Friday, 3 January 2014

Burial Research Consortium blog

I am proud to be a member of the Burial Research Consortium, which is a group of academics from universities across the world who specialise in taphonomy and decomposition research, applied to the forensic, archaeological and geological context. We have just launched a new webpage and blog about our antics. Our group aims to bring together academics with common goals and encourages multi-disciplinary collaboration to increase our understanding of human and faunal decomposition and taphonomy in a variety of burial and surface environments.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A little something..

Here's a little article from Huddersfield University* about me. Little video too. Please note, I had a cold that day!
http://www.hud.ac.uk/news/2013/december/growingforensicsdeptaddsforensicanthropologisttotheteam.php

*Did I mention that Huddersfield University has been awarded the Times Higher Education Award for University of the Year? It has, you know.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Meeting Mandela

This post is about a different kind of anthropology than usual. It is about the anthropology of hope and perseverance and triumph over adversity. My upbringing was unconventional and nomadic, and courtesy of my parents' wander-lust, I have visited and lived in many different countries. One of them was Swaziland, a small kingdom tucked into the corner of South Africa, overlooked by many and currently floundering under the rule of a young, naive king. I was lucky enough to live there from 1989-1993, and attend an amazing school, Waterford Kamhlaba, United World College of Southern Africa. The school was pioneering and revolutionary, set up in the early 60's because its founders believed children of all nationalities, ethnic backgrounds and cultures had a right to a good education, together. On the side of a mountain often shrouded in fog, just outside the Swazi capital Mbabane, the school offered a sanctuary from the apartheid regime of South Africa which segregated blacks and whites. News of the school's multi-racial and multi-cultural ideals soon spread around South Africa, and many political leaders and activists sent their children or relatives there, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Desmond Tutu.
When I arrived at the school in the late 1980's, Nelson Mandela was still in prison, but this did not dampen the sense of hope and resilience among the staff and students. If we could live and work in harmony, and help people in the local villages, schools and hospitals through community service, and offer an education to those who might otherwise have missed out; then it was possible for it to happen across the border in South Africa. The political agenda was never far from our thoughts, and our rallying cries for equality across the races a constant theme at school. I shared my classes (French in particular) with both Mandela's grandson Mandla and Sisulu's grand-daughter Ayanda, and Mandela's defiance in prison was often uppermost in our minds. And then came the day that none of us there will ever forget. I was 13, and suddenly there was a buzz, an electricity around the school, in the classrooms, canteen and corridors. People streamed into the TV room, crowding in, sitting on the floor, on the window sills, craning to see Mandela released from Robin Island. When he appeared on the screen, his arm raised in a fist, the room erupted into clapping, singing and dancing. I remember the distinctive African wail of joy filling the room. Everything had changed. There was a new beginning, a visible end to the oppression, a new light.
I was lucky enough to meet the man himself, soon after his release. He visited the school, on a bit of a whim, to see his grandson and his friends. I remember watching him wrapping his arms around Ayanda's shoulders and asking her how good her French was (she was very good, I knew, from our French classes). She giggled that her French was OK, and he said in a jokey way, "Good! Zaire needs an ambassador." His gentle, caring and protective nature was apparent even in that little gesture. That day, I got to shake his hand and say hello to him. I think I may have curtseyed. To him, I was one of hundreds of teenagers he said hello to on his visit to his grandson's school, but to me, he was a true leader, a hero, a martyr and an inspiration, all rolled into one.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Educating Yorkshire

I very much enjoyed watching the brilliant and inspirational series Educating Yorkshire, on Channel 4 recently. With the moving stories, images and accents from the series in mind, I was looking forward to my own foray into the secondary education establishments of the local communities. In the last few weeks, I have visited Calder HighSchool, Horizon Community College, Barnsley College, Sheffield City College to talk to Year 11’s and Sixth Formers about the principles of forensic science, routes into a forensic science career, what it is like being a Forensic Anthropologist, and interesting cases of mine. All of the students I have met have been enthusiastic, interested and eager to learn, soaking up my anecdotes and case examples. I have been interviewed by panels of students, and interrogated about all aspects of my job, with questions ranging from ‘what does death smell like?’ and ‘how can you tell how long someone has been dead?’ to (more amusingly) ‘what Health and Safety regulations do you observe?’ and ‘how much do you earn?’. Others which that have made me pause and think a little more have been ‘how do you cope with the horrible things you see?’; ‘do you have nightmares?’ and ‘what are the biggest challenges to Forensic Anthropology today?’. However, I am certain about one thing – I have enjoyed every minute of these ‘outreach’ activities, and have found each one very rewarding. I am keen to do more, so if you know a school or sixth form college where the students (and staff) would like to learn about Forensic Anthropology, please let me know!

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy

In case you didn't catch the Channel 4 Secret History documentary about Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy last night, there's another chance to see it here. My little bit is about 20 minutes in. It was a real pleasure working with Chris Naunton (follow him @chrisnaunton on Twitter), and learning about his research regarding the possibility that Tutankhamun's anointing oils had lead to signs of charring and burning on his body; and exploring the scenario that Tut's injuries were potentially caused by being run over by a chariot wheel. As we were only involved in a small section of the filming, it was really lovely to watch the entirety of Chris' research come to life. I thought it was a great documentary that showcased how new technology can solve ancient mysteries, which was pitched well for both lay people and academics. Oh, and more information about the really cool autopsy table we used can be found here!

Monday, 7 October 2013

'Bones' Day..

I recently was fortunate enough to host a 'Forensic Anthropology experience day' for several journalists, organised by Premier PR, to coincide with the launch of the latest season of Bones on DVD. After giving the delegates a little bit of a lecture and taste of the work of a Forensic Anthropologist based in the UK, I asked them to 'have a go' and try and answer some of the questions Forensic Anthropologists are regularly asked when confronted with potential cases brought in by the Police. They looked at an assemblage of co-mingled bones and tried to determine the minimum number of individuals present, and tried to distinguish animal from human bone, as well as archaeological specimens from more recent ones. I also gave them some examples of bone with inflicted blunt force and sharp force trauma, for them to examine; some examples of skeletal elements exhibiting different pathological conditions; and some lovely pictures of decomposed remains for them to determine post-mortem interval. We also had an interesting chat about the lighter and darker side of Forensic Anthropology, the potential for controversy, especially in research, and the ways in which the portrayal of the professional and the discipline on television is accurate or 'not so' accurate. You can read about their experiences here (Sunday Express). I had a really enjoyable day, and I hope they did too!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Huddersfield Ahoy!

Hello there readers! Greeting from sunny (well, a bit drizzly, actually) Huddersfield! I am now properly ensconced in my new office (it has a kettle and everything), and am officially Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science in the department of Applied Sciences. You can find out all about the Forensic Science courses here, and follow what's going on via Twitter (@Huddersfielduni, @HudSAS and @HudForensics). I am enjoying the environment here - the university is very lively and busy. There is a 'proper' campus feel to it, and it has great facilities like a bookshop, bar, big cafeteria and it feels bustling and animated. The people I've met so far have been very friendly, engaging and interesting, and the students are keen! I'm already getting excited about all the projects we could do here, from 3D microscopy to hydro-taphonomy!
Here's my first view of the university - quite a refreshing change to have a canal cutting through campus!