Ancient DNA analysis can reveal insight into past populations on many levels. Unfortunately, accessing the osseous labyrinth inside the petrous bone, which has the highest concentration of endogenous DNA of any skeletal element, creates a problem for analysis: It requires intact skeletal remains.
PhD candidate Kendra Sirak has developed a new technique to access the osseous labyrinth without the damage done by established techniques. She details the process in her paper published in BioTechniques and has taught the technique to experts in ten different countries, which has allowed them to perform the procedure independently.
The cemetery was part of the Mississippi State Asylum, which was operational from 1855 to 1935, an era in which psychiatric asylums were common throughout the United States. Dr. Zuckerman has drawn conclusions about the health of the asylum patients from the archives of the asylum’s discharge records. These records are allowing Zuckerman and other historians and anthropologists in the Asylum Hill Research Consortium to form a database of individuals who were buried there. They have received many inquiries from family members about ancestors whom they think died at the asylum, and the Consortium’s hope is that people will be able to readily access the information.
Zuckerman also hopes to exhume more of the bodies in order to learn more about health and the diagnosis of madness in the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries. The bones could provide information about the diseases, malnutrition, or living conditions of the patients. Zuckerman’s research focuses on the bio-social determinants of health inequalities. Her dissertation at Emory was an evolutionary, social, and ecological history of syphilis in England. Since syphilis was a common cause of insanity, Zuckerman’s expertise positions her well to conduct research at this site.
Several master’s students at Mississippi State have already analyzed the exhumed bones to make conclusions about health. One student used genetic sequencing to reconstruct oral bacteria from skeletons. Another student studied tooth enamel to make conclusions about nutritional deprivation and severe stress. Yet another student found evidence of pellagra, a disease caused by Vitamin B deficiency, in both asylum records and skeletons.
The stories of the patients buried at the Mississippi State Asylum are sure to unfold in the next few years, and we look forward to Dr. Zuckerman’s contributions.
Maya Lakshman, who is an Anthropology and Human Biology Major at Emory, grew up helping with her mother’s organization that supports and raises awareness for victims of domestic violence in San Diego. When she came to Emory, she knew that human trafficking was a problem in Atlanta. She co-founded Red Light Emory, which helps local nonprofits and focuses on the mental health consequences of child sex trafficking.
Dinah Hannaford (PhD, 2014), Assistant Professor of International Studies at Texas A&M University, has two major accomplishments coming up this year. Her first book, Marriage Without Borders: Transnational Spouses in Neoliberal Senegal, will be published in July, and she will be embarking on a Humboldt Fellowship in Germany in the Fall.
Dr. Hannaford’s book, Marriage Without Borders, is based on ten years of ethnographic research in Senegal and Europe. She examines the dynamics of transnational marriages: Senegalese men living in Europe who are married to Senegalese women back home. Her ethnographic study of these marital relationships shows how they reshape kinship, Islamic piety, and family care. Hannaford argues that “neoliberal globalization and its imperative for mobility extend deep into the family and the heart and stretch relationships across borders.” The book is a revised version of the dissertation research that she conducted while at Emory.
Dr. Hannaford has also been awarded the Humboldt Research Fellowship for Postdoctoral Researchers from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for the 2017-18 academic year. She will be hosted by the Faculty of Social Sciences at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, and will work on a new research project about international development, domestic work, and return migration. We are excited to see her new contribution to these topics!
One of Emory Anthropology’s first alumna, Dr. Vicki Bentley-Condit (’95PhD), qualified as a 4-star member of the Boston 50 Running Club. She is currently serving as Department Chair of Anthropology at Grinnell College and is a passionate runner. She gave us an update on her running:
“My first race – ever – was the Peachtree 10k on July 4, 1995. Two days later, I defended my dissertation and three weeks after that, I moved to Iowa. All these years later, I have completed 70 marathons/ultras and an unknown quantity of other distances. I finished my 50 States + DC pursuit in January at the Maui Oceanfront Marathon with my family in attendance. I am currently working on a 50 < 4 (marathons in all 50 states with a finish time of less than 4 hrs) and a 50 BQ (a marathon with a Boston qualifying time in all 50 states) with 12 and 9 states, respectively, remaining on those two goals. I hope to complete those by the end of 2018 and my concurrent goal of 100 marathons/ultras maybe by the end of 2020. After that, who knows? I might branch out to run internationally, perhaps finishing the World Majors or even the seven continents. We’ll see.”
Emory Anthropology offers her best wishes in her many races!
Jennifer Mascaro (PhD, Emory Anthropology) published a study in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience based on work she did as a postdoctoral fellow with Professor James Rilling.
The study found differences in behavior fathers showed their children, depending on the child’s gender, from response time to commonly used terminology. The split between fathers of sons and fathers of daughters was also present during brain scans employed in the study. Faced with different pictures, fathers of daughters reacted strongly to pictures of their daughters with happy expressions, while fathers of sons’ strongest reactions were to pictures of their child showing a neutral expression. (eScienceCommons)