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 ...

Friday, 27 December 2013

Welcome to round two of the #blogarch adventure, orchestrated by Dougsarchaeology. This month, the question posed to those of us who still do this blogging thing is more reflective: what's been good about blogging? Bad? And what's been downright ugly?

Well geez.

The Good

Friends! Contacts, networks, people to talk to. But I think more importantly, blogging offers a longform elaboration of the casual conversations and offhand interests that the 140 character world doesn't really give you a chance to get into. For instance, I am pretty good at working up a #twitterstorm rage. I've had lots of social media chats with friends and strangers about things that seriously, epically get my metaphorical goat (looking at you, #aquaticape! also, druid in-fighting). But here's the thing about an insta-rage: you sound like a total jerk. Seriously. That rage needs context. And maybe pictures of the Judean People's Front (splitters!).

literally, any excuse to use this photo
The Bad

Oh hai impossible deadlines and epic time-suckage! Apart from this, personal, blog, I also play 1/4 of the instruments in the feminist archaeology tribute act . Aside from being totally rewarding and a heck of a lot of fun, a regular blogging time commitment is pretty hard to juggle with my postdoc (teeth!), my fieldwork (teeth! but in Turkey), and my personal health and hygeine.

 Honestly, the most difficult part of keeping up a blog has been the fact that I am strongly advised not to divulge any details of my current research by actual Acts of Parliament (shout out to the Human Tissue Act!). In addition to legal restrictions on what I can and can't discuss, there are organisational attitudes to navigate; i.e. nothing I say here can reflect too much on my employment over at the Museum That Dare Not Speak Its Name Without Being Cleared By the Press Office.  So between various pressures to keep mum and the general sense by people who sign off on my paychecks that blogging doesn't count for impact metrics with our funder, there are a huge number of disincentives to keep blogging.

The Ugly

I have never had an experience publishing my blog that I would describe as 'ugly' per se. Unintentionally, out-of-control, hilarious? Yes. Very much. I got so peeved with theories of an 'aquatic' period of human evolution (after we walked out of the sea that first time) that I went all Rudyard Kipling on the idea that it wasn't the sea -- it was SPACE! This was the sarcasm that launched a thousand tweets, and they were unapologetically funny. However, the relentless mockery in short form (tweets, my take on the subject for Radio 4) comes off as more snide than I ever intended the original post to be.

In the end though, the same things that were 'good' about blogging -- engaging with people who are neither me, nor my mother -- are the same things that were 'ugly'. The 'bad' is just part and parcel of the whole blogging experience - it takes time, which, for most archaeologists I would reckon, is in short supply.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013 which your correspondent participates, not for the first time (those were the good ole' days, eh Colleen?) , in the digital round robin that is a blogging carnival, with the hopes of someday seeing it at the SAAs.

Follow along with the carnival through the #blogarch tag or Doug's blog here.

November's question:
Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog?

I'm guessing that like many of my blogging compatriots, I started my personal blog for a combination of reasons, starting with interest in a new bright and shiny thing (blogging! whatever next-- hoverboards? Hey, it was a different time), and running the gamut of self-publicising social media instincts, including the desire to join a conversation of peers, the chance to talk loosely and informally about things I was interested in, and the chance to share my devastating wit with the world at large.*  The world is a lonely place at the end of a PhD or in the dreaded gap between degree and employment, and I enjoyed the company.

Gertrude Bell, behatted.
I could say quite a bit more about my *other* blog, The TrowelBlazers project came about organically, but was consciously designed and organised by our group, with planned posts and a duty roster - a very different scenario from the haphazard, laissez faire attitude I maintain with my personal blog. I think in the end this reflects the very different uses both are put to. Where TrowelBlazers is a wonderful, glorious, time-suck of discovery and funny pictures of women in outrageous outfits that we actively want to bring to a larger audience, my personal blog has very much become a repository or archive of small projects that would otherwise be left by the wayside. My personal blog has become a bit of a memento mori for the various shiny things I get distracted from my actual job (dental anthropologist / bioarchaeologist) playing with. I think this answers the second part of the carnival question: ' Why are you still blogging?'. Quite frankly, if I don't write down how I made an augmented reality app with bouncy Neanderthal skulls, I'm never going to remember.
* who uniformly failed to notice.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Hello! This is a crosspost from our TrowelBlazers guest spot over on the British Geological Society's blog.

Mary Anning, trowelblazer
Thinking geology? Thinking science? Thinking crinolines, bonnets, and muddy skirts? Probably not! However, if you discount the damsels in the discipline, you actually lose quite a bit of history-and that's what our project 'TrowelBlazers' is all about. We're a small collective of researchers who got a bit bored with the hoary old pictures of the great and good in science, and started looking around for some of the unsung (or just amazing) heroines of the digging fields - archaeology, palaeontology, and, of course, geology. We started the TrowelBlazers site and put out the call for people to nominate  trowelblazing women. After just a few months, we've had 50 posts, many of which were submitted by guest posters who have direct links to the women they are writing about.

Official Wikimedian sticker and pin

With the approach of Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the contributions of women in science, we started to hear more and more about other groups plans to highlight the forgotten women in their fields. While preparing our chapter on trowelblazing women in Passion for Science for the FindingAda project, we started to get really into the question of just how many trowelblazers were out there--and we found tons! What we didn't find, however, were their entries on wikipedia. This imbalance might have something to do with the larger issue of how few women contribute wikipedia entries overall -- just 13% according to a 2010 study.

Here we are in the NHM Boardroom
 (the Dodo painting gives it away)

That's why Ada Lovelace Day this year was accompanied by wikipedia editathons across the world to try and tip the scales just a bit back towards balance. Team TrowelBlazers' Suzanne Birch covered the American Beat with a wikidetithon at Brown Univeristy, while our own Victoria Herridge organised #TBwiki - the first wikieditathon at the Natural History Museum, to bring together people who wanted to contribute to wikipedia with our resident Wikimedian to talk training, tips, and trowelblazers.

The event was a smashing success - we had a full house and a wide variety of partipants! John, our Wikimedian, was on hand all day to help our potential entries get off on the best possible footing, linking our new trowelblazer posts to other related content, showing us how to sort out images, and all of the technical details.

By the end of the day, we had written several new posts- result! Suzie's entry on Bertha 'Birdie' Parker ended up on Wikipedia's front page and got more than 4,000 hits -talk about awareness building! We also had pages on Meemann Chang (courtesy Rob Mounce), Amice Calverly (courtesy Claire Millington), Rosalind Moss (Lisa Lodwick), Etheldred Bennet (courtesy Emily Humble) and Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer (courtesty Dominic Bennet). But we still need more! TrowelBlazers is putting out a call to all of you who are interested in highlighting women's often-overlooked contributions to science: if you can think of a trowelblazer we should feature, let us know! Or even better, write us a post! We love guest posts and our submission guidelines are here.

 A massive thanks to everyone who came out to help, from getting collections out (e.g. Elizabeth Grey's snazzy outfit shown left, next to specimens she collected). Thanks to all of our participants and to our incredibly awesome folks from the NHM for volunteering their time and energy and making it all happen. And don't forget, anyone can edit Wikipedia!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

For those of you who have somehow found this blog without either being personally shown it with my hand on the mouse, or through my highly serious and infromative twitter feed (@brennawalks -- or even @trowelblazers, which is my identity 1/4 of the time), welcome. I always enjoy meeting new spambots.

For the rest of you, I'll assume you have an interest in either a) museums b) outreach or c) the life and times of our Human Origins research group. In which case, hurrah! Because that's what I'd like to talk about.

Prof Stringer lays down some knowledge
Every year, under auspices of the EU 's Framework Programme 7 , museums across europe recieve funds in order to hold a giant Open house. And it is giant, especially for us at the Natural History Museum London - we have hundreds of researchers here, normally safely hidden behind locked doors in the labryinth of cabinetry and slightly past sell-by-date skeletal models of obscure animals that is the 'working' part of the museum.This is Science Uncovered, or #SU2013 to its friends. However, an enthusiastic approach by the museum (and free drinks vouchers for the employees) means that the scientists and specialists are all gently pushed, blinking, into the limelight for one glorious night, and exposed to several thousand members of the public. Honestly, it's a ton of fun, and you can see how we tried to drum up interest in our Human Origins research last year  too.

So what did we do this year? What were people interested in? The most valuable part of Science Uncovered is working out what aspects of our research are easily communicable, which are 'eye-catching', and how any of that might work into our longer term involvement with special exhibitions (like the upcoming awesomeness that will be our early homo in britain exhibit) and our general goal of Making Science Interesting to Other People.

 The fossil and skeleton casts are always a huge draw, and we had lots of experts on hand to explain them (C. Stringer, L. Buck, M. Lewis, L. Humphrey, C. Rando, A. Freyne, H. Liversidge, E. Grant!).

Also standing by with a measuring tape was I. De Groote and C. Coleman, waiting to put you down on a chart of hominids based on your foot size...

 The make-your-own cave art run by R. Kruszynski and G. Delbarre, with help from A. Turner, M. Holloway and M. Dekleva was as popular as ever, and for ONCE, we didn't accidentally spray paint the Earth Galleries ;)

And, of course, because I was there, we played with reality ever so slightly. Here's C. Coleman, next to his very own 3d avatar created in Photoscan -- seperate post on my latest computer based time sucker to follow!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Well as you may have guessed from the slightly OTT twitter/facebookage, we at @TrowelBlazers Towers (shout out to Drs Wragg-Sykes, Birch, and Herridge!) are so excited to have a chapter in the excellent new book 'A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention'.

Suw Charman-Anderson (@Suw) is the driving force behind the truly inspirational Finding Ada project. It's all about recognizing the contributions of women scientists, and hopefully demonstrating that sisters are not only capable of doing it for themselves, but they've been doing it for a lot longer than you thought. I mean, Georgian-countess-computer-programmer longer than you thought.

you can read some of Suw's thoughts on the project in today's Guardian or you can just read the book!

And if you like what Team TrowelBlazers has put together, you will love the awesome network diagram of our women in the #trowelblazing sciences (mad props to @ToriHerridge) !

By Tori Herridge, available to download here.

Available exclusively through the Finding Ada Project site here, and you get 25% off with promo code 'ALDbook'

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

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Reposted! original, with photo here.

 Maeve Leakey. Photo: Bob Cambell, Turkana Basin Institute, all rights reserved.
Dr. Maeve Leakey (b.1942 - )
Many, many years ago -- about 150, actually-- a group of men with rather fantastic facial hair founded what would become the cornerstone of the American scientific establishment, the National Academy of Sciences.  
Signed into existence by President Abraham Lincoln, the Academy served to further scientific research, addressing the pressing issues of the day, like how to make compasses work on your fancy new Ironclad steamboats.
Steamboat, Naval Photographer (unknown)
On the 150th anniversery of the foundation of the NAS, President Barack Obama arrived to reiterate the importance of the body, and science. 
The very next day, on April 30th, 2013, the Academy announced its newly elected members, one of the highest accolades possible and limited to American citizens. However, the Academy does recognise exceptional contributions to science from those born elsewhere by electing a very small number of Foreign Associates.
All this is to highlight the incredible achievement of English-born Dr Maeve Leakey in being elected a Foreign  Associate of the National Academy of Sciences (one of only two newly elected women), in recognition of her outstanding contribution to our understanding of human origins (including the description of everyone's favourite flat-faced 3.5-million-year-old Kenyan, Kenyanthropus platyops) with her palaeoanthropological work in the Turkana basin with the Turkana Basin Institute, the Leakey Foundation, and the National Museum of Kenya, Nairobi.

posted by Brenna

Kathleen Kenyon. Image from: Reynolds, A. 2011. From the Archives. Archaeology International 13:112-118, DOI:
The legend of Kathleen Kenyon looms large over archaeology; she is remembered not only as an influential woman trowel-wielder but as pioneer in her field. As a figure of legend, the cut of her vowels (glass!) and coats (mink!) build a towering image of a certain kind of mid-century woman: entitled, empowered, and as sturdy as the famous stepped towers she discovered underlying the foundations of biblical Jericho. Kathleen Kenyon is a woman who left a permanent mark on the discipline (not to mention poor old Jericho), and that cannot all be attributed to her birth in the Director's house of the British Museum. Her accomplishments are legion: first female president of the Oxford Archaeological Society, excavator of Jericho and Jerusalem, creator of the Wheeler-Kenyon archaeological method, then founding member, Acting Director and finally Director of the Institute of Archaeology.
My own doctoral supervisor remembers Kenyon as a larger than life figure, stalking down the narrow halls of the new Institute of Archaeology building, trailed by her pack of beloved, braying beagles. This wonderful BBC video tells us that she cut a swathe through the ‘scalliwags’ (clowning underage labourers from a nearby Palestinian refugee camp) with her mere presence and a few sharp words. It is absolutely clear to me that Kenyon’s somewhat bluff path to renown is the rocky precursor to many of my own experiences as a female archaeologist; I’d like to think I keep the casual cultural paternalism and baulks out of my work but her efficient pragmatism and wry humour were and are an inspiration to all archaeologists, regardless of gender.
Written by Brenna
Posted by Suzie

Good morning. Possibly, good afternoon. This post is actually not so much a me-post as it is a meme-post; I'd like to introduce you to the collective amazingness that is the new .

What's that? A midlands plastering company?

No! It's ladies. Ladies with trowels. Or, possibly, ladies directing workmen with trowels.

source: Illustration by John Kenney, from L. du Garde Peach (1961). Stone Age Man In Britain. A Ladybird Book. Wills & Hepworth Ltd., Loughborough. Reproduced from website.

It's a celebration, brief, chipper and ever-so-slightly irreverent, of some of the pioneering women in the trowel-wielding fields: palaeontology, geology, and of course, archaeology. This is a labour of love by a dedicated team ( you'll know them as @toriherridge @lemoustier and @suzie_birch - me you had better have figured out already) who are compiling a fantastic tumblr of some of the forgotten female heroes of our respective disciplines.

Anyhow, it's a lot of fun. We tweet as @trowelblazers , so follow along for updates as we add to our list of should-have-been-stars. Guest posts are not only allowed, they are encouraged -- check out our submission guides if you're interested in writing on a personal hero. Always open to suggestions, so tweet us, email us, whatever -- just get involved, and help us remind the world (and the internet in particular) that just because you think 'Indy' doesn't mean there wasn't a Dorothea. Or a Kathleen. Or any of our other iconic #trowelblazing women.

P.s. I'll be cross-posting my contributions to the tumblr here...

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Heads up to @matthewpope, who wrote this post on the recent #druiddebate launched by the BBC in response to a letter from King Arthur Uther Pendragon insisting that the display of human remains at the Alexander Keiler Museum in Avebury is unethical. I personally think his point that there is some seriously slippery slope between identifying 'indigenous' heritage and nationalist narratives is pretty critical, but of course there is a whole wealth of thought on that subject (go google 'Nationalism in Archaeology' and get back to me in a few years).

Anyhow, this got me thinking about the why this story has popped back up after the furore of  the reburial requests circa 2006-8, and why archaeologists seem to not have quite squeezed the last lessons out of the original English Heritage consultation on the reburial request, despite the existence of thoughtful reflections like Mike Pitt's open access PIA article. I don't claim to know quite what those lessons are, but if we're still having this conversation 5 years later, I think we should start at the beginning.

Avebury. © Copyright Simon Barnes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

I'd also like to stress that heritage isn't my beat, and I certainly don't speak for my employer or any of the folks mentioned below.

Caveats aside, a brief history of the Story of CoBDOHADEH and the Avebury burials:

The Council of British Druidic Orders (CoBDO) describe themselves as an umbrella group with
"the belief and determination that we are all part of the process of the rekindling, in the  21st Century, of an ancient national nature religion"
who support open access to sites they consider sacred, the most well known of which is the you-might-have-heard-of-it Stonehenge
Stonehenge. Photo  Charles Engelke

King Arther Uther Pendragon, who holds what one imagines is the fairly unique position of 'Battlechieftan' in the organisation, is a happily vocal combatant in the murky waters of indigenous British heritage, and tends to get the lion's share of media coverage. He's the one who wrote the recent letter, and the reason we're having this conversation.

Photo: Vice Magazine. A. U. Pendragon 
But really, this whole process started almost 7 years ago. In 2006, Paul Davies of CoBDO requested that the remains excavated at the archaeological site of Avebury be reburied. He made this request based on three criteria:
  1. Ethics – display and storage as immoral and disrespectful 
  2. Belief – that human remains contain and connect to the spirit of ancestor that, through decay, become part of the landscape  
  3. Genetic relationship – mtDNA (female) providing an unbroken link between our ancestors and people today, thereby supporting our request for reburial under guidelines provided by the DCMS
The banner image used by EH on the website of the Alexander Keiller Museum features human remains (image: EH)

This set off a flurry of soul-searching at English Heritage (EH). There wasn't necessarily a framework in place to identify who, in Britiain, had the best claim to the human remains uncovered in archaeological excavation unless they were demonstrably within a church (or other religious establishment) burial ground.A major consultation was carried out in 2008 which brought additional parties into the fray, and further arguments for the right of different groups to demand reburial of remains excavated in England.

Tensions appeared well before then, however. For one thing, CoBDO itself disavowed Davies, insisting he didn't have the right to speak for their community. CoBDO then released its own statement on the remains, emphasising that reburial was to be considered on a case-by-case basis and that, while desired for the Avebury remains, this didn't preclude continued curation of other human remains in a respectful manner.

The next deuteragonist in this story is Emma Restall-Orr, one-time president of CoBDO who left that organisation in 2002 for  the advocacy group Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD), which seeks to restore a measure of respect to human remains they see as being lost through archaeological study. HAD published a response to the EH consultation refuting CoBDO's ability to speak for the (a) Pagan community on the subject.

This  picture of the People's Front of Judea (splitters) is not helpful in this context.
Division within the Druid community ranks aside, the question asked of EH remains an absolutely crucial one for the study of human remains in this country: who gets to decide what happens to the dead?

Mike Parker-Pearson addressed the major contention of CoBDO's claim that any benefit of further scientific investigation of the remains would not outweigh desire to have the remains reburied. Parker-Pearson replied (in full here) with the interesting argument that CoBDO's own claim to the remains was based on aDNA analysis, a recent and radical development in archaeological science that could not have been anticipated at the time of investigation.

While this covers once concern, it leaves the larger question of 'ownership' still dangling around. The dead live active political lives (ask Armenia, or Guatemala) and there is an extraordinary amount of anthropological and archaeological research that has shown the importance of claiming yonder dead person as your own in terms of defining community and territory. This is why it's critical to understand English Heritage's response; if we're not making informed statements on reburial issues then we are just debating what the Romans did for us (or whether we're related on our mother's side).

So here's what EH has to say:
"EH and the NT comment that there is no reason to believe that the relationship of the members of CoBDO with the human remains is any closer than the relationship of most of the present population of Western Europe with the human remains."
So, when CoBDO, HAD, King Arthur, or any of the other actors in this piece ask for reburial, they are not being ignored, or dismissed by a conspiracy of specialists (I almost said conspiracy of archaeologists, but no one would believe we have that sort of organisational capacity). Reburial isn't happening because there is a larger community that is interested in the study of human remains, and has just as much claim to those bones as CoBDO. Like the pleasingly supportive Pagans for Archaeology. It's pretty multivocal in Wiltshire, it seems.

I had thought the Avebury affair culminated in a High Court case in 2011, when King Arthur's request for a judicial review of EH's actions was dismissed. However, it seems that the issue has not gone away. I suppose the take-home here for those working in bioarchaeology, especially in the UK, is that this continued focus on the campaign of a small, but press-savy group, demonstrates that dealing with repatriation and heritage issues for human remains is a long-term effort, and not a simple open-and-shut case where who owns which bits of the past gets decided after an epic consultation-throwdown.We are still arguing about reburial in the UK, as discussed in this great piece by Mike Parker-Pearson, Tim Schadla-Hall, and Gabe Moshenka (who didnt have the decency to double barrel his name).

I hate to bring up spaceape again (lies, I love it), but a similar principle applies: there is nothing to be lost by at least entertaining what seem to be pretty out there viewpoints. An open, engaged policy is the only way you can face down those conspiracy charges, and in the case of Avebury, it even demonstrates community support for archaeological research that would have otherwise gone quietly unnoticed. 

Sunday, 28 April 2013

oh HAI. Did you get here from the internet? Did you perhaps see the phrase 'aquatic ape' in one of the many fine news sources that cover advances in science and other randomly cool stuff--maybe this piece in the guardian? Did you, by some strange conjunction of arcane google-fu and a lifelong interest in mermaids, learn about the aquatic ape theory through this fascinating piece in the daily mail? Really, it is fascinating; you get to look at this picture if you read it:

No? I guess that means that I get to be the one to tell you about the Aquatic Ape Theory. For which I apologise in advance, but not very sincerely.

Not long ago, let's say, in 1960, a very interesting man called Sir Alister Hardy addressed the conference of the British SubAqua Club at Brighton on the theme 'Aquatic Man: Past, Present and Future.'  Hardy was a marine biologist with a strong interest in the evolution of man, and seems to have been frequently preoccupied by religion; his legacy lives on in the rather esoteric Religious Experience Research Centre at the University of Wales TSD. He seems to have got a prize for his work there off the Templeton Foundation, which is pretty much the most fascinatingly hermetic yet surprisingly bountiful source of anthropological and archaeological research funding ever. They fund work at Çatalhöyük, for instance, but also offer a giant cash prize for 'affirming life's spiritual dimension', which I think means proving God exists. Anyhow, not the point.

 Hardy  suggested that, like the ancestors of killer whales and water-snakes, our primate ancestors moved to the waterline to exploit the sweet sweet seafood buffet available. For Hardy, this explains our impressive swimming abilities, lack of body hair, streamlined shape (when's the last time you imagined an orangutan in one of those Special K red bathing suits? Don't try it), and our ability to withstand extreme temperatures. Other things, like our upright posture and tool making ability, are also attributed to this aquatic  lifestyle, and generally, any sort of question over the evolutionary function of bits of human anatomy is gently bunted into the water. The idea that sinuses serve a sort of ballast function is a personal favorite; but it is in heavy competition with the idea that we stand upright to keep our heads above water. Sitting around in bodies of water to keep cool is of course attested by Marco Polo, who noted such bizarre behaviour somewhere around Hormuz in the 13th century. Whether or not this gets you eaten by crocodiles or peevish hippos if you do it in our evolutionary homeland in Africa is, as far as I know, unaddressed by the Aquatic Ape Theory.

(not my photo, off Newsround I think)

This theory, fringe as it was, still captured the attention of many. Elaine Morgan (you may Wikipedia her yourselves, as her official homepage biography suggests you do) published the Aquatic Ape theory in book form, and the series of books that she has published on the subject highlight her personal research journey. That's what I am going to call it, because otherwise I might accidentally refer to The Naked Darwinist as an obsessive missal about body hair, the academy, and feminism in 1972. Anyhow, the theory found backers, largely outside of palaeoanthropology, and sufficient numbers were reached that conferences were held. Conferences in fact continue to be held, which you would know if you were following my instagram feed in November when I posted a photo of the conference leaflet, but nevermind.  So, that's the theory. But the fact that we have to be taught to swim, that sinuses aren't used as ballast by anything, that there's no evidence for the theory that stands up to particularly rigorous examination--that's really not the point. The Aquatic Ape thing is fascinating because it really does have a life of its own, as you can see from this John Hawks blog from way back in 2005, and updated in 2009 when the topic got dredged up again in the popular media (by the way, he has a way more sensible explanation of the evidence, if you're really interested.) These 'fringe' theories, how do they survive? My twitter feed has been an explosion of skepticism, but the forthcoming conference boasts some notable speakers and a hefty £300 registration price tag. Is the participation of National Treasure David Attenborough enough to guarantee a hearing?

Well, guess what. I'd like to test the principle that fringe science, with sufficient celebrity endorsement, is enough to get more press than any of the awesome "lamestream" anthropology stuff that gets reliably smothered in the Journal of Human Evolution or the American Journal of Anthropology. So, I give you:

Basic Arguments of the Space Ape Theory:

1. we have evolved big brains relative to our bodies because we don't need our bodies to move around in space.
2. we don't have much body hair because what would be the point of a few more follicles worth in 2.73 Kelvin (-270 Celsius)?
3. sinuses, far from being evolutionary spandrels, are little miniature internal space helmets.
4. our outsize eyes clearly show our relation to other species in space.

Follow-on arguments include the theory that language must have evolved once we re-terrestrialised, because as we all know, in space, no one can hear you scream.

Ok ok enough, stop beating a dead ape.

Sarcasm aside, I do think it's healthy that there is a forum for even the most out-there of evolutionary theories. If you told me a few years ago that early hominid hunters were basically drop-bears ( as Bunn did at ESHE last year, covered by @lemoustier on her blog here), I'm not sure how seriously I would have taken you. I don't think we're going to suddenly find evidence for Aquatic apes, or, sadly, Space ones. But I do wonder if I can just get Chris Stringer to politely rubbish my Space Ape theory, will the publishers come calling?

Monday, 28 January 2013

So, in advance of a more in-depth reflection on my participation in the 7th Quadrennial World Archaeological Congress at the Dead Sea, Jordan, I've pulled together a little storify and bits and pieces of things and projects that seemed pretty fun but were perhaps not obviously related to teeth, the neolithic, or my immediate interests...

Starting, of course, with an awesome trip to Petra which is pretty much all over my instagram account but highlights are: bored donkey tout dude checking his texts while waiting for tourists;

 and this, the first view you get of the famous Treasury building coming down the Siq approach.

Conference wise, my favourite quote has to be from the rather vigorous keynote given by Prince El Hassan bin Talal, in his thundering Harrow accent, where he referred to the people of the middle east as 'hell's firewood'. Harsh.

And of course, no conference is complete without a ridiculous Indy reference, here's mine (spotted by @lornarichardson):

Indiana jones...shops here   

 (and response from @lemoustier: "I see a nice conference outfit there on the mannequin" ...)

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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