I’ve been putting off this post because my life suddenly became hectic with work starting up again. I’m hoping that someday I won’t have to worry about the annual insanity that constitutes the back-to-school season because I won’t be a teacher, but that’s a dream for another day.
My wrist is fine. The cast came off almost a month ago. I have some residual muscle weakness and stiffness, but it’s gotten a lot better over the last 4 weeks. God, that cast was awful. It was the first major bone I’ve ever broken and the first cast I’ve ever had. Combine a cast with a hot Texas summer and you’re in for a stinky treat. Actually, I found some great stuff on Amazon called Cast Comfort. It looks kind of like WD40 with a long tube that you can stick down into the cast and it blows cold air and powder inside. This cools the itching and keeps the cast dry so it doesn’t smell bad. Cast Comfort was temporarily my best friend and really saved my sanity!
Hey, this is a blog about bones, so here’s a random image of my X-Ray. Can you see the buckle fracture on the left side of my ulna? See the bit that’s pushed in? Yeah, it’s tiny! That’s why I was only in a cast for 3 weeks. The nurse totally missed it and only the radiologist caught it. I wouldn’t have noticed it if they hadn’t shown me where it was!
When I wasn’t hitting deer at field school and breaking my wrist, I was spending one day a week volunteering at the Texas Archaeological Research Lab (TARL) working on cataloging and conserving artifacts from a field school from the 1960’s that was an excavation of a 19th century village site. I can’t tell you too much more than that because of site security (looting is unfortunately a big problem, so I cannot share site names or trinomial coordinates). Yes, I guess they are that backlogged! Anyhoot, it was great getting some experience working in the lab. I was told that a lot of archaeologists have absolutely NO lab experience whatsoever and it was very beneficial for me to see what happens after the artifacts come out of the ground and are shipped off to be recorded and processed.
There were boxes of lithics, rocks, ceramics, metal, glass, beads, and lots of soil samples. Some of them were still moist 50+ years later. EW. Yeah, I wound up saving those for last and didn’t have time to get to them. Whoops! Working with a cast was a little hard, but not impossible. I saved the glass and metal for my last 2 weeks after the cast came off so I could wear protective gloves. Take a gander at some of the cool artifacts that were in my collection:
TARL is a fun place. It sort of looks like the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark with rows upon rows of shelves filled with cardboard boxes. It was a little weird and eerie being alone in there (I wasn’t always alone, though). Walk right around the corner and there’s a big display tray full of giant extinct bison bones. Groovy! I was fond of visiting the bones because they were so massive and I always noticed something new when I studied them. Sometimes I’d get up to take a break and walk around the rows upon rows of open artifacts on the shelves. I saw metates and what I started calling RBR’s (Really Big Rocks…there are a lot of rocks there). The really super cool stuff is in a climate controlled locked facility called Room 19. I only got to go in there during orientation, but I was able to see some beautiful Native American jewelry and grass sandals.
Sometimes the work was really tedious, repetitive and a little boring, but not often. I had to work with spreadsheets and Excel notoriously hates me, but I managed! I listened to a great podcast called The Magnus Archives that I am still working on. It’s a bit spooky and creepy, which was perfect for working in that lonely isolated lab!
There’s also an osteology lab! You know I was super excited to go in there! Unfortunately, I only got to go in during orientation and sadly, there’s no osteologist on staff. They’re trying to get a grant to hire one. There’s several thousand individuals stored there behind curtains for privacy and to comply with federal laws. I am still unsure of the exact reasons, but I suspect it has to do with NAGPRA.
We were shown the skeleton of a 1,300 year old Anasazi boy of about 3 years old whose fate is still in limbo because of NAGPRA. It was my first experience coming close to human remains. I was fascinated and not at all freaked out. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how I would react, especially to a child’s skeleton, but it wasn’t at all scary. One of the other volunteers was visibly upset and turned away, but that’s ok. Human remains can evoke a wide variety of reactions from people and they’re all valid responses. It’s a sensitive area and one that must be dealt with respect and understanding of other’s emotions.
Speaking of emotions, TARL invited me to visit the Osteology Research and Processing Lab at Texas State University this coming week. I am ecstatic! I’m taking a day off of work to go because you know I wouldn’t miss this for anything! I’ve been warned that it can be a bit smelly and even upsetting, but if I’m going to be working in cemeteries and with bodies, then this will be a part of my future. I’m a little nervous, but more excited!
On the education front, I took Introduction to Archaeology over the summer and got a 96! It was an enjoyable class. The final project was super fun! It was called the Cemetery at Celdane project and was a mock excavation of a cemetery in Romania. I was given a history, a sketch of ten graves in a cemetery, a chart with details about the bodies and the graves goods, and sketches of some of the finds. I had to discern age, sex, and status of the bodies. Only two of the ten bodies had discernible sexes (the bones were in a bad state) but I had to figure out the other eight.
It started off slow because I could NOT figure out the sexes and I was getting more and more frustrated because I knew there was a solution, but I finally figured it out…in the middle of the night! I had given up and gone to bed, when I thought, “OH! THE FIBULAE!” and ran back into my office to look. Sure enough, there it was staring at me in the face! Fibulae are sort of like safety pins for clothing. The number of fibulae present in the burials indicated whether the skeletons were male or female. Women had two or more and the men had one. There was a 75% correlation for the female and 100% for the male, which are pretty good numbers.
There were also a lot of discrepancies between the data and the sketch, such as labeling a skeleton as being in a flexed position when it was clearly drawn in an extended. I spent a paragraph tearing down the archaeologist’s inconsistencies and poor record keeping. What was supposed to be a 3 page paper…um…turned out to be 8. I pulled in outside sources to back up my claims, even though it wasn’t required. I also talked about the ability to accurately age two of the skeletons from the presence of osteoarthritis in the spine of a female and the saggital cranial suture in another not being closed. I am really glad I have some osteology and funerary archaeology books on hand!
Anyway, I got a 100. The professor told me it was the best and most thorough interpretation of that project he’d read in a long time and he really enjoyed it.
Fortunately, I’ll get another chance to do more work like this. I am so proud to announce that I’ve been accepted into Oregon State University’s online Anthropology program! They gave me credit for field school, even though it was before I applied and that’s pretty cool. I’m going part time and taking Introduction to Cultural Anthropology and Archaeological Interpretation, which is a project-based class doing work like the Cemetery at Celdane project. Obviously, I’m very excited about that! Classes start September 20th.
No bones about it, folks. I am really enjoying this adventure so far and I am having FUN! This has been such an exciting ride so far and I have no desire to get off this train any time soon.
Next post: A report on my trip to the osteology lab at Texas State!