Learning from Skeletons
Look for the sagittal suture – the squiggly line that runs the length of the skull – and note whether is it’s completely fused. If it is, the remains are likely to be of someone older than 35. Look for a second line at the front of the skull — the coronal suture – which fully fuses by age 40.
Study the teeth. If they’re worn down it could be a sign of a poor diet. If they’re well-maintained and/or have good dental work such as fillings, they were able to afford proper dental care—another clue as to the identity of your skeleton. Consult a scientist who specializes in teeth, known as an odontologist. They can determine how old a person was at death, what kind of health they were in and what kind of diet they had.
Examine where the ribs join the sternum. This is also a good indicator of age. A forensic anthropologist will compare it against a database of standard markers and it is often more accurate as it is not a weight-bearing bone and remains unaffected by childbirth.
Look for the pubic symphysis, which is the joint located in the pelvis. The older the person at death, the more pitted and craggy these bones will be. Forensic anthropologists will compare this against a database of standard markers to learn the age of the skeleton. Check if there are any soft marks on the cartilage which are left by childbirth as the bones soften to allow easier birth.
To identify gender, assess the pelvis shape; men have a narrow, deep pelvis and women a wider, shallower pelvis, better-suited to carrying a baby. For a quick identification in the field, a forensic anthropologist will find the notch in the fan-shaped bone of the pelvis and stick their thumb into it. If there’s room to wiggle the thumb, then it’s a female; if it’s a tight fit, it’s the skeleton of a man
Examine the wrists, as bones often hold clues to the primary work of the decedent. Bony ridges form where the muscles were attached and pulled over the years. A forensic anthropologist might find a bony ridge on the wrist and decide the dead person may have been someone who used their hands for a living, such as a chef or seamstress.
DNA samples may be taken from any existing hair tissue. As well as positively identifying someone, it can also identify a person’s race or tribal origins.
When the skeleton is first discovered, take samples from around the remains including any bugs you come across. Insects such as blowflies have a very distinct lifecycle and often plant their eggs on newly deceased bodies. By identifying the stage of the lifecycle, a near-exact time of death can be established. This science is known as forensic entomology.
OK, got a bit to add to this:
- Cranial sutures are basically useless for age estimation. Generally speaking, yeah, more open means younger, and more closed means older, but this is more often determined by genetics.
- Teeth wear (attrition) also varies immensely by population. It’s very useful if you know where and when the person came from, and what diet they lived on, but these charts are not universal. A 24-year-old from ancient Egypt will have much more tooth wear than a 24-year-old from post-industrial England. Softer diet, less sand, etc. (I speak from experience in those two populations.) A lot of standards commonly referred to in archaeology are based on Native American populations.
- I’ve heard about using rib ends and longbones for age and sex estimation, but I haven’t followed up on it! The most widely accepted methods look at the pelvies, but forensic anthropologists are always looking for more precise methods pertaining to modern populations. (I’m looking forward to going back to school and learning this stuff!)
This happens in the United States: modern day slaver/guilty judge sentenced to 28 years in prison for “selling” kids to private prisons in 2011
Accused of perpetrating a “profound evil,” former Pennsylvania judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for illegally accepting money from a juvenile-prison developer while he spent years incarcerating thousands of young people.
Prosecutors said Ciavarella sent juveniles to jail as part of a “kids for cash” scheme involving Robert Mericle, builder of the PA and Western PA Child Care juvenile detention centers. The ex-judge was convicted in February of 12 counts that included racketeering, money laundering, mail fraud and tax evasion.
In addition to his prison sentence, Ciavarella was ordered to pay nearly $1.2 million in restitution.
At his sentencing, Ciavarella acknowledged his illegal acceptance of money from Mericle. But he denied ever jailing a juvenile in exchange for money.
Once the case against Ciavarella surfaced, special investigative panels began reviewing cases he handled from 2003 to 2008. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that he denied about 5,000 juveniles, some as young as ten, their constitutional rights, leading to the vacating of their convictions.
Among the young people exploited by Ciavarella were 15-year-old Hillary Transue, who was sentenced to three months at a juvenile detention center for mocking an assistant principal on a MySpace page; and 13-year-old Shane Bly, who was sent to a boot camp for two weekends after being accused of trespassing in a vacant building.
Another judge, Michael T. Conahan, used his position to shut down the county-run juvenile detention center and redirect juvenile detainees to the private prisons. He pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.
But let’s just go ahead and say this is the only time this ever has happened and there is no chance it or something similar is happening elsewhere on a larger or smaller scale. No, our criminal justice system is perfect except for that one time.
A solitary bee drinks the tears from a yellow-spotted river turtle in Yasuní national park, Ecuador. The endangered yellow-spotted river turtle cannot easily brush them away while the solitary bee needs the sodium. The unusual interaction, believed to be the first time seen between these two animals, was captured by Dr Oliver Dangles | image by Olivier Dangles
Your tears are delicious!
Although archaeological illustration shares many things with scientific illustration it has its own conventions and techniques. Here are a few recommended books and resources for anyone interested in archaeological illustration:
Student’s Guide to Archaeological Illustrating by Brian Dillon
Approaches to Archaeological Illustration - A Handbook by Mélanie Steiner - particularly good as it covers the techniques used by illustrators in great detail.
There are various technical papers published by The Association of Archaeological Illustrators & Surveyors:
Archaeological Illustration (PDF)
Argentina JUST PASSED a groundbreaking gender identity bill!!!
From now on, people will be able to change the name and gender on their ID without needing psychiatric permission or any body modifications. Furthermore, anyone who does want hormones or surgery will be able to access them for free through the public and private health system.
It was passed unanimously today by the Senate
Argentina is just getting more awesome by the year. Countries that aren’t Argentina need to take note.