Forensic Research: Profiling a Bronze Age skeleton video transcript

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Sanita Nezirovic, Leader in Forensic Science with Criminology, is working at a laboratory table, writing notes. She is wearing a white lab coat. A human skull and bones are laid out on the table. Some of the bones are broken. They look old.


I specialise in Forensic Anthropology which is concerned with analysing skeletal remains. Any time that skeletal remains are found, I go out to the sites to assess the importance of that particular find.

[A location near the east coast of Northumberland is marked on a map of the border area between England and Scotland.]

This skeleton I came across up in Northumberland and what had happened, essentially, was that it's a field that's been farmed for generations but the burial was quite deep and it’s only by accident that this year they moved to the top stone with the machinery and, as it moved, all the farmer could see was the head from underneath.

[Cist Beaker Burial, a photograph by Conservationist Jessica Turner, shows the remains in a square grave lined by stone slabs. Bronze Age Pottery, a photograph by Conservationist Jessica Turner, shows a large earthenware urn.]

As a result, the Archaeologist was called who then ultimately called me and they got very, very excited because it's been a very long time that we have found a Cist Beaker Burial up north.

[X-ray of skull]

I mean, this one in particular, based on the pottery that was found, we knew that it was Bronze Age so we're looking at approximately three and a half thousand years ago which is absolutely amazing for that particular region because, like I said, we've not seen anything in a long time up there.

[Sanita examines the remains in the laboratory]

What we tend to do is Anthropologists is we conduct something called a profile.

[Sanita measures a long bone with a sliding scale then closely examines the end of the bone]

And that profile usually consists of whether it's a male or a female, how old they were, when they died, how tall they were, ancestral backgrounds and also if there's any pathology of trauma, if they’ve got any healed fractures, any infection and things like that may help us to interpret the lifestyle and possibly manner of death as well.

With this skeleton… it's well preserved considering the age but it is poorly preserved for us to do any specialised analysis so, what we can do, is the visual assessments of the bones looking at the shape and the overall size of each particular elements.

[Sanita examines the skull closely]

There are metric assessments available but, because of the extent of the damage, we won't be able to use the metric analysis because some of the areas of the bone are actually worn or broken down so we can't take the right measurements.

[Sanita sits at the table with the remains laid out in front of her.]

Visually, what we can do is determine the sex of the individual, determine the age, determine how tall they were and also their ancestral background so we can still get a really nice profile of who this person might have been but, with regards to pathology and trauma, unfortunately, due to the damage, most of that has been lost.

[Sanita continues to work on the remains]

This has kind of allowed us to think that there is potential out there so we do need to go back to other science in other areas of that. It was found essentially by accident which is the beauty of some of these things that there's so much history out there that we don't actually know is there.

So what I'd like to do is go back up and actually maybe have a look using ground-penetrating radar and technology like that to be able to identify: OK, are there any other burials? Was there actually a settlement there that we didn't know about which may hopefully enrich our cultural and historical knowledge of the area?

I think that skeletal remains, not only in modern populations but in archaeological context, are massively underappreciated in terms as a source of information.

You know… you can get pottery, you can get amazing buildings but they don't tell you the health of the person, they don't tell you how many men and women were there, how old were they when they died. Did they have a particular condition? Were they all infected with something?

With regards to learning from them, we can look at where certain infections have come and gone across the world.

So, on a global scale, you can kind of map where we've migrated to and from and, you know, how we've evolved and all that sort of stuff which, I think, is under-looked and underappreciated as I get: “Oh, it’s just a bone.”

But actually, it's not, it's our history and potentially even our future because what we can learn from them, we can put measures into place to prevent other things from happening so I think they are the unsung heroes of information.


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Forensic Research: Profiling a Bronze Age skeleton video

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