Dr. Alison Brough – Forensic Anthropology and Computed Post-Mortem Tomography

Biography: Dr. Alison Brough is Post-Doctorate Research Associate in the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. Her areas of research interest include forensic anthropology, post-mortem computed tomography, imaging, forensic radiology and the applications of forensic technologies to disaster victim identification. Dr. Brough is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of London and recently attained Level 3 Forensic Anthropology certification.

Dr. Brough graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Honors) from the University of University of Dundee in Forensic Anthropology in 2009. She completed her Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2014 at the University of Leicester. Dr. Brough’s research project during her dissertation was ‘ Computed Tomography Assessment of Bone and Teeth of the Developing Child’ undertaken under the supervision of Professor Bruno Morgan, Consultant Radiologist, and Professor Guy Rutty, Home Office registered Forensic Pathologist. She is an active member of the International Society of Forensic Radiology and Imaging (ISFRI) and a sub-committee member of the Working Group for Disappear Victim Identification (DVI).

Dr. Brough’s dissertation project was designed to assess: a.) The use of computed tomography, versus traditional radiological, anthropological and odontological techniques, for the identification of the developing human skeleton, and; b.) The application and limitations of computed tomography for investigating childhood skeletal trauma related to non-accidental injury and child death in the context of mass fatality incidents. As of this writing, she has been listed in 6 first author publications in the scholarly journals focused primarily on the subject of forensic imaging, post-mortem computed tomography and multi-detector computed tomography-affirming reliability.

Working with a research team at the University of Leicester, Dr. Brough is conducting pioneering research into several aspects of post-mortem computed tomography (PMCT), working towards the introduction of a near virtual autopsy in routine forensic practice. This is in keeping with Dr. Brough’s research practice assumptions and limitations, which include a keen awareness of local burial practices forbidding physical autopsies and the fact that PMCT is a relatively new sub-specialty of forensic science with no internationally established standards for image acquisition, image interpretation and archiving.

 

 

Dr Alison Brough

(Photo of Dr. Alison Brough, University of Leicester, 2015)

What Is Biological Anthropology?

What Is Biological Anthropology?

Biological or Physical Anthropology is human biological diversity in time and space (Kottak, 1994). Biological Anthropology is the study of human potential from both the physiological and psychological perspective (Royal Anthropological Institute, 2010) Forensic Anthropology, Evolutionary Anthropology and  Primates are all a part of the central organizing concepts of Biological Anthropology (Royal Anthropological Institute, 2010). Much of the potential for variation in Biological Anthropology is a result of genetic and environmental features.

The focus on human variation unites five special interests within Biological Anthropology:

  • Hominid evolution as revealed by the fossil record (paleoanthropology)
  • Human genetics
  • Human growth and development
  • Human biological plasticity (the body’s ability to cope with stresses, such as heat, cold, and altitude)
  • The biology, evolution, behavior, and social life of monkeys, apes, and other nonhuman primates (Kottak, 1994).

Biological Anthropology’s research interests link it to other fields including biology, zoology, geology, anatomy, physiology, medicine and public health.  Osteology, the study of bones, helps paleoanthropologists, who examine skulls, teeth and bones to identify hominid ancestors and chart changes in anatomy.  Biological anthropologists also collaborate with archaeologists in reconstructing biological and cultural aspects of human evolution (Kottak, 1994).

Biological Anthropology informs us as to how humans are special animals but it also allows us to nest humans as a tranche of animals in both the biological and ecological world (Royal Anthropological Institute, 1994).

References

Kottak, Conrad Philip. 1994 “The Subdisciplines of Anthropology” In Anthropology: The Exploration of Human Diversity, Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Royal Anthropological Institute’s Discover Anthropology Programme, What Is Anthropology?, YouTube Video entitled “What Is Biological Anthropology?” (February 11, 2010).

 

 

Homo antiquus: Ferguson’s “Find” or “Folly”?

 

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(Pictured above: A skull of Australopithecus africanus)

 

Walter W. Ferguson (1984) argues that the discovery of several hominoid fossils in Hadar, Ethopia is a part of a new species, Homo antiquus.

Hadar or the Hadar Research Project Area is the widely accepted name for the archaeological site approximately 300 Km (180 Miles) northeast of Addis Ababa in the Afar Rift System of the Rift Valley of Africa. The Hadar ecology is one of mountain building, faults and volcanoes. The Hadar Formation is a major region of physical geography in Africa and is approximately 3.4 million to 3 million years old (Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, 2011).

The vast majority of the hominins found at Hadar have been attributed to Australopithecus afarensis on the basis of their dental and gnathic similarities to specimens from Laetoli. A small number of the hominin fossils found at Hadar have been attributed to Homo habilis (Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, 2011). Morphologically, the Hadar Homo denotes a pre-habilis stage of hominiae dentition distinctive for its small size and plesiomorphic features. Since Hadar Homo antiquus can thus be distinguished from Australiopithecus afarensis and the Hadar Homo on this basis. Positioned on the phylogenic bush between Australopithecus afarensis and Homo habilis and next to Australopithecus africanus, this new species is estimated to be between 2.3 million to 3 million years old (Carroll, 2003). After first publishing his findings, Ferguson updated his research to include the discovery of a new and earlier sub-species of Homo antiquus defined as Homo antiquus praegens (Ferguson, 1989).

Ferguson’s work isn’t so much controversial as it is not widely supported. Smithsonian Magazine in December of 2012 rated Homo antiquus as 1 of the 4 human ancestors most likely to be ignored. Still, the science behind human evolution during the Plio/Pleistocene Era is full of theories, gaps and knowledge and liberal hypotheses. Ferguson’s attempt to fill the phylogenetic bush might be interpreted as a “folly” today but could be re-interpreted as a “find” if there is additional evidence found in Hadar to back his assertion.

References:

Ferguson, W.W. 1984 “Revision of Fossil Hominid Jaws from the Plio/Pleistocene of Hadar, in Ethiopia Including a New Species of the Genus Homo (Hominodea: Homininae) In Primates 25(4): 519-29.

Ferguson, W.W. 1989 “Taxonomic status of the hominid mandible KNM-ER TI 13150 from the Middle Pliocene of Tabarin, in Kenya. In Primates 30 (1): 69-89.

Dr. Kewal Krishan – Physical and Forensic Anthropologist

Dr. Kewal Krishan is Senior Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Panjab University in Chandigarh, India. His areas of interest include forensic anthropology, forensic osteology, anthropometry, stature estimation, growth and nutritional status. He extensively worked on Gujjars of North-West India. The majority of Dr. Krishan’s publications are in the fields of anthropometry, anthropometrics and forensic anthropology.

Dr. Krishan was a graduate student of Biological Anthropology in, and earned the Doctorate in Forensic Anthropology from, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India in 2003. He was awarded gold-medal for standing first in M.Sc (Honours School) in Biological Anthropology at Panjab University (1994) where he also earned the B.Sc., also in Anthropology. Before joining his current faculty position, he worked as an anthropologist in the Forensic Medicine Department of Government Medical College Hospital, Chandigarh, India.

Dr. Krishan’s M.Sc. supervisor was JC Sharma, editor of the book Anthropology, Population and Development (1995). Professor R N Vashisht, a paleoanthropologist, served as master-mentor for Dr. Krishan’s PhD work at Panjab University. Dr. Krishan started off his graduate career in Paleoanthropology which subsequently informed his doctoral work in forensic anthropology.

Dr. Krishan has published more than 100 papers on various aspects of biological and forensic anthropology including studies of the estimation of stature, bilateral asymmetry, footprints, autopsy room infection, physical growth and nutritional status. His papers are published in Forensic Science International, Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, Legal Medicine (Tokyo), American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology etc. Dr. Krishan’s recent scholarship in forensics, in coordination with other Indian forensic anthropologists, has important implications for disaster anthropology and disaster archaeology.

Dr. Krishan has been nominated as the Editor-in-chief of The Internet Journal of Biological Anthropology and on the editorial board of 11 other international journals. Dr. Krishan is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, a Fellow of the International Association of Law and Forensic Science and a Fellow of the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners.

 

Dr Kewal Krishan  (Photo of Dr. Kewal Krishan provided by Dr. Kewal Krishna, October of 2014)

Fridays In The New Academic Paradigm

Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, CAN
Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, CAN

Twenty years ago I was finishing up a 2-year deal as a Student Assistant Editor of The Journal of Planning Literature in the Department of City and Regional Planning at The Ohio State University. It wasn’t a paid Graduate Assistantship and how I wound up on the editorial staff is the topic of another blog.

The academic paradigm of the early to mid 1990s was vastly different than the one of today. The Internet as we knew it was perhaps 3-5% of what it is in 2015. In fact, the Internet in 1995 was still mostly an academic venture based on what used to be called the Bitnet (dust clouds encountered here).

As a Student Assistant Editor, it was my job to write up to 45 journal abstracts and 90 journal listings per quarter. It was a tedious job that required a lot of patience, good skills at data transference via floppy disks (more dust clouds encountered here) and the ability to wait for a particular journal to put to print a salient article that had been published some 3 or 6 or even 12 months prior.

For example, if some noted New Zealand researcher had published an article in a New Zealand regional planning journal on a Friday, maybe there would be a peer-to-peer e-mail (professor-to-professor) from the North or the South Island sent to Columbus, OH. (Incidentally: I would not get that e-mail).

As it was, my job back then was as a graduate “gopher”: I would be knee deep in the stacks wading through my assigned journals, frantically copying journal article listings and making notes of the strong ones for future abstracting.

(Sidebar: I took a trip to England in March of 1995 and visited the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. In their library lo and behold there was The Journal of Planning Literature! Still the library staff at the University of Newcastle looked at me as if I were a gopher attempting to find the hole from whence he had originated).

If this noted New Zealand researcher, the one in question, had been visiting Ohio State, we would have welcomed him/her into the Department, shown him/her the offices of The Journal of Planning Literature, given him/her a brief applause and then returned to work. The PhD students would have gone to lunch with him/her while the Master’s students would have been issued a “back-to-work” glare….

A flash of light and I wake up in a new paradigm in September of 2015. If a noted New Zealand cultural anthropologist published an article in an academic journal last night, it would be immediately available for review this Friday morning. Using legal, ethical and moral means, I would be able to get a printed copy of said article before lunch on Friday.

Then Friday evening, I would be able to at least give it an academic fly-by (a “speed-read”). Then on Saturday morning, with my bifocals affixed, I would be able to give it a good academic read over a collegial cup of coffee. On Sunday morning, I would be able to type up at least a one page abstract of the article. Given that I am an old and wily graduate student, I would attempt to sneak that draft of said abstract into the e-mail traffic of Sunday night knowing (wrongly) that it would not be read by my Professor until the following Monday. Then when the reply e-mail comes back late Sunday evening requesting that I revise and present the abstract on Monday morning, I now realize that the old 1990s paradigm has little relevance in the second decade of the 21st century!

In short, the academic paradigm of Fridays has changed and alas I have had to change with that change. Archie, Veronica, Jughead and Gopher (Massive dust storm generated here) have been replaced with this new decentralized network that includes this blogsphere. And so 20 years from now when you see the changes in the academic paradigm, on a Friday, remember that it was a Hockey Anthropologist who pointed them out to you!

My View of Anthropology: Five Fields!

I see Anthropology as the study of human potential. By the term “human potential,” I mean the vicarious expressions of life as experienced by real human beings in their physical, linguistic, cultural and historical environments. These vicarious expressions are based in cognition, which provides the backdrop for the entire field of Anthropology.

Anthropology is classically defined as an integrated social science based in four fields: Biological Anthropology, Linguistic Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology. Anthropology is a meta-social science precisely because it studies all things human. But Anthropology, the study of human potential, has the much more potential than that.

I say that there is much more potential in Anthropology because I believe that the four field model is somewhat of a dated paradigm: Arguably there is a 5th field of Anthropology: Ecological Anthropology, which is defined as cultural adaptations to the environment. Ecological Anthropology is growing in importance and is a reflection of the increased interest in the Anthropocene. And if you want to study human potential in the context of climate change, you need to be in Anthropology but you should ground yourself in Ecological Anthropology.

At the nexus of Ecological Anthropology and Environmental Social Science are a broad range of disciplines, sub-disciplines and in-disciplines including Human Ecology, Cultural Ecology, Environmental Sociology, Environmental History and Environmental Psychology, just to name a few of the salient tangential approaches to human-environment interactions.

I am in the Socio-Cultural Track in the UA Anthropology Department but the reality is that I am an Ecological Anthropologist with a Cognitive Turn. I believe that the Ecology shapes Cognition which then turns around and shapes Ecology. And I am all about Hybrid Ecologies that are simultaneously symbolic (Emotional Ecology) and non-representational (Affective Ecology). In fact I would argue that hockey is surrounded in Canada by both an Emotional Ecology and an Affective Ecology.

You haven’t studied the phenomena of “Hockey Night In Canada,” (CBC) have you?