Collaborative writing: Naming the Dead in Archaeology and Cultural Anthropology

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In the mountainous center of Sulawesi, Indonesia, the Toraja people routinely disentomb their ancestors several months or even years after their deaths. The ritual is called ma’nene’ and involves familial feasts, praying, grave sweeping, and, perhaps most significant, dusting and reclothing the corpse before reinterment. Although anthropologists have written about the practice for decades, it has only recently garnered attention among the general public. Images of the rite were first shared on social media by young Torajans. However, as the images spread and decontextualized, the dead at the center of the ma’nene’ ritual came to be labelled “zombies” (Adams 107-108). Being shared at the height of the “American zombie mania,” the pictures quickly went viral and were picked up by various Internet bloggers, magazines, and newspapers, many of which perpetuated the “zombie” trope for personal and/or corporate gain (97).  

Seeing as citation count has become an increasingly important measure of a scholar’s worth, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that anthropologists in various fields have felt a need to sensationalize their work on mortuary practices by similarly associating the dead whom they study with “zombies” or “vampires.” We all want clicks. Indeed, our ability to land a job or get tenure may depend on it (Becker 147, 160). (Our teaching skills certainly don’t count for much! (Boyer 22)) Yet, as Mark Carrigan notes, “ever more publications are being released only to be read…by ever fewer people” (27). The issue for academics, then, is how to make their work standout in an ever-growing crowd. In this blog, we take a look at what appear to be attempts by anthropologists and/or their publishers to sensationalize depictions of the dead for the purpose of publicity.

A CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGIST

Several years ago, Justin Thomas McDaniel published an article in the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia entitled “Encountering Corpses: Notes on Zombies and the Living Dead in Buddhist Southeast Asia.” In it, he offers an explanation for the religious use of corpses by otherwise cremation-practicing Southeast Asians by drawing attention to the popularity of Sanskrit “zombie” literature in the region. Even if one is convinced by the connection McDaniel makes, his choice to translate the Sanskrit term “vetāla” as “zombie” is questionable. Vetāla are certainly not zombies in the conventional sense. They are reanimated corpses. However, unlike zombies, they can talk, live normal lives, and even perform heroic deeds. Given these idiosyncrasies, why not just leave the word untranslated? Could it be that McDaniel chose the word to attract a larger audience? His publisher definitely saw its selling power. As much is evident by the way the Kyoto Review presents his article on their webpage (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Screenshot of McDaniel’s article as presented by his publisher, the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia. Source: KRSA. 

But is doing so ethical? In the case of the Toraja dead, the results of sustained attention have been mixed. On the one hand, tourism has increased as Western travelers have made their way to Sulawesi to have “their own firsthand…encounter with the (un)dead” (Adams 98), and some Toraja have capitalized on the boom (99, 111). On the other hand, however, the zombification of the deceased has led to increased othering of the Toraja by Westerners and appears to have contributed to documented acts of disrespect by tourists at gravesites and during the ma’nene’ ceremony (113, 103). This is concerning and makes us wonder if an anthropologist like McDaniel ought to be making connections between zombies and the honored, hallowed corpses of Southeast Asia. 

ARCHEOLOGISTS

The idea of vampires has existed in many cultures and has fascinated humans since time immemorial (Betsinger & Scott, 2014). This fascination has seen an uptick over the last few decades, though, especially in the field Archaeology. When investigating funeral remains and funerary practices, the researcher is in a privileged position and, therefore, well equipped to comprehend the beliefs of a population, ancient or contemporary. This allows him or her to determine whether or not a burial is “deviant,” that is, whether or not it reflects the temporal and cultural norms of a particular society (Walsh et al., 2020; Aspoeck, 2008). 

Two major difficulties arise when studying deviant burials. The first is due to the myriad forms deviant burials take, and the second is methodological. The archaeologist possesses a wide variety of tools to study a burial that fails to conform to the norms of a given society. One tool is taphonomy. Taphonomy sheds light on “processes such as decomposition or burial that affect organisms after death and which ultimately result in animals and plants becoming part of the fossil record” (Blau, 2014). Unfortunately, this technique was not used to study the famous “vampire of Venice” (Nuzzolese and Borrini, 2010). During the 16th and 17th centuries, Venice suffered from episodes of plague, and the local government was forced to create mass graves (lazzaretti) to contain the enormous quantity of cadavers. In one of these graves, archaeologists discovered remains with a brick inside an opened mouth. The authors of the paper soon marked her as a “vampire” because they assumed that the brick was designed to prevent the vampire from spreading the disease. However, responding to this paper, Minozzi et al. (2010) show that taphonomy at the same site, in fact, mimics strange burial practices. 

Figure 2: Skeleton buried at the Vecchio Lazzaretto cemetery with a femur in its mouth due to taphonomy (Minozzi et al., 2010). 

Another archaeological method is to consider actions performed by the living community on corpses and analyse it via a bioarchaeological framework called “post-mortem agency”. Crandall and Martin (2014) define postmortem agency as “the ability of dead bodies […] to engage, influence, confine or structure the behavior of the living whether directly or indirectly”. This agency can push the living community to interact with the dead by displaying, dispersing, dismembering, destroying, or depositing remains in specific ways (Arnold, 2014). This alteration can then be detected in the archaeological context. Let us consider a case in Drawsko, a rural village situated in Poland dated between the 17th and 18th centuries CE (Gregoricka et al., 2016; Gregoricka et al., 2014). In Poland, a vampire is believed to be an unclean spirit at risk of being reanimated (Màchal, 1976). At this site, archaeologists excavated several burials containing apotropaic objects and labelled these burials as containing “vampires” because written records related to Polish folklore state that unclean spirits (vampires) were usually buried with objects meant to prevent their return (in our case, scythes and stones). Betsinger & Scott (2014) argue that vampires should be viewed as primary actors because of their role in supporting social order. Indeed, the people thought to be most at risk of becoming vampires were the marginalized (e.g., sinners, witches, murderers, outsiders, etc.). Moreover, vampires were used as scapegoats for unexplainable sickness and death. Thus, the agency of vampires was taken seriously by communities, and the act of burying sickles, scythes, or copper coins with corpses had an economic impact on them. This research shows that deviant burials should always be analyzed in their archaeological, historical, political, and socio-economic context to properly understand the agency of the individuals involved and how their identity could have influenced their burials. Only in this way can we ensure that labels like “vampire” are justified.

Figure 3: Vampire burial with a sickle around the neck and a coin to the right of the cranium (Betsinger & Scott, 2014).

CONCLUSION

Our archeological examples have in common the use of the word “vampire,” although contexts are certainly different. It is interesting to ask ourselves why the authors chose this word? Why would they decide to organize their research around a single word? Well, there is not a straightforward answer. Nowadays, the use of catchwords, such as “vampire” or “witch,” is a common practice likely meant to raise interest in the research being published. Certain words can develop curiosity in potential readers. They have the power to attract people to research that does not possess sufficient data to be published in a high-ranking journal. Indeed, the fact that work on deviant burials employs such terms points to the high-pressure environment that academia has become. Nowadays, for either archeologists or cultural anthropologists to be considered for an academic position, they must have published in high-profile journals. Doing so, though, is not easy, and probably for this reason, scholars sensationalize their work by speaking of “zombies” and “vampires.”

WORKS CITED: 

Adams, Kathleen M. “Leisure in the ‘Land of the Walking Dead’: Western Mortuary Tourism, the Internet, and Zombie Pop Culture in Toraja, Indonesia.” In Leisure and Death: An Anthropological Tour of Risk, Death, and Dying, edited by Adam Kaul and Jonathan Skinner, 97-121. Louisville: University Press of Colorado, 2018.

Arnold, Bettina. “Life After Life: Bioarchaeology and Post-Mortem Agency.” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24, no. 3 (2014): 523‑29.

Aspöck, Edeltraud. What Actually is a “Deviant Burial”?: Comparing German Language and Anglophone Research on “Deviant Burials”. Oxbow Books, 2008.

Becker, Howard. Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article, 3rd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020.   

Betsinger, Tracy K., and Amy B. Scott. 2014. “Governing from the Grave: Vampire Burials and Social Order in Post-Medieval Poland.” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24, no. 3 (2014): 467‑76. 

Blau, Soren. “Taphonomy: Definition.” In Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, edited by Claire Smith, 7235‑7235. New York: Springer, 2014. 

Boyer, Dominic. “The Necessity of Being a Writer in Anthropology Today.” In The Anthropologist as Writer: Genres and Contexts in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Helena Wulff, 21-32. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016.

Carrigan, Mark. Social Media for Academics. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2016.

Crandall, John J., and Debra L. Martin. “The Bioarchaeology of Postmortem Agency: Integrating Archaeological Theory with Human Skeletal Remains.” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24, no. 3 (2014): 429‑35.

Gregoricka, Lesley A., et al. “Apotropaic Practices and the Undead: A Biogeochemical Assessment of Deviant Burials in Post-Medieval Poland.” PlosOne, 2014.

Gregoricka, Lesley A., et al. “Deviant burials and social identity in a postmedieval Polish cemetery: An analysis of stable oxygen and carbon isotopes from the ‘vampires’ of Drawsko.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2016. 

Màchal, Jan H. “Slavic mythology.” In Vampires of the Slavs, edited by J. Perkowski. Cambridge: Slavica Publishers, 1976. 

McDaniel, Justin Thomas. “Encountering Corpses: Notes on Zombies and the Living Dead in Buddhist Southeast Asia.” In Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia 12 (2012): 1-16.

Minozzi, Simona, Antonio Fornaciari, and Gino Fornaciari. “Commentary on: Nuzzolese E, Borrini M. Forensic Approach to an Archaeological Casework of ‘Vampire’ Skeletal Remains in Venice: Odontological and Anthropological Prospectus.” Journal Forensic Science 2010; 55(6):1634-37: Letter to the Editor.” Journal of Forensic Sciences 57, no. 3 (2012): 843‑44. 

Walsh, Matthew J., et al. 2020. “Who’s Afraid of the S-word? Deviants’ Burials and Human Sacrifice.” Norwegian Archaeological Review, 2020.  

What makes a presentation good

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Hello gentle reader, today I am going to talk about deviant burials… No, I am joking, do not worry. As I promised last week, in today’s blog I will talk about something new that has never been discussed in my previous blogs. This week we are requested to highlight what makes a good presentation. For this task, I chose a presentation made by Dr. Ian Morris on October 2nd, 2013 at The Oriental Institute (Chicago). You can easily find this presentation on YouTube.

I have been always fascinated by those periods of passage, where a civilization (or more than one) collapse. I know, it is a weird interest, but I am interested in understanding why this happened and how people dealt with this massive change. Probably, the most famous of these events is the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, and the subsequent periods called Late Antiquity and Early Middle Age. Another important moment can be recognised in the Late Bronze Age collapse, and this is the topic of the presentation I chose.

Dr. Morris’ research is focussed to understand which are the causes that caused the fall of civilizations during the Late Bronze Age. One of the common theories explain the collapse of numerous civilizations due to multiple invasions caused by the Sea People. At the moment there is no certainty about their origin, although in Egypt it is possible to find inscriptions that provide some information. Unfortunately, no one can determine with certainty the origin of this group of people. Instead, Dr. Morris believes that more than one events are responsible for the collapse of Late Bronze Age civilizations. In his opinion, a perfect storm of consecutive catastrophic events such as famine, drought, earthquakes, invasions, etc… is the answer that researchers are looking. He also clearly explains that those civilizations (Egyptians, Hittites, Minoans, etc…) where extremely connected one with another, and the fall of one put in motion an irreversible process. I found this presentation an incredible opportunity to understand such a complex moment of human history.

In my opinion this is a good presentation for everyone who is looking to learn how to present its research to a broader audience. With broader audience I mean that not all the participants are researchers involved in your field. What I really appreciated has been the connection that the speaker has created with his public. I have been fascinated by the selection of words and expressions used by Dr. Morris. He has been able to express complex concepts, or a time that might be not familiar to the most, with simplicity. Just to provide a clear example of what I am talking about, in the first couple of minutes he settled the chronological and geographical coordinates of his speech. To do so, he used two slides, the first highlighted the Mediterranean, and the second showed the statues of the main protagonists of that period. This sounds obvious, but he used the expression “a time of heroes” to call back the chunks of knowledge that everyone has unconsciously about this period. I also believe that the expression used has been a great hook. We are talking about characters like Ramses II and III, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amenothep III, Akenathon, and Tutankhamun, and events such as the battle of Qadesh, the Trojan War, and the Exodus.

Another strong point in this presentation, at least for me, has been the interaction between the speaker and the audience. Dr. Morris used to engage the public with questions, sometimes receiving back answers and in other occasions more questions. Also, I appreciated the use of anecdotes to emphasis a concept or event. The presentation quickly became a dialogue between the speaker and the public, which is something I appreciate, and I would like to learn.

The third aspect of this presentation I appreciated were the slides. Each of them has been designed to posses the right amount of information, sometimes a couple of lines of text, others only pictures. In my opinion a slide should be a support to your speech providing essential (visual) information. The proper use of slides and a fluid narration are key aspects for the good result of a presentation.

The Good and the Bad

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Hello friends, in this blog I am going to analyse one paper that I consider good and another one that I consider bad. Before continuing, I would like to say that I do not feel comfortable in judging a paper written by senior researchers. I do not know if I possess the right knowledge, or my knowledge on the subject is developed enough to criticize the work of people that are in academia since long before me. Also, criticize a paper means criticize the work of the peer reviewers that read the paper. It is also true, that sometimes-certain papers contain a reasonable number of inaccuracies that can be easily detected even by a student like me. With that said, especially for the bad paper, I will try to express my concerns in a genuine way, asking myself if I would have written the information in the same way. 

The good paper I would like to talk about is “First probable case of scurvy in ancient Egypt at Nag el-Qarmila, Aswan” (Pitre et al., 2016). I first read this paper last semester in Metabolic bone diseases class, and I consider it a good paper. The title is self-explanatory, which is something I appreciate. I believe the title should inform the reader about the topic that is going to be investigated, whereas the abstract should be an extended version of the title, where it is possible to find more information. I know this might sound obvious, but I swear there are articles with cryptic titles out there. Scurvy is a metabolic bone disease caused by the deficiency of vitamin C. In the introduction, the authors provide an excellent background about scurvy, giving information about the cause of the disease and the methods that are used to detect it in skeletal remains. The first part of the paper allows non experts to approach the following sections with a basic understanding. Subsequently are reported the materials and methods used by the authors. Here, it is also possible to find precious information related to the archaeological context. I appreciate the first pages of the paper because they allow the reader to be fully aware about what is happening. In addition, a very clear and well-organized table is provided with all the bone districts affected by porosity and the possible cause of it. The paper continues with the analysis, which has been supported by pictures. In a paleopathological paper, the presence of picture is fundamental to allow other researchers to verify the assumptions made by the authors. The article is then developed in the usual style with discussion and conclusion sections. I really appreciate this paper because even with a skeletal sample with numerous evidences of scurvy, the authors present their data with caution. On top of that, they provide another table with alternative explanations for the lesions found on the bones. To conclude, the general structure of the paper is extremely solid and clear, proposing hypothesis supported by evidence but also providing alterative hypothesis.  

The bad paper I choose for this blog is “Forensic Approach to an Archaeological Casework of “Vampire” Skeletal Remains in Venice: Odontological and Anthropological Prospectus”, written by Nuzzolese and Borrini in 2010. Before I continue, I want to say that I am sorry to pick another paper from the “vampire realm” but they are so funny. I promise my next blog will have a completely different topic. With that said, why did I choose this paper? And why do I consider it bad? Well, I am reading many papers about deviant burials and vampires, and I realize that in certain cases the word vampire is not only a catchword, but it is also well placed within the title and text (because it is supported by cultural information). In this case, I believe the authors had the necessity to publish and they chose the first “dubious” case they had the chance to work with. Between 16th and 17th centuries Venice and the nearby area suffered by continuous outbreaks of plague. The authorities have been forced to create new spaces where to bury the increasing number of deaths. In one of these places, the archaeologists discovered an anomalous burial. In their paper, the authors provide a brief background about the figure of the vampire in the folklore, tracing back its origin to Ancient Greek. Subsequently, the archaeological background is briefly reported. In my opinion, which is also supported by a reply to the paper made by other archaeologists, the authors did not provide enough evidence about the burial. Not a single picture of the “vampire” during the excavation (= the context) has been provided. I believe that in certain circumstances where we are working with dubious archaeological contexts, it is important to provide as many information as possible. In this circumstance, what makes the burial looks anomalous is the presence of a brick in the mouth of the buried person (fig. 1). In this case, as a readers, we have been denied of the most important aspect of the archaeological research that is the context. Within the same short paragraph, the authors also provide anthropological information about the biological profile of the remains, which belonged to a woman. I found the next paragraph almost disrespectful for the archaeological research. The authors decided to avoid sharing a picture of the context, but they provided an x-ray of the canine of the woman. I think here we scratched the bottom of the fantarchaeology (fantasy + archaeology). According to the authors, the woman has been found with her mouth open by the gravediggers, who considered her the cause of the plague (a vampire) and have positioned the brick in her mouth.

To conclude this blog, I do not know what to say about my “bad” paper. As I wrote at the beginning, I am not comfortable judging the work of senior researchers with more experience than me. Although I am not an expert, this paper tested my nerves in an unpredicted way.

Fig.1 The vampire of Venice

Annotations of 3 articles in 3 Anthropological Journals

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In today’s blog I would like to write about three papers concerning deviant burials in the archaeological context. To do so, I selected one paper that engage deviancy from a more theoretical point of view, whereas the other two focus their attention on the application of stable isotope analysis in the attempt to differentiate local vs nonlocal people.

The first paper I am going to talk about is Who’s afraid of the S-word? Deviants’ Burials and Human Sacrifice published in 2020 by Walsh and colleagues in Norwegian Archaeological Review. The aim of this work is to try to explain the complexity behind a deviant burial. More in detail, this article focuses its attention on the differences between juridical kill and human sacrifice, especially in Northern Europe in a period between Late Iron Age and Middle Age.

The body of the article is a deepening about the word deviant and how it is used in the archaeological dialogue. The authors effectively demonstrate how this word must be considered a catchword for publications (which I agree on). Sometimes to publish quicker, archaeologists tend to use inappropriate words such as deviant, vampires, etc… to pump up the interest of their paper. These expressions are usually referred to a burial that do not fit within the normative explanatory framework that is usually given by its cultural and temporal context.

The last part of the concludes with some cases. Emblematic is a 9th century CE double grave from Gerdrup near Roskilde (Denmark), which has been used by the authors to explain a common mistake done by archaeologists. During this time (Vikings), double graves are usually interpretated as an important person buried with an attendant. In certain cases, this explanation can work, but the advancement in archaeological sciences (mostly aDNA) demonstrate how it might be superficial. The double grave from Gerdrup is one of these cases, where the two skeletons, previously believed as lord and attendant, are in reality mother and son.

I found this paper very helpful for one of my future projects because it clearly states that not all deviant burials are deviant. I really appreciated that the focus of the discussion has been given to the context in which we find the burial. The important lesson that all archaeologists should learn from this paper is that digging without a proper cultural knowledge about the site can be unproductive and maybe damaging.

Apotropaic Practices and the Undead: A Biogeochemical Assessment of Deviant Burials in Post-Medieval Poland, published in 2014 by Gregoricka and colleagues in Plos One. This is the first of a series of two papers concerning the identification of “vampires” in a rural community in Modern Era Poland using stable isotope analysis. In this case the authors used strontium stable isotope.

The first pages of the article have been dedicated to the concept and evolution of “vampires” in the Western Europe folklore. In addition, an interesting section is dedicated to the apotropaic practices at Drawsko. Apotropaic objects posses the ability to protect the community of living people from the undead and their possible come back to Earth due to a “bad death”. In Drawsko, for example, these objects were scythes and stone positioned above the neck and torso of the deceased.

The research question of this paper is to evaluate the origin of the supposed “vampires” using the stable isotope of strontium. It is possible to understand the place where an individual spent his/her first years of life analysing dental enamel. This research is based on the idea that “vampires” were foreigners, and thus their place of birth might be detected by strontium analysis. The authors do not report any outliers from the isotopic analysis, suggesting that the people buried in the cemetery are to be considered locals. In addition, a comparison between strontium values and the distribution of “vampires” within the cemetery does not show any sign of burial segregation.

I found the conclusions of this paper well made because the authors do not push further the results. They recognise how their samples are locals, although arguing that the geological homogeneity of North European Plains might mask some foreigners. Also, an important theoretical point is made arguing that “vampirism” might had a strong cultural foundation. The authors realize that a “vampire” does not necessarily describe an undead, whereas it might be referred to an unbaptise person, or a person accused by witchcraft.

Deviant burials and social identity in a postmedieval Polish cemetery: An analysis of stable oxygen and carbon isotopes from the “vampire” of Drawsko, published in 2016 by Gregoricka and colleagues in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology is my third chosen paper. This research continues the investigations of a Modern Era Polish site characterized by “deviant burials”. The authors report the presence of apotropaic objects, which are elements aimed to protect the living from the undead. In this case study, scythes and stones have been displaced over the alleged vampires.

The research question behind this paper is interesting, and it wants to discover the origin and the diet of the supposed vampires using stable isotope analysis (oxygen and carbon). Their research question assumes that vampires were people coming from somewhere else (foreigners). Through stable isotope analysis it is possible to detect differences in both origin and diet of the samples. In this way, the researchers possess a new tool to better test and describe the presence of vampires. This is even more interesting if we consider that the authors possessed written records related to the diet of the examined area.

Unfortunately, I have some doubts about the methodology applied to these samples. I believe there are some discrepancy in what the authors wrote about the biological development of a tooth and the sampling techniques they used. In addition, in isotopic studies where we want to describe the diet of a past population, carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes are used together due to the better information they can provide. I am not totally sure if I want to suggest this paper, although the idea behind it is pretty tempting.

Blog #3 “Reviews in Anthropology”

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For this blog I choose the paper “Recent advancement in method and theory in paleodemography” written by Meindl and Russell in 1998. Although more than 20 years have passed, I believe this paper provides good foundations for who decide to approach paleodemography. I selected this article because in my PhD research project, paleodemography will be of capitol importance to connect stable isotope analysis and historical theories.

Paleodemography is a research branch within Bioarcheology focussed on the reconstruction of past human population structures and dynamics, which comprehends processes of mortality, fertility, and migration. It is possible to collect paleodemographic data through skeletal remains, written records, and archaeological remains (household, settlements, etc…) (DeWitte, 2018). As a bioarchaeologist I am primarily interest in skeletal remains.

It is possible to synthetise the structure of the paper around three major points:

  1. Sampling problems
  2. Sex determination
  3. Age of death

The authors engage the problems related to the sampling process in a methodical way, presenting and describing each of them. In paleodemography the sampling strategy is extremely important for the result of the research. As the authors pointed out, a researcher is forced to work whit what has been left by numerous processes such as inhumation practices, soil pH, disturbances of the burials, the ability of the excavators, etc… Additionally, during a paleodemographic study, the role of sub-adults is always underestimated. This situation is caused by the fact that the osteological remains of sub-adults are more fragile than those of the adults (=less chances to be found), but also because in past societies the infanticide was considered as a deliberate control over fertility.

Although this paper is almost 20 years old, it provides good information of the methods employed in paleodemography. The themes engaged by the authors remain valid, but the theoretical advancements have pushed the paleodemographic research ahead. Nowadays, in this field there is more attention to the problems caused by heterogeneous frailty and selective mortality. The first of these new biases describe the individual’s standardized risk of dying compared to others within the population. Heterogeneous frailty represents how the individuals died at certain age are those, within that category, who possessed the highest risk of death. This means that a paleodemographer is almost forced to work with subjects that were the least healthy for each age. Selective mortality, instead, explains how the skeletal remains we work with are unlikely to represent all people who were once alive at certain age in the population (DeWitte, 2018; Wood, 1992).

In every study that concerns the analysis of human remains, one of the first information that the researcher needs are the sex and age of death. It is important to specify that in skeletal remains the sex determination concern the biological sex, and not the gender. The sex determination is based on the analysis of specific bone districts (pelvis and cranium are the most suitable for this task) which are influenced by the hormonal changes during the life of the individual (e.g., growth spurt). The authors clearly specify how sex is an important demographic variable, from which it is possible to better describe a past population. The attribution of sex is not an easy task because environmental variables play a considerable role. In the paper greater attention has been given to the relation between the individual and the diet. Problems of malnutrition can decrease the sex dimorphism, which is at the base of sex determination, and produced what Meindl (1985) described as “males-called-females”. This is the reason why sex determination performed only through the measurements of long bones cannot be considered a reliable method. Nowadays, sex can be detected through aDNA analysis (Stone, 1996). Although the technical and scientifical advancements, aDNA analysis remain expensive and in certain circumstances the diagenesis has deteriorated the samples in an unrecoverable way (Milner, 2008).

The estimation of the age of death is another important demographic indicator. Within the text useful information can be found, and the methods proposed are those that are still in use nowadays. The analysis required to understand the age of death vary accordingly to the age of the specimen. To determine the age of a sub-adult tooth eruption, epiphyseal closure, and linear long bones growth are the best indicators. Instead, for the adults, tooth wear, pubic symphysis, and auricular surface are the features to look at. One important point made by the authors has been to seriate all skeletons for each age indicator. In this way, it is possible to reduce the observer’s error.

To sum up, I believe this paper is a great starting point to who is approaching paleodemography for the first time. The authors engage the topics in a detailed and accessible manner with good references. Although almost 20 years seem to be a lot, the information provided remain of an excellent quality. Certain methods have been updated, so the reader is forced to integrate new information from other sources. Rather than that, this article possesses a clear vision about the problem of age and population mimicry (=your samples reproduce the patterns of your reference collection), which are problems of capitol importance within modern bioarchaeology and paleodemography.

Final paper: basic outline

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Hello, in this blog I will try to explain which is my idea about the final paper for this class. I decided to not propose something that comes from my Master’s thesis, instead I want to take this opportunity to explore an archaeological topic that interest me a lot: deviant burials.

Deviant burials are a topic that always caught my attention during my time spent as a MA student. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to investigate it properly. This course offers me that chance, and here I will show you my idea about the structure of my paper. I would like to answer two important research questions, what is a deviant burial? And how do we recognise one? After, I will try to understand whether the biases of the archaeologists can play a role during the analyses and the attribution of the label “deviant”. To do that, the attention will be set upon some of the most famous deviant burials. At the end, a possible case of deviant burial from the site where I use to work will be presented and analysed.

As a first step, I am going to collect all the necessary information about the argument. In addition, I will look for those papers that are considered fundamental for this topic. I planned to spend at least two weeks for this task, but as I said in my previous blog, this activity can take more time. I want to have most of the bibliography ready by February 19th. The subsequent week will be spent sketching the skeleton of the paper. During that days, the major sections of my script will be prepared. March will be the month dedicated to the writing of the first and second draft. Between these two steps, information will be added and removed to achieve a solid product. In the meantime, I hope I will receive feedbacks from my colleagues. The first two weeks of April, instead, will be dedicated to major and minor changes. The structure of the paper will be already done, and the meaning of this procedure is to correct little inaccuracies that may have been written.

What do we think they are? Deviant burials in the archaeological record
WhenWhat
February 19thReading of the major papers on the topic
February 26thSkeleton of the paper (major sections established)
March 5thFirst draft
March 19thSecond draft + major changes
April 2ndSecond round of changes
April 16thDelivery

To sum up, I promise I will try to do my best to follow this time schedule. One thing that I did not mention yet is where I want to (or at least try to) publish my paper. At the moment, I do not have a clear idea because I will try to engage the topic in a theoretical manner, trying to extrapolate information not only from Archaeology but also from Anthropology, which is something that I am not use to. Probably the most suitable journal is one that is positioned between these two research fields.

Hope to read you in the comments below,

Alessio

P.S.: It came to my attention that you are not able to write your comments below my blogs. I am working with dr. Roddick in the attempt to fix this problem.

I am sorry for the inconvenience and I hope to read you soon,

Alessio

My writing process

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My dear reader, I will start my first blog with a confession for you, I am afraid of the blank sheet. It is an irrational feeling, like the fear of the deep water. This emotion is something more than just fear, it is like an opportunity that stays there and waits to be captured. In the following paragraphs I am going to explain to you which is my writing process, from the beginning to the end, and also what causes me problems during my writing. I hope you will enjoy my text, and I hope we will have the chance to discuss about our writing processes soon.

The first step I use to take while I want to write something is to collect information. I believe that a good text needs good information. In my case, the information is scientifical papers because I write about Archaeology within the academic context. Unfortunately, with my big regret, I do not write outside the Academia. The first time I faced the necessity to write something has been during my Bachelor, more precisely at the end of it. The research of information for my text is something that does not have a precise time schedule, it can take a couple of days as well as a couple of weeks. To be honest with you, this process never ends, even when the text is almost complete.

Once I have all the information I need, the following step is the reading phase. Most of the information I collected will be discarded, other kept in great consideration. What I really like to underline here, for you and for me, it is the fact that in this phase I start to understand which is the structure that my text will have. Probably you know better than me that a scientifical paper can be written in different formats, and each of them posses its own characteristics. During the reading I try to underline the most important words and key structures that my text is going to have.

I believe that the time is come to introduce you one of my biggest problem when I face the “terrible” blank sheet. I am from Italy, and the way a sentence is constructed is completely different from English. In Italian we tend to have longer sentences, the use of subordinates is highly suggested within our principal sentence. As far as I understood of the writing of a text in English, the text should be composed by short sentences.

Now it is time to write the first draft, and here is where I face most of my writing challenges. The first is the use of passive voice. I believe this is a trait of my writing that comes from the fact that Italian is my first language. I will give you some statistics about my use of passive voice. I recently upload my self-presentation on my blog (you can read it if you have time). The system analysed my script, and it detected the use of passive voice with a percentage of 36.1%, where the suggested percentage is no more then 10%. The other problem I usually face is the use of the same word to begin a series of sentences. I do not think it is a big problem, and I am confident to be able to overcome it through constant practice. About the structure of my first and subsequent drafts, I tend to write the materials and methods first. I use this “technique” because I believe it is a good and helpful way to start to fill the blank sheet. In addition, these two sections are standard and easy to write. Once they are written, I start to work on the results and discussion. Here is where the situation tends to be more complicated because I must formulate precise and clear sentences. The sense of the discourse must be precise, detailed, and most importantly fluid. After that, I write the conclusion where I try to sum up what I discovered with my research. At last, I write the abstract and the title. I use this approach because I believe that both sections are the summary of my research (with different lengths of course).

I hope you enjoyed this brief piece of work about my writing process and what is causing me problems. I think a good way to overcame writing problems or the so-called writer’s block is to practise a lot. Trough practise everyone can became better.

I wish you a nice day and I hope to read you in the comment section below,

Alessio

Something about me

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I have always been interested in History, and I cannot tell you why. As far as I remember, I always loved ancient societies. I decided to pursuit a bachelor’s degree in Medieval History because I have been always fascinated by this period, probably because I was born in Tuscany and here it is possible “to breath” Middle Age at every corner (Lucca, Pisa, San Gimignano, etc…). The next 3 years of my life passed with nothing special to record, although by the end of the degree I realised how I really missed a direct contact with History. During my bachelor’s I have never been asked for a research in the archives, or to read a complete medieval text (only fragments of them). Soon after my graduation, I decided to change my study plan from Medieval History to Medieval Archaeology. Without a real idea about Archaeology (shame on me but I thought that on an excavation field the historian was the leader and the archaeologists the labourers) I started to follow classes. I was excited, the new academic environment was more active than the previous, and all the classes had a strong connection with the Past (laboratories, guided tours, etc…), the exact thing I was looking for. After a couple of months, I realised how most of the classes had their focus on pottery, about how this broken pot is helpful to the archaeological research, or even how beautifully painted this plate is. I realised, probably in the hardest way, that I would not spend my life studying pots and amphorae. With my great relief, there were a few courses that differ from the rest because they were focussed on dead people (bioarchaeology, funerary archaeology, and paleopathology), something that was worth to investigate and interesting to study. My goal to work with the Past was achieved, and I knew I wanted to work in this field. To know to have the chance to work directly with the people that lived during Middle Age have been something that struck me in depth. I knew I was having the chance to give voice to someone that lived centuries ago, I was able to tell their stories from Middle Age to the present. The hardest part of my career (for the moment) was at the horizon, I had to find a PhD program. I will be honest, that period of my life has been tragic. I knew my CV was not strong enough to be chosen for this position, so I decided to improve it in different ways. I spent three summers on the field, where I had the chance to interact with people from all around the world (and make good friends), I followed a course about mummies and how to study them, but probably my greatest experienced that forged my CV has been my time spent in Denmark. Here, I had the chance to discover stable isotopes and how they can be used to extrapolate precious information about past societies. Most important, in Denmark I have meet extraordinary people, mentors and friends at the same time, that believed in me and taught me a lot. During these years I applied many times for PhD positions, but I have been rejected every time, although in some cases I have been shortlisted and interviewed. In the meantime, I attended the EAA 2019 in Bern, great and scary experience at the same time. I also worked for a month in Mexico with a professor from Australia on Mayan human remains. I had never met this person before, but I took this opportunity with the hope to create a new contact with someone within the academia.

A researcher is a writer, a storyteller which can give voice to someone or something that no longer exist. Now, I am not a good writer, and this is the reason why I chose this class. I know my writing skills have different weak points, and the most evident are the thoughts flow from my head to the paper, and the construction of a sentence in another language. English and Italian possess two different ways to formulate a sentence, and this discrepancy is negatively affecting my writing process. A more in-depth analysis can also highlight the fact that I do not have a rigorous approach to the writing. Usually, when I must write something, I start collecting the necessary information and then my writing process begin. Probably I am missing something fundamental, for example a clear structure of what I will write. I am starting to believe that writing is a matter of organization that starts before the action of write itself. Last but not least of the barriers that I find during my writing process is the format in which I have to write. Do I have to write in a scientific journal, or do I have to write for a journal with a strong anthropological component? I know the structure of a paper varies accordingly to the place where it must be published. These are my writing weaknesses, but I am optimistic that with this class I will be able to improve myself.

Hello world!

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