And just like that, the week-long short course in Human Osteology is over!
Before today, I had had a vision of myself becoming the Hermione Granger of the Archaeology School: That is to say, walking out of the Human Osteology test having received full marks. I would be serenely emitting a cool aura, with my newly-minted wisdom and immaculate smarts in the world of skeletal identification. When asked how it went, I would be laughing demurely yet truthfully – “Mm yes, I did in fact get everything right”.
But that went out the window, thanks to a question in the quiz. Out of a collection, we were asked to identify one bone that came from animal remains. There was a long bone that looked strange in the fuzzy photograph, and long story short I pretty much circled a person’s leg thinking it came from a giraffe.
It sounds ridiculous, but to be fair, the lecturer had tricked us earlier this week with a picture of a cat femur, which looks very similar to a human femur.
But the final result was fine and everyone passed, so hooray!
The Dean of Archaeology came in at the end to have a chat with us. We learnt that some archaeology schools have courses where they bury animal carcasses and go excavate it a year later, to see what uncovering that would be like in the real world. Then, the class buries a fresh carcass so the students the following year can do the same thing and have something to excavate. The Dean is considering introducing such a topic.
All in all, it’s been a satisfying week. I gained new skills. Giraffes notwithstanding, I can now determine from a pile of bones the minimum number of humans in those remains, the biological sex of the individual, their (broadly speaking) likely ancestry, stature, and age at death.
This week I had conversations with interesting people too – in fact, come to think, I talked to archaeologists in person for the first time ever (they really exist!). Several of the students this week already have bachelor degrees in Archaeology and life experiences in the field.
One guy said he does land surveys, working with First Nations people to see if there are sacred burial sites so people can avoid disturbing them. Another girl has a job which changes from project to project. Her stories ranged from moving grave sites – uncovering objects which people held dear and fighting for the items to be kept with the owner’s remains – to flying in helicopters and trying to get away from thunderstorms.
It all sounded very unpredictable and exciting.
“It can be dangerous,” she said.
My line of work has been rewarding in its own way. But, just about all the highlights have occurred literally within the enclosure of four walls.
A long time ago, I read this quote, and have always remembered it:
In the past, I used to laugh about the unchanging nature of desk work with the joke that one day, on my death bed, I’ll look back over my life like a reel, only to discover that a huge segment of the whole thing just appears entirely the same.
I laughed, but also privately worried that it would be true. Hopefully, this is something that can be avoided.
For the time being, the first week of study is finished, and it’s back to business as usual this weekend.