Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Anth 410

My favorite class in college was Anth 410.

It was my junior year of college and I had found myself in a 400 level class. It was drastically different than the auditorium style lecture halls that usually sat 200 people per class - there were only about 20 people in this one.

Human osteology.

Our professor was a world-renown forensic anthropologist, whose specialty was pubic bones. I remember waiting outside the classroom, wondering what awaited us - I'd never taken a 400 level class before. I sat down to a skinny brunette who had the largest doe-eyes I'd ever seen.

"Hi," I said, sounding somewhat inadequate to my own ears. She smiled at me, and asked if I wanted to be her study-buddy - she had, apparently, taken the class once before. And then immediately dropped it due to the work involved.

My stomach plunged and a cold sweat began. I was taking several other demanding classes at the time - would I be able to handle this? Before I could chicken out and walk away, a short, squat, and somewhat hairy woman walked by. She smiled (revealing slightly crooked teeth) and beckoned us into the room - this was our professor.

All twenty of us filed in, and we sat down at the tables that were strewn about. As we looked around at the skeletons and diagrams, our professor smirked.

She knew what we were in for.

The next day only twelve showed up. The other eight had, apparently, decided that they couldn't devote the amount of time needed to Anth 410. Our professor required that we be able to identify all the bones of the human skeleton blindfolded (she, of course, was damn near cackling when she informed us of this). We had to know every bump, crevice, foramen, sulcus, and protrusion, among other features. We also had to be able to estimate the age of the person when they had died, and tell our professor what side of the body the bone was in. She also liked to throw animal bones in our quizzes, just to spice things up a bit.

Thanks Professor. Really.

We kept a log of our hours spent in the lab outside of class, and we drew every bone that we studied in our notebooks.

By the end of the semester, I had logged over 800 hours. It was a running joke among the professors in our department - me and Lynn (the doe-eyed girl from the hallway, who I eventually became good friends with) were there more than they were. We had became fixtures.

That was, without a doubt, one of the most difficult and challenging classes I have ever taken. I, at times, hated it. I hated that I couldn't estimate the age of a person based off their teeth. I hated the foot bones. I hated that I had to spend 8 hours a day trying to memorize the names of things like 'linea aspera' or 'occipital crest,' on top of all my other coursework for my other classes.

And then, a change happened. There I was, going over the bones of the human skull for the umpteeth time, when it clicked. This was important. These skeletons were once real, actual people. People that somebody loved. People that lived their lives. I glanced over at the skeleton of a baby - whose baby was that? Was the mother heartbroken that her child had died shortly after birth? What about the other skeleton of the old man? What had he gone through in his life that his arthritis was so bad that the bones were damn near fused together?

I began to comprehend things, to understand that the femur bone fits in the acetabulum, which is part of the os coxae (a fancy word for pelvis), which supports the whole upper skeleton. If the femur is permanently compromised, the body automatically adjusts for it - muscle starts building in the other leg to make it stronger. The other leg gains bone to allow for the newly forming muscle to attach. It's like some awesome biological chain-reaction.

It all began to make sense. And I realized that if I looked at the skeleton, I could tell how a person lived. I could hazard a guess as to whether or not the person that skeleton represented was male or female, and if it was female whether or not she had given birth. I could tell whether or not he or she had certain types of infections and diseases, I could tell age, I could, effectively, guess as to how that person lived. I could figure out through the clues left on the skeleton who that person was. It kind of blew my mind.

That class remains a turning point in my life. It was at that point in my life that my passion for all things anthropological and biological began. Oh sure, I had already begun majoring in anthropology, but my reasons for that were pretty dumb - nothing else had caught my fancy.

When it came time for the end of the year, our professor declared that our class was one of the best she had ever had. Me and Lynn - we received A's. We were so proud of those, as we had worked our asses off for them.

And every class I took after that one? I began to see them in a whole new light.

I may not have a job in my chosen major. But my passion still remains. It may go dormant every once in a while, and I may get so caught up in the every-day grind that I forget about it sometimes.

But it's still there, silently analyzing humanity.


  1. Having no interest in anthropology - I enjoyed your recount of hard work and stickwithit-ness. Cheers!


Because I'm needy.