Profile: Katy Meyers

Bones Don’t Lie

Katy is an Anthropology PhD Candidate who specializes in Mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology. She is also active in the digital humanities as former Cultural Heritage Informatics fellow, and as the head game designer for an educational video game, Red Land Black Land. She also writes bi-weekly blog posts on her personal blog, Bones Don’t Lie.

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NoteStreams By Katy Meyers

Investigating Red-Colored Bones in Mesoamerica

When bones are recovered in archaeological contexts, they are not the white shiny ones you see hanging in the back of museums. Nor are they always tinted brown from years in soil. Bones can be a number of colors including black, red, yellow, white or green.
Bones Don't Lie
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Category: Science

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Weddings and the Dead

Weddings are a contract we enter ‘until death’, and in some cultures there are more literal translations of the ‘death’ part.
Bones Don't Lie
CC BY-NC SA 4.0

Category: History

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Changes in Society and Diet From the Merovingian to Viking Age

By Katy Meyers Emery / Bones Don't Lie
TV Show like ‘Vikings’ on the History channel shed light on ancient maritime cultures, but there's more to this story than midst the eye.
Bones Don't Lie
CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Category: History

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The Beauty of Post-Mortem Photography

So things have been a little quiet here at Bones Don’t Lie, but exciting things have been happening! I’m now officially a Dr., I’ve moved to New York, and I’ve started a fantastic new job at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY.

Category: History

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Reasessing Markers Of Stress In Medieval London

Linear enamel hypoplasia manifests as furrows or indentations of decreased enamel on teeth due to interruption during development. They are attributed to times of high metabolic stress, such as periods of malnutrition, but can also be due to trauma or chronic illness. It has been argued to be useful in determining whether individuals were stressed during their childhood, and at what age this stress started and stopped.

Category: History

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Death Comes to Stonehenge: The Buried Remains

There have been some fascinating new discoveries at Stonehenge over the last decade- new burials, new locations of stones, new technological advances revealing more of the landscape.

Category: History

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I Like My Corpses Like I Like My Pretzels: Salted

I’ve been reading a lot of interesting food non-fiction books in my sparse free time as a way to relax after long days of dissertation preparation and article writing. I’ve recently finished reading The Third Plate by Dan Barber and The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky. I like these types of books because they are so completely different from what I spend my days reading and writing—they offer a nice break. Last night, however, I had my first overlap between these food books and my passion for mortuary archaeology. I’m reading another Kurlansky book called Salt, which shares the story and importance of salt use throughout human history.

Category: History

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Early Medieval Muslim Graves in France

A new article by Gleize et al. (2016) is doing just that- it is restoring the story of a people whose early history in Europe is not as well documented. The expansion of the Arab Empire during the early Middle Ages represents one of the largest political and religious changes in history, and led to the formation of one of the most important empire.

Category: History

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Upright Burial: A Mesolithic and Modern Phenomenon?

Recently, the popular news has been fascinated with the discovery of an upright burial from a Mesolithic cemetery site in Germany. Rightly so! Upright burials are an extremely rare phenomenon, and incredibly interesting.

Category: History

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The Occupational Disease of Matchstick Makers

Phossy jaw is the necrosis of the jaw by phosphorus- whereby the bone of the jaw is not given proper blood flow or nutrients, and essentially dies and collapses.

Category: Science

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New Morbid Terminology: Coffin Birth

Coffin birth is what it sounds like- the occurrence of a fetus being birthed by the mother after her death. When I started researching the term more closely I discovered that this was actually fairly uncommon in the past, and we are still unsure whether this is something that can actually happen.

Category: Science

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Funerary Rituals in an African Cemetery

By investigating the burials of these enslaved individuals, we can learn more about who they were, what they suffered through, and how they negotiated their new status.

Category: History

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Bones Abroad: Rochester, New York

I am originally from Rochester, NY, and I head back here for the holiday season to spend time with family and friends. It was within this city that I became inspired to pursue archaeology and cemetery studies, so I thought it was about time I share some of the wonderfully morbid and archaeology related sites that you can visit if you happen to pass through Rochester.

Category: History

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Buried With A Sickle: Death’s Scythe Or...?

Buried With A Sickle: Death’s Scythe Or Anti-Demon Protection?
Scythes and sickles have a very clear symbolic association for modern populations. The personification of death is traditionally pictured with a scythe (full size version pictured to the right) or sickle (the handheld version), a metaphorical link between the reaping of the crops and the taking of lives. Death also goes by the name of the Grim Reaper, shower an even closer connection to his role in harvesting lives for the afterlife.

Category: History

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Landscapes of Death and Mass Graves From the Roman Empire

There is an amazing relationship between human behavior and space. Our landscape and environment shapes what we can do on it, how we move through it, and where we can be; but it is also shaped by us- we can alter the landscape through construction and building, we designate certain spaces to have specific functions, and we ascribe meaning to places.

Category: History

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Is there Archaeological Evidence of Bigfoot? (Part II)

This article is a continuation of another review of Bigfoot. To briefly review, Mitchel Townsend was featured in an article that announced that they had found archaeological evidence of Bigfoot and challenges scientists to refute their findings that the chewed bones they found are evidence for Bigfoot’s existence.
[This article is being co-written by myself, Katy Meyers Emery, and Lisa Bright, a graduate student at MSU in the mortuary archaeology program.]

Category: Science

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Is There Archeological Evidence of Bigfoot? Pt I

In 2015, Mitchel Townsend was featured in an article that announced that they had found archaeological evidence of Bigfoot, the mysterious ape-man said to wander the woods in the Northwest of North America.Townsend challenges scientists to refute their findings that the chewed bones they found are evidence for Bigfoot’s existence.
This article is being co-written by myself, Katy Meyers Emery, and Lisa Bright, a graduate student at MSU in the mortuary archaeology program.

Category: Science

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Using Burnt Bone to Interpret Neolithic Burials in France

The big news today was that a man in California set fire to an aisle of Halloween costumes in a Walmart. Honestly, this shouldn’t be the biggest news story of the morning, but there it is. The man was seen walking around the Walmart for hours with lighter fluid, and then at some point doused an aisle of Halloween costumes in it, set them on fire, and ran. Regardless of the stupidity of this act (I mean, we’re all agreed Halloween is the best holiday ever, right?), it does illustrate something what I want to talk about today—fire is destructive.

Category: History

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Decapitation: Scientists Should Learn to Draw

That title is not a mistake. When I read the recent articles about the earliest example of a decapitation, my first thought was “wow, look at those illustrations; we really need to teach archaeologists to do this more”. Maybe it is because I get to read articles about decapitation fairly frequently, maybe I’m jaded—but seriously… the eye-catching thing about this is the amazing illustrations and what they do to forward this argument. I’m getting ahead of myself. You’re probably here for the decapitation, right? Let’s focus on that first!

Category: Science

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Who Died in the Leprosarium of St Thomas d’Aizier?

Leprosy is a fascinating disease—not just for its effects, but for the social implications of having the disease. Leprosy was an epidemic disease that not only infected millions of people over a span of thousands of years, but it still remains a threat in third world countries. Due to its destructive effects on those infected, leprosy created a history of fear and segregation caused by misconceptions and rumor. In the United Kingdom, during the Middles Ages circa 1050 to 1550 CE, leprosy reached its highest prevalence. In the mid-twelfth century alone it is estimated that there were 1.5 million cases of leprosy in England and Scotland.

Category: History

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Bioarcheaology of Medieval Iceland

A lot of what we know about Iceland and how it was settled comes from Norse sagas and folklore. However, in 2002, a previously unknown Christian cemetery was located during construction work in Skagafjörður, North Iceland.

Category: History

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Morbid Terminology: Cementochronology

Cementochronology : When I saw this word I knew it would make a great new morbid terminology. If we take the word apart, there are two major pieces: cemento and chronology. Chronology is the easy one; it means the arrangement of events or dates in the order of their occurrence. When we are talking about building chronologies in archaeology, we are arranging objects of some sort into the order in which they occurred. Cemento is a little harder. At first reading, I was thinking cemetery, but that is definitely not right. Nor is it related to cement, the hard binding substance we use in construction sites.

Category: Science

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Fight to the Death! Trauma & Violence in 16th C Romania

Right now I’m working on the historical background to my dissertation, which means reading a lot of historical texts and history books on early medieval England. As an archaeologist, I’ve been trained to find direct evidence of events and not to rely on text—so I’ve been struggling a little with accepting the interpretations I’m reading. I keep thinking—where is the evidence of that? If indeed the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded Britain in the mid-5th century, wouldn’t there be evidence of the mass killings reported by historical texts?

Category: History

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Grave Guns, Coffin Torpedoes and Other Methods of Protecting Your Bones from Thieves

Grave robbing isn’t always about stealing artifacts or grave goods, nor is it just a thing of the past. A couple weeks ago, police discovered that the crypt of F.W. Murnau was being used for occult ceremonies. Wax drippings confirmed that the crypt was being used by the living, and the cemetery caretaker confirmed that it had been broken into a number of times over the past few decades. Breaking and entering wasn’t the only crime—police soon discovered that the skull of F.W. Murnau, as well as a number of other skeletal elements, had been taken.

Category: History

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Bones Abroad: ComSciCon in Boston

In early June, I attended ComSciCon– a three-day conference for graduate students to learn about how to communicate science. We had the opportunity to meet representatives from NPR, YouTube, Alan Alda Center; writers for Discovery, Scientific American, NOVA; and scientists working on a diverse range of projects including TV show, magazines and societies, and more. The conference was incredible for a number of reasons, but one of them was that it took place in Boston, MA. Boston was founded in 1630, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Not only is it a great city to visit today- it has a deep past that can sometimes be a little dark. If you are looking for a great weekend trip to learn more about your country’s history, both the glorious and morbid, Boston is perfect for you.

Category: Travel

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Importance Of Field Work: Careful Excavation

Field work is an important part of being an archaeologist, regardless of if you study human remains or any other type of artifacts. Excavation is a detailed and careful process, and knowing how it is completed at a site can have implications for the research and interpretations. When anyone asks me about how to be a bioarchaeologist or mortuary archaeologist, I always stress the importance of taking a related field school as soon as they can. Here, I want to talk a little bit about why field work is so important!

Category: Science

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Man’s Best Friend: Pet Cemeteries and Animal Burial

The first official pet cemetery, Hartsdale Cemetery, was established in 1896 in New York. Veterinarian Dr. Samuel Johnson, founded it as a way to help grieving owners provide a proper burial for their lost pets. Almost a century after opening, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery currently has over 80,000 dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, reptiles, monkeys, horses, a lion, and even some humans buried on its land. Pets are important—often they become part of our family. We mourn their loss, erect monuments to them, and give them proper burials.

Category: History

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Not True: Nigerian Rest. (Not) Selling Human Meat

Every once in a while, I’ll get sent an article that is something so fantastical and bizarre that I’m not so sure I even believe it. This is a very good approach to have when dealing with popular news and morbid topics—don’t believe what you read. Yes, we find evidence of vampire related burial practices—No, there are no real vampires. Yes, there are some elongated skulls that don’t have a traditional human shape—no, they are not aliens, they are just humans with cranial modification. But there are really strange morbid things that happen that are real. Remember the story about the guy who drank a mummified toe in a whiskey shot? I do! It really happened! But other stories… maybe not so much.

Category: Science

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Reuse of Cemeteries in Prehistoric Ireland

With the cold weather and ice descending upon the Midwest, I’ve found myself spending more time watching HGTV than I normally do. My favorite shows are the fixer upper ones, like Property Brothers and Flea Market Flip. I really like the concept of upcycling and reusing older materials to create new uses, rather than buying something brand new. I like the idea that historic objects are given a new life and are saved from being recycled or destroyed. In a way, they have life histories much like we humans do—they were designed to serve a specific purpose and are being reused in a creative way that maintains that historic integrity. But what does this have to do with mortuary archaeology? Can we reuse cemeteries to give them new life?

Category: History

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A City Corpse Meets a Country Corpse

I’ve been indulging in a little HGTV this week as a way to recover from post-conference exhaustion. I know that shows like House Hunters aren’t real- they already have bought the house so it’s just a sham discussion of other houses. And yet, I can’t help myself. Sometimes this mundane drama is just what one needs. In the most recent episode, there was a classic division between the couple: a city girl and a country boy. She wanted to be downtown with a big house and lots of neighbors to entertain. He wanted a small farmhouse on a large plot of land without a neighbor in sight. In the end, they got the farmhouse. But it left me thinking about the divisions between them, the difference between city and country living. Is it really that divisive? Well, if I’m going to address that question, I’ll need some dead bodies to do it.

Category: Science

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Interpreting Smoking Habits in Skeletal Remains?

In class yesterday, I taught the students what can be interpreted from human remains including age, sex, ancestry, disease and health, and trauma. One of the important things I make sure to stress when we’re doing this discussion (beyond the fact that we are looking at the biological and not cultural side of human remains) is that we are missing a large piece of evidence when we study bones- the soft tissue. We can learn a lot about disease, health and trauma, but only if it occurred in a manner that caused changes in the bone. So many things that cause death don’t leave marks on the bone. I would have thought that smoking habits would have fallen under this category of something that we wouldn’t be able to see in human remains. A recent study by Walker and Henderson (2010) argues otherwise.

Category: History

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From Living to Dead in Neolithic Italy

I am a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. They are a perfect blend of intellectual references, irreverent creativity and humor that is perfect for breaking down the stress of graduate school and life. My favorite character is Death, partially because I’m a fan of his work and partially because I love the way that he attempts to understand the lives of humans. We might all die, but how we perceive this, how the living determine the moment of actual loss of the individual and spirit, and how we ensure how loved ones are taken care of after their biological selves are dead varies widely by culture, region and period.

Category: History

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Using the Dead to Interpret Daily Life in Bronze Age Spain

I am fascinated by the diversity of ways that humans have approached death and dying throughout our history as a species. Since you’re reading this, I’ll assume you are interested in this as well. However, when people ask me why I study death, I often reply “because we can learn so much about life”. Growing up, my favorite parts of history books was learning how normal people lived and behaved. History tends to be a grand story of how big men accomplish big deeds and who won what battle in this or that year. But the best bits of history are the little stories- how the average person went about their life, what chores and jobs they had, how they struggled through famine and disease, and eventually how they were buried and mourned by their community. Mortuary and bioarchaeology help us better understand daily life in the past.

Category: History

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Climate Change & The Chinchorro Mummies

The Chinchorro mummies are quite different from the traditional linen-wrapped mummies of Egypt that we often equate this the term ‘mummy’. These mummies that have been preserved and protected for 1,000s of years are beginning to decay due to the increased moisture in the atmosphere.
What makes this mummification process so unique, is that everyone who died within this culture during this period was mummified, unlike Egypt where mummification was used only for the highest status individuals.

Category: Science

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Where do Vampires come from? Isotopic Analysis of the Drawsko Vampires

Vampires have continued to be a hot topic in studies of deviant burial practices, and the popular news is more than happy to share these types of archaeological finds. Of course, the problem with the popular media is that they don’t really understand the evidence at hand, and they don’t accurately share the findings of the bioarchaeologists. Here’s a good rule- always go to the primary source- find the journal article, find the book, find the archaeologist, and you will learn what they actually said about the site.

Category: Science

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Excavating Santa...

This is not meant to be taken as a statement of fact or truth, rather it is a humorous exercise in using osteological knowledge to examine a current debate. With that, let’s begin.
In "Who Is Santa" we talked about the reason why Santa’s ethnicity and bones have been discussed in the news recently, and then who St. Nicholas actually was. Today we’re doing something a little more fun- we are going to do an osteological analysis of different versions of Santa.
Here, we report on the excavations of a number of individuals who potentially are ‘Santa’ (again, this isn’t real, just having fun here).

Category: Science

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Who is Santa?!

This is not meant to be taken as a statement of fact or truth, rather it is a humorous exercise in using osteological knowledge to examine a current debate. With that, let’s begin.
This is where the mortuary archaeology comes in… we are going to discuss first the bones of St. Nicholas, and then second (in Excavating Santa) we'll discuss what the bones of Santa would really look like if we found them (again, this is meant to be humorous, Santa is still alive and well according to the NORAD Santa tracker).

Category: Science

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Ancient Egyptian Texts vs Truth

Text is an interesting type of artifact.
Early historic and archaeological studies often took text as the truth about the past. It was accepted that we could read a passage from a historic document and that the archaeological record would simply support these ‘known facts’.
However, text isn’t always accurate.

Category: History

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The Life and Death of Ancient Egyptians

This is a review of Ancient Lives, New Discoveries: Eight Mummies, Eight Stories. By John H. Taylor and Daniel Antoine. Published by the British Museum as part of their currently ongoing museum exhibit with the same title.
Taylor and Antoine (2014) have done a fantastic job with presenting us the personal side of mummification by unwrapping and unraveling the identities of eight individuals, as well as introducing us to the history of the study of mummies.
While I would love to share each and every individual’s story, I’ll just give you a sneak peek into one- you’ll need to get the book for yourself or visit the exhibit.

Category: History

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Examining Columbus' Crew

The story of Christopher Columbus sailing across the ocean to discover America is something that all children from the United States learn and memorize. Of course, most of it is a myth, and much of what we learned as children is actually part of a larger misconception about this whole period. A new study examines the human remains from Columbus’ second trip to the Americas. What did their bones show?
Reposted from Bones Don't Lie, CC BY-SA 3.0

Category: History

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Coffin vs Casket: What's in a Name?

When discussing burial containers, there are dozens of terms that can be employed and a range of descriptive terms. It is important to get the terminology correct since different types of containers have different implications.
Here, we’re going to discuss two major types of burial containers which are all similar in that they hold complete human remains, but different in construction, history and purpose.
It is interesting how the shift in terms is associated with the shifting relationships of the living to death!

Category: Science

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Gulp! Did I Just Swallow a Toe?

A major news article last year from Yukon, Canada had the amazing headline “Yukon bar patron swallows famous sourtoe, pays fine, leaves town”. To clarify this right from the start, the famous sourtoe is actually a real mummified toe that came from a deceased individual.
The eating of mummified remains actually has a long history within the Western world. Throughout the early modern period in Europe, ‘corpse medicine’ was thought to be quite efficacious. It wasn’t until the late 18th-century that these practices stopped.
So what is the difference between the native cannibalism so reviled by Westerners, and the medicinal practice?

Category: Science

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Fakes, Frauds and Hoaxes! Or Are They?!

As a discipline, Archaeology has been faced with numerous hoaxes and fakes throughout the years. There is a certain amount of wild romanticism that surrounds our field- it is one of the last disciplines that deals with unknown territory, exploration of unknown lands, and the discovery of unknown peoples. Archaeological discoveries reveal what an amazing and diverse place our world is, and how very different people across the globe are.
Here we are going to look at some of the top hoaxes relating to mortuary archaeology, as well as a known fake which turned out to be real!

Category: Science

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