Adult campers bone up on skeletons 7-07

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - A dozen people are spending the week at the Arizona State Museum learning how to tell the difference between the patella and the ulna and how the fibula plays in the grand scheme of the human body.

That may sound complicated, but after Monday morning, no one seemed to be overwhelmed by the prospect of arranging bones to form a human skeleton.

“I'm having a little trouble with the spine,” Judith McNew, 66, said Monday as she constructed her skeleton. “But I'll get it by the end of the week, no sweat.”

The participants in the first-ever Archaeology Summer Camp, all adults, are looking to know more about osteology, the study of bones.

They come from different backgrounds and have different experiences with skeletons.

Some, such as McNew and Jean Giliberto, 56, are new to the field. They're taking the course to satisfy their curiosity and learn a new subject.

Others, such as Vija Garcia-Dixon, 51, and Stephen Summers, 59, are osteology veterans. Garcia-Dixon is an anthropology and archaeology student at Pima Community College with plans to graduate in May. Summers has worked for five years excavating human and animal remains in the region.

The wide range of experience is exactly what the organizers were looking for, said zooarchaeologist Barnet Pavao-Zuckerman. Inquiries about the camp came from inside and outside the state, which surprised her.

“We know that bones are inherently fun, but we didn't know it would bring people from outside Arizona,” she said. “It has an appeal for a lot of people because they have seen specials on 'Nova' or elsewhere on TV.”

Most of the week will be spent at the museum on the University of Arizona campus. It began July with a morning session of identifying the many bones in the human skeletal system. After a “lightning-quick” run-through of the hundreds of bones in the body by John McClelland, assistant anthropology professor, the participants had to put together a human skeleton from a pile of bones.

Some of the things they learned include: Certain bones in the shoulder, including the clavicle, are only found in humans and allow a wider range of motion. Also, osteoporosis generally happens in the femur, commonly known as the thigh bone, which handles much of the body's weight when standing. The sockets that attach the humerus - or the “funny bone” - to the shoulder are shallower than the ones that connect the femur to the pelvis, which is why the shoulder is more easily dislocated. The remainder of the day focused on bone and teeth fragments.

The next day, participants visited the University Indian Ruin and learned about forensic anthropology. The rest of the week will deal with animal bones and how to distinguish a human skeleton from an animal.

The camp gave Summers his first chance to participate in a formal class on archaeology. He said there's often little time to examine and study the bones in a lab when excavating bone remains in the field.

“It's been a great opportunity to get access to this knowledge base,” said Summers, who has consulted with McClelland on previous excavations.

McClelland and Pavao-Zuckerman want the 12 participants to learn much in the five days.

But they acknowledge that what they'll cover this week isn't as detailed as what they teach in their classrooms during the school year.

“We usually do this in a semester,” McClelland said. “We would spend one week alone on the humerus.”


Information from: Arizona Daily Star,