Break a leg! (Or any bone, really)

Hey y’all! I’m Crystina and I’m part of the Bone Team for the BAKOTA 2018 field season. Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me explain what we do and where these bones are coming from in the first place. The BAKOTA Project seeks to find more information about a known Bronze Age Cemetery here in Hungary. What were these people’s death rituals? Were there differences in treatment between men and women? Adults and children? What do those differences look like? These are just a few of the questions we are looking to answer. This culture used the cemetery for a thousand years in a relatively consistent manner. That’s a pretty long time to be doing the same thing over and over again, so we’re trying to find out more.


Within the bone team, we have so many layers of analysis going on. Some people are analyzing fractures (like me!), some are looking at bone color, and others are analyzing bone weight and spacing within the vessels they are found in. If you find yourself thinking what does color have to do with bones? Or, why does weight matter? Go check out the other student blogs!

The way I am trying to answer some of the questions posed above is through analyzing the bones from the burials. Everyone was cremated and adults were usually placed in burial urns. After excavating those urns and cleaning the remains, the bones are ready to be identified (where possible) and numbered. Each bone has a unique identification number so that way we can keep track of all the information associated with it, such as fracture patterns, color, weight, where it was located, and so on, in the database. From there, I look at each bone in the burial and indicate whether various fractures are either present (definitely there), absent (definitely not there), or not scorable (impossible to tell whether it’s there or not). Once all the data is collected for the burials, comparisons can be looked at between the presence (or absence) of different fractures.


I’m interested in looking particularly at the presence of a type of fracture called thumbnail fractures. These fractures are given their name because when they crack, they look like the shape of a thumbnail. They happen as the muscle contracts and shrinks during burning. Current research in the field indicates that the presence of these fractures can indicate if a person was fleshed or skeletonized prior to their cremation. This information is useful in seeing whether or not people were cremated at different times. To analyze this, I’ll be comparing data from burials I’ve looked at this past summer. Using statistics, I can compare the data to see whether or not there are differences between how adults and children, or even men and women, are cremated. By doing this, I hope to gain a better understanding of these people’s mortuary customs.

So by now, you may be thinking whoa, that’s a lot. Why is this girl so interested in tiny pieces of bones? Well, since I was little I’ve always wanted to go into forensic anthropology. As a forensic anthropologist, I would analyze bones in a medico-legal context and aid investigations. This field school has given me exposure to analyzing bones and prepared me for my future career in ways no college class can.


For more on bone biology, check out this YouTube video:

For more on cremations: