On Thursday night, we had the pleasure of listening to and learning from Dr. Trudi Buck on the subject of human bones in the archaeological record. Osteology is the study of the structure and function of the skeletal system. Forensic anthropology takes these bone features and uses them to determine who an unidentified skeleton is.
There are four main features to look for when attempting to determine the identity of a person
1. Stature: It is important to understand the physical appearance of an individual when identifying a person. We can do this by looking at various features of a skeleton.
2. Age at death: When looking at the skeleton of a youth, a great indicator of age is tooth formation and stage of tooth eruption. Think way back when you lost your baby teeth–the timing was predictable and expected.
3. Sex: One of the best ways to differentiate between male and female is by looking at the pelvis. When looking at the pelvis from the front you can see how the female has a U-shaped subpubic angle where the male is more V-shaped. Also, females have a wide greater sciatic notch in comparison to males.
4. Ancestry: This is done by looking at certain features of the skull such as eye orbit shape, nasal opening shape and many more. It can be hard to define a skeleton to a single ancestry. Many textbooks outline these broadly as European, Asian and Sub-Saharan African descent, which is very narrow.
Using replicas of real human skeletons, we practiced these techniques by trying to identify their approximate age, sex and ancestry.
There have been a few cases of human bones being found at Vindolanda: the child skeleton found under the barrack floor, human skull in the Severan period fort ditch and long bones found in the North Field ditches.
A bunch of us are now working very close to the skull from the Severan period fort ditch (found by Dr. Meyer in 2002!) which was missing its mandible. Maybe we will get lucky in our last week excavating and find the rest of him (yes, it is identified by bioarchaeology at as male), or maybe even a head of our own!