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  • August 23, 2011
  • 02:20 PM
  • 1,389 views

Chinese Religion Redux

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

As Cold War propaganda in the West would have it, communist states were to be despised because they were atheist and Godless. The reality, however, was quite different. In the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church never went away and popular belief was often at odds with official state doctrine. It is doubtful that the [...]... Read more »

  • August 22, 2011
  • 03:10 PM
  • 1,334 views

Boyz Turning 2 Men Sooner than Ever

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Despite how it may have seemed when you came back from summer vacation to start eighth grade and every boy's voice had changed at once, the age of human adolescence isn't set in stone. A German demographic researcher says that the age of sexual maturity in males has been steadily decreasing since the mid-eighteenth century. And he reached this conclusion based on the rate at which young men get themselves killed.Human males have an unfortunate tendency to die in early adulthood. Recklessness and violence aren't just traits of young males in the modern era. Even in earlier centuries, when young men had to satisfy their adrenaline cravings with buggy racing, dueling, or hanging around smallpox patients, they were more likely to die than women of the same age.This leads to a phenomenon called the "accident hump." Both sexes have a relatively high risk of dying as an infant, but that risk plummets throughout childhood. Mortality bottoms out in older kids, when the threat of childhood disease recedes and adult ailments are still far in the future. As adolescent girls move into adulthood, their risk of death slowly and steadily climbs. Each adult year that you're alive has a greater chance of being your last. But for males, the mortality rate takes a sudden leap above females in early adulthood. This is the accident hump. As men get a little older and leave behind their risky or violent behaviors, their risk of death smooths out again to match the steady climb of female mortality.Joshua Goldstein, at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, says that the accident hump has been shown to coincide with sexual maturity, the time when male bodies are cranking out their highest levels of testosterone. Other studies have shown that female sexual maturity, measured by the age when menstruation starts, has come earlier and earlier over the past few centuries. As humans have developed better medicine and nutrition, our bodies have been able to grow bigger and mature sooner. Has sexual maturity also been arriving earlier for males?To find out, Goldstein looked at death data from several European countries with thorough records. The dataset began in the mid-1700s. In each decade, he determined the age at which the accident hump peaked; this would roughly represent the average age of male sexual maturity.He found that throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the accident hump came about 0.2 years earlier in each decade. In the late 1800s, young European men were dying most often around age 21. In 2000, that age was closer to 18.So at the same time that humans were getting bigger and healthier, the peak of males' dangerous behavior was getting earlier. Has the onset of male adolescence also grown earlier? Goldstein says there's other evidence beside mortality rates. A study of boys' choirs found that in a choir lead by J. S. Bach in mid-eighteenth-century Germany, boys' voices didn't change until they were 18 years old, on average. But in twentieth-century London choirs, boys' voices changed much earlier, around age 13.Earlier sexual maturity might mean teenagers are driven to try risky behaviors (and girls are able to get pregnant) at increasingly younger ages. Goldstein wonders how brain development, which continues into early adulthood, compares to sexual development. If the timing of brain maturation has stayed the same while physical maturation has grown earlier, does this make for an increasing gap between physical and mental adulthood? Goldstein also points out that in the past half-century or so, cultures around the world have seen the milestones of adulthood--marriage, financial independence, parenthood--pushed to later in life. Essentially, though most of us would have cringed to hear it in seventh grade, we may all be living out a longer adolescence.Goldstein, J. (2011). A Secular Trend toward Earlier Male Sexual Maturity: Evidence from Shifting Ages of Male Young Adult Mortality PLoS ONE, 6 (8) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014826... Read more »

  • August 22, 2011
  • 12:32 PM
  • 1,520 views

Secondary Burial and the Post-mortem Manipulation of the Dead

by Kristina Killgrove in Powered By Osteons

We here in the U.S. tend to think of death and burial as little as possible.  Someone dies, and we bury them.  Perhaps we visit the person's grave or other sacred space on occasion, but that's the extent of our interaction with the dead.  In other places and in other times, people weren't so squeamish about death and had a continuing relationship with the dead bodies of their compatriots.

Secondary burial is usually defined as anything other than putting a dead body in the ground/tomb and sealing it up (which is primary burial).  Cremation can count as secondary burial, as the dead body is manipulated (in this case by fire) and then disposed of.  But what's always been really interesting to me is the practice of post-mortem manipulation of the dead, the extended burial rituals that are generally held to indicate a sort of ancestor worship, for lack of a better term, or a way of honoring the dead and keeping them among the living.



Bronze Age mummy
(credit: BBC)
Monday's news brought word of prehistoric mummies from Scotland that show evidence of post-mortem manipulation.  Four bodies discovered in 2001 in the Outer Hebrides dating to the Bronze Age were deliberately mummified: an infant, a young female, a female in her 40s, and a male.  These sex and age estimations were based on the bones, but recent testing showed that one of the females (based on the pelvis) had a male skull and that the male mummy was also a composite of people.  The BBC talked to Mike Parker Pearson, who literally wrote the book on the Archaeology of Death and Burial, who noted that "These could be kinship components, they are putting lineages together, the mixing up of different people's body parts seems to be a deliberate act."  Bioarchaeologists studied the bones further, and the extent of demineralization suggested the bodies were placed in a bog for about a year, then removed and manipulated, finally ending up in the flexed position we see in the photograph.



deBry's engraving "The Tombe of their
Werovvans or Chieff Lordes" based on
Thomas Hariot's 1588 book on Algonkinans
in Virginia.  (Credit: LearnNC.org)
The secondary burials I've worked with are of Native Americans from the Late Woodland period (c. 800-1600 AD) in North Carolina (Killgrove 2002, 2009).  Among the Algonkians of the northern coastal plain, people of high social standing (called werowances in the ethnographic writing of the day) were typically skinned, cleaned, and stuffed to resemble a corpse, then placed on a wooden scaffold within a temple or tomb.  The common people were generally placed in ossuaries - large burials mounds - but archaeologists generally see a mix of primary and secondary burials in them (Ward & Davis 1999).  The Tuscarora occupied the inner coastal plain of North Carolina in the Late Woodland, and we have a detailed description of their burial ritual from John Lawson, the British Surveyor-General of North Carolina, at the turn of the 18th century.  One day after death, the body was wrapped in reeds.  Mourning took place over a few days' time.  Tuscarora village chiefs were then treated similarly to the Algonkian chiefs: being placed in a quiocosin, a mortuary or charnel house like the Algonkian one pictured.  Lawson also recorded the burial practices of the Siouan groups on the southern coastal plain of NC, in which the deceased was placed on a scaffold, the body was anointed and covered in bark, and eventually the flesh was removed and the bones were cleaned.  All the bones eventually made it to a quiozogon or ossuary-type burial mound.  Later, Siouan burial style switched to accretional ossuaries, with primary burials stacked up and covered with sand.



Skulls of the Toraja
(credit: National Geographic)
Post-mortem manipulation of the dead is an ancient practice but one that extends into the present day as well. In Indonesia, many anthropologists have studied the Toraja, a group that lives in the mountain region of the island of Sulawesi.  High-status individuals in this culture may not be buried until months or years after death, until a massive funeral can be held.  Eventually, when enough money has been raised, a large feast occurs and the dead is conveyed to the burial site in a specially-carved casket, interred in a cliffside grave, and represented by a statue.  In many cases, the dead are revisited after several years.  Their corpses are cleaned and dressed in new clothes, and the statues or effigies are also attended to.  In central Sulawesi, among the Pamona people, corpses are buried but later unearthed, with their flesh removed by ritual specialists.  The bones are wrapped in bark, put in baskets, and dressed and fed as if they were dolls (Hutchinson & Aragon 2002).  After a week of feasting, the jewelry, masks, and clothes are removed from the bone bundles, which are reinterred.  I couldn't find a link to the excellent video I've seen (and shown in class) of Pamona mortuary ritual, but National Geographic has several nice clips of Toraja mortuary ritual - such as here and here.

It's been quite a long time since the extended funeral was a part of American burial tradition - since we switched from displaying the bodies of loved ones in the parlor for a viewing and making memento mori photographs to a mechanized form of burial that distances us from the pollution of death (nicely critiqued in the first episode of HBO's Six Feet Under, when Nate refuses to use the sanitary dirt shaker on his father's grave, preferring to get his hands dirty).  And yet just as there is a movement in this country to bring birth back into the home, there is a movement to bring death back as well, as shown in A Family Undertaking, a 2004 PBS movie I showed one semester to my Bioarchaeology class.

Various cultures' continued relationships with the dead fascinate me and many other anthropologists, and it's important to remember that our own Western, Judeo-Christian views about death likely influence our interpretations of funerary practices around the world.  Learning about practices in other cultures, especially seeking out ethnographic parallels in contemporary funerary practice, will help bioarchaeologists interpret secondary burials and post-mortem manipulation of the dead.

References:
... Read more »

Killgrove, K. (2009) Rethinking taxonomies: skeletal variation on the North Carolina coastal plain. Southeastern Archaeology, 28(1), 87-100. info:/

  • August 21, 2011
  • 07:37 AM
  • 575 views

eFfing Fossil Friday (another late edition)

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

I'm sitting at a cafe in Tbilisi, departing at 4:00 am tomorrow for America. Readers will notice that I've been MIA while working with the second annual Dmanisi Paleoanthropology Field School. I hate to say it but I'm glad I was too busy to blog all the goings-on (though sorry if it disappointed anyone). All in all it was another great year, and we found some great fossils (about which I don't think I have permission to say anything at all). Here's this year's class with their certification of badassery at the site on the last day:But Dmanisi won't be the subject of this belated eFfing Fossil Friday. I'd like instead to turn to the question of just what fossils are good for. I'm told that in China, fossil teeth were once interpreted as dragons' teeth, and so pulverized and sold as medicine. But what good are they to non-medical science? My recent research interests have come to focus on the relationship between evolution and development. Evolutionary developmental biology ("evo-devo") research has been dominated by studies of genes, gene expression, and model organisms like fruit flies and mice. In such an environment, the question of the relevance of fossils is especially poignant.
But this morning, while planning a human evo-devo course I hope to teach next summer, I stumbled upon a review paper by Rudolf Raff, titled "Written in Stone: Fossils, genes and evo-devo" (2007). I think the abstract sums things up pretty well:Fossils give evo-devo a past. They inform phylogenetic trees to show the direction of evolution of developmental features, and they can reveal ancient body plans. Fossils also provide the primary data that are used to date past events, including divergence times needed to estimate molecular clocks, which provide rates of developmental evolution. Fossils can set boundaries for hypotheses that are generated from living developmental systems, and for predictions of ancestral development and morphologies. Finally, although fossils rarely yield data on developmental processes directly, informative examples occur of extraordinary preservation of soft body parts, embryos and genomic information.It seems often that fossils are falling by the wayside. There's a sentiment that there's not much information to be gotten from fossils - they're too incomplete, too few, too inconvenient, at least as compared with extremely high-output data such as that coming from genomics. But Raff is right - we need fossils. Beyond the excellent points Raff raises in the review, I'm working on getting the most out of these seemingly data-poor fossil samples. Because modern computers are so powerful nowadays, I'm using their sheer processing power to test hypotheses about growth and development in fossil samples. These battered bunches of bones are too tiny to be analyzed by traditional methods. But one thing I think is important to take away from this computer-crazy Information Age, is that we now have machines that can handle almost any kind of question one can think to ask, and it's really inspiring. The sequencing and analyses of ancient Neandertal and Denisova genomes (Green et al. 2010, Reich et al. 2010) are excellent examples of the amazing research that can be done with computers and creativity (and probably also a horde of hard-working math majors).
So this eFFF (or Sunday) is not dedicated to any specific fossil or set of fossils, but rather to all fossils, even the crappy fragments. Gaumarjos, fossils: your secrets are not safe from us.
ReferenceGreen, R., Krause, J., Briggs, A., Maricic, T., Stenzel, U., Kircher, M., Patterson, N., Li, H., Zhai, W., Fritz, M., Hansen, N., Durand, E., Malaspinas, A., Jensen, J., Marques-Bonet, T., Alkan, C., Prufer, K., Meyer, M., Burbano, H., Good, J., Schultz, R., Aximu-Petri, A., Butthof, A., Hober, B., Hoffner, B., Siegemund, M., Weihmann, A., Nusbaum, C., Lander, E., Russ, C., Novod, N., Affourtit, J., Egholm, M., Verna, C., Rudan, P., Brajkovic, D., Kucan, Z., Gusic, I., Doronichev, V., Golovanova, L., Lalueza-Fox, C., de la Rasilla, M., Fortea, J., Rosas, A., Schmitz, R., Johnson, P., Eichler, E., Falush, D., Birney, E., Mullikin, J., Slatkin, M., Nielsen, R., Kelso, J., Lachmann, M., Reich, D., & Paabo, S. (2010). A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome Science, 328 (5979), 710-722 DOI: 10.1126/science.1188021
Raff, R. (2007). Written in stone: fossils, genes and evo–devo Nature Reviews Genetics, 8 (12), 911-920 DOI: 10.1038/nrg2225
... Read more »

Green, R., Krause, J., Briggs, A., Maricic, T., Stenzel, U., Kircher, M., Patterson, N., Li, H., Zhai, W., Fritz, M.... (2010) A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome. Science, 328(5979), 710-722. DOI: 10.1126/science.1188021  

Reich D, Green RE, Kircher M, Krause J, Patterson N, Durand EY, Viola B, Briggs AW, Stenzel U, Johnson PL.... (2010) Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Nature, 468(7327), 1053-60. PMID: 21179161  

  • August 19, 2011
  • 01:34 PM
  • 1,271 views

Chinese Religion: Worship Thy Parents

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

There are many ways in which China remains a cipher for Westerners, most of whom labor under the misapprehension that “modern civilization” originated in ancient Greece and spread slowly outward, eventually reaching “backwards” China and even then only in attenuated fashion. This of course ignores parallel and in some ways more spectacular developments in Neolithic [...]... Read more »

Holzman, D. (1998) The Place of Filial Piety in Ancient China. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 118(2), 185. DOI: 10.2307/605890  

Underhill, A. (1997) Current issues in Chinese Neolithic archaeology. Journal of World Prehistory, 11(2), 103-160. DOI: 10.1007/BF02221203  

  • August 17, 2011
  • 03:46 PM
  • 1,680 views

Hunter-gatherer populations show humans are hardwired for density

by Tim De Chant in Per Square Mile

This post originally appeared on Scientific American’s Guest Blog. High density living seems like a particularly modern phenomenon. After all, the first subway didn’t run until 1863 and the first skyscraper wasn’t built until 1885. While cities have existed for thousands of years—some with population densities that rival today’s major metropolises—most of humanity has lived [...]... Read more »

Hamilton, M., Milne, B., Walker, R., & Brown, J. (2007) Nonlinear scaling of space use in human hunter-gatherers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(11), 4765-4769. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0611197104  

  • August 17, 2011
  • 11:32 AM
  • 1,754 views

Solving the Mystery of Conjoined Twins at Angel Mound

by Kristina Killgrove in Powered By Osteons

Conjoined twinning is a rare congenital abnormality.  We know of old historical cases, of course, like Chang and Eng, whose birthplace gives us the term Siamese twins.  Going back further, Moche ceramics seem to depict conjoined twins as early as the turn of the first millennium.  But even though conjoined twins undoubtedly existed in antiquity, no conclusive bioarchaeological evidence has ever been found.

In 1941, an archaeologist named Glenn Black and his crew of WPA workers uncovered an unusual single burial of two infants, both about three months old, at a Middle Mississippian site (11th-15th c AD) called Angel Mounds near Evansville, Indiana.  Because of the positioning of the skeletons, Black suggested the burial might be that of conjoined twins.




Diagram of skeletons W11A60 and W11A61 from Angel Mounds



In order to shed light on this mystery, Charla Marshall, Patricia Tench, Della Collins Cook, and Frederika Kaestle undertook aDNA analysis, with the idea that conjoined twins would share mitochondrial genotypes because they have the same mother.  In a brief communication to AJPA, Marshall and colleagues (2011) report that their DNA sequencing clearly showed no maternal relationship.  It is still possible the infants were related, but they were not twins, conjoined or otherwise.  The question remains: why were these two infants buried in this manner?

This study, of course, would have been more interesting had the authors found conjoined twins, but they showed that certain interpretations about burials are now better made in a laboratory setting through the addition of chemical analysis of osteological data.
Reference:

Marshall C, Tench PA, Cook DC, & Kaestle FA (2011). Brief communication: Conjoined twins at Angel Mounds? An ancient DNA perspective. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Early View. PMID: 21834072.... Read more »

  • August 16, 2011
  • 08:10 AM
  • 1,600 views

Free language choice?

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

Pretty much everyone I know wants to learn English or improve their English – with the exception of those who consider themselves native speakers, obviously. What is more, everyone I know knows that everyone else wants to learn English (the … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • August 15, 2011
  • 05:28 PM
  • 1,845 views

The Hidden Advantage of Twins

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

For humans and other animals that traditionally have just one baby at a time, twins are a gamble. Pregnancy is riskier for the mother and the fetuses. If the twins make it to birth, they're likely to be undersized. And even if she has two healthy babies, a mother must find twice as much food as usual to keep them that way--and must keep twice as many helpless, chubby morsels away from the lions. But if both kids survive to adulthood, the parents will have doubled their genetic contribution to the next generation.Presumably because it's an evolutionary trade-off with so many variables, the rate of twinning has evolved differently across human populations. This variation applies only to "dizygotic," or fraternal, twins. Identical (or "monozygotic") twins are more rare, and their frequency of about 0.4% stays fairly constant across populations. One embryo splitting into two seems to be a random accident. Dizygotic twinning, though, seem to result from genetic tendencies; some mothers are more likely to release two eggs simultaneously.One potential explanation involves hormones called insulin-like growth factors (IGFs). The IGF system may affect a mother's chances of releasing multiple eggs. It's been linked to twinning in a study of cattle (another mammal that usually sticks to one calf at a time). IGF hormones have also been linked to the growth of a fetus. This led a group of researchers in the UK to ask whether mothers who give birth to twins, thanks to the effect of IGF hormones, also give birth to larger non-twin babies.The researchers, led by Ian Rickard, used data collected from Gambian women between 1978 and 2009. These women had an average of about 7 children each. Researchers divided the women into those who gave birth to twins at some point, and those who never had twins. They found that "singleton" (non-twin) babies born to twinning mothers were significantly larger, on average, than babies born to non-twinning mothers. In other words, twinning mothers--when they're not having twins, which are usually small--give birth to heavier babies. This effect was independent of the mothers' BMI or height. It even held true for singleton babies that were born before their twin siblings: these babies were heavier at birth than singleton babies born to mothers who never had twins.The only time the effect didn't appear was when mothers were exposed to the "hungry season," the furthest time from the harvest, during their third trimester. With more limited resources during their pregnancies, twinning mothers gave birth to babies that were roughly as small as non-twinning mothers' babies.Though the dataset doesn't include information on IGFs or other hormones, it seems that some underlying factor causes mothers both to have twins (because they release two eggs at once) and to have large singleton babies. The researchers also don't know how many of these sets of twins were actually identical, or monozygotic (the less-common variety). But since monozygotic twinning seems to happen randomly, mothers of identical twins would presumably dilute the effect seen here. So if anything, the birthweight advantage in twinning mothers might be even greater than it seems.Whatever is underlying it, the study shows that there's an advantage to twinning--or, at least, that twinning is a side effect of an advantageous trait that makes for sturdier singleton babies. This might help to explain why twinning has evolved to be more common in some human populations than in others. Each population has its own pressures, and must strike its own balance between factors such as birthweight and survivorship. Thanks to the intricate mathematics of natural selection, twins are never just a twofer.Rickard, I., Prentice, A., Fulford, A., & Lummaa, V. (2011). Twinning propensity and offspring in utero growth covary in rural African women Biology Letters DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0598... Read more »

  • August 15, 2011
  • 12:13 AM
  • 952 views

Scent of a Woman

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

At seventeen I discovered the perfume that would become my signature scent. It’s a warm, rich, inviting fragrance[i] that reminds me (and hopefully others) of a rose garden in full bloom. Despite this fullness, it’s light enough to wear all day and it’s been in the background of many of my life experiences. It announces [...]









... Read more »

  • August 12, 2011
  • 11:17 AM
  • 1,915 views

Weaning and Freshwater Fish Consumption in Roman Britain

by Kristina Killgrove in Powered By Osteons

In the September issue of Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, O. Nehlich and colleagues use sulphur isotope analysis to investigate the diet of 83 individuals from three Roman-era sites in Oxfordshire, England.  Their hypothesis was that sulphur isotopes, in combination with carbon and nitrogen isotopes, would reveal an additional facet of the diets of people in the area.  Sulphur isotopes have started to gain in popularity, as they're useful for separating marine and terrestrial protein (much like nitrogen isotopes are), for indicating freshwater resource consumption (which C/N isotope analysis can miss), and for tracking migration (in a similar manner as oxygen isotope analysis).  Nehlich and colleagues also wanted to apply sulphur isotope analysis to infants.  It is well known that nursing infants have dramatically different nitrogen isotopes than adults, and there is growing evidence that carbon, oxygen, and strontium isotopes are also affected by nursing.

The carbon and nitrogen isotope data from these Roman Oxfordshire populations were previously reported by Fuller and colleagues (2006), showing that the people got most of their protein from herbivores and possibly also from freshwater resources, and their carbohydrates from C3 plants (e.g., wheat).  Nehlich and colleagues perform a sulphur isotope analysis on the same individuals Fuller and colleagues used, and they find that sulphur can indeed distinguish between terrestrial and freshwater aquatic resource consumption:



d34S values of bone collagen of animals and humans from Oxfordshire
(credit: Nehlich et al. 2011, Fig. 3)
It's not a particularly surprising result, since some of these individuals lived along the Thames River, but sulphur provided the researchers additional information about diet that the carbon and nitrogen isotopes couldn't tease out.



While the C and N data show a linear
pattern with age, the S data don't; they
may, however, be more like a curve.
(credit: Nehlich et al., 2011, Fig. 5)
The really interesting finding in this article, though, is that sulphur isotopes can provide additional information about patterns of breastfeeding and weaning.  The original study by Fuller and colleagues had found 13C-depleted values for infants in the range of 2-4 years, which the authors interpreted as a unique weaning diet composed mostly of C3 plants and terrestrial meat, and surprisingly variable d15N values suggesting weaning was a gradual process.  Sulphur, like nitrogen, has a small trophic effect, meaning infants consuming their mothers' tissues (in the form of breastmilk) typically have higher isotope values than the adult population.  However, Nehlich and colleagues didn't observe any striking patterns in 34S enrichment.  They conclude that the pattern Fuller and colleagues saw is actually the result of consumption of freshwater fish or other foods influenced by freshwater hydrology - such as grains that grew near freshwater sources.  Nevertheless, they also found that kids 8 years and older have more 34S-enriched values, suggesting they were eating mostly terrestrial protein.

As I just finished up the (hopefully) final draft of my article on carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of the Imperial Roman diet, this sulphur study has been on my mind.  I've written before about the problem of aquatic resource consumption in the Roman diet - sometimes fish were seen as the lowest form of food, and sometimes they were highly prized (e.g., in the form of garum, a fish sauce).  Neither of my populations lived particularly near the Tiber River, but the people buried in the St. Callixtus catacombs also weren't that close.  The Callixtus palaeodiet reconstruction by Rutgers and colleagues (2009), though, suggests freshwater resource consumption because of the comparatively low carbon and high nitrogen isotope values.  The Callixtus skeletons would therefore be an ideal place to start a sulphur isotope study in Rome.  It might also be useful to do a sulphur isotope study on the infants buried in Isola Sacra, whose skeletons gave Prowse and colleagues (2004) quite a bit of information about weaning and diet.  Interestingly, the ages at weaning in Roman Oxfordshire and in Portus Romae seem to differ a bit: while Fuller and colleagues think weaning took place from 2-4 years old, Prowse and colleagues found that kids were fully weaned by 2.5-3 years of age.  Analyses of carbon and nitrogen isotopes are increasingly showing us that there was no monolithic Roman diet, and that consumption of resources varied by age, location, time period, and (probably) status and religious/ethnic group.

Isotope analysis isn't perfect, but it is a powerful technique for looking at palaeodiet, and I hope that these bioarchaeological findings start being incorporated into general treatises on the ancient Roman diet.  For example, the recent book Taste or Taboo (Beer, 2010) is excellent but mentions no biochemical analyses of the Roman diet.  Part of this disconnect between anthropology and classics is the fault of bioarchaeologists.  After all, we publish in journals that further our careers, like the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Journal of Archaeological Science, and Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.  These aren't top on the list of journals that classicists want to read, and the language of the latter two is generally highly technical, which can be problematic when a classicist does attempt to delve into the scientific data (as I've written about here in the Journal of Roman Archaeology).  One of my goals for this blog is to widely disseminate bioarchaeological work and get it noticed by classicists, anthropologists, and the public alike.  But the classicists interested in diet, migration, and burial would also do well to start perusing anthropology journals, contacting article authors if the paper is too technical, to really understand what we can contribute to the study of the ancient Romans.

References:

Beer, M.  (2010).  Taste or Taboo: Dietary Choices in Antiquity.  Prospect Books.


Fuller BT, Molleson TI, Harris DA, Gilmour LT, & Hedges RE (2006). Isotopic evidence for breastfeeding and possible adult dietary differences from Late/Sub-Roman Britain. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 129 (1), 45-54. PMID: 16229026.

Killgrove, K.  (2010).  Migration and mobility in ... Read more »

O. Nehlich, B. Fuller, M. Jay, A. Mora, R. Nicholson, C. Smith, & M. Richards. (2011) Application of sulphur isotope ratios to examine weaning patterns and freshwater fish consumption in Roman Oxfordshire, UK. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 75(17), 4963-4977. info:/10.1016/j.gca.2011.06.009

  • August 12, 2011
  • 12:02 AM
  • 2,024 views

Ancient Remnants: Biomolecules in Paleomicrobiology

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

Ancient DNA is not the only method of detecting and identifying ancient pathogens. Survival challenges for ancient DNA place very real limitations on its usefulness and sensitivity as a detection method. The main advantage of aDNA is that it can be genotyped to compare with modern species. For archaeological purposes, other biomolecules may be detected [...]... Read more »

  • August 11, 2011
  • 03:36 PM
  • 962 views

Equality in the Bedroom (and why it matters)

by eHarmony Labs in eHarmony Labs Blog

In the second of the female sexuality series, I ask, what part does equality play when it comes to a satisfying sex life? Read on to find out about the importance of equality with your partner and 7 Do's and Dont's to making the bedroom more harmonious.... Read more »

  • August 10, 2011
  • 10:59 PM
  • 1,733 views

iBoyfriend

by Lachlan Jackson in Language on the Move

Having lived and taught English in Japan for more than fifteen years, until last night I’d thought I’d seen it all. That was until I stumbled across the もし彼氏が外国人だったら英会話 (What if my Boyfriend was a Foreigner English Conversation [my translation]) … Continue reading →... Read more »

Takahashi, Kimie. (2010) Multilingual couple talk: Romance,identity, and the political economy of language. D. Nunan , 199-207. info:/

  • August 10, 2011
  • 02:34 PM
  • 1,692 views

1st Installment of the Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival

by Kristina Killgrove in Powered By Osteons

Since I'm gearing up for a new semester (finishing up syllabi, packing for a move, etc.), I haven't had as much time as I'd like to blog about the interesting reports and publications that have come out recently on the topic of Roman-era skeletons.  So here's a carnival or round-up of links from the past few weeks, things I've wanted to talk about but haven't had the time to craft full posts about.

Skeletons

Roman Child Skeleton from Durnovaria
(credit: DorsetECHO)
August 10 - Today's news brought a brief story about the discovery of a skeleton of a Roman child from what used to be Durnovaria (modern-day Dorchester, England).  There's no osteological information in the report, but there is a nice little history of Durnovaria and this photo of the skeleton, which was found within the settlement (unclear if it was in a house).  It's not unusual to find children buried outside of cemeteries - within houses, near walls, etc.
August 8 - On Monday, the BBC gave a bit more coverage to the discovery of nearly 100 infant skeletons in a Roman-era villa in Britain.  Jill Eyers, who rediscovered the skeletons in a storeroom, put forth the idea last year that these infants were killed on purpose and that the villa was in use as a brothel.  [Original BBC report here, bit of video here.]  Dr. Eyers remains convinced of her theory, but scholars in both the classical and anthropological blogospheres are questioning that.  Most notable are the posts by archaeologist Rosemary Joyce, who wrote a critique of the theory last year and wrote an updated post yesterday continuing to cast doubt on the whole brothel idea.  Dr. Joyce's posts are well worth a read, as she delves into the historical and archaeological evidence of Roman brothels to bring a counter-point to the discussion of this interesting discovery.
August 8 - The American Journal of Physical Anthropology published an interesting paper on Monday by Becky Redfern and Sharon DeWitt (2011) on the effect of status on mortality risk in Roman-era Dorset, England.  The authors looked at nearly 300 individuals dating to the 1st to 5th centuries AD and assigned them a status level based on burial type.  Using models of mortality, they found that indeed higher-status individuals had lower mortality risk.  This was especially true for children and for people who were buried (and presumably lived in) an urban environment.  Interestingly, male mortality risk was higher than female mortality risk (I presume owing to warfare and other job hazards).  Redfern and DeWitt conclude that, "...the cultural buffering afforded by being of high status enabled people to more effectively deal with urban environments and migration, with lower-status individuals having greater risk because of their forms of employment and living conditions."  We can, of course, assume that individuals with higher status had better diets and overall health, and therefore lower mortality risk. But it's great to see researchers actually test that hypothesis.  It's also interesting to see that urban denizens had lower risk of mortality; in many ancient societies, urbanism meant dramatic changes to health and wellbeing, but I've also been finding with my Romans that those who lived in or near the city were generally healthier than those from the suburbs and countryside.

Mummies

Mummies arranged by age, sex, and occupation.
(credit: Panzer et al. 2010, Fig. 2)
Not Roman and not recent news, but still neat: last summer, S. Panzer and colleagues published a study of late 19th/early 20th century mummies from the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily.  The pictures in the article are astounding: the mummies are excellently preserved, and the radiographs show a variety of minor pathological conditions (e.g., healed fractures) in some of the mummies.  The authors were able to learn a lot about embalming techniques and about the health of the people who were given this treatment after death.

Interactive Teaching ToolsAnd finally, this link has been sitting in my bookmarks for a while.  I discovered the BBC's online video game Dig It Up: Romans through Katy Meyers' blog post (July 14, at Play the Past).  It's cute, fun, and educational.  Katy writes that, "not only does the game allow payers to see the different stages of archaeology, but it is all done in a cultural resource management with the threat of construction setting time limits."  Unfortunately, I didn't find a skeleton when I played... just a lamp and an amphora.  But the game shows that archaeologists need sampling strategies, that we don't always find every piece of an artifact, and that we don't always find anything of interest (ah, memories of Spam cans from my days excavating at Monticello).  Go play it now!  You know you need a break from work.
References:
Panzer S, Zink AR, & Piombino-Mascali D (2010). Scenes from the past: radiologic evidence of anthropogenic mummification in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Sicily. Radiographics 30 (4), 1123-32. PMID: 20631372.

Redfern RC, & Dewitte SN (2011). Status and health in Roman Dorset: The effect of status on risk of mortality in post-conquest populations. American Journal of Physical Anthropology PMID: 21826637.... Read more »

  • August 9, 2011
  • 02:30 PM
  • 1,457 views

Telesphorus, a cult hymn from Epidaurus

by Nikolaos Markoulakis in Tropaion



Frieze from Roman Philippopolis (3rd AD),
from left to right: Luna, Iaso, Telesphorus, Asclepius,
Panacea, Epione, Machaion, Padaleirios.
© Archaeological Museum in Plovdiv,
Bulgaria (RAM – Plovdiv)
Hellenic Polytheism is not just about the worship of the Twelve Olympians, but, on the contrary of a great number of divinities capable to have a straightforward and personal contact with the

... Read more »

Martin P. Nilsson. (1945) Pagan Divine Service in Late Antiquity. The Harvard Theological Review, 63-69. info:/

Wiseman, J., & Mano-Zissi, D. (1976) Stobi: A City of Ancient Macedonia. Journal of Field Archaeology, 3(3), 269. DOI: 10.2307/529437  

  • August 9, 2011
  • 10:30 AM
  • 2,577 views

Getting "Mean Girled" in the Baboon World: The Price of Being Sexy.

by Serious Monkey Business in This is Serious Monkey Business

What do female baboons have in common with the Plastics from Mean Girls? A lot of aggression towards attractive female baboons that might pose a threat to their resources--but not in the typical way you might think.... Read more »

  • August 8, 2011
  • 03:00 PM
  • 1,502 views

On the Origin of Cooperative Species: New study reverses a decade of research claiming chimpanzee selfishness

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

Charles Darwin had more in common with chimpanzees than even he realized. Before he was universally known for his theory of natural selection, the young naturalist was faced with one of the great moral choices in the history of science. The decision he made has long been hailed as the type of behavior that fundamentally [...]









... Read more »

Victoria Hornera,J. Devyn Cartera, Malini Suchaka, and Frans B. M. de Waal. (2011) Spontaneous prosocial choice by chimpanzees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. info:/10.1073/pnas.1111088108

  • August 5, 2011
  • 01:36 PM
  • 1,227 views

The curious relationship between place names and population density

by Tim De Chant in Per Square Mile

Giving a name to a place is an important act. It says a place has meaning, that it should be remembered. For thousands of years, the way we kept track of place names—or toponyms—was by using our memory. Today, we’re not nearly so limited, and the number of toponyms seems to have exploded. Yet oddly [...]... Read more »

  • August 3, 2011
  • 03:48 PM
  • 970 views

Antipsychotics - The New Valium?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Antipsychotics, originally designed to control the hallucinations and delusions seen in schizophrenia, have been expanding their domain in recent years. Nowadays, they're widely used in bipolar disorder, depression, and as a new paper reveals, increasingly in anxiety disorders as well.The authors, Comer et al, looked at the NAMCS survey, which provides yearly data on the use of medications in visits to office-based doctors across the USA.Back in 1996, just 10% of visits in which an anxiety disorder was diagnosed ended in a prescription for an antipsychotic. By 2007 it was over 20%. No atypical is licensed for use in anxiety disorders in the USA, so all of these prescriptions are off-label.Not all of these prescriptions will have been for anxiety. They may have been prescribed to treat psychosis, in people who also happened to be anxious. However, the increase was accounted for by the rise in non-psychotic patients, and there was a rise in the rate of people with only anxiety disorders.The increase was driven by the newer, "atypical" antipsychotics.Whether the modern trend for prescribing antipsychotics for anxiety is a good or a bad thing, is not for us to say. The authors discuss various concerns ranging from the side effects (obesity, diabetes and more), to the fact that there have only been a few clinical trials of these drugs in anxiety.But what's really disturbing about these results, to me, is how fast the change happened. Between 2000 and 2004, use doubled from 10% to 20% of anxiety visits. That's an astonishingly fast change in medical practice.Why? It wasn't because that period saw the publication of a load of large, well-designed clinical trials demonstrating that these drugs work wonders in anxiety disorders. It didn't.But as Comer et al put it:An increasing number of office-based psychiatrists are specializing in pharmacotherapy to the exclusion of psychotherapy. Limitations in the availability of psychosocial interventions may place heavy clinical demands on the pharmacological dimensions of mental health care for anxiety disorder patients. In other words, antipsychotics may have become popular because they're the treatment for people who can't afford anything better.These data show that antipsychotics were over twice as likely to be prescribed to African American patients; the poor i.e. patients with public health insurance; and children under 18.Comer JS, Mojtabai R, & Olfson M (2011). National Trends in the Antipsychotic Treatment of Psychiatric Outpatients With Anxiety Disorders. The American journal of psychiatry PMID: 21799067... Read more »

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