Greetings everyone! My name is Jack Biggs and if my name sounds familiar, that is because I was a CHI Fellow during the last academic year and was fortunate enough the be a returning Fellow for this year. I am now a 4th year graduate student in the Department of Anthropology here at Michigan State University focusing on bioarchaeology of the ancient Maya. Although my research interests haven’t changed all that much since my first intro post last fall, I’ll go ahead and re-hash what Ispecifically study and some additions and changes since that last initial post.
My interests lie in skeletal biology, specifically in relation to human growth and development; this means that I study how humans grow up and how their childhood is constructed both by others their age and by the adult world. I am particularly fascinated about how social constructions of age (such as at what age and under what circumstances give an individual personhood, how they transition from infant to child to adult, etc.) affect their biology and how their biology affects their social age. One main way I hope to study this in depth is to attempt to reconstruct the diets of different age cohorts by using oxygen and nitrogen isotope values retrieved from teeth. These isotopes allow researchers the ability to observe dietary patterns such as how protein-heavy a diet was in the years leading up to death, or how much their diet consisted of plants such as maize. The sociocultural aspect of food and food choice has been identified in numerous cultures throughout time and space and so I hope to apply this to the reconstruction of ancient childhood and the attainment of personhood and adulthood for the ancient Maya.
I am also a senior staff member and a site co-director with the Central Belize Archaeological Survey (CBAS), an archaeological and bioarchaeological field school run through MSU. With that project, I have excavated three ancient Maya mortuary rockshelter sites. Unlike many other cultures around the world, the ancient Maya did not bury their dead in demarcated or sanctioned cemeteries with formalized burial spaces. Bodies were commonly placed within housemound floors, in building fill, and also commonly in caves and rockshelters. Those buried in rockshelters tend to be more of the common populations of ancient Maya society – the working farmers and those from rural agrarian communities. This allows us to peak into the life of the everyday Maya individual, not just the entitled elite buried in tombs accompanied by jade artifacts and numerous vessels which draw the most attention but gives us the least information about the majority of the people.
I have continued working with photogrammetry (creating digital 3D models by taking a series of photos and stitching them together) as a means to digitally preserve and analyze human skeletal remains and have worked on improving my technique to build these 3D models in a more accurate and precise manner. Next semester I plan on giving a workshop for the CHI Fellows regarding photogrammetry and its uses.
I have not formally decided on a CHI project for this year, as of yet. Last year, I created J-Skel, an online juvenile skeletal aging website with the goal of familiarizing undergrads and grad students with the multiple ways in which to estimate the age of non-adult skeletal remains. Although I have yet to finalize any idea about what I will be doing over the next year for CHI, I am excited to back and am ready to take on another digital challenge for my project.