In-Depth #3: Osteoarchaeology, the Information Inside All of Us

In the last two weeks, I met my mentor again as well as the undergraduate student I mentioned in the last post!

Well, during my meeting with my mentor, we didn’t exactly focus on any archaeology. Instead, I was helping him out in the department and moving around books. Long story short, SFU Archaeology Department is putting up a massive archaeology book sale, but since the department had a big flood recently, the books, journals, and textbooks had to be evacuated immediately. Because of this, the previously organized collection was put at random assortments inside boxes and now my mentor has a huge literal mountain of books to organize.

Therefore during that meeting, my mentor used me as student labour and I were stashing away books and journals. Though this may seem to have little relevance with Archaeology aside from the books itself (which all consisted of archaeology topics whatnot), I did talk to my mentor a lot while transporting books.

And after that, I worked again to catalogue bones with my “secondary mentor”, if you will. Osteology is an important component of archaeology, especially when dealing with remnants of organisms. This week, I worked rather independently with little guidance, since the number of mysterious unidentifiable objects decreased as my bone identification skill increased. I am proud to say that I catalogued around 20 bags of bones during my one-hour session, which is pretty good in my opinion. Which is almost halfway past my cataloguing goal mentioned in my learning contract!

Again, here are some pictures :)
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Although this obviously isn’t fish bone, it was still found in one of the house pits. What is it? Tiny mouse teeth! Isn’t that cool?

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This is likely the skull of some kind of mammal, either deer or dog. The indent suggests the hole where the eyeballs would’ve been.

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I also bumped into this piece of large bone that wasn’t fish either. When I asked Daria (the undergrad student) she said that she believes it’s a femur of a juvenile bird. How can she tell? Well I’m glad you asked my friend.

img_20180206_175859-minDo you see that flat piece on the tip of the bone? The reason why that’s there is because the bones of juvenile animals are still merging at the ends, which means that they’re mainly composed of soft tissues that are biodegradable. So, when things like collagens or tissues decompose, the flat end of the hard bone remains!

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Bones really do tell a lot of information just from the mere dry and dirty existence. By the way, do you people ever think about how your bones are always wet? The worst part? They’ll be dry eventually.

As I mentioned before, my salmon identification skills are also building up quickly! Last week, I was pretty much only capable of identifying fins and ribs, but this week I was able to recognize more complex structures such as gills and headpieces. Since the ends of gills are very thin, an archaeologist would seldom run into a complete, unbroken part. The thing is, bones have no obligations to break in a way that is convenient for future archaeologists to analyze, so it really is up to us to be able to reconstruct the original image based on the very limited information.

For instance, below is a comparison between a modern reference set and the artifact set:

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Can you see the resemblance? Without a reference set, the bone would’ve been impossible to categorize.

After a similar modern set has been identified, I check in the scientific illustration book to confirm which type of bone this is. In our case, it happens to be a cleithrum which is part of the head.

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1. What went particularly well during your mentoring sessions?

In all honesty, I think things are going really well with my mentoring sessions. In particular, I just learn so much with every meeting at SFU. My mentor is very considerate of the fact that I am new to the subjects and therefore mentors me very thoroughly. Our conversations were smooth as well;  not only did we talked about archaeology, but we also chatted about our lives and interests. The fact that Dr. Jamieson is familiar with TALONS makes it very easy to talk to him without explaining a lot of things. It’s almost as if TALONS is our common language or something.

3. What learning challenges emerged?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was to study the whole spectrum of archaeology. One of the prevalent themes in archaeology is that it is a very diverse discipline, thus requiring diverse learning. Although I am learning new things every single time I meet with my mentor, I find it rather difficult to find opportunities that provide me with varied knowledge. Each person in the department has a special field in which they are skilled in, therefore I have to find multiple people in order to get the full experience. Right now, my mentor is very generously asking around the department for students who might want some extra help on their projects and would like to work with me.

a. What did you do to hold yourselves accountable for the learning?

I took notes on my laptop after every meeting to record the things I learned. My mentor and I usually have some previous idea of what each meeting is going to be about through email. Of course, these blog posts are also evidence of my learning backed up by photos and explanations.

4. What logical challenges affected your communication?

Since SFU has a different schedule that Gleneagle, it’s rather difficult to coordinate a time with Dr Jamieson and other archaeology students. Since I can’t go there during school time, the earliest time we can meet during weekdays was around 4:15, driving from Gleneagle to SFU at 3:40. Unless there are extra activities, labs and classes usually end around this time which means that I am only able to work with Dr. Jamieson and Daria, who both work after 4:15. However, I would really like to check out other cool things around the department. Worry not, for I did contact the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and I will be volunteering there during the spring break.

a. What factors affected your ability to interact effectively?

Well, although my mentor and I are cross-generational and cross-gender, I don’t find it particularly difficult to interact with Dr Jamieson. In my opinion, he is very easy to talk to and outgoing. Well, I supposed that since we are still not 100% familiar with one another, there is some awkwardness to our conversations still, especially those not centred on archaeology. My very picky complaint is that the hallway to his office is very long, therefore we have to find topics to talk about during those slow seconds. As a slightly introverted person, I am a little anxious with talking to people in general, whether they are my friend, mentor, or strangers. I will try my best to develop better communication skills.

All in al, my In-Depth is continuing smoothly. Let us dig even deeper into the Earth.

 

Comments

  1. Your posts are reflective and informative, taking us along on your learning journey. Your photos are great visual tool to explain your concepts. If possible with your “taxi driver”, you may consider scheduling a meeting during lunch combined with period four as well, coming back for period five.
    Mulder

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