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FALL 1999-00
Volume 43, Number 1


Language Courses Open Advantages of Global World

Faith on Campus: Leaving for college, not leaving the fold

New Coaches, Season Ticket Plan: Highlights for Iowa's Teams

Loans, Grants Available for Students Hurt by Farm Economy

Interns and Employers: Try Out a Future Relationship

Career Resources on Campus

For Iowa's Job-Hunting Seniors, the Magic Word is Experience

Measuring the Past

1st Year: A Time of Discovery for Students

Parent Times Briefs

University Calendar

Robert Franciscus, assistant professor of anthropology, shows how to take critical measurements on a human skull.

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 she’s 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 Schoenebaum’s 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 that’s what is keeping Schoenebaum busy in Macbride Hall’s 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 remains—it’s usually available only at museums."

Carrie Schoenebaum measures a bone from the University's collection of human skeletons.

"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 collections—usually Native American remains that are rigidly controlled by law and not available for most research—or undocumented skeletons.

The size of Iowa’s 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 Franciscus’s 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." Schoenebaum’s measurements can establish a baseline to use in comparing earlier bones.

According to Franciscus "We can glean important information from cultural remains—tools, food refuse, structures—but 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.


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