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Book review Human Remains Guide for Museums and Academic Institutions.

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Book Reviews
INSTITUTIONS. Edited by Vicki Cassman, Nancy Odegaard,
and Joseph Powell. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. 2007.
336 pp. ISBN 978-0-7591-0954-4. $59.95 (hardcover).
Physical anthropologists depend on human and primate skeletal collections to document morphological evolution and integration, adaptation, and age- and sexrelated variation. The requirements of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)
have raised the level of awareness in documenting
human skeletal remains, as shown in Jane Buikstra and
Douglas Ubelaker’s 1994 Standards for Data Collection
from Human Skeletal Remains. Although Native American remains will be less available in the future, extensive collections of human remains will continue to be
available for research—provided they are properly cared
for and carefully handled—and some modern human
skeletal collections are even growing through voluntary
donations. So how are we to preserve the research materials of our profession?
Human Remains is essential for every institution that
possesses skeletal remains’ not only museums but also
nearly every college or university offering more than a
few courses in physical anthropology. The book is a thorough and comprehensive compilation of methods for
obtaining, documenting, and caring for human (and nonhuman) skeletal remains. It covers excavation and analysis, inventory, documentation, curation, storage and exhibition, cooperative research, and legal concerns. Initially small collections often grow beyond the ability of
faculty or staff to effectively manage them, and this book
provides guidance beginning with the initial inventory.
Following these procedures provides immediate benefits
and saves time later as collections grow.
In modern management jargon, stakeholders are those
with a significant interest in an issue or resource. However, the book’s authors often make a distinction
between stakeholders (primarily descendant communities) and scientists or researchers—as if scientists do
not have a significant interest in preserving human
remains. The book thus leaves out an important motivation for the continued respectful treatment of human
remains, at least at the basic level of careful handling.
Many museum research-permission forms include warnings about handling remains with care, but museum personnel cannot police all researchers. At one time or
another, we have all probably witnessed careless handling of remains but were reluctant to speak up, either
to the perpetrator or to museum staff. We should do
both, because we all have a vested interest in preserving
the remains that are the basis of so much of our
research. Unlike molecular sequences, which once
recorded and databased, contain all necessary information for future investigations, skeletal morphology is
inherently multidimensional and extendable. Because all
possible skeletal information cannot be recorded, collections of human remains, especially skeletons, will need
to be utilized in the future. Their preservation is of vital
importance to us, therefore, we are also stakeholders
and it is in our collective interest to treat remains with
respect to assure their future availability.
C 2009
In the book’s discussions of documentation, two important developments were not adequately covered. Many
bones can be more thoroughly documented using threedimensional contact digitizers, which unlike metal calipers, involve minimal contact and little pressure, thus
minimizing bone damage or loss. Also, instead of relying
on casting, which can damage remains, affordable tabletop laser scanning systems can be used to document
morphology and even color, an important consideration
in taphonomic studies. Computerized tomography (CT)
and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans provide
even more comprehensive documentation of internal and
external morphology and can be used to produce replicas
using rapid prototyping technology. Minimally, some
type of scanning should be conducted before casting,
especially of crania and fragile bones.
Another important topic in the book is the reasonable
accommodation of requests. At the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH),
many requests from descendant communities—that the
remains of warriors only be moved in the early morning
or that certain crania should face east—were easily
accommodated. As mentioned in the book, the wish of
Native American groups to periodically ‘‘feed’’ remains
with pollen, corn, or tobacco—which can attract pests—
was satisfied at the Smithsonian by placing these materials in plastic bags, which addressed both Native and
conservation concerns. Keeping associated artifacts with
remains, as recommended in the book, is often impractical and undesirable because of storage and security concerns, but consultation between museums and descendant communities on storage issues often results in practical solutions and further meaningful interactions.
As the authors point out, artifacts and remains may
have undergone numerous chemical treatments, and
that information should be kept with the remains. A
treatment card with special codes and symbols can certainly help, but further caution is warranted. Treatment
records are often incomplete and the poisons used in the
past are numerous and often (as revealed by chemical
tests) undocumented. Additionally, fungus, mold, and
animal deposits on remains and artifacts can be deleterious to one’s health.
The book includes numerous sidebars relating relevant experiences of anthropologists who have dealt with
human remains in a variety of circumstances. The book
even mentions BONES, a computer program for databasing skeletal inventories, which includes a printable
homunculus of the individual bone inventory. Unfortunately, the software is supposedly being updated and is
not currently available. Altogether, the recommendations
in Human Remains may seem overwhelming, but there
are a variety of simple recommendations that can vastly
improve storage conditions in short order. Also, the ability of volunteers to perform many basic collections activities, as is done quite successfully at the NMNH, should
not be overlooked. Although every chapter has many valuable insights and recommendations, I feel that Chapter
10 by Alan Morris deserves several caveats. First, Morris
evaluates multivariate statistical procedures unfairly:
‘‘such statistical wizardry is really no better than nineteenth-century craniology’’ (p 155). Multivariate procedures are more than 70 years old and when used with
appropriate caution to evaluate human remains, they
have withstood the test of time. Additionally, Morris’s insistence that ethnicity should not be confused with morphology contradicts NAGPRA, which requires repatriation of remains to specific tribes, and the Smithsonian’s
many documented examples of successful tribal affiliation of human remains based on morphology. That said,
Morris is quite correct when pointing out that it is important to acknowledge the historical and ideological
baggage attached to virtually any label used to classify
humans. One size does not fit all.
Human Remains is invaluable for all institutions with
human remains, whether few or many, because it offers
solutions to common problems with skeletal collections
and covers so many issues those institutions should be
considering, both now and in the future. Human
Edited by Winfried Henke and Ian Tattersall. New
York: Springer. 2007. 2173 pp. ISBN 978-3-540-324744. $999.00 (hardcover).
When I first heard rumor of the forthcoming Handbook of Paleoanthropology, I envisioned a smallish text,
not unlike The Boy Scout Handbook or Strunk and
White’s The Elements of Style, which I could carry to the
field in my backpack and consult whenever there was a
paleoanthropological emergency. Thus, my first examination of the three-volume, 2200-page omnibus revealed an
obvious criticism: Handbook? ‘‘A small book . . . such as
may conveniently be held in the hand’’ (Oxford English
Dictionary, 2nd ed.) this is not, and carting around its
combined 4.5 kg in my field backpack would likely result
in my own, permanent addition to the fossil record.
Still, the title does not make the book, and in this
case it is worth looking at the reasons this text stretches
on for three volumes. First, it is comprehensive, even exhaustive, on some subjects. Its 67 chapters cover everything from evolutionary theory to geochronological methods to Native American dentition and from paraphyletic
plesiadapiforms to anatomically modern and diverse
humans. The series brings to mind the old slogan of the
Vermont institution, Dan & Whit’s General Store: ‘‘If we
don’t have it, you don’t need it.’’ Second, and equally important, it does not appear that contributors to these volumes were given page limits. Chapters range from 11 to
75 pages (mean 29.9 pp. 6 11.7 SD) in length, and in
almost all cases these pages are densely packed. The editors say explicitly that authors were not asked to present
all sides of an argument, but this seems to have occurred
organically. From the reader’s perspective, it appears
that authors were told to compile everything a student
should know about a given subject, and, more to the
point, this directive was taken seriously.
The Handbook is organized into three volumes: ‘‘Principles, Methods and Approaches;’’ ‘‘Primate Evolution
and Human Origins;’’ and ‘‘Phylogeny of Hominids.’’
Although it is difficult to imagine readers digesting the
Handbook from front to back, this organization makes
good theoretical sense, as many chapters in Volumes II
and III draw heavily on concepts explicated in Volume I.
This first volume covers a broad sample of methods asso-
Remains, in short, covers all significant aspects of preserving the skeletal collections upon which the continuation of our profession depends.
Department of Applied Forensic Sciences
Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute
Mercyhurst College
Erie, Pennsylvania
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21108
Published online 11 August 2009 in Wiley InterScience
ciated with paleoanthropology, evolutionary biology, and
paleontology. In one sense, all chapters in this volume
are theoretical: they provide background and context
for understanding these principles, methods, and
approaches without necessarily offering the details of
how one would implement them. This seems consistent
with a goal of presenting sufficient information to evaluate and critique those methods beyond one’s own specialization without overburdening an already lengthy text.
Illustrations and examples in this volume are generally
simple but do a surprisingly good job of clarifying complicated issues. Whether this was done at the editors’
behest or independently by each author, the end result is
a book on paleoanthropological methods that is uniformly comprehensible.
Notably absent from Volume I (hereby acknowledging
my own bias) is a chapter on morphometric methods.
Although Ulhaas’s chapter on fossil reconstruction
appropriately references geometric morphometrics
within the context of her topic, the importance of these
and other metric approaches to paleoanthropology, combined with the complex issues associated with measuring
and analyzing fossil samples, amply justifies a chapter
dedicated to these topics. The lack of one or more sections covering these issues was surprising.
The nominal purview of Volume II is primate evolution and human origins, but it includes substantial contributions in primate behavior and ecology as well. The
volume leans heavily to the right—which is to say, toward the side of the phylogenetic tree inhabited by the
human lineage—reflecting the demography of the paleoanthropology community. Still, Silcox and colleagues provide a thorough introduction to the early primates, putative primates, and related mammals, and Rasmussen
takes on the (Alti)Atlasian task of discussing Paleocene,
Eocene, and Oligocene euprimates. Coverage of the Hominoidea is comprehensive, with a balance of systematic
and adaptive topics. These are supplemented by a handful of chapters on primate behavior and ecology. Like the
morphological chapters, these focus mostly on catarrhine
and hominoid examples, and the topics (e.g., great ape
social systems, intelligence, and chimpanzee hunting
behavior) are those likely to be most useful for interpreting human evolution.
The final volume, ‘‘Phylogeny of Hominids,’’ is very
much a combination of themes from the first 2 volumes
but reinvestigated and focused through the lens of
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
human evolution. The structure is roughly chronological
cum phylogenetic with a series of topical chapters to
complement the taxonomic ones. In many respects, Volume III provides exactly what is missing from Volume I:
the application and interpretation of theory and methods. The recapitulation of these themes, applied by a different set of researchers, grounds the entire set in a way
that is both informative and practical. It is also noteworthy that this volume does not terminate with the origin
and dispersal of modern humans but continues with
chapters on archaeology, culture, and ethics. These vast
topics can only be abstracted in single chapters, but the
contributions do a good job of accenting the ‘‘anthropology’’ in the Handbook of Paleoanthropology.
Although one can quibble with points in the most
even-handed of manuscripts, the Handbook generally
provides a balanced presentation of most topics. However, one exception is noteworthy. Senut’s chapter on
early putative hominids, a critique of some broadly held
assumptions in paleoanthropology, proposes a phylogenetic scheme (Figure 6.3) that reunites Gorilla and Pan
on a clade exclusive of Homo. Not only does this run
counter to the opinions of most researchers, but it also
seems to contradict her own leanings in this chapter
(p 1520). Regardless of what the true phylogeny is, the
lack of any evidence or even discussion in the text of
such a controversial proposition makes the sudden
appearance of this phylogenetic tree seem startlingly out
of place.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Overall, the Handbook is most suited to seasoned
graduate students and professionals. Although some of
the chapters are individually more accessible, the majority are densely packed with information and jargon. In
any case, the cost (for collectors) and magnitude (for borrowers) of this set will likely ward off more casual readers. In the scheme of academic literature, however, its
price and size scale isometrically.
My mother used to say about her 51-volume set of
Harvard Classics (paraphrasing somewhat liberally, it
turns out, its editor’s introduction) that it contained the
literary equivalent of a university degree. In many ways,
this Handbook is Henke and Tattersall’s answer to Dr.
Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf, containing the diverse elements
necessary for training in the multidiscipline of paleoanthropology. It does not contain all of the knowledge one
requires to be a paleoanthropologist, but, much like a
good graduate education, provides the resources that a
student needs to apprehend it on his or her own.
Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21146
Published online 11 August 2009 in Wiley InterScience
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