Osteoarchaeology

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Photographs of some notable specimens in an osteoarchaeology teaching collection

Casts
Female and male skull casts from 1900s
Fenland skull three views
Skull blackened and polished by fenland soil
Six views of a skull
Skull cap, cranial vault and base of skull
Pelvis triptych
Three views of a female articulated pelvis
Teeth worn to the dentine
Teeth worn down to reveal the softer darker dentine
Five views of the sphenoid
The sphenoid bone, usually cradled inside the skull, isolated to reveal its structure
Three views of the occupital
The occupital bone, nestled at the base of the skull
Position in hand bones in resin
Bones of the hand, shown in lifelike position inside a resin cast
Four temporal bones
Four examples of temporal bones showing the individual differences and some elongated styloid processes
Anglo-Saxon death
Diamond shaped impact mark to back of skull, probable cause of death and possible Viking war hammer injury
Anglo-Saxon injury
Crack from impact following the line of the sagittal suture
Puzzled Anglo-Saxon
Male skull showing end of skull fracture from impact in back of head. Note also blackened appearance from burial in fenland soil
Deep cut skull cap
Skull with low cut and lost parietal bones
Crenulated cranial bones
Deep grooves (crenulation) inside the skull, indicating high pressure
Male eyebrow ridge
Strong features in the skull bone
Lambda and lambdoid suture bone
Unusual skull structure including ossicles in the lambda suture area
Ossicles
Another skull showing lambda and lambdoid ossicles, resulting in a bulge.
Unusual bone growths
Base of skull ossicles resulting in bulge. Also some small bony tumour 'homoplastic osteomas' on parietal bone
Inside view of ossicles
Unusual skull showing additional lambda and lambdoid bones in the back of the skull
Prominent meningeal vessels
Internal view of a skull with prominent traces of the brain blood supply
Path of blood vessels
Internal view of parietal skull bones showing how suture fits together and strong traces of meningial blood vessels
Blood to the teeth
Cut away skull with filaments added to show blood vessels in maxilla
Sagittal section of skull
Cut away skull showing shape of sinuses
Inside the frontal skull
Deep crenulations inside the skull indicating persistent pressure in life
Metopic suture
Skull showing persistent frontal (metopic) suture in adulthood.
Normal frontal skull bone
Internal view of frontal skull with smooth interla groove
Supraorbital notch
Adult skull showing healed frontal suture and a supraorbital notch over right eye
Roman fenland skull
Skull from Roman era, blackened and polished by black fenland soil.
Nasal bone
Strong prominent nasal bone of a Roman era skull, indicating foreign origin
Cut to the head
Strong indication of cut across the head indenting the skull
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Illustrations of the stories written in bone, taken at a private archaeology teaching collection.

Excavated skeletons have many stories to tell. The shape of the bones describe details of the life lived - not only sex and height but also traces of times of starvation or health problems in childhood that draw lines on the bones themselves. Oddities or variations of bone formation hint at genetic traits and familial lines when found in mass excavations. Adult life is scribed in heavy accentuated muscle and tendon attachments scarring the bone as witness to a rugged life of effort of the burdens of childbearing. Injuries, survived and fatal, also tell the story of the experiences of lives past. After death, the tales are still recorded. Conditions of burial stain or polish the bones after the flesh has decayed away and tell of where they came to rest.

Certain bones are selected after excavation to illustrate different teaching points to educate future archaeologists. These special few have a future of being cared for and treasured. They will also be the forerunners of new analysis and techniques which, like carbon dating and DNA analysis could give unimaginable insights in the future to the lives long past.

A brief account of seeing this collection is in this blogpost.