Five skeletons could change archaeology | Miles Russell | TEDxBournemouthUniversity

Five skeletons could change archaeology | Miles Russell | TEDxBournemouthUniversity

Translator: Katarina Ericson
Reviewer: Denise RQ I don’t want to start this lecture by making it sound like a therapy session, but hello, my name is Miles Russell, and for 30 years
I’ve been an archaeologist. Archaeologist is a very loaded term, in the way in which we see it
in popular culture, the way that we see it in the media. Certainly, the media representation
of what an archaeologist is, is very often divorced,
very much removed from the reality of it. And certainly, I suppose, if we look at what an archaeologist is
in popular culture, they are adventurers,
they are explorers, they discover things, they are fighting the forces of evil, usually with large amounts of armament. But they discover things
with unerring accuracy, they have a 100% accuracy rate
at discovering things. They use the sense of the tomb; is for them the ultimate goal. The tomb is, I suppose,
a repository of treasure. It represents a monumental
‘X marks the spot’, for finding loot, finding gold, finding treasure,
things of monetary value. What I want to try and do,
in the short amount of time we have today, is to try to impress upon you the idea that when we look at the past,
we’re trying to understand its worth. Its value is something else entirely. When archeology appears in the media,
when it appears on the news, whenever we hear it being discussed,
it’s often the value side of it, it’s what we call
the National Lottery Syndrome. It’s that sense of Bargain Hunt
and Antiques Roadshow, Cash in the Attic, it’s “What is the value of this piece?”
rather than its informational worth. So, for someone like Indiana Jones
or who we see in The Mummy franchise, the tomb is the beginning of the story. In fact, in Raiders of the Lost Ark
with Indiana Jones, in the first ten minutes
he’s entered the tomb, he’s destroyed the tomb, and got out with a nice big slab of gold
under his arm. And in that time, he’s done no photography,
he’s done no recording, he hasn’t taken out the pen,
he hasn’t done what archaeologists do. He’s not understanding
the context of the find. All the information is stored in his head, but admittedly, he spends most of his time
escaping boulders, poison arrows, treachery among his own team,
and that happens quite a lot, but he’s not doing what archaeologists do, he’s not trying to understand
the worth of a find, it is completely off, divorced
from its surroundings; he’s got it under his arm, but the civilization that it belonged to
has completely gone. Something else archaeologists
are very good at, in popular culture, is awakening the dead. Usually, it’s some curse being invoked, and some bandage-swathed monster
that’s reanimated, and destroys the excavation team, threatens to destroy
the whole of humanity. It might be the archaeologists themselves
that puts the monster back in its box, generally, it isn’t; it’s some another civilian,
or it’s the military … It’s somebody else. It’s the archaeologist who ulitmatelly is the bad guy
for awakening the dead, for letting them loose. And I suppose it’s that adventure side,
it’s that exploration side, it’s that desire to link
with the pop culture side of the archaeologist
as explorer and adventurer, that we see so many celebrities,
actors, politicians, in the guise of archeo-explorer. There’s Vladimir Putin
in his election campaign, holding some very large slabs
of the past. And he’s linking into that,
he’s hoping that a bit of the excitement, the glamor of archeology
is going to rub off on him. And as I say, we see that in the media, I can give you an example from 2009, but any time
you see archeology on the news, it’s, “Woman walking dog finds
ten million pounds’ worth of Roman gold.” “Man with metal detector finds
seven million pounds of Viking silver.” This is the Staffordshire Hoard,
found in Staffordshire in 2009. It is amazing, we’ve got lots of pieces
of gold pommels, hilts, bangles, bits of decorative jewelry, bits of arms,
bits of equipment, emerald-encrusted gold. Fantastic. It was on the news, there have been
multiple TV programs about it, there have been a whole number
of books written about it, there’s documentaries, TV programs. Wherever it’s on display, there have been queues around the block
of people trying to get in to see it. I would argue that’s not archeology, that’s art history,
that’s something else entirely. Archeology is about
trying to understand ordinary people, to understand everyday lives,
what people did in the past, what did they eat,
where did they defecate, what was their religion,
what were their hopes and dreams. We’re trying to find out
about people in the past, what their lives were like. This tells us nothing, about 99.999 recurring
percent of the population. This tells us what a very small amount
of people, the wealthy elite, did, the kind of things that they bought
and they put on themselves. So spectacular, yes,
I would argue; archeology, no. And I get that sort of aspect in life, whenever I say I’m an archaeologist,
one of the first questions is, “What’s the best thing you’ve ever found?” And I suppose there’s that thought that people expect me to be battling
with Nazis in the middle of Egypt, trying to rescue some kind of important
biblical artifact from their evil hands. And when I say something like this
is the best thing I’ve found, that makes people shift. A little uncomfortably. Bodies. I mean, what’s special about a skeleton? We’ve all got one.
It’s not necessarily an amazing find. But of course, your life’s story
is embedded in your skeleton. When someone like myself comes
to dig you up, in 1,000 years’ time, your life history is there,
it’s recorded there, we could try and reconstruct
a part of your life. So with these two individuals, they were part of a Bournemouth University
excavation which is ongoing. They’re both Iron Age, they both died
almost 2,000 years ago, about 50 AD. Just to point out the sense of ethics
about excavating these, these two individuals
are extremely plough-damaged. You can see the one on your left,
part of his face is missing, a plough has struck it. He’s got a pot, found on his knee,
that’s partially missing as well. These are individuals destroyed
by agricultural attrition, so there’s a need to excavate
and remove them. Safely take them away and analyze them,
look after them, curate them. Possibly also re-inter them, but at the moment, we are saving them,
and we are trying to understand them. These are two individuals
who saw the Romans arrive in Britain, they saw a point when Britain
was dragged kicking and screaming, out of prehistory and into history. When Britain became part
of the Mediterranean superpower. They saw that happen. Now, at the moment, we haven’t got
the technological kit to interrogate them, to interview them, to find out
what they thought about this, when their customs, their language,
their religion, their settlement, everything about their life
was in a state of flux and changing. They lived through that,
they saw that occurring. We can’t interview them, sadly, but there are certain things, of course,
that we can do with the bodies. We can age them, we can identify
what age they were when they died. What’s life expectancy in the past? We always assume that life in the past
is short and brutish, and people only lived
for about 20 or 30 years. So what age did they die? Are they male or female? What’s their relative health status? How did they get on through life? Is there any evidence of the sort of works
they were doing in life? Does that affect the body? Are they particularly muscular
on one side? Are they doing hard manual labor?
Are they working in a field? Have they got horse-riding injuries? Lots of different things
we can assess about their health. Their status, of course,
we can look at that. We can gather an idea
from what’s buried with them. Things they might have acquired in life. Not every burial,
contrary to what you see in the cinema, is stuffed full of gold. Very, very few of them are,
in my own experience. So what they’re buried with,
because that informs about their life, or does that tell us more about what those
who were there, at the graveside, wanted to put in with them? What about their religion? Most of the burials that we’re excavating,
that most archaeologists excavate, have got evidence of the religion
in the grave with them. For these people, they lived in a time
before there was a written record, we don’t know what they believed in. They certainly believed in an afterlife, because they’ve got things with them
for that journey into their afterlife. They’ve got pots with drinks in,
they’ve got joints of meat, they’ve got things
that facilitate their life, so they might have a sword,
or a spear, or an arrow, something that they will need
in the other world. We don’t understand
what their afterlife was, what their concept of it was, but there they are, with their objects,
to sustain them on that journey. We can look at aspects of disease; these are two bones
from one of those burials. The lesions in the ribs suggest
there’s some kind of respiratory disorder, possibly tuberculosis, and that, from our point of view, I never get excited by tuberculosis,
but that’s exciting from our viewpoint because it’s one of the earliest examples
of that particular disease in Britain. So we’re trying to understand
the way in which disease spread, and the way it affected
ancient populations. Trauma; we’ve got two individuals here
showing these distinct cranial trauma, so we can see
these two people died violently, in fact, in a very similar way. There is something akin to a pickaxe, I don’t want to give too much detail
if you’ve had lunch. But it has impacted upon their head,
that being the cause of death. Is that evidence of inter-tribal warfare? Is that evidence of sacrifice? Have these people been executed?
Have they been punished? Is this some kind of accident
that has occurred in life? So by analyzing these, if we’re looking
at these types of battle injuries, we will expect to find defensive injuries,
across the arms, there might be other sword cuts. Anyone who’s seen
the story of Richard III on the news, will have listened to discussions
about how many injuries he sustained before he finally died. So looking at these bodies,
we can see that evidence, the pathology of cranial trauma. There’s Carbon-14 dating; I won’t hit you
with lots of scientific detail, but essentially, we can measure
the amount on Carbon-14 in bone. We know how much should be there,
we know the decay rate, by measuring what is in there, we can get
an estimate of when that individual died. If there’s no dating, no pottery,
or flint, or coins with the body, we could still date the bone
to get a reasonable idea, within a certain time bracket,
of when that person died. We can look at the DNA. That’s very useful
if you’ve got a large cemetery. Are those two people up there related? If there are later burials,
are they descendants of the original? One thing we never know about the past
is how static populations were, whether they are migrating around
the landscape, moving around the land, or whether people stay in the same place
for hundreds and thousands of years. So we can look at the DNA. Oxygen and Strontium isotope analysis,
looking at dental enamel. Everyone of you will have clues
buried in your dental enamel as to where you grew up. The kind of water you were drinking gives you the geological fingerprint
of where you grew up. So if I was excavating you, I should have a good idea of where
you came from and where you migrated to. That’s again very useful, if we’re looking at population studies
and movements of people. There are chemical signatures
in bone collagen relating to what you eat, If you’re vegetarian, your bone collagen signal is going to be
very different to one who eats only meat. If you just eat marine resources,
that will be different as well. So again, there are signatures
in your bones that will tell me, or my archaeological descendants,
about your lifestyle. Facial reconstruction,
putting the muscle back onto the skeleton, we can work out the thickness of muscles,
we can put back the face, and of course, then we could ask questions
about skin color, hair color, eye color, fashions, ethnic identity,
cultural markers, there’s a whole series of things
that affect the way in which a person looked in the past. Rather than just having
a blank, naked face, we should then try and think if he’s male,
what sort of facial hair would he have, if it’s female,
certainly, in the Roman period, looking at some of the statues,
they had extremely ornate hairdos. What sort of person are we dealing with? What sort of fashion signal
would they have been sending out to their comrades, to their fellows. And, more ongoing,
but these are a series of other burials, which were excavated last year,
which were in the news; a series of five graves. We’ve got three females
and two male graves. The male graves,
we are dealing with individuals, they are lying on their backs, they’ve got their heads at the east,
and their feet at the west, so we can say straightaway
they’re not Christian, because early Christian burials
are the other way around, so that if they sat up,
which would be quite a disturbing sight, they would be facing sunrise,
their direction of the Day of Judgment. They’re facing the wrong way,
they’ve got grave goods, and early Christian communities
didn’t have grave goods with them because they don’t take
their material wealth to their heaven. There’s another one. They’re all lying in coffins,
you can’t see it very clearly, but around the body
there are little iron nails, indicating where the walls
of the coffin were. The two male burials have got evidence
that they had shoes, from the tiny little nails
around their feet, which would have been embedded
in the soles of their shoes. The three female graves have all got
spindle wells just above the pelvis; that little dark blob
is a bit of weaving equipment. So they’ve got graves,
it’s not high status graves, but no treasure, nothing
Indiana Jones would be happy to find. There’s a rather deviant burial,
this is an elderly woman, aged about 80, who’s been decapitated,
so cause of death is quite clear there. Her head has been taken from her shoulders
and placed at her side, but she’s still buried with care,
reverence, and grave goods. So the question is,
how did she meet this rather gory end? That’s not a cooking accident,
that’s some kind of significant injury. But whoever put her into the ground was still giving her the right stuff
for the afterlife to convey her on that long journey. And probably the best find,
from my point of view, is this one. This is another female burial,
she’s about 40 by the time she dies, we can’t see any evidence
on the skeleton of cause of death. She’s got a spindle well by her head, by her feet, you can see
this little pottery bowl. I’s a very simple bowl, we know by analogy with other sites
that have been excavated, in and around southern Britain,
that it dates to c.380-390 AD. But it hasn’t gone into the ground fresh. It’s heavily worn, there’s about
50 or 60 years’ worth of wear on there, the slip is worn, it’s been broken,
it’s been repaired, the base has snapped off,
it’s an heirloom. We can imagine that passing down
from generation to generation, person to person,
for some significant time. That grave dates to around 450 AD. “Why is that important?”
I hear you scream. Because that’s 50 years
after Roman Britain ends. These are people who were living
through economic turmoil, inflation, mass unemployment, mass immigration,
invasion, terrorism, war, all sort of things
the news tells us about today. They lived through it,
and they died in the middle of it, but they are, essentially,
Dark Age graves. So whereas the news will tell you something like the Staffordshire Hoard
illuminates the Dark Age, I would argue that’s not the case. Those burials, although they’re not
traditional archaeological finds, are of far more worth. Monetarily, no value at all, but information-wise,
the worth of those five graves is more significant
than anything in that treasure, because they truly shine a light
into the Dark Ages. Thank you. (Applause)

76 thoughts on “Five skeletons could change archaeology | Miles Russell | TEDxBournemouthUniversity

  1. Did I miss something? Did the speaker ever mention how these five skeltons could 'change archeology'? All I heard was a comparison and contrast of Hollywood archeology to the real thing.

  2. Start at minute 7 to avoid to avoid the Hollywood preface. Then its a couple of 3 thousand year old burials and several of burials from the era at or just after the close of the Roman Empire in Britain.

  3. awesome! id love to be an archeologist! it has been a dream since i was a small girl to do what this man is doing. Anthropology and archeology are fascinating

  4. saying gold treasure is not archeology but art history because it's not about regular ppl is moronic.
    Who does he think produced those items? There were no nobles gathering gold ore I'm sure. No kings smelting gold, no queens spinning golden thread for embroidery

    At no time did the speaker highlight how those 5 skeletons could change the world.

  6. I agree! there's so much focus on the elite 0.0001% of the population where as finds like this yield so much more of the important information on what people's lives were actually like. These 5 skeletons are the real treasure! Thanks Dr. Russell!

  7. 6:06 sir, the élite could not have done those things without some tacit approval of the rest, or of most of them : the history of the élite is a history of what the others approved too.

    Also, the élite was usually larger than 0.1 % of the population. Royalty as such perhaps wasn't, bur outside Egypt it was not all of the élite, and even in Egypt you had scribes too. And at times military officers like Radames.

  8. 8:35 "what was life expectancy in the past"

    Sorry, but anatomical "age" or "aging processes" are not identical to age.

    I have been homeless for 13 years, and have probably in part an anatomical age which went up 26 years. In other words, you can only measure how far the aging process is gone.

    But this depends on other factors than how old (in actual years) someone was when dying.

    This is for instance why some have (before Neanderthal DNA was analysed) speculated that Neanderthals could be post-Flood patriarchs living into several hundreds – because one thing aging does under certain circumstances is thicken bones.

    You cannot take this as a conclusive clue as to age when dying unless you have conclusive evidence of how sturdy the body was to begin with (we are less so than psot-Flood patriarchs who were less so than pre-Flood patriarchs) or what amount of toil someone faced in daily life (skeleta of 60 individuals from Anglo-Saxon period of England said none to have reached 50 could have done less work than the Wild West Farmers of known ages that they were compared to).

  9. My memory is a little fuzzy but I think the intro scenes of the movie were of a temple not a tomb, hence the golden idol on an altar.

    And the Indiana Jones series isn't held out as a model for current archaeology but rather as a commentary on the methods of the past. It's clearly set in the 'Wild West' period of the field.

  10. I enjoyed Indiana Jones and The Mummy but never took them as serious representations of Archaeology. I tend to think more of the crew from Time Team.

  11. The title is click-bait. Thought I was going to hear some amazing discovery but all it was was a very interesting lecture on archaeology. Not sorry I viewed it but don't like being tricked.

  12. So if you try and dig up Fred at the local cemetery you will go to Gaol. Yet if the graves are hundreds or more years old you are allowed to pull them apart and put them in a museum? :/

  13. I think Indiana Jones' character was probably based on Giovanni Belzoni, an Italian tomb raider (explorer/archaeologist) of the early 1800s. Having said that, Jones was my hero before I learned the reality of being an archaeologist. Many of our ilk have actually thrived on the slightest adventure! I've occasionally also dealt with suspicious locals who thought we must be digging up gold treasures during the night while in the day we only found useless old bones and broken potsherds… lol!

  14. The shaffordshire hoard (I love these English designators) IS archaeology as it tells us the taste and means of elites, which ulitimately tells us something about the way they legitimated their power symbolically, AND economically. This is not to say that Russel's somewhat polemic argument would be unhelpful — it is important that the general public understands the issues at hand — but he uses the populist argument of the "common people" which in archaeology often can only be defined by it's inversion: metal using (archaeologically survivable materials) using, elites

  15. Just wondering, can anyone anywhere be a "TED lecturer"? The standards were once fairly high – well-known experts in the field or up and coming young people with new ideas. Now it seems it's anyone who can get a few dozen folks to watch their spiel for a few minutes

  16. Archaeologists and anthropologists are the world's biggest bullshitters. The make up a story that can't be refuted and call it fact.

  17. Yes…If you are an archaeologist and you can get gold, silver and other treasure than sell it and still have other stuff to show progress, you would not do it… BS.

  18. TedX videos seem to be sometimes click bait or just not as interesting as the title of the lecture intends to claim

  19. Long build up but that was good.
    I would like to politely argue that it's just how the poor lived (I'm currently living in my truck) ie poor. But also how the rich liver. Its the whole picture that counts. While i completely agree that the majority will hold more data as there numbers always seem to far outweigh the rich that we find again its the whole picture that paints an
    accurate archeological picture of the past. One may hold more data but that does not mean the other isnt archeological.

  20. I am bored by absurd that this find or that find is going to revolutionize anthropology or paleontology. It doesn't work that way. Each new find adds a few more bits of knowledge to the corpus of known facts.

  21. A better title: A survey of what Archeologist do. Clickbait title. Infuriating if you want to actually LEARN something serious details about these graves and not just survey info.

  22. Halo there, an academic elitist casting shade on us sheeple using hollywood fantasy as proof of our ignorance….all right then mate, well done…..😒

  23. Ted Talk begins around 7 minute mark, and subject matter does not line up with title, no amazing discoveries, just here's what we do on an ordinary basis.

  24. Prehistory into history when the Romans invaded????? He is not an archaeologist if he thinks that history only really started then. There is now so much more knowledge than 20 years ago.

  25. Why misslead us just call it "shining a light on the dark ages" people would still watch, however due to the click baiting im withholding my llke.

  26. Apes all have 24 pairs . Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. Apes are not humans and humans are not apes. Your skeletons , just like the lie of "Lucy" are not factual and can not produce verifiable evidence. If there was and example of the missing link would it only be one creature who existed and changed the whole species ? Why are there not millions of examples ? We have lots of evidence of man going back in time but not one of your imagined missing link species.

  27. Yes, i was hoping they would admit they found 'giants'…..but no, just clickbait, erasing it now from my watch history.

  28. Droll and light-weight stuff. One of the poorest TED talks I have seen. Despite the fact that I love the topic. I don't like this yawning video…skip it!

  29. Other civilians or The military that put the risen deadthings back? I think that was a very intriguing Freudian slip. I would like to get him a wee bit tipsy and see what he may add to that line of chatter.

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