Archive for June, 2013

Three weeks with the skeletons

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

One of the individuals examined and sampled from.

I’ve spent the last three weeks in Trondheim and this post will be a quick summary of what happened. The purpose of being in Trondheim was to examine the skeletal material and to collect bone and teeth samples for DNA and isotope analyses.

Firstly, I want to say that I’m greatfull that Vitenskapsmuseet had decided to employ a person to assist with the work. Charles Utvik was easy to work with and as we shared the work between us, doing different tasks simultaneously, we managed to work very efficiently. If I would have had to do it on my own (as I originally thought) I am sure the work would have taken at least two weeks longer. It should also be said that having company also made the work more enjoyable.

Some of the teeth were too worn to be sampled from. This photo shows the right half of a mandible (lower jaw) and as you can see, the crown on first molar (the second tooth from the left) is so worn that there is no enamel left.

During the first week we looked through all the material to make the final decision about what skeletons to include. I ended up with a sample which was pretty much as I had decided on beforehand, but a few changes were made. As it turned out, we only managed to find 98 individuals worth including as opposed to the originally planned 100. This is, however, no major problem. A few of the skeletons also didn’t have all the teeth I wanted, or they were too worn to sample from. This means that I didn’t get a full set of samples from every individual. Although I would have liked a complete dataset, it is no surprise it worked out this way. This is basically how it is to work with archaeological material. This is also no real problem, it’s just a matter of working around these issues when doing the analyses.



The following two weeks were spent taking bone and teeth samples. All the DNA samples were taken during the second week, while the samples for the isotope analyses were taken during the last week.

Every skeleton was photographed to document what samples had been taken.

The containers with the samples were carefully labeled.














Bj√łrn Frengstad next to the water collector at NGU.

I also visited NGU when I was in Trondheim. Bj√łrn Frengstad has been collecting precipitation samples each month since January, and will continue for the rest of the year. I picked up the water samples for the first five months and they will be shipped off to the GNS Science¬†laboratory in a few days.









The three cardboard boxes containing the bone and teeth samples.


When the work was finished, all the samples were securely packed and made ready for being shipped to Bergen.








Milestone: the DNA sampling started today

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Everybody listening with interest. From left to right: Walther Parson, Jon Anders Risvaag, Leena Airola, J√łrgen Fastner and Charles Utvik.

Dr Walther Parson from the GMI (Institut f√ľr Gerichtliche Medizin der Medizinischen Universit√§t Innsbruck) came to Trondheim today. He had been invited to discuss the practicalities surrounding the DNA sampling, and also to explain the procedures his laboratory follows when doing DNA analyses. The day started with Parson talking about his laboratory, previous projects they have been involved in, the procedures they follow and the security measures they have in place. I think it became clear to everyone present that the GMI operate to the highest possible standard and will satisfy any requirements posed by NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet.

Later we started discussing the actual sampling procedure and how we should document the process. It was decided on the following (see photos below).

Firstly, the bone should be photographed in its original state together with information identifying which individual the bone came from. The bone in the photo is a right femur (thigh bone).

Then a piece of approximately 3cm by 2cm was cut from the shaft of the bone. Charles Utvik did most of the cutting today.

Then the sample was weighed.

At last the bone was photographed again and the sample was put in the little container seen in the photo.

The container with the piece of bone will be sent to the laboratory in Innsbruck and whatever is left when the analyses have been done will be sent back to Trondheim and can be used for different analyses for another project later. For the next couple of days we will continue the DNA sampling.

Me and Walther Parson.

At the end of the day we posed for the camera before Parson left to go back to Austria. I am looking forward to the continued cooperation with Parson and his team at GMI.









A funny discovery

Friday, June 7th, 2013

An involuntary participant in the campaign against the EEC

The first week in Trondheim is over and everything has been going to plan, or possibly better. We have got a lot of work done. We have gone through more than a hundred boxes with skeletal remains and I’ve picked the ones I want to sample from and after that we went through the boxes again to examine the skeletons in the sample. Although I’ve examined quite a few, and determined sex and estimated age at death, there is¬†still work for another couple of days doing this. Some interesting pathologies and other features have also come to light. I will tell you about one of these finds. It is not a skeletal feature as such but rather evidence of what can be a problem when excavating human skeletons. For some reason, some people like to steal skulls from excavation sites. There are many stories about this but this is the first time I’ve seen evidence of this in a skeletal collection. The pictures show a cranium from the S√łndregate site which was excavated in 1971. This was the year before Norway’s first referendum to join the EEC and people were mobilising for and against Norwegian membership. As evident from the photos, this was stolen by someone in the against camp. Written on the cranium are the words “mot EEC” (against the EEC), together with the words “love” and “peace”. It is, of course, unacceptable to remove skulls or any other object from archaeological sites, but at least it was decent of them to return this fine cranium. Or maybe they got caught. At least it’s back where it belongs. Now, 42 years later, it is an amusing find and a funny story.


The skeletal examinations have begun

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

I am just opening one of the many boxes containing skeletal remains.

I got to Trondheim this morning and I have started the skeletal examinations. To my pleasant surprise I had been appointed an assistant who will work with me during my stay here. This will be very helpful and should make the work go smoother and faster. This first day was spent going through the boxes with skeletal remains to check if the condition of the individual skeletons were as I had deduced from the photos and excavation documents. This is actually the first time I look at the material and there is always a chance there is a slight discrepancy between¬†my information¬†and the actual material. We managed go through quite a lot of boxes today but this work will continue for the rest of the week. In addition to this basic work, every skeleton which will be included in the final sample will also be subjected to a morphological and metric examination. I will note features used for sex determination and signs which will provide information regarding the individual’s age at death. Pathological changes will be described and cranial and post-cranial measurements will be taken.¬† The aim is to get as much of this work done this week, so we can fully concentrate on the sampling for the DNA and isotope analyses when we start that work¬†next Tuesday. It will be difficult to get it all done as it is a lot of¬† work but the more we get done the better.

Immigration and mobility in mediaeval and post-mediaeval Norway
Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion, University of Bergen

Site last updated November 22, 2016 @ 12:39 pm