Abduction and Adduction

I always have a great time when I teach the anatomical terminology of  movement because students generally find it easy to engage with the material. In my Science of Skeletons class I began experimenting with a charades-style activity that required students to quickly learn anatomical directions, motions, and  broad regions (e.g. the appendicular versus axial skeleton). However, one distinction that often trips students up is differentiating between abduction and adduction.


Abduction means movement away from the sagittal plane of the body (or, for fingers and toes, movement away from the midline of the hand or foot).

Adduction refers to movement towards the sagittal plane of the body (or, for fingers and toes, movement towards the midline of the hand or foot).

However because the words are so similar in their spelling, students often forget which term goes with which movement. My fool-proof mnemonic trick for differentiating between the two terms is as follows:

In the summer, when you want to show off your abs at the beach, you keep your arms as far away from your body as possible because it’s so hot out.

In the winter, in constrast, you want to add extra layers to your wardrobe, and you keep your arms close to your body because it is so cold.

I think about ABduction as the process of moving your limbs away from your body when it’s hot out, and ADDuction as the process of keeping your limbs close to your body when it’s cold.
Does anyone else have any creative tricks that they use to differentiate abduction and adduction? Feel free to share tips in the comments!

White, T. D. and P.A. Folkens. (2005) The Human Bone Manual. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Image Credits: Thor abducting his arm while holding Mjölnir found here, Thor adducting his arm while looking pensive found here. Thor abducting his arm while showing of his abs found here, delighted Thor wearing a cloak found here.

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Osteology Everywhere: Michigan Breweries Edition

This has been my first full summer in Michigan, so all of my time not spent teaching or engaged in course prep has been spent on the road, exploring what this state has to offer when temperatures are above freezing. I made a point of visiting as many breweries as I could, to take some tours and soak in as much of the Michigan beer scene as possible before fall hits.

Storm over Marshall

First up was Dark Horse, in Marshall, MI. We arrived to find an ominously darkening sky, but the garrulous tour master (with a poorly sculpted blob-like skull visible on the shelf behind him) soon put us at our ease.

Brewery tastingWe asked our tour guide what his favorite offering was, and he told us that he particularly enjoyed Sapient Trip, a Belgian style Tripel that’s a dangerously sweet 9.5% ABV. I liked it as much for the taste as for the label, an osteologically appropriate rendering of the Grim Reaper:

Dark-Horse-Sapient-Trip-Belgian-TrippelOur guided tour of the facilities was the first of the day, and we took the opportunity to interrogate the guide about a number of other aspects of brewery operations. I was particularly curious about the ceramic mugs that adorn the the tap room – they’re clustered so closely together that in some places you can’t even see the actual walls of the buliding. Apparently the regulars at Dark Horse join the brewery mug club by purchasing the beautifully crafted handmade vessels. When we asked the tour guide where they were from he gave us the potter’s business card – a large ceramic token etched with his website on one side, and a tiny skull and cross bones floating over a few pints of beer on the other!

Dark Horse token

My next stop a few weeks later was in the town of Mt. Pleasant, about halfway up the Mitten. I was making my way to Traverse City for the longest vacation of my summer – a staggering 2 and 1/2 days. I’d decided to make a brief detour to central Michigan because  there’s a beer called Train Wreck I’ve always enjoyed when down south, and I wanted to take a gander at the brewery that produced it.

Mountain Town Brewing Co. Stock
Mountain Town Brewing Co. was a lot of fun – there are always two bartenders staffing the bar, and when business wanes they’ll take you back into the brewery itself to give you a brief tour. They’ve also come up with an innovative solution to the problem of indecisive drinkers. If you don’t know what you want, there’s a gameshow style wheel that the staff will spin to choose a beer for you! In addition to their creativity and friendliness, I have to give them props for the amorphously osteologically-themed logo that decorates their signature beer. I don’t know what kind of long bones these are, but hey, at least they’re bones?

When I finally made it to Traverse City, I had a clear agenda: Rare Bird, Short’s, Right Brain and North Peak. Of the four breweries Right Brain was by far my favorite. The location was beautiful:

Right Brain View
The staff and tour guide were personable and engaging, their kitchen made sandwiches that substituted waffles for bread, and TWO of their beers had osteology themed labels. The first, Dead Kettle, was one of their IPAs:

Dead Kettle IPA The second, Spinal Tapper, is one of their slightly higher ABV offerings. I love the label because in addition to including the sacrum, the artist faithfully added in some lumbar lordosis and thoracic kyphosis to capture the curvature of the human spine.

Spinal Tapper
Did I mention they also have a cherry pie beer  and a porter made from smoked pig bones? What with the hints of osteology popping up repeatedly and lots of excellent beer, I was quite a happy bioarchaeologist.

Mangalitsa Pig Porter and Cherry Pie Whole samples
I hope you all have had the chance to pursue some similarly excellent adventures in whatever part of the world you’re spending your summer!

Image Credits:
 Sapient Trip Ale label from beerpulse.com, here. Dead Kettle label from beerpulse.com, here.

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Osteology Everywhere: Ikea Edition

A few weeks ago I headed to Ikea with one of my graduate colleagues who had never visited the Swedish furniture emporium before. While there, we discovered an awesome skeletally-themed twin bedspread.

Ikea twin bedspread

We also found out that I had dressed particularly appropriately that day – my tank top was a near perfect match (though a bit megalocephalic):

Ikea bedspread with t-shirt
Unfortunately they did not sell the bedspread for adults. I checked.

Posted in Bioarchaeology, Osteology Everywhere | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Osteology Everywhere: Innominate Edition

Two weeks ago, during our second week of The Science of Skeletons, I covered the osteological estimation of sex and bioarchaeological approaches to reconstructing gender in the past. Unsurprisingly, that was the week I started to see ossa coxae everywhere I looked.

First, while walking the canine domesticate I was dog-sitting, I noticed these seed pods (I think they may be maple, but I would like a botanist to confirm as I rarely deal with recently living things). To my eye, they looked like narrow and elongated chimpanzee innominates:

P. troglodytes ilia

The resemblance even held when they were “articulated”; however, the articulated pelvis that they form is so wide that a graduate colleague of mine remarked on its resemblance to earlier hominin pelves (like the Gona pelvis, the Homo erectus specimen shown below):

The Gona Pelvis

Then, I found a giant innominate in a patch in the sidewalk pavement. Some of the features are a little distorted, but overall the resemblance is pretty clear:

It may be that teaching for 6 hours a week is starting to addle my brain, but I definitely see an innominate.I’ve clearly got bones on the brain, as is also evidenced by the fact that this is just the first of a series of upcoming Osteology Everywhere posts, so if you’re waiting with bated breath for the next installment….well, I’ll let Ray Arnold say it for me.

P.S. I also just discovered that the “Remove Background” tool exists in the figure editing panel in PowerPoint. This is a BIG DEAL. Look forward to lots more examples of floating bones in the near future.

UPDATE: My pedantic and bony pelvis-obsessed colleague Caroline VanSickle informs me that the correct latin plural for os coxae is ossa coxae, a distinction I never fail to forget (I always remember that the plural is atypical, but I also always forget its exact nature. This is why I prefer the term innominates). Also, the helicopter seed pods are maple. Good job everyone!

Image Credits: Original figure of innominate from Gray’s, here. Original chimpanzee ilium (P. troglodytes) found here. Gona pelvis found here.

Posted in Osteology Everywhere, Pelvis | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Responses Needed for Public Archaeology and Blogging Survey!

I recently received an email from Fleur Schinning, an archaeology enthusiast pursuing a Master’s in Heritage Management at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She’s writing her thesis on the use of blogs and social media and how they contribute to the accessibility of archaeology in the Netherlands. In particular, she is examining American and British archaeology blogs in order to better understand how blogging in archaeology contributes to public archaeology.

I’m answering some questions for her as a blogger, but she’s also curious about blog readers. If you are a regular reader and have the time she’d appreciate anyone filling out the 26 question survey. It’s worth noting that most of the questions are multiple choice, and the survey shouldn’t take more than five minutes to complete.

The link to the google questionnaire is here: http://goo.gl/forms/z3BAUTyYUL
And here is a pdf of all of the questions if you would like to review them before starting the survey: Schinning questionnaire for blog readers

As heartfelt thanks to you for supporting public archaeology research, I offer you this photograph of an amusing animal:


Fleur, stepping the thanks game up a notch, offers entry into a drawing to win six free issues of Archaeology magazine. So if you need more incentive to participate, look no further!

Image Credits: Grinning dog found here.

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I am definitely this excited about the course. I have yet to establish whether the students share my boundless enthusiasm given that the classes start at 9am.

I recently started teaching my first self-designed course at the University of Michigan, an intro to bioarchaeology class titled The Science of Skeletons. We had our first meeting last Thursday, and in addition to demonstrating the appropriate way to handle human skeletal remains and treating my students to a rapid-fire summary of the basics of bone biology, I decided that they needed to learn some anatomical terminology. We covered regions of the human skeleton (cranial, post-cranial, axial, appendicular), skeletal planes (coronal, sagittal, transverse) anatomical directions (anterior, posterior, proximal, distal, medial, lateral) and some of the movements of the human body.

One of the terms I introduced was supination. This directional term refers explicitly to the movements of the hand, and is the counter-movement to pronation (when your palm is turned down as if typing). Supination occurs when you turn your hand so that the palm faces up, as if begging for something. I have always remembered this by relating it to begging: “Your hand is in supination when your palm is up in supplication.”

David Tenniers III - Saint Valentine Kneeling  (in supplication) - 1600s

Here, a kindly angel assists Saint Valentine, who has apparently forgotten how to supinate his hand.

However, one of my graduate colleagues pointed out that “supplication” is not necessarily an easy everyday word to remember if you’re not a medieval Christian. He told me that one of his instructors had once used the mnemonic “sup?” to teach students about supination, because that’s the position young gentlemen hold their hands in when asking how things are going or when concisely summarizing their lack of concern for their opponent’s point of view.


So, the mnemonic trick here is to remember that “When you’re asking “sup?”, your hands are in supination”. In the gif above, The Fresh Prince is shown in the process of supinating his hands. Were he to carry the motion through fully, his hands would be horizontal, with palms facing up. Jon Stewart, a master of supination given the number of times he throws up his hands at the American political circus, demonstrates below:

Image Credits
: First skeleton in graduation cap found here. Tenniers painting of St. Valentine found here. Fresh Prince gif found here. Jon Stewart from salon.com, here.

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


I’ve been reading a lot of research on the bioarchaeology of violence of late, thought-provoking  pieces by Haagen Klaus, Deb Martin and Gwen Robbins Schug that detail the ways in which the ideology of oppression is mediated by violence. In theory, this leaves me spending a lot of time thinking about how structural violence has molded human social interactions since complex, multi-tiered societies first arose. In practice, this means I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in cafés and poking parts of my skull while furrowing my brow, palpating the paths of blunt and sharp force trauma described in text.

This past weekend, in the midst of my phrenological investigations, I ran across an unfamiliar anatomical term. In their 2012 paper examining violence at Harappa, Schug et al., described the pattern of trauma presented by individual II.S.5:

This individual also demonstrates destructive, remodeling lesions from an extensive infection affecting the frontal, parietals and the occipital bones. Circular, crater-shaped lesions are most severe near the left coronal suture. In addition to these healed fractures in the splanchnocranium, II.S.5 has vertical fractures in the right and left central and lateral incisors and canines” (142).

Reading this, I realized that I had no idea what to palpate, because I didn’t know what a splanchnocranium was. At first blush it sounds like the name of a heavy metal band from the 1970s.


While I maintain that this is a missed musical opportunity ripe for exploitation, what splanchnocranium actually refers to is the facial skeleton. Phylogenetically speaking, the splanchnocranium reflects our evolutionary history since it represents the part of the skull that develops from the pharyngeal arches (the structures that go on to become gills in fish).

Splanchnocranium shown in red.

Splanchnocranium shown in red.

In practical osteological terms this means the splanchnocranium, or viscerocranium, includes all of the bones of the face (generally including mandible, maxilla, malars, and the finicky fragile little bones of the face like the nasals, vomer, lacrims, conchae, etc.,):

There appears to be some debate about which bones are considered part of the facial skeleton – sometimes the sphenoid and ethmoid are included, and sometimes they’re considered part of the neurocranium. If you’re looking for explict evo-devo links, this website from the University of the Cumberlands provides a detailed run down of which arches become which bones. And there you have it – the splanchnocranium!

ResearchBlogging.orgSchug, G.R., K. Gray, V. Mushrif-Tripathy, and A.R. Sankhyan (2012). A Peaceful Realm? Trauma and Social Differentiation at Harappa International Journal of Paleopathology, 2 (2-3), 136-147
Image Credits: Spinal tap photo found here. Blue and red cranium found here. Original separated skull photo found at studydroid, here.

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