I was very lucky, through a friend, to have a meeting with Dr Nicholas Márquez-Grant.
Nicholas is a Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology and Course Director in Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology at Cranfield Forensic Institute, Cranfield University, Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. He has been a Research Associate of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography at the University of Oxford since 2010.Previously he worked as an osteoarchaeologist for a number of archaeological companies and for as a Specialist Forensic Practitioner in Anthropology and Archaeology for a number of independent forensic science providers in the UK. Having worked as a specialist in human skeletal remains from archaeological sites for over fifteen years, he has considerable experience in the excavation and study of cremated and unburnt bone from prehistoric sites to the present date and from a variety of contexts and geographical areas. He has been teaching biological/physical anthropology at the University of Oxford since 2001 where he was awarded his doctoral degree in archaeology and physical anthropology in 2006, focusing particularly on health and disease from Punic and Late Antiquity-Early Byzantine human skeletal remains from the island of Ibiza, Spain.
This is a fantastic opportunity to talk first hand about the information held within bones and what can be discovered by studying them.
I particularly find connections between art and science fascinating. Scientists think in a very different way but both sides can take a lot from discussions and thought processes.
Our discussion covered both the study of ancient remains as well as those of war graves, murder victims and remains from disasters. He discussed how to determine the sex of skeletal remains from studying the pelvis and skull.
Ageing is a difficult process and can only determine the perceived age of the bones not the actual age of the person before they died. Our skeletons age differently depending on genes and lifestyle.
During investigation context is important to helping with discovery of information. Clothing worn, items with the remains all help to give information to the history of the person.
We discussed my idea of memory and individuality along side a scientific idea of memory. Science explores actual facts, but my thought processes explore a general non specific approach, the idea of memory rather than an actual memory. Between us though the two sets of thinking unearthed new ideas. I really fascinating result of this dialogue was the introduction of endocast’s by Nicholas. Something I had not discovered previously but perfectly ties in to my ideas of impressions as a way of exploring memory.
During our meeting Nicholas talked about a mass grave discovered in Spain where the majority of the human remains had dessicated so badly that the bones were impossible to study. However brains remained within some of the skulls, science has so far been unable to explain how this is possible but the persistence of memory seems strongly represented here.
Nicholas also mentioned a project he had previously worked on that could be another was of exploring memory and death and how we remember those who have died. He played a part in the repatriation and burial of Julia Pastrana.
Julia Pastrana was a woman who was born with the rare condition Hypertrichosis an abnormal growth of hair in her case over her neck and face. She was bought by a Theodore Lent who later married her, who toured her around the world as part of freak shows. Julia Pastrana died during the birth of her son who also died at the same time. Lent had them both preserved and continued to tour them. After years of lobbying the governor of Sinaloa state successfully managed to have her remains repatriated to her home state for burial after they eventually ended up locked away in a warehouse at the University of Oslo in Norway.
I am hoping to have another opportunity to meet with Dr Nicholas Márquez-Grant to talk further but for now this has been an absolutely fascinating opportunity!