Anatomy, Biological Sex, and Heavy Ex!

On Tuesday, Team Baa traded the field for the lab, and Team Wenis headed to the solar park for excavation! In the lab, Kelly gave another whirlwind tour of the human skeleton, from the nasals to the naviculars! This is an essential lecture because it introduces the names of all 206 bones in the adult skeleton, key features to identify on each bone, and how to identify the types of isolated fragments we recover. Luckily, Kelly didn’t put anyone to sleep!


After a lunch in town, the students ambled back to the lab for a practical exercise. Team Wenis was split into two groups; one group was tasked with laying out the axial skeleton in anatomical position, while the other was tasked to lay out the appendicular skeleton in anatomical position. The axial skeleton comprises the skull and thorax, and the appendicular skeleton comprises the appendages of the skeleton, such as the arms, legs, and shoulder and pelvic girdles. After about an hour the team switched, until everyone had experienced the joy of rib fragments and metacarpals.


In the lab, Kelly started off Wednesday with a lecture on human non-metric and metric variation. Students were introduced to skeletal and dental morphological variation, as well as informative metrical analyses. The aim of the lecture was to explain how variation can be used at the individual level to estimate sex and make inferences about activity; additionally, at the population level, morphological and metric variation can be used to make inferences about biological relatedness, allowing researches to see how populations have changed across time and space. Kori came up to bat next and gave a thorough review of funerary archaeology, including theoretical advances through the 20th century. For the last and third lecture of the day, Kori taught students how bioarchaeologists estimate sex from skeletal remains. To do this, researchers take advantage of sexually dimorphic features, or features that differ between the sexes, such as pelvic morphology.

Students came back from lunch energized and ready to sex (skeletons)! The duration of the day was spent pouring over bits of pelvis and cranial fragments and scouring the skeleton for the bits, bobs, and holes we call non-metric traits. After some frustration, a lot of discussion, many osteological handbook references, and frequent consultations with Kori, Meg, and Kori, students successfully navigated these challenges and estimated the sex of two individuals, Burials 25 and 28.


After lab and field, the students gathered for a “mandatory meeting,” AKA a surprise birthday party. It was Sammi’s birthday, and we celebrated the only way we know how: cake to the face. Happy birthday, Sammi! Spoiler alert: we have another b-day celebration this week!

Tuesday was the first day for Team Wenis in the field! The day’s goal was to finish the non-adult started by Team Baa last week. Photographs and levels filled the morning while the afternoon was a jam-packed with planning, context sheets, block-lifting and more levels! Fine excavation also continued on the adult individual that was also found previously by Team Baa. It was a very busy first day for Team Wenis on site, but they soared with flying colours!!

Wednesday started off with a heavy excavation demonstration by Liam and the students split into three groups of three. Two groups were on heavy excavation of the last 5 meters of trench on the western edge, guided by Liam and Katie. The third group worked on fine excavation of the adult, Burial 30, guided by Erin and Jordan. The heavy excavation yielded areas from the 2007 and 2015 excavations which will be assist in the overall layout of our site work. Heavy excavation also revealed a definite three burials and another possible two burials! The fine excavation continued to reveal more of the skeleton, resulting in the position of the skull, left clavicle. Right humerus, ulna and radius, as well as the left and right femora, tibiae and the right fibula. The day flew by even though it was a very hot and humid day, Team Wenis continued to impress the site staff!


Storms and Abnorms


Team leaders Kim and Erin have finally settled on names for their teams! Erin led Team Wenis to the lab this week, while Kim led Team Baa to the field. On Thursday, Kelly introduced Team Wenis through explanations of normal metric and non-metric variation among humans, and Kori introduced students to funerary archaeology and sex estimation techniques. Wednesday was a little tricky because we had to create a makeshift lecture hall from the pension dining room, due to a conference being held in our normal lecture room. Surprisingly, everything went smoothly and students learned about the range of metric and non-metric bone characteristics and the theoretical problems surrounding their interpretation. Students were introduced to the skeletal traits associated with biological sex and shown how to locate and interpret them. Additionally, students can now carry a conversation on the tragic relationship between 20th century archaeologists and skeletal remains. After lecture, Team Wenis killed it again in the lab; they diligently pieced pelvic and cranial fragments together to estimate sex. Students are starting to become comfortable with anatomical terminology, and the lab is abuzz with bone names and features!

On Friday, Kori deftly lectured on age estimation of the human skeleton. Now students can identify which elements of the skeleton bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropologists use to estimate age at death. After students scattered various places for lunch, we re-assembled in the lab for practical experience with age estimation. We learned about the subjectivity of skeletal ageing methods. In summation, age estimation methods of adults assume that bodies deteriorate through a predictable, incremental, and linear mechanism. This methodological flaw is obviously not reality and is frustrating for professional bioarchaeologists and students alike. Speaking of frustrating, have you every identified an island of densification on an auricular surface?

On Monday, Team Wenis began their last day in the lab for the first session with a rousing lecture on paleopathology, or the study of ancient disease. The students were guided through the origins, theory, methods, and goals of paleopathology. We also discussed a seminal paper, The Osteological Paradox (Wood et al., 1992). Wood and colleagues (1992) convincingly argue that epidemiological methods cannot be used directly to interpret paleopathological data. Incidence data does not exist because we never know how many people were at risk of a disease at a given time, and prevalence data is paradoxical because of how disease processes affect the skeleton. Lesions take time to form on the skeleton and generally reflect a chronic disease. Many people died before a given disease left marks on their bones, so we are usually unable to account for that in our analyses. Therefore, Wood et al. (1992) suggest that the healthiest individuals in skeletal samples may be the ones with lesions, because they were able to cope with the insult long enough to elicit a bony response.
Once students were done having their minds blown, we did our best lab activity yet. Students worked in pairs; one student was given a bone with a pathology on it, and the other student, who could not see the bone, was given a piece of paper and a pencil. The former had to describe the skeletal element and the pathology, and the artist had to draw it to the best of their ability. It was fun, as well as informative. Students were suddenly hyper-aware of the subjectivity of pathological description and the myriad ways to interpret a lesion.

While the students were learning to recognise norm vs. abnorm, the field group were facing down one of Transylvania’s infamous storms.

On Thursday Team Baa set out to the field. The students brushed the area where they used heavy excavation tools (mattocks and shovels) on Wednesday to try to reveal clear grave cuts. Following the identification of two, possibly three graves, the students grabbed their trowels and started removing the grave fill. While the students were busy doing this, Liam, Katie and Kim continued heavy excavation to the north of the students. This was being done to make sure that the previous excavations were relocated to tie the entire site together.

The first skeleton of the season was found! The cranial elements of a non-adult were discovered in one of the graves. While the students were super excited to find their first skeleton, the compact soil made excavation difficult.
Following lunch, Jordan began her lesson on how to use the dumpy level. During the first few minutes a major storm blew in! Rain, hail, wind, lightning and thunder ripped through site and destroyed all of our tents with wind and flying debris. Luckily, no one was injured! After cleaning up the damage, the dumpy level continued. Half of Team Baa practiced setting up the tripod, leveling the telescope, calling out the appropriate level and holding the surveyor’s staff, before another storm arrived on site. The decision was made to pack up early and wait for the storms to pass. The students sought shelter in the warehouse on site, while Katie, Liam, Kim and Jordan tried to salvage some of our tents.

Friday began with Jordan finishing the dumpy level lesson while Kim, Liam and Katie worked on bending the tent poles back to where they should be. Once we were able to salvage three of our tents, the students began excavation of the two “graves”. The non-adult that was found on Thursday was heavily damaged by taphonomy, only having partial cranial fragments, teeth and right femur remaining.
Another skeleton was found in the second grave! Only parts of the cranium and the right fibula and tibia were discovered today. Other features that were discovered were a post hole to the west of the new burial and a pit lined with rocks was found to the east of the non-adult burial. The first sets of levels were taken on the pit lined with rocks.

Monday brought some much-needed cooler temperatures. The students continued excavating the two skeletons, while Katie, Liam, Dr. Stanciu and Kim continued heavy excavation to find the old excavation lines. The non-adult was completely excavated and is now ready for recording tomorrow! The adult that was found on Friday, had more skeletal elements unearthed. The right humerus, both femora and both tibiae and right fibula are now visible.

Following lunch Liam and Katie gave lessons on how to record different aspects on site. Liam then started practical lessons of recording given in groups of three students at a time. The post hole was drawn and context sheets filled out to describe the feature. It was a great week with Team Baa…lots of sun, rain, and wind but also lots of fun, laughter and learning!

A welcome weekend was filled with outings and team bonding. On Saturday, some of the students enjoyed an outing to the Jazz in the Park festival. Good food and music was enjoyed by all! On Sunday, the students and staff visited the Salt Mine in nearby Turda for a cool reprieve from the hot Transylvania sun. “We played mini golf,” says Katie Tucker “And an impromptu, and improper, game of bumper boats in the lake at the bottom of the mine.”

It was not just the students that enjoyed outings around Transylvania. The staff drove to Hunedoara to Corvin Castle, one of the largest castles in Europe, where team leader Kim finally found his inner dancer. Prance on, Kim. Prance on…



Day 1! Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…

Students arrived on Sunday from  England, Australia, Canada, and the US. We had a great time getting to know each other at the Transylvania Bioarchaeology opening season Pizza Party! Everyone got situated at our fantastic dig accommodations in a local family-run hotel called a Pensiunae.

 WP_20150705_004This morning we walked through Cluj city center to our new lab space at the Romanian Institute for Archaeology and Art History. It’s an extra special privilege to work in the same building as our incredible Romanian site director, Dr. Ioan Stanciu.  After the introductory lectures, students had a chance to put on their lab coats and get straight to work cleaning burials from our previous field season, and laying out skeletons in anatomical position in the laboratory space. At lunch, everyone got a chance to explore the local fare in our part of the city.

photo 2b

Meanwhile, Dr. Katie Tucker, Nick, and Katie Hunt visited the field site to search for grid points from the previous field seasons. Unfortunately, the solar farm absconded with the markers that had been there since 2007. Luckily, they were able to find the corners of last year’s trench, and by doing so, located essential grid points so that students could lay the grid on Tuesday.


Tomorrow, our teams will split up between the field and the lab for the next 5 work days. Stay tuned to hear about our shenanigans in the hot hot hot Romanian weather tomorrow. Wish us luck and send lots of cooling thoughts! Think glaciers, snowmen, and slurpees!

Please be sure to follow our field season blog at jucuproject.wordpress.com,


Last Hoorah!


The Gepids Museum Project and the Jucu Excavation Project have come to a close after an exciting field season in Transylvania. The Gepids Project finished up a 4-year long project based on osteological and palaeopathological analyses of a population that very little is known about. Ten students participated in the analyses of  the final 12 individuals remaining, which proved to be a challenging but rewarding task for everyone. Through gelato breaks, Disney songs and heavy metal music, static humidity, and refreshing rainy days, students worked diligently to learn more than they ever thought possible about the human skeleton. Now the students have an understanding of what bioarchaeology can tell us about the past, present, and future condition of human health.

The Gepid’s sister project, Jucu De Sus Necropolis Excavation, finished the inaugural season with sore  muscles, new friends, and the unique knowledge of excavating human burials. The students persevered through sweltering heat, thunder storms, “Super Soakers” and pop quizzes. They departed with smiles on their faces, hopefully proud of the great feat they accomplished. Excavating 10 burials in 17 days is not a simple task when you are learning to cautiously excavate around poorly preserved complex bone structures. The Jucu and Gepid students did a fantastic job and Transylvania Bioarchaeology could not be more proud.

We spent our last day, both projects together, celebrating our accomplishments this field season with a masquerade dinner and dancing. We are looking forward to another fantastic season in 2015, where we anticipate seeing returning students and new students alike!

Mulțumesc și la revedere!!!

Katie Hunt and Kayla Crowder


Weekend tour of Romania!!!

Today marks the end of our 4-day-tour-extravaganza! The students and staff worked extremely hard for the first 2 weeks of the Gepids museum project and the Jucu excavation project, so we celebrated harder by exploring the history and geography of Romania — at the direction of our lovely, knowledgeable, and quite punny, tour guide, Claudia. Here’s the blow-by-blow of tour happenings, via word and image (the images are much more entertaining).

Tour Day 1: We boarded the bus for lunch at the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula (to those literary minded folk). After lunch, we toured the city of Sighisoara, Vlad’s hometown, and made our way to Brasov where our cozy hostel awaited us. We wined and dined at a traditional Romanian restaurant that evening before testing our singing skills at karaoke late into the night.

Tour Day 2: We awoke early from our sleepy hostel beds and boarded the bus for the Bran Castle, the fabled residence of Vlad the Impaler before visiting the Rasnov fortress. Afterwards, we grabbed lunch outdoors and headed back to Brasov for a walking tour from resident and expert tour-guide-extraordinaire, Claudia. That evening we relaxed, explored the culinary offerings of Brasov, and prepared for our daunting trek up the 1,486 steps to Vlad’s real residence, Poenari Castle the next day.

Tour Day 3: The day started off with a visit to  the Curtea de Arges Monastery, a unique holy place held in high regard by the royalty of medieval Romania. After lunch, we started our hike up the 1,486 steps to Poenari Castle, now in ruins. The view was spectacular, and our glutes felt the burn all the way up. After returning to the base, we all drank lots of liquids and recovered from our tough, but satisfying trek. Balae Lake was next — a beautiful, rustic village setting near the picturesque glacier lake offering good food, great wine, and fantastic views. Many took the opportunity to zip-line in between two small peaks overlooking the village and market. That night we ate extremely well, and slept even better at a lovely rustic Pensiunea (a guest house)  in the Carpathian Mountains.

Tour Day 4: We spent most of the  day driving back to Cluj, but we had the lovely opportunity to tour Sibiu (the capital of the 7 kingdoms of Romania) and explore the sunny city on our free time.

We are all relaxed and refreshed for the next two weeks, which will prove to be exciting and challenging!!!


Kayla & Katie H.


Weekend fun!

We all celebrated a very long and productive work week with some extra curricular fun. Most of the team went out Friday night to a local night Club. Janis Club is an underground Roman tunnel system that has been plastered over and painted with various musical icons. A bitter sweet site for archaeology students.

Also this weekend, Cluj held their annual “We are Rocking the City” festival. The Metallica cover band “Masterpiece” was actually quite good. We were all very sad that we missed out on the life-size Fooseball match. There is still a debate as to whether the Gepid or Jucu Project would win. I guess we will never know.

Sabrina and Emeline went to check out a local hot spring and definitely enjoyed the hats Marga bought for them.

Next week we are off on our field trip into to country side. Stay tuned…

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