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Palaeoradiology - A Workshop for Osteoarchaeologists

At the Kings Centre, Oxford. With the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists; Human Osteoarchaeology Specialist Interest Group.

I attended a session on palaeoradiology in Oxford, although not without considerable problems. You see, I thought the event was in London... and when I got off the train in London Victoria I double-checked the venue and found it was in Oxford! A silly mistake to make, but the name of the venue was The Kings Centre, and I had recently been to the King's Fund in London. The name stuck in my head and I was convinced I was going to London.

Luckily I had a quick search for connecting trains and found that I could blast up to Oxford, speed walk to the centre and only miss the first 40 minutes. My previous lecturer in Forensic Radiography from Teesside University, Mark Farmer, was there and anticipating my arrival. Mark is a fellow diagnostic radiographer and also an anthropologist, he taught me during my PgCert (the first third of my Masters).

Sweating profusely, and looking rather sheepish, I slipped into the study day, threw my bag to one side and search the room for familiar faces. There were around 30 or so people at the event. Mark was there with a big smile on his face, in his element. He loves x-raying bones. The chap giving the session is Dr Iain Watt from the University of Exeter. As it transpires, Iain was a consultant radiologist and then retrained later in life in archaeology, and now teaches at Exeter. Suffice to say, we had an excellent session looking at different pathologies.

At the interval Mark and I had a chat and coffee. He brought me up to speed - I only missed the nano-second of radiographic physics and process of imaging. I was rather surprised. One of the big questions I had was 'how should I x-ray dry bones?'. It's a simple question to ask, but I can't find out anywhere in the literature if there's a 'proper' way of doing it. The vast majority of images shown during the session were clinical x-rays (taken from the hospital setting). This also annoyed me a little, as I had expected to have a lots of archaeological x-rays to view. Mark introduced me to a small entourage of friends, including other radiographers and anthropologists.

The second half of the study day involved showing archaeological x-rays of human bones for Iain to give his radiological opinion. These were brought in by the attendees, with most of them being digital (on a laptop, disc or pen-drive) or good old-fashioned printed films. This wasn't the actual purpose of the 'Practical session' though, as the discussion was open to the whole room of experts. The difficulty was that Iain demonstrated so much experience and confidence in image interpretation that it put the rest of us to shame. Being a radiographer, I piped up once or twice (with nods of approval from Mark), but the majority of the room stayed absolutely silent. It felt like an unwelcome class of undergraduates not willing to stick their necks out.

On reflection, this is not an area that osteoarchaeologists or anthropologists tend to be taught at undergrad or postgrad. It was entirely new territory for a lot of people, although their knowledge of bony anatomy astounded me. I thought I knew my anatomy, but these guys knew every single groove and lip of bone.

I thoroughly enjoyed the study day. It was a rare opportunity to speak to people who share my own niche area of interest. I hope to build upon the knowledge and links I've made during the visit so that my own research can progress.

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