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When Elena Haymond picks up the jawbone of someone long dead, you can bet she will be looking at far more than whether the owner had a good dentist.
“The reason I study teeth is because they preserve very well; they hang around when bones don’t. They create this record of our lives,” Haymond told an audience at the Hormel Historic Home Monday night, a monthly meeting of History Happy Hour, a partnership between the home and the Mower County Historical Society. Haymond’s talk, “The Archeology of Bones” focused on what can be learned from excavation of remains.
Haymond, an anthropology instructor at Riverland Community College, knows a whole lot about bones — especially their teeth, her special area of research within the field of osteoarchaeology. Her studies have taken her to Scotland, where she did her work for her master’s degree, and Bulgaria. She has studied bones ranging in age from 500 to 2,000 years old.
The field focuses on the excavation and analysis of bones that can often lead to discovering the cause of death, but not necessarily in the way a forensic anthropologist might, popularized in such television shows as “Bones.”
Discovering a cause of death is only one item in a raft of analysis that more often leads scientists to an understanding of people, their history and their cultures.
- Elena Haymond discusses a point of bone analysis during the talk, “The Archaelogy of Bones” on Monday night at the Hormel HIstoric Home, part of its Happy History Hour series.
It is not a science for the impatient.
Analysis takes time and depending on the condition and age of the bones, study can be frustrating at times. Children’s bones are easier to read due to their lack of bone fusion, which occurs in adulthood. Once a person reaches adulthood, other clues must be found to accurately determine age and other details.
When information can be gleaned, the result “gives us context to the historical and archaeological record, about the times in which the people lives and died,” she said.
Among the most famous case in point came with the 2012 recovery of the remains of England’s 15th century monarch, Richard III. Shakespeare’s famous portrait of the king — hunchbacked and with a disabled arm — described in his play “Richard III” was dispelled when it was found that while the king suffered curvature of the spine, “it would not have caused the hump” depicted so often, Haymond said. And his withered arm? Just a fanciful notion not supported by his skeleton, she said.
“As you see,” as she showed a photograph of the remains, “he has two very well formed arms.”