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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Way Back Wednesday: the Science of Skeletons

As well as organising the Science Week events at the Roman Baths, I was able to design a handling table. My topic of choice was human remains, as I have an interest in them and there is a lot they can tell you. One issue with this is the ethics of choosing to have human remains in public areas of the site as visitors may not wish to see human remains outside a case. This was overcome by producing a sign to warn visitors about the remains on show and to only have skeletal elements not whole skeletons out.

My research for the table was into how you could age and sex a skeleton from different elements. It was hard to condense the information down into language that the everyday reader would understand as there are lots of technical words such as diaphysis and epiphysis for the shaft and ends of long bones respectively.  This could have be why information sheets explaining how to do this have not been produced before.

Skull of a Roman Male

One common comment made about the table was about the condition of the teeth.  Teeth are the most common skeletal element found as they are resistant to chemical and physical destruction. The teeth which attracted the most attention belonged to a 25 year old Roman male, and the condition divided opinion. Some said they were well looked after and in better condition than the modern equivalent, while others said they were worn. The teeth could be in better condition due to the fact the Romans didn’t consume as much sugar as the modern population, as sugar wasn't available in Europe at this time. Instead, they were worn due to milling methods used to make flour leaving sand which in turn wore down the teeth.

The assessment of skeletal remains is very subjective, as this comment on the teeth wear shows, so even if you know the correct methods you might still be wrong, and if sexing you only have a 50/50 chance of getting it right!

Katharine Foxton

Bradford University Placement Student

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