Human Osteology

WP_20141118_002Hi everyone,

I hope you have enjoyed reading the lesson plans. This concludes the work we did during the fall semester of 2014. See you in the spring!

Week 9: Human Osteology

Activity: Smithsonian’s Skeleton in the Cellar

Topic: Human Osteology

As we learned last week, our bones can tell a story about our lives. In addition to providing key information regarding health, diet, and overall similarity to other species, our bones are provide specific information regarding an individual’s life history. For example, an osteologist can determine whether a particular specimen belongs to a male or female, or adult or child, based on specific features on an individual bone.

Helpful hints for osteological analysis:

  1. Orient your specimen so that you are seeing the same bone as the picture.
  2. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS use both hands to pick up the castes or keep them on the table.


For today’s activity, we will learn how to determine whether a skeleton belongs to a male or female. Osteologists and physical anthropologists generally refer to this as sexing a skeleton. To identify an individual’s biological sex, osteologists compare the size and shape of skeletal features.

-Most useful bones are the skull and the pelvis.

Ask the students’s opinion on which bones should differ between men and women? Why?

-Why these bones? Facial features differ; childbirth.

  1. For the activity, introduce and discuss the differences to the entire class. Point out the features on the pelvis to each group.
  2. Discuss different parts of the pelvis and the features that are used to sex a skeleton.
    1. Sciatic notch
      1. Males are narrow
      2. females are wider.
    2. Auricular surface (connects the pelvis to the sacrum, or the large bone at the base of the spine)
    3. Men: flat
    4. Women: surface is raised
  3. Ask students to compare the Skeleton in the Cellar to the examples that they have and to fill in the sheet.
  4. Discuss the features of the Skull that help osteologists to sex a skeleton, walking students through each example as a class and pointing the features out within the individual groups.
    1. Skull has 2 parts:
      1. Cranium (holds brain, etc.)
      2. Mandible (jaw)
    2. Male and female skulls have a number of different features:
      1. Brow ridges:
        1. Males are larger and more prominent;
        2. Females are smaller, more gracile.
      2. Foreheads:
        1. Males: sloping forehead
        2. Females: vertical forehead
      3. Mastoid process (projection behind the ear):
        1. Males: larger
        2. Females: smaller
      4. Occipital muscle attachments (bone gets thicker when attached to big muscles)
        1. Males: greater definition at the back of the head.
        2. Females: less definition.
      5. Chin:
        1. Males: chin is more square, vertical jaw angle
        2. Females: chin is more pointed; more rounded jaw angle.
      6. Overall:
        1. Females have a smoother bone surface due to smaller muscles
  5. Ask students to use these data to characterize the Skeleton in the Cellar, describing the brow ridge, neck attachment, mastoid process, angle of the jaw, and the chin.
  6. Once complete, ask students to determine whether the skeleton in the cellar is a male or a female (it was most likely male).


Ask the students’s opinion on which bones should differ between men and women? (skull and pelvis are most useful). Why?

-Why these bones? Facial features differ; childbirth.


Was it hard to determine the sex of the Skeleton in the Cellar?

-What could make it difficult to determine?

-women with robust frames; men with gracile frames

-not having all of the bones present

Which features were the most useful for determining the sex for the class?

For the pelvis? (probably the sciatic notch)

For the cranium? (see what they say).

Emphasize that this is just one line of information that can be gleaned from osteological analysis, as more information would be revealed with additional training.

However, these types of analyses are important, as they can help us figure out the sex of an unknown specimen.

Who would be interesting in finding out the sex of an unknown individual?

-Forensic anthropologists

-policemen, detectives


-other people….

Comparative Osteology


Activity: Cranial Comparison

Topic: Comparative Osteology

Physical anthropologists rely on osteology, or the scientific study of bones, to identify individual species, learn about the lives of an individual, or even to identify ancient illnesses (aka paleopathology). The skeletal features of bones reflect the life histories of individuals, and trained osteologists can use those features to identify the age, sex, diet, and, at times, even the cause of death of a particular specimen.

However, analyzing and comparing the bones from different species can also tell us about the evolutionary history of those species and the degree to which different species are related. For example, the overall organization of dog skeletons would be very similar to those of wolves. The same could be said for different species of fish, reptiles, turtles, etc.

In anthropology, osteologists often compare human skeletons with those of other primates so that we can learn about our ancient human past. In today’s activity, we will compare cranial features of human, chimpanzees, and coyotes, to learn about cranial capacity, dental formulas, diet, and the overall degree of similarity among species. For this activity, think about the similarities and differences between each of the individual specimens. If they are similar, what makes them similar? If they are different, then how could we explain those differences in an evolutionary context?


Why would humans share so many features with primates, but not with the coyote? Does that reflect out shared evolutionary past?

What other species would a coyote be similar to?

Consider the size, shape, and overall dentition of the species analyzed here. Is it possible to infer the diet of a specimen based on dentition?

-Can you tell if an individual is an omnivore, carnivore, or herbivore?

-Ask students to describe the diet of humans, chimpanzees, and coyotes based on their dentition.

Ask students to discuss the implication of cranial capacity.

-bigger brain (generally) means increased intelligence.

-Some big-bodied animals have larger brains, but we have a massive cranial capacity relative to our body size. That would suggest that our evolutionary ancestors evolved to prioritize intelligence.


1 human skull, 1 coyote skull, 1 chimpanzee skull per group.

Also 1 unknown skull, to be discussed as a class.


Humans, Primates, and Mammals

 Features of the Skull

 Compare the drawings below with the three skulls that you have been provided.

Label one of the skulls below as human and the other as chimpanzee

What features did you use to identify which skull was human and which was chimpanzee?

Comparing Dentition

 A dental formula represents the number of different types of teeth for a particular species.

The dental formula is written like a fraction, with four numbers on top and four on the bottom. Each number represents the number of each type of teeth, beginning with Incisors, Canines, Premolars, and Molars.

Incisors: shovel-shaped teeth located in the front of the mouth.

Canine teeth: sharp, pointed, and conical, teeth located behind the incisors.

Premolars: Teeth located between the canines and molars used to hold prey, assist in cutting and/or grinding

Molars: The rear grinding/shearing teeth located posterior to the premolar

Look at the crania in your collection and count the total number of teeth for each species.

How many teeth does the human skull have?                   ___________________

How many teeth does the chimpanzee skull have?           ___________________

How many teeth does the coyote skull have?                    ___________________

Which crania are more similar based on the total number of teeth?



  1. Count the different types of teeth for each skull:

Upper Jaw:                                         Human          Chimpanzee             Coyote

    1. Incisors:                     ___________           ___________               ___________
    2. Canines:                      ___________           ___________               ___________
    3. Premolars:                 ___________           ___________               ___________
    4. Molars:                       ___________           ___________               ___________

Lower Jaw:                                         Human          Chimpanzee             Coyote

  1. Incisors:                     ___________           ___________               ___________
  2. Canines:                      ___________           ___________               ___________
  3. Premolars:                 ___________           ___________               ___________
  4. Molars:                       ___________           ___________              ___________
  1. Of the human, chimpanzee, and coyote skulls, which are more similar?

Cranial Capacity

The brain is located inside the cranium. The internal volume of the cranium is called cranial capacity.


(Humans)                         (Chimpanzees)                  (Evolutionary Ancestor)


  1. Of the human, chimpanzee, and coyote skull, which has the largest cranial capacity?


  1. What do you think cranial capacity reflects?







Human Variation

Tongue rolling is coded for by a gene. Who knew?
Tongue rolling is coded for by a gene. Who knew?

Week 6: Human Variation

Activity: Mendelian Genetics

Topic: Human Variation

The notion of “race” is a social, rather than biological construct. Historically, race has been used as a tool of instituting social inequality and prejudice.

Anthropologists do not accept ‘race’ as a valid concept for a number of reasons, but chief among is the fact that ‘race’ is impossible to define in a biological sense. Many of the traits that people would typically use to define racial categories (e.g., skin color, hair, facial features, height, etc.) are so broadly distributed through all human populations that it would be impossible to say, for example, that “Race A is constituted of individuals with ___hair, __skin color, etc, while Race B is characterized by _____ facial characteristic and _____ skin color.” In fact, there is more genetic variation “within” any particular race than would be “between” different racial categories. It isn’t just a matter of people being hard to classify. The issue is that the entire classificatory system is wrong.

Ask the students to consider their own concept of race. Are they thinking about biological variation or cultural factors, such as socioeconomic status, language, religion, or other characteristics? Do the categories work?


Each student group will attempt to place photographs of individuals from the PBS Sorting People Exercise into distinct “races.” Once they have placed each individual into a particular racial category, we will reveal how each person describes their own heritage and racial identity.

Ultimately, students will learn that race is not a valid biological concept, which is why anthropologists do not use the term to describe modern human populations. Instead, anthropologists talk about ethnicity, genetic variation, and culture.

Define key terms and raise questions about how race is discussed in modern society.

Primates and Diet

Mid-digit Hair
Mid-digit Hair

Hello everybody,

The next several posts will include the lesson plans we used for the UA partnership with the Tuscaloosa Magnet School. This semester the classes were taught by Taylor Burbach, Meghan Steel, and Erica Schumann, with the direction of graduate student Greg Batchelder. Enjoy!

Week 5: Primates and Diet

Topic: Primate Diet

One of the ways that physical anthropologists learn about people is to study our nearest living relatives – primates. Primates include any member of the group of animals that includes human beings, apes, and monkeys. Learning about how primates navigate their world helps us understand the challenges and survival strategies that humans had to face in the past.

Primatologists, or specialists who study primates, are especially interested in learning how primates address one of the biggest issues that we all face: how to feed your family. Each primate species has a different from of social organization, although all primate species have to figure out how to survive against the odds. This week’s activity will ask each student group to come up with a survival strategy that protects their young while gathering food.

Discussion: Primates

  • Primates- any member of the group of animals that includes human beings, apes, and monkeys.
  • Ape: closely related to monkeys and humans and that is covered in hair and has no tail or a very short tail
    1. Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, and humans
  • Monkey: smaller bodied, with tails, some monkeys have different dental formula
    1. Old World monkeys: baboons, macaques, colobus monkeys, etc.
      1. No prehensile tail
    2. New World monkeys: spider monkeys, marmosets, howler monkeys, etc.
      1. Do have prehensile tails


  1. Social organization: What drives primate social organization?
    • Competition for mates, safety, social organization, form of paternal care
    • Advantages & disadvantages to larger group sizes?
      1. Protection, shared care of young, etc.
    • Advantages & disadvantages to smaller group sizes?
  2. Diet:
    • Carnivore, omnivore, herbivore
    • Most primates are herbivores, omnivores, or opportunistic carnivores.
      1. Cannibalism occurs
    • Foods have different caloric values, which means that some foods are “worth” more than others.
      1. E.g., fruit is high calorie, high carb. Leafy greends may have important nutrients but low calorie counts. Other foods may be good food sources but are hard to catch (like crickets).
      2. Primates have to strategize to balance energy expenditure and food intake. This is even more important with large social groups, who may share resources.

 Activity: Meddling Monkey Scavenger Hunt

This game replicates the choices that primates make with regard to food security, group safety, and survival. Students will be separated into groups (each a different primate species) with a set number of primate infants per group.

Objective: Gather as many calories as possible while protecting the infants in your group.


  • Search the “forest” (classroom) to find as many calories as you can and bring them back to the troop.
  • Primates can only carry one food item since they are not bipedal.
  • Students can steal food that is unguarded. They can also steal unguarded infant primates.
  • To be protected from stealing food or infants, two people must be at the “home base.”
    • One person is not enough to protect it.
  • However, student groups can choose to leave as few or as many people at the nest as they wish.
  • At the end of the time, groups will reunite and scores will be added up.
  • A group automatically loses if all of their infants are stolen.


Construction paper fruit (yellow and red)                                             Value: 5 points

Construction paper leaves/stems (green)                                            Value: 1 point

Construction paper insects (ants, grubs, and protein)                     Value: 3 points

Construction paper primate infants.                                                        Value: 10 points

Museums and Anthropology

BEASLEY_09_27_2011_13_28_46Hello everybody,

The next several posts will include the lesson plans we used for the UA partnership with the Tuscaloosa Magnet School. This semester the classes were taught by Taylor Burbach, Meghan Steel, and Erica Schumann, with the direction of graduate student Greg Batchelder. Enjoy!

Week 3: Museums and Anthropology

Activity: Curating an Artifact

Discussion: Museums

  • Museum- a place where important items are preserved, protected, and then put on display.
    • Different kinds of museums. Provide examples of local museums.
    • What museums have the kids visited?
      1. Moundville? Museum of Natural History Museum on UA’s campus? Creative Discovery Museum? Etc…


  1. Role of Museums in Anthropology
    • offer a place where we can learn about other cultures
    • preserve important artifacts
    • provide a place where the general public can view exhibits that highlight the cultural significance of artifacts, beliefs, and customs
    • provide a place where archaeologists can go to study ancient cultures
  2. How do museums work?
    • Items are donated/loaned by patrons, items are catalogued by curators, investigators research the item to learn about it and its cultural significant. Then the item is put on display in exhibits.
  3. Introduce curators & their duties

Curator- a person who works at a museum

    • What do curators do?
      1. Catalogue the items that are donated to the museum
      2. Care for artifacts- any item that was made or used by a human
        1. Everything can be an artifact (tools, clothing, artwork, jewelry, trash, modern or prehistoric, used or new, etc.)
      3. create exhibits
      4. Museum exhibits- a collection of items that are curated to share information about a specific topic
        1. Virtual exhibits
        2. Exhibits at the museum
    • What skills would be important for a curator?
  1. Show an example of a virtual exhibit (show one item from a web page to illustrate the point)
    • Smithsonian Kids

    • Identity by Design- tradition, change, and celebration in native women’s dresses

    • Ceramics of the Americas – National Museum of the American Indian

    • Living Maya Tima- Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian

    • Smithsonian Kids Collecting

Independent Practice: Curating Artifacts

Students will break into small groups/pairs to catalogue and describe an artifact using standard descriptive techniques (measuring, describing, assigning a specimen number, etc.). Each group will create a museum catalogue and assign each specimen a unique number. This will mirror the process that archaeologists and curators use to prepare museum exhibits and research collections. Students will then describe their artifact to the class using the measurements and information they collecting during their analysis of the artifact.


assortment of artifacts or items to catalogue (1-2 per group)WP_20140923_002


magnifying glasses

museum catalogue list (1 per group)

museum artifact worksheet (attached)


What can we learn from museums?

What do curators do? What skills would be important for a curator to learn?

Reiterate the importance of museums & of understanding the cultural significance of artifacts, as that is what distinguishes archaeologists from collectors, looters, and the proverbial “treasure hunter.” Artifacts are important because they are associated with peoples and cultures and, therefore, are priceless.

What exhibits would the students like to see?

Garbology and Archaeology

Week 3: Introduction to Archaeology

Activity: Garbology

Discussion: Introduction to Archaeology

  1. Review
    • Cultural anthropology- study of modern humans
  2. Archaeology
    • Archaeology: the branch of anthropology that studies humans who lived in the past through their material remains.
    • how we learn about the pastWP_20140916_003
    • prehistory/history
    • Artifact: any item that was made by a human
  3. What do archaeologists actually study?
    • Daily lives of people in the past
      1. Architecture, subsistence, economy, tools, etc.
    • Midden- term for archaeological trash deposit
  4. What can trash tell us about the way that people lived?

Independent practice:

Students will divide into clans. Each clan will sort through an “assemblage” of artifacts and complete the attached worksheet.

Students will establish criteria for sorting their assemblage (e.g., by activity area, by material, by area of manufacture, etc.) and will make observations about the household that produced their assemblage of trash.

Garbology activity supplies:

One assemblage of household trash per group.

Assemblage should include a variety of clean, non-dangerous items from household trash from different areas. It would be instructive to collect trash from different contexts so that students can compare the differences in the assemblages. For example, one bag could consist of basic household trash (food wrappers, recycling materials, paper, etc.), while another could consist of trash from a specific activity area (e.g., sewing room, workshed, toy room).

To conduct the activity, have the students separate the trash into meaningful groups. Most groups start sorting the trash by material (e.g., cardboard, plastic, etc.), but soon learn that there are multiple ways to look at the items. For example, can the materials be sorted by where the items are used? Or where they are purchased or made? What about grouping the materials by cost, or where they were manufactured? Lead discussion to identify salient features of the individuals and households that created the trash.


How do archaeologists learn about culture?

Archaeologists study ancient peoples by studying material remains, including the artifacts that are left behind. By studying artifacts, we can reconstruct different aspects of culture and learn about the lives of humans in the past.

Possible topics:

Which aspects of ancient lives would be difficult to understand?

Could archaeologists get it wrong?

Could your assemblage have been sorted differently? Would that have changed your interpretation?

What tools would an archaeologist use to excavate a sight?

What skills would be important for an archaeologist?

Becoming Ethnographers

Hello everybody,

The next several posts will include the lesson plans we used for the UA partnership with the Tuscaloosa Magnet School. This semester the classes were taught by Taylor Burbach, Meghan Steel, and Erica Schumann, with the direction of graduate student Greg Batchelder. Enjoy!

Week 2: Cultural Anthropology and EthnographyWP_20140923_004

Activity: Becoming Ethnographers

Discussion: How do we study culture?

  1. Review
    1. What is culture?
    2. Why is it important?
  2. Why and how do we study other cultures?
    1. Cultural Anthropology: the branch of anthropology that studies modern humans
    2. Ethnography: the way that anthropologists study and teach others about cultures
  3. Do we always understand other people’s cultures?

Independent practice:

Students will divide into clans. Each clan will select informants and 1 ethnographer per group for each group, and then send that ethnographer out to observe another clan’s culture using the Ethnographer’s Guide.

After interviewing other clans, students will tell us what they learned about each clan.

Clan defense to discuss errors of interpretation.


How do anthropologists learn about culture?

Anthropologists learn about cultures by engaging different groups of people, asking questions, writing down their answers, and then thinking about the best way to understand behavior. Since anthropologists only work with the cultures they study for a limited amount of time, it is impossible to learn everything there is to know. However, anthropologists can learn about culture by understanding why people do the things that they do. We can also look at how culture change over time, because we know that it does change relative to a number of factors.

Possible topics:

What are some factors that may cause culture to change?

Do we automatically understand someone else’s culture?

What makes it hard to get it right?

Would an informant ever misdirect an ethnographer? If so, why?

When conducting ethnography, what is important for making make sure that your interpretation is correct? (good questions, good informants, coming at with an open mind, etc.)

Comparison of clans: Which were the most alike? Which were different?

Lesson Plans from the UA Partnership

Hello everybody,

The next several posts will include the lesson plans we used for the UA partnership with the Tuscaloosa Magnet School. This semester the classes were taught by Taylor Burbach, Meghan Steel, and Erica Schumann, with the direction of graduate student Greg Batchelder. Enjoy!

Week 1: Anthropology and Social OrganizationWP_20140916_001

Activity: Creating a Clan


    1. Prepare to give a brief introduction about yourself

Discussion: Anthropology, culture, and our shared culture

    1. Access prior knowledge about anthropology
      1. What is anthropology? What do anthropologists do?
      2. Why is anthropology important?
      3. Four fields of anthropology
    2. What is culture?
      1. Do we share culture?
      2. Do we belong to social units that are larger than our immediate families?
      3. What aspects of our culture are shared?
      4. TMSE culture? Alabama culture? American culture? Etc.
      5. Ask students to analyze the culture of their school.

Independent practice: Creating a Clan Activity

Students will create a clan and define aspects that define the culture of their clan

    1. Goals:
      1. Create the culture of their clan. Identify what is important to the clan. Determine what sets their group apart from neighboring groups (music, secret handshake, language, attire, beliefs)
      2. emphasize terminology:

Culture: shared knowledge that governs the way that we behave and provides the rules for how we live.

Clan: a group of people who share a common ancestor, real or mythical

Totem: a being, object, or symbols representing an animal or plant that serves as an       emblem of a group of people

Rite of passage: an event that marks a change from one stage in life to another

Symbol: object that represents, stands for, or suggests an idea, visual image, belief, or action.

    1. Materials:
      1. Boxes- washable markers, crayons, pencils, glue sticks, school scissors, tape
      2. Poster board for totems/symbols
      3. Paper for attire
      4. Feathers


Final Comments:

Review points of discussion and terms.

What is anthropology? What is culture?

Is culture shared?

Do we automatically understand someone else’s culture?