Carrie Schoenebaum, a senior anthropology major from Clive, Iowa, is working with more than 1,200 others in Macbride Hall for her senior honors project. And shes by far the liveliest of the bunch.
Her companions are skeletons, resting in stainless steel trays in the new Human Osteology Laboratory. The Department of Anthropology had 230 human skeletons in its collection and more than 1,000 others recently were brought to the University by a new assistant professor of anthropology, Robert Franciscus, who is supervising Schoenebaums project.
Schoenebaum has finished phase 1 of her work, in which she developed a means to accurately measure the axillary border of the scapula, or shoulder blade, of the skeletons so she could compare the measurements with modern people. Phase 2 is to do the measurements, and thats what is keeping Schoenebaum busy in Macbride Halls Human Osteology Laboratory.
Eventually, her measurements will establish a baseline to use in comparing the size of the scapula of the skeletons in the documented collection with Neanderthal fossilized remains.
The protocol she helped to develop for her measurements is another contribution of her research, she says.
Franciscus brought his collection of documented human skeletons to the University when he joined the faculty of the Department of Anthropology last fall. It was formerly in the Stanford University School of Medicine. With these additional skeletons, Iowa now has the third largest documented collection in the country, following the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution.
Franciscus says, "Not many students have access to such a large collection of remainsits usually available only at museums."
"Documented" means that a record exists of where, when, and how each skeleton was born, lived, and died. Documented collections are most useful for research purposes because they can provide a more accurate baseline for studying human evolution than skeletons in archaeological collectionsusually Native American remains that are rigidly controlled by law and not available for most researchor undocumented skeletons.
The size of Iowas collection gives Schoenebaum a broad range of natural variation in human anatomy.
Most of the skeletons she has to work with are persons born in the mid-nineteenth century. Her work blends nicely with Franciscuss research. He says, "In order to accurately interpret....fossilized bones, we need to understand the basic biology of the skeleton and recent human skeletons provide this critical baseline." Schoenebaums measurements can establish a baseline to use in comparing earlier bones.
According to Franciscus "We can glean important information from cultural remainstools, food refuse, structuresbut a large amount of information can be learned from skeletonized remains, especially for the more remote time periods."
The size of the collection also is important for teaching students the range of natural variation in human anatomy.
"When students first examine a skeleton, everything looks new," he says. "They have to look at 20, 30, 100 specimens before they understand what is normal variability."
Schoenebaum says she began her work in December after thinking about it since last October. When she completes her project and graduates, she says, she would like to work for a while and then go to graduate school.