Having babies as an academic archaeologist

Some people consider that having children while studying or before you have gained tenure is career suicide. I had my first baby while a PhD student and my second 9 years later after I had gained tenure. For me, while having my first baby was much more difficult financially, having a baby when I was younger was a lot easier in terms of my energy levels and perseverance, even with little sleep and other responsibilities.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a tough year or so finishing my PhD after having my first child. I used to joke that completing a PhD was like being pregnant and in labour – there is a lot of hard work to form your larger thesis (the gestation part) and at the end the harder you push the faster the agony would be over (active labour)!

14290074_10154547415267437_5408822146824746437_o

After I was back from my 12 weeks leave with my second child I faced the daunting task of an unusually heavy convening and teaching load. I do acknowledge that I am relatively privileged that there are many people in the US and other countries who do not have access to this leave, and I had some flexibility with work arrangements when my daughter was very young. I found expressing and dealing with infant sicknesses an almost full-time job. A vivid memory that has stuck with me was writing a large grant application when staying in hospital with my daughter when she was 3 months old while suffering from respiration issues. There were other real disruptions, e.g., I  missed a major fellowship deadline when my baby was a newborn, which could have been a career changer for me. Although I was working long hours and being successful and productive there was a ‘dip’ in my research.

As I am a (bio)archaeologist, having children poses some real difficulties for the logistics of my work, but this also provides my children with many opportunities (see my earlier post on this).

Some universities have acknowledged that parenting and parental leave impacts upon research momentum and that parents needed additional support to help get that going again when they return to work. E.g., as part of the Athena SWAN Charter, Durham University have introduced a policy whereby staff returning from maternity/parental/adoption leave are eligible for a term of research and study leave.

There also seems to be an increase in recognition in archaeology that there are gender equity issues. Here are a hand-full of resources in archaeology that seek to encourage participation and improve the status of women in our field. Check them out!

Trowelblazers runs outreach activities and events with the aim of “encouraging participation of women and underrepresented groups in archaeological, geological, and palaeontological science.”

The Gender Equity in Archaeology Project “examines the relationship between gender, author, and editorship in conference presentations and publications as a lens to examine current disciplinary sociopolitics and the relative contributions of men and women to archaeological research.”

There are also committees that focus of gender equity in archaeology in societies. For example, the Society for American Archaeology has a Committee on the Status of Women in Archaeology which “seeks to understand the current status of women in the profession through the gathering of data and to improve the position of women in archaeology.”

There is also a resource here that lists some women’s academic organisations, including anthropology.

IMG_3259

Check out this wonderful outreach on the study of childhood in the past

At the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past, we want to share our passion and enthusiasm for this subject with professionals and the public alike. Therefore, we have been busy organising events that highlight the importance of children in the past. In October 2016, the Society was involved in the Big Biology […]

via Want to know more about the study of childhood in the past? Follow SSCIP’s outreach activities — sscip

1170854_10100934448983597_643943699_n

Snap-shots of research: Personhood of perinates in the past

This month we are featuring Dr Tracy Betsinger who is an Associate Professor from SUNY Oneonta. Prior to joining SUNY Oneonta, Dr. Betsinger held a post-doctoral research position with the Global History of Health Project at Ohio State University.

1170854_10100934448983597_643943699_n

Tracy working on a perinate from the post-medieval Drawsko collection, Poland (while pregnant with a fetal skeleton shirt on!).

Tell me a little bit about your work:

I’m a bioarchaeologist interested in patterns of health (in general) and infectious disease, particularly treponemal disease, the effects of cultural factors such as status and urbanization on health, and the relationship between mortuary patterning/treatment and identity/personhood, especially among perinates. I work on materials from a variety of contexts, including prehistoric populations from eastern Tennessee and medieval and post-medieval populations from Poland.

How did you get into your field and why?

My interest in perinatal mortuary patterning was a fortuitous happenstance. While working with a colleague, Dr. Amy Scott, on post-medieval Polish materials, we noted the fairly large number of perinatal remains, many of which were well preserved (several with the tympanic rings in place!). We were examining other mortuary patterns at the time, when we decided to investigate the perinatal mortuary pattern to determine whether it matched older subadults or was distinct in some way. We also explored what this might mean in terms of their personhood and identity. The more I began to research perinates, perinatal mortuary patterns, and ontology, the more intrigued I became. I shared my research with a cultural anthropologist in my department (Dr. Sallie Han) whose research is focused on pregnancy and we found much common ground! The result of this was a four-fields anthropology of fetuses, initially an American Anthropological Association session and now a soon-to-be in-press edited volume.

What is on the future horizon for your research?

More recently, I have begun exploring perinatal mortuary treatment with the prehistoric populations from Tennessee. This work is just beginning, but I’m hoping to explore perinatal mortuary patterns/personhood temporally and geographically in the region and dovetail that information about what we know is going on health-wise in East Tennessee. My colleagues (Dr. Michaelyn Harle, Dr. Maria O. Smith) and I have only completed some general assessments of perinates, but so far, there seems to be a consistency in their treatment with older subadults and across time and space. We are planning more nuanced analyses of their mortuary treatment and are hoping to analyze remains for bacterial bioerosion with the hopes of identifying stillbirths from live births.

Halcrow Fig. 8 copy

New comprehensive resource on childhood bioarchaeology now available

We have a just published a large annotated bibliography on the Bioarchaeology of Childhood with Oxford Bibliographies online. This will be useful to all bioarchaeology and human osteoarchaeology students, and academics for research and teaching. Please access this here

Halcrow, Siân E.; Ward, Stacey M. “Bioarchaeology of Childhood.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Childhood Studies. Ed. Heather Montgomery. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

 

 

cartoon-neater

How teeth can tell the story of your secret stresses

As the most vulnerable members of any population, infants and children are dependent on others for their survival. They are the most represented groups in cemetery samples, simply because surviving past the first year of life is no mean feat when you are so fragile. Providing you survive childhood, the stresses you experience during that period can go on to seriously affect your adult life. Childhood experience, then, is extremely interesting to the bioarchaeologist – not just because it’s nice not to ignore entire sectors of the population, but also because what’s happening to the children reflects big things like cultural ideas surrounding childhood, environmental stresses and disease environments.

When we study infants and children in cemetery samples, however, what we see is just a single moment in time. We might see indicators of stress if it was not so severe as to completely halt bone formation. We might get hints of infant feeding practices if something particularly unusual was occurring. We definitely get a biased sample – to study childhood archaeologically we have to look at individuals who did not make it past childhood! So how can we get an insight into childhood health in the past when we have biased samples and individuals who may or may not have recorded the stresses they were experiencing in their bones?

The answer may lie in geochemical techniques. Bioarchaeologists have long-recognised that tissue chemistry can give insight into childhood experience. Changes to isotopic ratios in bones, for example, can help to pinpoint when weaning was occurring. More recently though incremental isotopic techniques have been developed that allow us to look at experiences over the life course – not just at a single point in time. Tissues that grow at known rates (like teeth, hair and nails) can be sliced into increments. Each of these increments represents a period of time in a person’s life and we can use incremental values to build a profile, showing changes to tissue chemistry over time. Why is that a big deal? Because it means we can look at changes to tissue chemistry in archaeological infants and children to see changes to diet and physiological stress over time, leading up to time of death. But perhaps more importantly we can look at the early-forming tissues of adults who survived childhood, to get an insight into their childhood experience and whether or not it was different to our non-survivors. Goodbye osteological paradox (ok, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s a good step on the way to removing bias).

Julia Beaumont (Bradford) and Janet Montgomery (Durham) are pioneering this kind of work, showing maternal and infant stress levels in Irish famine samples, and investigating the implications these have for survival. They’ve shown that they can see differences in weaning behavior between survivors and non-survivors and evidence for maternal stress in the increments that form while the infant is still in the womb. They’ve even spotted evidence for the introduction of famine relief food in the form of ‘Indian meal’ (maize), which handily has a carbon isotope signal that is very different to the much more negative values of the traditional Irish diet. The work being done on childhood during the Irish famine is extremely cool and, because it’s a relatively well-documented historical event, there are written sources like workhouse records that researchers can use to add to and support their interpretations. Lucky them!

jonnys-records

Excerpt from the Minutes of the Board of Guardians, Kilkenny Union (9 March 1843), describing the death from starvation of an infant of 2 months in the workhouse. Photo taken by Jonny Geber at the Kilkenny County Library (Local Studies 6/2K).

Work in modern and historic contexts is building up a picture of the myriad of different isotopic changes which can occur during childhood. In these contexts we either have very good knowledge of the childhood experience (as in clinically examined infants) or can extrapolate it from historical records (as in the Irish famine context). As incremental isotopic techniques are increasingly applied we are building up what is effectively a reference library, showing which changes might be related to weaning, which might relate to the introduction of complementary foods. We can also see what maternal-infant stress transfer might look like isotopically, and identify stress spikes throughout tissue formation.

This is especially useful for people like me, who work in prehistoric contexts. Here the childhood experience is very much a mystery, and having references from which to interpret isotopic results becomes important. For my work in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile it’s particularly useful because there are so many competing influences over the isotopic composition of tissues. I need all the help I can get in my interpretations!

The Atacama Desert is a crazy place to live, and it’s a crazy place isotopically. To start with the aridity of the desert environment means that terrestrial food sources have isotopic ratios that are well outside of what we’d consider ‘normal’ elsewhere. Secondly, baseline stress levels are likely to be through the roof. The Atacama is the driest hot desert on earth (fun fact: technically Antarctica is a drier ‘desert’, because all its water is tied up in the form of ice/snow). Where I work there are snowmelt fed rivers which have allowed people to farm the valleys since around 1500BC, but even then it’s precarious. So our isotopic profiles are probably going to be affected by stress at least as much as they are affected by infant/child feeding practices. In fact, there’s a prevailing theory in the area that infants and children weren’t just under nutritional stress, they were also being systematically poisoned by the extremely high heavy metal content (especially arsenic) of the rivers. Good times.

san-jose

The San Jose ‘river’ bed, Arica. Taken by the author, November 2014. Water is a precious resource in this area, and the river is used extensively for crop irrigation, meaning by the time it reaches the sea in the city of Arica, for much of the year there is no water there at all.

As a final complicating factor, the area has played host to a variety of different polities, including the Tiwanaku people and later the Inkas, who are likely to have brought with them useful complementary foods such as maize, but also different cultural expectations regarding infant/child care and feeding. But in a prehistoric context we can’t be totally sure what these were. We have some tantilising hints from later Spanish ethnographers who observed the Inka, and occasionally wrote about their childcare practices. As per usual though, these accounts tend to focus on royalty and royal males in particular, things as ‘mundane’ as women and children rarely get a look in. The brief mentions of Inka childcare do paint a picture of a rather laissez-faire attitude to young ones, with multiple accounts speaking of how it was considered weakness to hold babies, and Garcillaso de la Vega talking of keeping infants in holes in the ground beyond a certain age. There’s even a potentially (hopefully?!) exaggerated mention of sending them to work in the silver mines for misbehavior. Not very useful on the whole though, and in the northern Atacama, which was on the periphery of the Empire, these customs may not even have applied.

chicha-vessel

Vessels like this kero (qero) appear in the archaeological record from the Middle Horizon (450-900AD) onwards. Used for the ceremonial drinking of chicha (maize beer), they highlight the incoming of external polities and their customs. Photo is of a Tiwanaku period kero in the collections of the Museo Larco, Lima and was taken by the author.

poma-child-in-crib

Illustration of a swaddled Inka infant in their crib from Guaman Poma’s ethnography “nueva corónica y buen gobierno”. Accessed online through Det Kongelige biobiotek

All of these things combine to make a gloriously chaotic picture of early life in the Atacama. In looking at incremental isotopic profiles from my individuals, we have evidence for almost every kind of infant/child life-experience you can imagine. Some show broadly what we’d expect for a child in any context – a signal for breastfeeding, followed by a gradual shift down to adult isotopic ratios as weaning occurs. Other profiles are dominated by stress signals, with high maternal nitrogen isotope ratios probably signifying maternal stress, and continued stress throughout infancy. We can see the use of maize as a complementary food during weaning for some individuals, but others from the same time period seem to completely ignore it, weaning onto different resources instead.

cartoon-neater

Isotopic systems can be complicated. Particularly when you work in a desert.

All this isotopic chaos can be pretty frustrating. There was no uniformity in weaning behavior in any time period in the Atacama. No massive changes with the incoming of agriculture. No population-wide processes apparent at all. How am I supposed to get my high-impact, world-changing publications now?

But actually these incremental techniques we are begin to reveal more and more complexity in decision-making, and diversity in life experiences in the past. There is no single story of childhood in the Atacama, just like there was no single story during the Irish Famine, and no two childhoods are the same today. Using these new methods we’re building individual profiles, not population models. We can see more detail so of course the picture is going to get more complicated. And in many ways that’s what bioarchaeology is about – seeing the complexity of life, and giving the people whose remains we study back their own, individual stories.

Guest post written by Dr Charlotte King, Rutherford Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Otago (@showmethemummy) – bioarchaeologist, traveller and adventure-hunter. Big fan of isotopic systems, and desperately searching for agricultural origins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a sneak peek at our new resource on the “Bioarchaeology of Childhood” coming soon to Oxford Bibliographies in Childhood Studies

We have a forthcoming large annotated bibliography on the Bioarchaeology of Childhood coming soon to Oxford Bibliographies online. Take a sneak peek here. This will be useful to all bioarchaeology and human osteoarchaeology students, and academics for research and teaching. Please contact me here to request a personal copy.

Note that this is now published online

Halcrow, Siân E.; Ward, Stacey M. “Bioarchaeology of Childhood.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Childhood Studies. Ed. Heather Montgomery. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

fig.3asia2000report

My recent interview with The Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past member Katie Hemer

Our interviewee is Dr Katie Hemer. Dr Hemer is currently a University of Sheffield Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, and will start her Lectureship there next year. She is the SSCIP Membership Secretary. Tell me a little bit about your research? To date, my research has mainly focused on the study of cemetery populations from early medieval […]

via Short interviews with SSCIP members: Katie Hemer — sscip

IMG_2618

Children and Anthropology Conferences: Past and present

Instead of a negative and complaining post on conferences and parenting, I want to highlight the proactive approach the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) is taking to support caregivers as well as ECRs in general at their 2017 meeting in New Orleans. I look forward to attending this conference and will co-chair a session on Conceptualising the Child: Identity and health in bioarchaeology with Mary Lewis and Rebecca Gowland.

I was dismayed last year at both the SAAs (Society for American Archaeology) and the AAPA meetings at the lack of childcare and facilities available to carers attending the conference, or information in general about external childcare arrangements. After contacting numerous people in the associations over several weeks about childcare arrangements, I gave up hired private nannys. This was very difficult for my just turn two-year-old who had really bad separation anxiety and made it very expensive with transport costs to and from the venue to attend to my children.

This time around AAPA has been proactive and provided members with a survey for childcare requirements for the 2017 meeting, as I understand has also happened at some of these conferences in the past. I am optimistic this may mean that there are some on-site childcare facilities available.

Last year AAPA also provided the 2016 Family Care Award for Early Career Women scholars, a Committee on Diversity Women’s Initiative (COD-WIN) initiative to assist those who are caring for dependent family member/s at home. There is no sign of the award this year (yet) but we can only remain optimistic.

AAPA also supports student attendance at the annual meeting through various means, e.g. the Pollitzer Student Travel Award and professional development mentoring opportunities

————————————–

For those of you interested in our session at the AAPA, here is our abstract:

Conceptualising the Child: Identity and health in bioarchaeology

A child’s skeleton provides a rich repository of information relating to their physical and social worlds. This evidence, when properly contextualised, may be successfully harnessed by bioarchaeologists to explore such diverse aspects of childhood, including care and cultural constructions of the life course, the fluidity of gender and status identity with age, local disease ecologies, activities such as play and occupation, and even cases of physical abuse. Children have emerged as important social actors in the past, as individuals who exercise considerable agency, and whose presence and societal contributions are vital to properly consider when interpreting the archaeological record. Bioarchaeologists are increasingly aware of the importance of younger members of society to our understanding of past cultures and lifeways. Children, particularly perinates and infants, are now regarded as crucial to assessing maternal health, adult morbidity patterns and longevity. Exposure to malnutrition or infectious diseases during the early stages of our development are recognised to have a detrimental effect on health during adulthood, and for our offspring. As vulnerable members of a society, wholly dependent on the care of others, understanding the survival of infants has the potential to provide an accurate measure of a population’s ability to adapt to their particular environmental circumstances. Our questions are becoming ever more sophisticated as we broaden our focus away from issues of representation of children and mortality rates to questioning specific issues that surround a child’s identity, from infancy to adolescence, and the unique circumstances that influence their health and survival.

 

IMG_2618

At the 2016 AAPA meeting with her new France Casting hoodie, my name tags, and the flesh-eating bacteria (necrotizing fasciitis) soft toy I was given from one of our PPA session organisers 🙂

 

IMG_3315

To Achieve the Impossible: Research and study leave with children

Recently, there has been a study published by researchers at my own University on the experience of Research and Study Leave (RSL) or sabbatical for men and women. It found  that families are negatively affected to taking RSL with international travel due to childcare requirements and associated costs.

I am lucky that I am in a permanent position and at a University that supports RSL. I am also ‘lucky’ that I have recently sold my house. The small proceeds from this have allowed me to pay for my 2- and 11-year-olds airfares and childcare, which has thus far cost over NZ$15,000, plus continued payment of daycare fees to keep the enrollment of my 2-year-old at our University childcare.

What I am truly lucky for is the child-centered cultures that I work in and the amazing colleagues and students I have who accommodate them. The best place in accommodating my children has been in Thailand and Laos where friends and my local nanny have been absolutely fabulous. I have tried to plan this stint of fieldwork so as my 11-year-old is away at a time that includes her school break and to work around a visiting fellowship to the UK at the end of the year. However, this timing has also meant that it is HOT and hard for my kids. My 11-year-old misses her friends, but she has been extraordinarily self-motivated at doing her schoolwork each day (even in the weekends) working on her maths, reading and writing. I actually have to tell her to stop doing it at times so she gets out of the house!

Research highlights thus far have been working on the human remains from the Plain of Jars site in Laos excavated under the direction of Dougald O’Reilly and Louise Shewan. This site is under consideration for World Heritage Status and has gained archaeological interest from researchers around the world. I have also been continuing with my data collection from the infants and children from a Thai Iron Age site (see my post from early this year). This season I have found several very pre-term infants. This is of significance in indicating poor maternal health in this past population, and further supports our developing model of health change during this turbulent time of agricultural and social change.

IMG_3259Our visit to the Plain of Jars site 1.

 

IMG_2969A 24-26 week old foetus from the Iron Age site of Non Ban Jak, Northeast Thailand.

 

IMG_2978Our “super-nanny”.

The most difficult place we have been this year for accommodating children was the US for two major conferences. Childcare was US$200 a day plus extra expenses. Neither of the conferences provided childcare services, which I would have been very happy to pay for. Thank goodness for two local moms at the first conference who traveled to the store to buy us some groceries while we were stuck in a food desert! Despite the expense, both conferences have been extremely beneficial for my research. I have established new collaborations, been invited to visit universities, and they were invaluable for me to keep up-to-date with recent research developments in my field. I was also able to support two of my students who attended the conferences.

I’m happy that my RSL so far has been possible with my children. Without the ability for international travel I can’t do my research or attend major conferences. However, next time I will try to be more realistic about my plans with the kids. They are enjoying their time in Southeast Asia but the logistics and financial issues are a lot of pressure.

We are off to the UK in September until December for my fellowship to work with colleagues in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham. Another place with supportive colleagues! I’m looking forward to the next adventure!

IMG_3315The two-year-old helping me re-box some archeological human remains.

IMG_2971.jpgThe 11-year-old hiding in our bedroom for some quiet space to do her school work under the mosquito net.