transects like an ecologist, or you can conduct a targeted survey of the places you’d most expect to find sites given the regional record. Archaeologists generally taken into account the amount of work done in the area before, and what sorts of questions they want to answer over the course of their project, when making these decisions.

Survey, Azraq Jordan – Summer 2008.

Survey is also useful because it can tell you where people were living at different points in the past. The photo above shows a line of stone ducks that I built when I worked on a survey project in Jordan in 2008. We were using the rocks as a way to keep a straight line when mapping the surface of the ground and spacing ourselves out to collect artifacts. One of the key goals of this survey was to collect stone tools from different periods, in order to figure out how people used the landscape differently over time. For example, were people clustered near lakes during the early Palaeolithic, but dispersed farther afield in the middle Palaeolithic? In addition to helping you find sites, survey can also shed light on the answers to these kinds of questions.

2. Reading Books
Because it isn’t the most lucrative career, I’m always surprised that people have been doing archaeology for a really long time. However, every generation has its cohort of obsessive antiquarians with a penchant for shovels and a high tolerance for dirt. An Englishman named William Stukeley began investigating and mapping henge sites like Avebury and Stonehenge as early as the 18th century. Though their surnames make it sound like they founded a prestigious law firm, Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis are actually famous for mapping hundreds of prehistoric monuments in North America. Antiquarians have been ferreting their way around Greece and Rome for ages, with Heinrich Schliemann discovering Troy and Arthur Evans excavating Knossos. And who can forget the early 20th-century discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun, when Howard Carter strode through the entrance and famously inquired:

“Is this where I left my keys? I could have sworn I had them here just a second ago.”

No, no, he actually famously called out to his compatriots that he could see “wonderful things”, and waxed poetic about the event in his journals:

At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold

Katharine Woolley and Sheikh Hamoudi Ibn Ibrahim during excavations at Ur, 1928-1929.

Katharine Woolley and Sheikh Hamoudi Ibn Ibrahim during excavations at Ur, 1928-1929.

Now if you’ve noticed that early archaeology fails the Bechdel test, points for perceptiveness. However, while females have been largely excluded from foundational archaeological narratives, the team at Trowelblazers is working to uncover the often significant disciplinary contributions made by women that have been left out of popular narratives. If you’re interested in the history of archaeology as a discipline, their site is well worth a visit.

Gendered narratives aside, there are two important things about the antiquarians who explored the prehistoric record before archaeology coalesced as a discipline: (1) they were obsessive enough that they tended to dig at more than one site, and (2) many of them left behind detailed records and maps of their findings.

Squier and Davis map of Junction Mound group…from 1848.

Squier and Davis map of Junction Mound group…from 1848.

The important thing about this history is that their archived maps and records can often provide a jumping off point for further exploration and excavation. Archaeologists never simply parachute into a region, shovel in hand, and start digging willy-nilly. There’s a significant amount of research ground work that goes into selecting a site, and much of it involves familiarizing yourself with the history of archaeological work that has been conducted in the area before.

3. SCIENCE with a capital S
Remember the opening Badlands scene in Jurassic Park, where the nerdy, beleaguered techie (who I’m assuming was a grad student) shoots radar into the ground and produces a picture-perfect TV image of a velociraptor skeleton? If for some inexplicable reason you’ve forgotten this cinematic gem, here it is in all its glory:

The cool thing is that we have that technology now! Well, kind of. Geophysics is a branch of survey becoming more and more popular in archaeology, because it uses different types of instruments to investigate features below the ground surface. However, it rarely produces picture-perfect TV images like that of the velociraptor skeleton. And the line about how “in a few years we won’t even have to dig anymore” doesn’t really ring true for archaeology, because most geophysical data are a little ambiguous, to the extent that they need to be “ground-truthed” through further survey and targeted excavation before rigorous conclusions are drawn about the layout of a site.

Two of the most common types of geophysical survey are magneometry and ground penetrating radar. Magnetometry measures patterns of magnetism in the soil by using an instrument called a magnetometer. The instrument is moved along the survey area following an organized grid, and the resulting data are used to produce maps of what the terrain looks like up to two meters below the surface. Human activity like burning or digging alters the magnetic reading of the soil, producing higher or lower signals that show up clearly against the natural backdrop.


A magnetometry map of the Junction Mound group. If you compare it to Squier and Davis’ map from 1848, you’ll notice that the mag data reveal details of the earthworks that weren’t spotted by initial surveys.

Another popular technique is ground penetrating radar. This technology emits bursts of…radar….that….penetrate the ground. Clearly geophysical specialists are just as creative as anatomists when it comes to developing new names. Despite its lacklustre title, ground penetrating radar is extremely useful for archaeologists because it is another type of non-invasive technology that can map out differences in soil composition and identify features, without touching a soil to the dirt. Its basic operating principle is grounded upon the fact that different types of materials – archaeological features, stratigraphy, bedrock – have distinct physical and chemical properties that produce quantitative differences in energy transmission and reflection measured by the radar.

Not all sites are great candidates for magnetometry – in particular, areas with high amounts of modern activity (e.g. metal fences), or sites where past activity doesn’t produce a marked pattern of magnetic contrast – are scenarios where magnetometry surveys don’t produce clear results. Accordingly, archaeologists often conduct preliminary magnetic susceptibility surveys before committing to such techniques. During my brief forays into southeastern archaeology, I’ve spent time working magnetic susceptibility surveys in North Carolina. It’s a lot easier than dealing with a real magnetometer. Instead of carrying or pushing a machine along the ground surface,, you basically just walk along a grid poking a stick into the ground, jotting down the readings as you go. Despite my distractible nature and propensity to veer off course to pet visiting dogs, even I can do that.

Resistivity survey is an additional geophysical technique that can be informative about areas of past activity, as it measures  – you guessed it – soil resistance to electrical current. This particular technique can identify potential areas of past human activity – both less compact soil (as in the case of ditches or pits) and more compact soil (as in the case of structure floors) have distinct signatures that can give archaeologists an idea of where they are most likely to find features.

Ashley Schubert conducting resistivity survey in North Carolina (with some curious onlookers) - Winter 2013

Ashley Schubert conducting magnetic susceptibility survey in North Carolina (with some curious onlookers) – Winter 2013

If you want to SOUND like an archaeologist, use the terms “geophys”, “mag” and “GPR”to describe these technologies.

Finally, archaeologists have also begun using remote sensing to locate potential sites. While geophys allows archaeologists to do archaeology without digging, remote sensing takes things a step further: it allows archaeologists to do archaeology without even leaving the house! The basic principle underlying remote sensing is that certain features that aren’t visible from the ground surface are visible from the air.  Examining aerial photographs, for instance, is one way that archaeologists identify potential sites, as features that aren’t appreciable when you’re walking around a landscape are often clearly apparent when viewed from the air (think about, for example, the Nazca Lines in Peru). Higher tech strategies like Light Detection And Ranging (or LIDAR) use airborne lasers fired at the ground surface in order to build three dimensional maps of the landscape. Importantly, LIDAR can also penetrate vegetation (though some of the beams will bounce off tree tops or branches, so the resultant data require some calibration), making it possible to map sites in thickly wooded areas, like the dense jungle landscapes that are home to many Maya centres.

4. Making Maps
At this point, you’ve no doubt gleaned that archaeologists have a range of clever strategies for figuring out where sites are most likely to be found. Another way to locate sites efficiently is to take some of that data – be it from survey, archival research, geophys or remote sensing – and plug it into GIS. GIS stands for Geographical Information Systems, and is basically a fancy term for maps that contain both locational information and other additional data. If you have census information and GIS software, you can make maps showing the geographical patterning of variables like income, language, and even access to supermarkets.  While GIS has a famously steep learning curve, it’s still a tool that many archaeologists rely upon heavily. So if you’re looking for Copper Age villages in Spain, and previous archaeological research has shown that people tend to live within 20 kilometers of other villages, favouring locations along waterways or high on hilltops, you can plug all of that information into GIS. Adding data on elevation, streams, previously discovered sites from the same time period and setting some parameters (e.g. highlight all areas ≤ 20km from known sites either (i) <0.2 kilometres from water or (ii) at an elevation > 1000 meters), can produce a very handy map of the best places to explore when you’re conducting survey.

This is not actually from Copper Age Spain, but you get the general idea.

This is not actually from Copper Age Spain, but you get the general idea.

5. Talking to people
Some of the greatest contributions to our knowledge of prehistoric France have been made by children wandering into caves while chasing dogs. Metal detector enthusiasts occasionally stumble onto massive Anglo-Saxon hoards. A pair of German hikers discovered Ötzi, the famous 5,000 year old mummy, while traipsing along mountain peaks in Italy. Farmers have a habit of noting strange artifacts that erode out of their fields – or, you know, using them as doorstops .

Dr. Alice Wright, talks to locals in  Haywood County NC, while I play in the dirt below - summer 2011.

Dr. Alice Wright talks to locals in Haywood County NC, while I play in the dirt – Summer 2011.

The point of all of this is that locals often curate a significant amount of information about archaeology, sometimes without even realizing it. For example, Bolores, a site I’ve worked on in Portugal, was discovered when a farmer noticed concentrations of artifacts and bones eroding out of a ridgeline that ran along the border of his fields. It has since been the focus of multiple seasons of excavations that have taught us a significant amount about Late Prehistoric mortuary rituals. Accordingly, actually talking to people about what they know about their local landscapes can be an extremely productive strategy. I’ve met archaeologists who advise making a deliberate stop at the local watering hole whenever starting a new project, so as to cultivate good will by buying a few rounds and asking people whether they’ve seen any funny-looking pottery sherds lately. Public archaeology days, like the one pictured above at Alice Wright’s site of Garden Greek in 2011, are also a great way to mingle with local folk.

In which I talk to locals at Garden Creek. The small children behind me were arguing about how we got our trench walls so straight - their conclusion was "machines".

In which I talk to locals at Garden Creek. The small children behind me were arguing about how we got our trench walls so straight – their eventual conclusion was “machines”.

And there you have it – a set of five different strategies that archaeologists use to locate sites. Have a great weekend, and please, if you do find a beautifully preserved Bronze Age dagger, resist the urge to use it as a door stop.

UPDATE: I hunch over my computer corrected. The ever astute Professor Alice Wright pointed out that I initially identified the technique being used in the North Carolina horse paddock as resistivity, when it was in fact magnetic susceptibility. This error has since been corrected. One thousand profound apologies to any geophys nerds who saw the uncorrected version.

Image Credits: Photo from northern Quebec survey courtesy of Jennifer Bracewell (McGill). Photos from Garden Creek site courtesy of Alice Wright (App State). Harrison Ford gif found here.  Squier & Davis map of Junction Mound group found at Earthworks Conservancy, here. Junction Mound mag map also found at Earthworks Conservancy (it’s like they’re obsessed with earthworks, or something), here. Sample predictive model map from Lieskovský et al. 2013, here.

Quotation Credits: Carter’s journal quote found at Eyewitness to History website, here.

Posted in Anthropology, Archaeology, HDAKA3 | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Bone Quiz 18

It is only Monday and I’m already having one of those weeks where making any progress is a Sisyphean slog – none of my data meet test assumptions, I can’t figure out how to do my taxes, and I’ve thrown in the towel and committed to eating Poptarts for the next several weeks because I know that healthy, adult breakfasts will simply molder unconsumed in my lunch bag.

On the other hand, I’ve finally learned what to “actualize” means; actualization occurs when “material things are taken to focus and specify immaterial things that are often unfocused and unspecific”. So I got that going for me, which is nice.

Meetings with my advisor(s)

Meetings with my advisor(s)

For anyone mired in a similarly uphill battle, I’m kicking the week off with a super easy bone quiz. You get two views, and all I want is:

(1) Human/non-human;
(2) Adult/subadult;
(3) Element;
(4) Side;
(5) The features you used to side the bone;

For ONE MILLION BONUS OSTEOLOGY POINTS*, tell me why this is a particularly appropriate bone quiz given the polar weather we’re having.

*You really need to be a particularly nerdy/dedicated reader of this particular blog to get these points.

Answers will be posted in one week. Good luck! My very dirty hand can be used for scale.

View 1
View 2

Image Credits: Image of Sisyphus by Kanin, from Scholar Blogs, here. All others taken at the Museo de Jaén.

Answers below the jump.



Posted in Bone Quiz, Osteology | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Identifying the Metacarpals in Three Easy Steps

This week I have come to three important realizations.

1. I am terrible at drawing the bones of the hand. I can spend ages working feverishly on intricate drawings of articular surfaces, and the finished product still basically comes out looking like this:

Turkey_Handprint2. If you are, hypothetically, rushing around your apartment in a panic because the professional development workshop you signed up for is on February 4th, not at 4 PM as you initially gathered from the email, it is always best to double-check that the lid of your coffee thermos is screwed tightly onto its body, otherwise the last-minute, high-speed grab to transfer your caffeinated beverage to your bag might result in the majestic and unanticipated release of a breathtaking cascade of coffee all over your kitchen table;


3. Soaking white paper in coffee can really lend it an antiquated, old-timey finish that seems deliberate.

Without further ado, on to learning how to identify the metacarpals. Metacarpals are only likely to be confused with metatarsals, but their shafts are stout, rather than slim and straight like metacarpal shafts. Metacarpals also have rounder heads than metatarsals. Metacarpals are basically the corgis to the metatarsals’ greyhounds (and if anyone expresses any interest, I can write another post that’s more explicit about differentiating between the two).

Once you know you have a metacarpal (MC), the process for identifying which one you’ve got is fairly straightforward. The reason it’s possible to ID an MC in only three steps is because they can be divided into three distinct groups: Lateral (MC1), Middle( MC2-3), and Medial (MC4-5). Once you’ve got the group right, all you need to do is figure out which of the pair you have (and if you’ve got the lateral group, you’re golden). The names of the groups refer to the positions of the metacarpals when the hand is in Standard Anatomical Position (SAP). All images shown are sketches of right metacarpals, and directions refer to the hand in SAP.

STEP 1: Familiarize yourself with the features of the metacarpals
Unfortunately, the first step is most complicated. To be able to side a metacarpal quickly, you need to have a good understanding of the form of the shafts, as well as the proximal and distal ends.

Step 1a Step 1b

Step 1c

STEP 2. Identify whether your bone is from the lateral, middle or medial group
Use your enhanced understanding of the features of each different portion of the metacarpal to make a decision about which group your bone should go in.

Step 2

STEP 3. Identify which member of the group you have.
The easiest way to do this is to examine the proximal and distal ends. In my experience, the distal ends of the metacarpals tend to be more variable in their appearance and harder to differentiate, though I do have some tips if that is the only portion of the bone you’re working with. I find the distal articular surfaces of the bones to be most diagnostic, as each of the MCs has a fairly unique distal end.

Step 3

As always, I’ve compiled a pdf of my tips below. It includes an extra blank page with my coffee-dyed sketches unlabelled, so you can jot down any more tricks you come up with when working with the metacarpals on your own.

Bone Broke Guide to Identifying the Metacarpals

White, T.D. 2000. Human Osteology. 2nd Edition. Academic Press, San Diego.
Credit is also due to my Bone Clones magnetic hand, which I spent several hours manipulating (and several minutes cleaning coffee off of) in order to produce this post.

Image Credits: Turkey handprint found here. Coffee spilling image found here. Old-timey photo found here. Corgi running found here, greyhound running found here. Coconut Octopus found here. Face of the moon found here, Everest peak found here, human high five here, ursine high five here, sad,repellent blobfish found here.

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