Abstracts: Pecha Kucha Session 1
Sian Anthony PhD
Lund University, Sweden
Smiling skeletons: false teeth in life and death
Anybody who has excavated or visited a cemetery or burial will be familiar with the toothy smile of a skeleton but would be surprised to see instead a set of false teeth. A smile is a sign of health, pleasure and emotion but decayed teeth can create social embarrassment, physical pain, and chronic ill health, sometimes causing death. Therefore the incentive to create a new smile is strong. Examples of dentures are known from Egypt and the Classical world and became more common from the 18th century. But demand increased from the mid-19th century with the advent of affordable and hygienic plastic dentures.
1000 burials dating between the 1810s and the 1980s were excavated in the modern landscape cemetery of Assistens in Copenhagen. Amongst the evidence for surgery, amputations and autopsies there was also dental work including tooth removal, fillings and dentures. 130 individuals were edentulous (having lost all teeth prior to death) and many people were buried with their false teeth in place, representing a new type of skeletal grin. Overwhelmingly it was the women who had far fewer teeth and used dentures, in life and in death.
This paper explores the changing attitudes to the body and the smile in the 19th and 20th centuries through questions raised by this information. Who had dentures and why does this appear to be a predominately female experience? Did the availability of false teeth increase the likelihood of people to have their teeth removed? How could this be connected to factors of economics, hygiene, gender or beauty? And what part did dentures play in the furnishing of the body and the burial in creating the image of a beautiful body?
Do muscle attachments change because of occupation? A test using an identified skeletal collection.
CIAS – Research Centre for Anthropology and Health, Department of Life Sciences, University of Coimbra, Portugal
Entheseal changes (ECs), i.e. anomalies at the sites of attachment of muscles, tendon, ligaments etc. to the skeleton, are widely used to identify specific muscle usage and make inferences to the division of labour in past societies. Despite research demonstrating the limitations of this approach such inferences persist. The aim of this presentation is to show that EC frequency is typically higher in older individuals and that, although asymmetry is not related to age, occupation has little effect.
Male skeletons aged 16+ from the identified skeletal collection in Coimbra (early twentieth century, Portugal) were used (n=260). Standard methods for identifying individuals with “bone forming” diseases were used and these individuals, along with those lacking occupations or age-at-death were excluded from the analysis (n=227). The new Coimbra method for recording ECs was used. Asymmetry was calculated by subtracting the score for the left side from the right, assuming right-side dominance (score range -2 to 2). Age-at-death is taken from the records (min 16, max 86, mean 42, sd 15.9).
The results show that most, but not all EC features increase in frequency with age. Specifically bone forming and erosions increase with age, but fine porosity and textural change occur more commonly in younger individuals. Asymmetry is not related to age-at-death, but very few individuals have asymmetric scores. There is no clear pattern of asymmetry with occupation-group.
Despite a large sample size, the lack of variability in EC scores and the lack of asymmetry mean that differences between occupation-groups are hard to identify. The sample is skewed to the lower socio-economic statuses and higher age-at-death, which may cause some of the uniformity of results. However, if these are typical findings, then it is unlikely that EC can be used to differentiate between activity-patterns in past societies.
Brighton and Hove Prehistoric Peoples Research Project: Revitalising a human remains collection
University of Winchester
During 2016, a Prehistoric Society funded project assessed the prehistoric human remains in the collections of the Royal Pavilion and Museums in Brighton and Hove. The human remains had been stored in their original, unsuitable packaging for decades since their accession to the museum between the 1920s and 1990s. Some resulted from local archaeological excavations while others were incidental findings from building work in and around the city.
The human remains were assessed to obtain, as far as possible, data regarding the age and sex of the individuals and other specified osteological data, the condition of the remains and their potential for further museum and research use and analysis, alongside any background information and dating evidence. The project findings were fully catalogued and recorded on the museum database and the human remains themselves were repacked and stored in line with modern standards to ensure their continued perseveration for future research and display. Using the information arising from this assessment, further investigation and laboratory analysis has been carried out to help elucidate the story of Brighton’s prehistoric ancestors.
The research was shared as the project progressed via outreach events and online media, enabling the public to observe first-hand and learn about the study within a museum setting of human remains and mortuary practice. Simultaneously it was possible to informally gauge the level of interest in Brighton’s prehistoric ancestors and in the display of human remains as an educational or heritage exhibit.
This paper will discuss the work that was carried out, what was learned along the way, and the benefits to the museum and potential research.
The Phantom Interlocutor: an experiment in artistic research
Liverpool John Moores University
The Phantom Interlocutor (2017) is a ‘séantific’ research film, a visual conversation between the living and the dead with an anonymous, anatomised human skull as centrepiece. The skull is known only by a catalogue number, X0198/1669, which is twice inscribed on its frontal bones, above and below the horizontal incision made to open the cranium and remove the brain.
This presentation recounts the practice-led research process to craft a biography for X0198/1669. Originating from the Wits medical school, the skull was resident in the studio of South African artist, medical illustrator and humanist Colin Richards (1954 – 2012). It is now buried, along with a companion skull, in a location known only to artist Penny Siopis, Richards’ widow.
The film itself is a speculative proposition about what a ‘visual paper’ might look like, in support of interdisciplinary research across art and science. It is a poetic, polyvocal montage of personal and found footage and recent scholarship (Kuljian 2016; Redman 2016), reflecting how concepts of the anonymous scientific specimen mirror the contemporary realities of unidentified persons.
Note: This film will be played during the final day of the conference on Sunday 26th March. Please click here for more information.