Monday, May 18, 2009

In which Katie identifies a scapula

Medieval bones.

One of my main academic areas of interest is the archaeology of sacrifice. For this reason, I have always been very interested in, but very daunted by, excavated bone material. Luckily here at Corinth the 'reading' of bones takes place in earnest, thanks to Thanos Webb, the bone dude.

Thanos Webb, rocking the osteological evidence.

Every day, along with our pottery, we have to get our bones 'read.' Basically, that means that Thanos the bone guy looks at every bone we pull out of the ground, identifies it, weighs it, describes it, etc. His information goes into our context database. As with our pottery, we are expected to 'sort' the material, grouping the bones together by their anatomical part and, if possible, by animal.

Marty Wells, my trench co-supervisor, sorts bones last Saturday.
Before getting here, I had no bone experience at all. And I mean nothing - no anatomy class, no games of Funny Bone, nothing. I had no idea what the difference was between a humerus, a tibia, a femur, or a radiaulna. Well, it's finally making some sense, after three weeks of sorting bones into little piles, day after day. I am full of that proud sense of accomplishment you get we you learn something new, and you desperately want to run around and tell everyone how smart you now are. Suddenly I actually understand what a metapodial is, or the atlas vertebra, or some other crazy bone stuff. You know, basic anatomy.

I have been aided in this endeavor by the well we've got in our trench, as it's vomiting up an enormous amount of pottery and a ton of bones. Today I sorted our largest bone context yet:
That's the last of the big guns for this session, but I still have to look forward to a day of sorting itsy bitsy bones, egg shells and fish scales. That might actually stretch the limits of my nerdy excitement, however.


JPL said...

Gibberish for sure. It's almost as if those anatomical terms were from some old language that nobody knows anymore.

Anonymous said...


When moving from pottery to bones are you running on the border of Paleontology, or is that exclusively about really old bones?


Katie said...

JP..or it's from a language that I have since blocked out! But don't tell Terry and Andy :)

Paleontology has more to do with super prehistoric bones of dinosaurs or fossilized plants. Archaeologists study human activity in the past, and in order to understand that activity, its helpful to recognize what sorts of human actions (e.g. butchering) affect animal bones in what ways.

Anonymous said...


Okay, when scientists are excavating and studying remains and artifiacts of ancient hominids and proto-humans is that archeology or is that Paleontology or does that truely stradle the line between the two?