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Jack Biggs

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May 12, 2017

Launching J-Skel

May 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

I am very proud to announce the launch of J-Skel: The Digital Ages Estimator of Subadult Skeletons at j-skel.matrix.msu.edu!  I designed this website with the goal of]-o0 acquainting upper-level undergraduate students and early graduate students of physical anthropology and human osteology (or for anyone else just interested in bones) to aging methods of juvenile skeletons.  Though this may seem like a morose topic, skeletal remains from juveniles are actually quite enlightening and can even give information as to the quality of life, area of origin, and migration patterns across time and space.

All-in-all, juvenile remains are essential in reconstructing past populations.  This can only be done by understanding how the body grows and develops during this time period, hence J-Skel.  Data gathered for this project were from multiple resources that specialized on individual bones or elements and they aged over time during the life course.  However, the majority of these projects were conducted by white European or European-American scholars on populations of similar demographics. Although there have been recent pushes to get more geographic and cultural populational studies rolling, the majority of data out there are on individuals of European descent.

The J-Skel homepage allows you to click on an interactive SVG of a child skeleton which takes you to aging methods in different parts of the body.  After months of tearing through RaphaelJS, the original javascript library I attempted to use to create the interactive elements, I could never get the SVG I created or RaphaelJS to link to my html.  However, I was eventually able to use Inkscape to create the SVG of the child’s skeleton and directly embed this lengthy code directly into the body, giving me a large interactive component to the website.

For this site, the skeletal regions I chose to group were the skull, thorax, pelvic girdle, upper limbs, and lower limbs.  Each region/subpage is broken down by bone with general descriptions of age methods and age-related changes.  Beside those are classes of buttons which correspond to different levels of fusion between bones.  For example, the frontal bone (the forehead) is originally made up of two halves that fuse and become one single bone.  The buttons beside the description would say: ‘unfused’ – for two separate halves, ‘fusing’ – one bone that is in the process of fusing the two bones, or ’completely fused’ – the two haves have become one with no remnants of the fusion line.

Depending on which button you clicked per bony element, an appropriate age range would be generated and appear in a text box on the right side of the screen.  Using the example above, if you have a specimen in front of you from a skeletal collection where the two frontal bones are in the process of fusing, by clicking on the button labeled “Fusing”, the text box to the right would reveal: “Between 2 and 4 years old”.  This process is the same for all of the bones that I used for this project.  However, not every bone or bone type in the body is used for aging one the website.  Some bones are much better than others to use for aging, so those are the ones that were selected.

One aspect of the site that I plan to work on over the summer is to include a section over aging using dentition.  The teeth form and erupt (protrude from the bone) in a very particular order and on a strict schedule such that teeth can greatly increase accuracy in age estimations.  The reason they have not been included in the site right now is due to a function of time for research.  Teeth are incredibly complicated structures and the time it would have taken to get all of the information gathered and synthesized would have prevented me from launching the website on time, so be on the lookout for that section to pop up later this summer!

I hope you find this tool as useful, interesting, and informative as it was for me to create (both content-wise and from a web designer point-of-view).  This subject is one that may on the surface seem eerie or creepy, but recognizing the value of how infants, children, and teenagers make sense of- and are affected by the world around them helps us understand cultural processes and mechanisms of society.  This tool is just one way of starting to address these interests, so I hope you enjoy the website and learn something new!

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