Event Details

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The Practice and Ethics of Skeletal Excavation and Conservation [Deeper Digs]

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The Practice and Ethics of Skeletal Excavation and Conservation [Deeper Digs]

When: September 15, 2023 2:00-4:00 PM ET

Duration: 2 hours

Certification: RPA-certified


Individual Registration: $99 for SAA members; $149 for non-members

Group Registration: $139 for SAA members; $189 for non-members

Katherine Miller Wolf, PhD, RPA, University of West Florida

Dr. Miller Wolf is a bioarchaeologist and UWF Assistant Professor of Anthropology. She specializes in the study of skeletal remains from archaeological sites to answer cultural questions about the past and has extensive experience with conservation and curation of collections at U.S. and Latin American institutions. She was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Honduras (2022) for ongoing research of the largest collection of ancient Maya human skeletal remains yet recovered in Mesoamerica at Copan, Honduras and to teach bioarchaeological field and laboratory methods to students from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras. She was awarded the Conservation and Heritage Management Award (2020) by the Archaeological Institute of America for her decades long conservation project in Honduras and other sites in Latin America. She has also conducted research on skeletal samples from sites in North Africa, Mississippian and Woodland sites in the Lower Illinois River Valley, and historic sites within Florida and Belize.

Carolyn Freiwald, PhD, University of Mississippi

Dr. Carolyn Freiwald earned her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and focuses on animal use, migration, and diet in Mesoamerica. She is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of Mississippi. Her specialty is biogeochemistry using the chemical composition of osseous remains to reconstruct behaviors in the past. She is also interested in the conservation and care of anthropological materials, and works with museum collections in Wisconsin, Mississippi, and Latin America.
The human skeletal remains curated within archaeological and museum collections belong to those who created the cultures that we seek to understand as archaeologists. Human and faunal remains recovered from archaeological excavations provide a wealth of information about past cultures, but also require the greatest care. The recovery, cleaning, and curation of bone often present one of the great challenges for archaeological projects, as an osteologist may not be on site. What is the best way to transport fragile materials to labs or to export them? How should they be stored until they can be analyzed, or over the long term? Should they be cleaned? Field labs, museums, and universities in remote locations are often only periodically monitored, can have extreme humidity or heat, be infested by insects or animals, lack financial support for collection maintenance, and/or be at risk due to natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes. This seminar will describe techniques that osteologists have employed to address these problems as they have worked to curate and house skeletal collections from prehistory through the contemporary era in various sites. The examples will focus on Central America and the ethical and cultural considerations of modern populations.
  1. Review best practices for excavation, transport, sampling, and cleaning human skeletal remains drawing from real world examples
  2. Describe best practices for long-term conservation and curation of skeletal remains drawing from real world examples
  3. Discuss the importance of long-term conservation strategies for collections and our
    ethical obligations as archaeologists