First Review for Built on Bones!

So, I spent this week doing a lot of things. One of my favorites was freaking about my photoshopped proximity to lifetime hero author Neil ...

Thursday, 25 July 2013

It's that time again! Third year of my #dayofarch posts... repost now from Day of Archaeology! If you're dying to see how they've changed over the years, have a look at 2011 (augmented reality!) and 2012 ( i reveal myself to be the tooth fairy)...

Really, I work at the Natural History Museum in London (and tweet at @brennawalks). And if you didn't already know, I'm part of the collective Tumblr of awesome that is Trowelblazers ( @trowelblazers). We get all excited about inspirational female pioneers in the trowel-blazing arts :)


Archaeology, huh? Life outdoors? Fresh air?

Meh. Up to your hips in muddy water in February, more like it. That's why I went and got myself a speciality....


Yes. I am a living, breathing example of the incredibly rare animal... the Dental Anthropologist. And yes, that's a real thing.

What do I do? Well... today, I'm hashing out some code that will preform a simple spatial analysis that will tell me about the distribution of different types of tissue on a thin section of a tooth.

Before I could even get to this stage, however, there was a long and laborious process of making histological thin sections, digitally scanning histological slides, and then digitising lots of information from the tooth. But the end result will be that I will know to the day the ins and outs of someone's childhood - growth faltering, chemical composition changes, and a host of other things that we can find out in the lab.

So why teeth? A few reasons:

1. Teeth don't remodel. You grow 'em once, and you're stuck with them.

With the rest of your skeleton, remodelling can hide traces of past events -- if you broke your arm as a child, you might not ever know from looking at your adult skeleton. Whereas everything that happens to your teeth as they are growing is crystalised right at the moment, leaving an unedited record of the time when your teeth were developing.

2. Teeth grow in a very regular pattern. Like tree rings.

Because teeth are so regular, we know exactly which bits are forming when. So if something happens to a kid, like a bad fever or a period of starvation, that disrupts normal development, we can work out exactly when it happened. Take a look at these lines, left on a tooth from when the individual was so sick that growth stopped for a time. If we magnify it in a scanning electron microscope, we can work out how old the kid was in days when growth stopped:

That's fairly impressive for a kid who has been dead for almost 200 years!

3. Everybody Teethes

Almost everyone has teeth! Teeth usually survive really well in archaeological sites because they are heavily mineralised - sometimes they are the only part of a skeleton left. In my current work, I look at both the teeth from modern humans (super modern. Like, the subjects are still alive) and the teeth from children who died nearly ten thousand years ago a continent away in Central Anatolia. 

Actually, I'm gearing up now to leave for the field to go and take some casts of teeth of children who lived at the site of Aşıklı Höyük right when people were sorting out that whole 'to-setttle-down-and-farm-or-not-to-settle-down-and-farm' question. The casting itself is a funny process, normally used by dentists, but turns out archaeologists can adapt just about anything...

Dental Impressions from Brenna Hassett on Vimeo.

Monday, 22 July 2013

repost of my favorite ever #trowelblazer post! Gearing up to go into the field, so it's all about Turkey at the mo...

Halet Çambel, third from left, at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Image: Murat Akman Archive. 

Professor Halet Çambel is one of the most fascinating #trowelblazing women you never heard of. From a family of staunch friends of Atatürk himself, she was encouraged to participate in sport and represented Turkey in fencing at the 1936 Olympics--becoming the first-ever Muslim woman to compete in the Olympic games. Her stance there was unflinching; offered an opportunity to meet the Fürher himself she steadfastly refused.

She studied archaeology at the Sorbonne in Paris before returning to Turkey and building her career as an archaeologist, her poet and architect husband following her out into the field. She excavated the Hittite fortress of Karatepe, where she uncovered a sort of Hittite 'Rosetta Stone' with both Hittite and Phoenician scripts and still managed to spend at least part of her time teaching the local children. She was honoured with the Prince Claus award in 2004 for her pioneering work in conservation and cultural heritage protection. After a lifetime of fighting both for sport and against the threat of destruction to archaeological heritage and rural livelihoods posed by the rapid march of development, she remains an inspiration to archaeologists, ecologists, and humans in general to this day.
For more information, see this Nature News article , this BBC piece by @aylinboyzap or visit the Friends of Akyaka website.

Thanks to @gunesduru for the suggestion!
Written by Brenna (@brennawalks)
Edited and posted by Suzie (@suzie_birch)

a repost from over at Trowelblazers HQ from last month....

Snippet reproduced from Kober's 1949 letter to J. Sundwall from the Johannes Sunderwall archive of the Library Åbo Akademi, reproduced by kind permission of the University of Texas Digital Repository from the Alice E. Kober archive created by Professor T. Palaima & D. Tosa

Alice Kober (b. 1906, d. 1950) has been recommended for a #trowelblazers post since just about the inception of the site, and now that this once forgotten figure has hit the news again (bbc! and this wonderful new york times piece by Margalit Fox, author of a recent book on cracking Linear B) we thought we'd quickly introduce you to the lady.
By all accounts a self contained woman, whose meticulous cataloguing of the signs of the Linear B script uncovered at Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans was instrumental to its decipherment just a few years after her untimely death, it is wonderful to see the archive created by the meticulous research of Professor Thomas Palaima of the University of Texas that shows the woman behind the painstaking notes. Alice Kober wasn't merely a dedicated classicist, she was an ardent believer in individual freedom who was greatly concerned about the threat she perceived from the Iron Curtain, and if you check out these lovely papers in her archive, you can start to decipher the woman herself.
Thanks to all the #trowelblazers who suggested we do a post on Alice! And send me your names so i can h/t you :)
post by Brenna (@brennawalks). Thanks to S. Aro-Valjus, D. Tosa, and C. Lyon for helping us find more about Alice and her amazing archive!
edited, also, by Brenna

Trivia (personal)

archaeologist. dental anthropologist. yes, that's a real thing. Author of Built on Bones, available in February 2017 (UK), May 2017 (USA) from Bloomsbury.



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