Rebecca Gowland

Rebecca Gowland

I am a bioarchaeologist at Durham University, teaching and researching human skeletal remains. I also train national and international forensic practitioners in archaeology and anthropology.

Location UK

Activity

  • @AngelicaWong this varies greatly but these investigations are best carried out by independent international agencies working alongside local staff. Funding comes from multiple sources (see answer below)

  • Some forensic anthropologists have specialist skills in histology

  • @AngelicaWong good question. This does happen a lot, particularly in urban environments. We can usually see the 'cut' caused by the earlier disturbances in the stratigraphy when we look at a section through it. It can sometimes be complicated to interpret

  • @johnwatson thanks and welcome back!

  • @EunicaKapp I hope you're able to fit it in. Enjoy!

  • @MarieG good questions. The regression equations (estimating from a single long bone) dont take this into account. Bit if you had the whole skeleton you could calculate stature using the anatomical method and apply an age correction factor. For pathologies such as scoliosis and osteoporosis there are no precise methods to apply because the impact of these on...

  • @richardanane yes growth and body size are very variable. Density unfortunately doesn't help us too much as this is also variable. It also requires radiographs or a DXA scanner to measure and would therefore be less accessible.

  • @Sherrill-AnnWilmot yes, growth and development can vary a lot and particularly around puberty, so we need to be cautious when estimating the age of adolescents.

  • @KateGregson yes there is variation in eruption and this is why we would give an age range. We also look at the development of the teeth in terms of crown and root formation and would base our age estimate on multiple teeth. The variation in tooth development and eruption increases with age and our age ranges therefore get wider as the children get older.

  • @SarahLeheny we generally don't estimate the sex of children from the skeleton as features are too ambiguous until after puberty. The adult skeleton does also undergo some slight changes that we need to consider when estimating sex.

  • @GordonGregory it depends entirely on the context and other factors such as rainfall.

  • @nicklow at a forensic site (and many archaeological sites) there would already be a tent over it. Problems arise though if the water table is naturally high. When bones are immersed in water for a while they become very fragile.

  • @FrancesCarleton same skills more or less.

  • @MarieG good questions - there is natural asymmetry between people and this does occur. However, you would evaluate the contextual evidence, the articulation of the bones, to help aid your interpretation.

  • @FlorenciaOrtega mostly yes. There can sometimes be difficulties siding the phalanges (fingers and toes) but the metacarpals, metatarsals, carpals and tarsals can all be sided. If you don't know, you just say for example "3 distal hand phalanges, unsided"

  • @FlorenciaOrtega they're not too bad as long as you have the equipment.

  • @MarieG yes, it can vary as it's a combination of genetic and environmental influences.

  • @FrancesTogneri we prioritise the pelvis when estimating sex - so if the features of the pelvis were male but the skulls looked more feminine we would still go for male. Sexual dimorphism varies greatly between different populations and over time, so this is what can sometimes make it tricky. Despite all this, we are pretty good at estimating sex. There is a...

  • @MarieG it's partly related to hormones, overall body size and musculature.

  • @HelenSegebarth it takes a lot of time and practice really. Well done for sticking with it!

  • @KathleenKerryDexter yes, I think we tend to think of the skeleton as somewhat inert and unchanging - unless of course our joints start hurting!

  • I will add the answer at the end of this week!

  • @MarieG Vitamin C is required for the organic portion (osteoid) of the bone. There are a number of skeletal lesions associated with vitamin C deficiency - usually porosity in key locations in the skull and elsewhere. The lesions are much clearer and more common in the growing skeleton than in adults.

  • @FrancesTogneri it's just really tricky. And especially when you can't handle and observe the real thing. It takes a lot of experience. Keep going, you're doing great!

  • @CodyCoyote yes, it's a shame I can't get you all in the lab!

  • Yes, thanks for sharing!

  • @BeckyCederquist yes a great example. Sex estimation can be hampered by poor preservation but in this case it was mostly the assumption that a 'warrior' burial must be male. In fact, even after the recent reanalysis as female many are still unwilling to accept this. Which says more about our own gender biases!

  • There are often subtle implications for the skeleton

  • @richardanane sometimes in skeletonised remains they simply fall out.

  • @KathleenKerryDexter yes, the ethical dimension of 3D scanning is currently being debated too.

  • @DaveLee yes it is time-consuming, so we have to be a bit selective.

  • Keep your comments coming and I'll post the answer at the end of this week!

  • Please note that there is a lot of detail covered in the next two weeks. This is because the course is also used to train practitioners. If you're doing this for personal interest, then you don't need to engage quite as deeply with all of the content, unless of course you wish to!

  • Well done all! Yes, the different preservation observed in this skeleton relates to the proportion of cancellous versus compact bone in the skeletal elements. Those with more cancellous bone were less likely to survive as the bones are quite porous and 'disintegrate' more easily. The long bones and skull which contain a higher proportion of compact bone...

  • Although the skeletal elements were spread about due to animal activity, the individual died (not suspicious) at around the location of his skull. The skull is often not moved by animals since there is little there of interest and it is hard to physically drag it. The spine is one of the last regions to separate because the ligaments are tough and remain. So...

  • @FrancesTogneri thanks for sharing.

  • @RichardAggus yes, amazingly precise

  • @LydaFens yes, this would vary entirely from context to context and whether you're considering a mass grave or a single burial.

  • @HelenBrideau yes - harrowing

  • Yes, this has been used as well.

  • Yes Lidar is useful for looking at topography too.

  • @RohanGawali thanks for your input!

  • @MandyMeikle yes and this makes it difficult for families of the missing to get closure because they will always wonder if that's what happened to their loved one too.

  • I think its 50cm

  • @FabienLoustalot good thoughts but in this instance they simply didn't preserve.

  • @RwthHunt lots.of great thoughts here. The preservation issues are to do with the different proportions of cancerous and compact bone.

  • @nicklow we are answering what we can :-)! If learners copy our name in the question then it is easier for us to spot. Thanks!

  • @SallyChurch in terms of the skeleton it's about bone size and bone density. Of course there is also a lot of overlap between the sexes so this is a general trend rather than absolute.

  • @MichaelBoyton no, bit there has been lots of discussion. The closest one to us is in the Netherlands.

  • @KevinParry Yes we tend to try and use a suite of different techniques

  • @TanyaBrown welcome!

  • @AmandaClements Fascinating work. Thanks for sharing

  • @AmyLucas feel free to chat to me about the new forensic MSc at Durham.

  • @KateGregson not nearly enough time off - it's a good job we enjoy our work :-)!

  • Yes - and all over Europe from the 14th century Black death too.

  • @mabrokaomar it would be great to hear more about your work. Enjoy the course

  • In non-human primates sexual dimorphism is often more marked.

  • @NinaBrooks DNA doesn't always preserve well, is a destructive method, and has a cost associated with it. So this is not routine for archaeological remains, though much more so with forensic remains.

  • @KristyHenson good question. Vit C and D deficiency primarily affect the sternal ends of the ribs during the growth period - i.e. children. So in adults, which is when the method would be used, it should not have too much of an impact. That said, all of these methods are affected to some degree by environment, etc, so I wouldn't categorically say it has no...

  • @KatiaMitchel-Isaac well, we're always up for a visit to the Caribbean if you need us ;-)!

  • @MahmodMs welcome and we'd be interested to hear whether you found the course useful for your work.

  • @WendyTurbin we have had many writers do the course over the last two years. I hope you find it useful!

  • @ImogenHarrison thanks for contributing.

  • @AimeeParker thanks for this helpful comment.

  • @RuthBridgens sorry to here this. I've just clicked on it and it worked fine, although takes a little while to load, so I don't understand. Is it worth trying a different browser?

  • I'll add some info on this at the end of Week 2!

  • @GordonGregory a good thought. These would only really have an impact if the chemicals inhibited microbial action, otherwise I don't think it would make a huge difference.

  • @BeckyCederquist yes, definitely!

  • @NicoleMajor thanks for sharing- interesting to hear about your future plans too!

  • @SarahGuy thanks for sharing!

  • @LaraineQuinton sorry to hear that. It might be worth trying a different browser.

  • This was where the skulls was excavated. We do, however, discuss methods of exploring population mobility in week 5.