Last year, my masters student Meg Walker completed a small project comparing bone histology in a modern and fossil wombat. We wanted to check whether wombat bone forms in a way that may relate to the burrow environment all the while being constrained biomechanically (because wombats have very powerful forelimbs that they use in digging their burrows). We found that the modern wombat shows evidence of bone remodelling and also some bone tissue types (such as coarse compact cancellous bone) that may facilitate quick wombat growth in the burrow and adaptation to mechanical load. These results are very preliminary because we only had a couple of specimens that we could examine, but in this new paper we use the data to build and discuss hypotheses that can be tested in the future. The paper should be out soon in Australian Mammalogy!
Meg and I discussing wombat bone histology. Image by Jack Fox.
One of the really important aspects of my current fellowship funded by the Australian Research Council is research training of biological anthropologists who are at early stages of their career. Given that my work is highly practical, the plan has always been to run introductory lab sessions in person to offer training in the preparation and analysis of thin sections. As the Coronavirus pandemic has grounded everyone at home, I decided to move the image analysis aspect of the training online. I also opened them up to the rest of the world, and to my surprise the response has been immense! The workshops reached capacity (300) within 5 days... I am super pleased that there is some interest out there in bone histology analysis.
My intention behind these workshops is to not only provide introductory training, but to also demonstrate that there should be no boundaries in trying methods that we are new to. So many times in my own career I have been told that some techniques are "too complicated", "too this".... "too that"... Surely, that slows down science progress as it turns us away from learning new methods? If, as part of my workshops, even 1 participant takes something away and applies it to their research, which will result in a new discovery... then we've moved things forward, even if it's just a bit!
I had to close registrations today, but if you are still interested in joining us over the next few weeks, please email me so that I can place you on a waiting list.
On April 14 I was due to head out to Los Angeles to attend this year's AAPA meetings, but just like the rest of the world, I am staying home instead. The Coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on all of the world, and while it feels disappointing that the AAPAs were cancelled, it was, of course, the right thing to do. I have been working in isolation for the past couple of weeks as my university closed its campus and moved to remote work until end of June. I had to shut down the histology lab until further notice, which felt heartbreaking, but I know we will be back up and running soon - I am optimistic the world will be a healthy place soon again.
As one of few very lucky academics with a job, I am unbelievably thankful that I can work remotely and have a salary. Setting up for remote work was initially a bit tough for me. My research is predominantly practical being lab based, and so not being able to just switch the microscope on when I need to, and take a snap of a sample I am describing, was initially a difficult adjustment for me. Thankfully, I have a pile of data I can analyse and write up remotely. Moments like these remind me - always have plans B, C, D, E... for your research papers!
The great news is that AAPAs have arranged for the presentations to be shared online amid the cancellation of the meetings. So I uploaded my poster this weekend - it should appear under this link on Monday (once AAPAs refresh the program page). Feel free to have a browse. My colleagues and I (including two awesome students - Nathalia and Meg) are reporting the first human bone histology data for a 700 - 300 BP site of Taumako in Solomon Islands. You can get involved with a public discussion under the link as well. However, if you are having difficulties accessing the site, I am also providing the poster below. The manuscript is almost ready to go - we will be hopefully submitting it for peer review next week once all co-authors have gotten back to me with feedback.
Human bone health at Taumako, ca. 700 – 300 BP Southeast Solomon Islands
The third "Australasian Forensic Anthropology and Archaeology Newsletter" (AFAAN) has just been released. Run by Dr Samantha Rowbotham and A/Professor Soren Blau of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Melbourne, the Newsletter features updates on research, teaching, and other developments in forensic anthropology from across Australasia. I wrote up a short report about the many different forensic anthropology presentations delivered at the Australasian Society for Human Biology conference held at the ANU in December last year. You can read in on p. 4 in the Newsletter:
Our paper looking at osteocyte lacunae densities and body size in fossil rodents from Timor is now out in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. You can have a look here: https://academic.oup.com/biolinnean/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biolinnean/blz197/5709529