How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Forensic Anthropology In a Cypriot Ossuary
I’m super excited to write this post because it means I did something really cool! I originally had this scheduled to post two weeks after I returned, but I wanted to compare my experience to some of my friends.
It’s been a couple months since I’ve returned from my internship in Limassol, Cyprus with the Odyssey Field School. I had a fantastic time. While an internship is very much work and not a vacation, there was vacation- like elements and I had to use vacation time from my day job in order to attend, so humor me.
At the end of 2017/ beginning of 2018, I set some goals for myself with the intention of moving my academic and professional career forward. One of the most important things on my list was to attend a field school. For those of you not familiar with programs or disciplines that have field schools, you may not fully grasp why participation in field school is so important. I want to note that at no time in my graduate program did any professor or advisor speak on the importance of field school, and I really wish they did that early and often. The reason why I sought field school was because my program had more classes geared towards primatology and cultural anthro, so I knew I had to be more proactive in searching for outside opportunities to further my education and opportunities in biological anthro, archaeology and forensic anthropology.
After I finished my Master’s, I took some time to consider what could I do between the Master’s- PhD interim to help make myself a more attractive candidate for a PhD program, build relationships, gain experience, and find other ways to continue to practice anthropology. I applied and got an internship with the Odyssey Fieldschool in Cyprus!
The Odyssey Fieldschool offers a work placement training internship that requires participants to have (or almost have) a Masters in bioarchaeology, forensic anthropology or related experience. What made it a great opportunity for me was the focus in human osteology, skeletal trauma and pathology, it was only 3 weeks long (although I would’ve loved one more week), and there would only be about 6-8 interns in total. Small groups usually mean you’ll have a greater chance for being hands-on and active.
Before I step away from the “only 3 weeks long” statement, I want to note that most field schools require 6-8 weeks. While I understand why the programs are so long, that amount of time and money it takes to participate makes it prohibitive for many students to participate. If you have a job or are responsible for bills/ rent, being without work for two months threatens your livelihood. The programs are often already very expensive, so without the right cross-section of support, many talented individuals are not able to have this vital experience. There are not enough scholarships and grants either. I don’t know how to fix this, but I wanted to acknowledge the issue.
Now on to what I did! I arrived in Limassol, Cyprus on June 2. I was about a day ahead of everyone else, so I stayed in a wonderful hostel for my first night.
While Limassol wasn’t the most picturesque city, the people were very nice from the start. I enjoyed talking to my host and a couple of the guests. The next day, I was picked up by my AirBnB host, and taken to the place I would call home for the remainder of the month.
The apartment was about a 2-minute walk to the beach. I’m not a huge beach person, but the sea breeze in that Mediterranean heat was much appreciated. The apartment was also close to shops, transportation and about a 15-minute walk to the ossuary. Although I was very nervous about being stuck in a house with 5 strangers, I made a promise with myself to put myself out there a bit. My default mode is shy and introverted, but I wanted to make the most of this experience.
Before leaving, almost all of my brothers and sisters called me to make sure I had everything I needed and to wish me a safe journey. My brother, Robert, reminded me that I already had some key things in common with the other interns- we all had or were about to receive advanced degrees in biological or forensic anthropology, we all signed up for this experience, and our professional and academic interests would likely mean that we had a few personality traits in common. He was right, so I tried to keep that in mind.
On our first day, we met at a coffee place, Coffee Island, which would become the heart of our daily routine. The coffee was amazing and miss it every day. Anyway, there we met the director of the program, Dr. Xenia- Paula Kyriakou. While she had a very laid back and informal vibe, it was clear that she expected thorough, accurate work and professionalism. However, she was very approachable and generous with her knowledge and information, which is not a given in academia, and so very much appreciated. Xenia is also incredibly supportive to the professional endeavors of her students. Even though we only had three weeks, she encouraged us to find areas of research and opportunity that we could continue even after our internship ended.
Our schedule was Monday-Friday, and eventually, 7am-2pm. The early mornings helped with escaping a bit of the heat and allowed us to free up our evenings. During our days, our key responsibilities included helping to manage the ossuary tasks (cleaning, keeping track of work, etc.), we also were there to help identify, record, and provide inventory and skeletal trauma and disease analysis for the individuals being stored in the ossuary.
One of the most challenging parts of this task, for me, was being able to do this at a steady and fairly quick pace. This meant that I spent my evenings practicing skeletal anatomy, siding, and getting to know the reporting and procedure forms.
LEARNING MOMENT: Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are not the same everywhere! As an American student, when I was given guides and SOPs throughout my education, there may have been slight variations, but foundationally, they were the same. A biological profile and reporting practices were pretty standard. At Odyssey, we were given SOPs that had a few practices I had never seen before. Talking with the other interns, I learned they also had different practices and there was a range of difference based on the countries we studied in and the populations that we analyzed. Some of these differences were not just about the biological range we may see in a given area, but also political. As we discussed the differences, of course, this made sense, but this was not ever brought up in our studies. We were learning through experience. It meant we all had a bit of a learning curve that presented an added challenge to our daily work and required us to slow down until we were used to the changes.
For me, it took about a week and half before I really started to hit my stride. Working in pairs helped me to get acclimated, but once I started working alone, that’s when I really began to challenge myself, my pace, and my knowledge. The collection was not like anything I had seen before because it had lots of variation, is a fairly contemporary population and is an older group of people. Previously, I had primarily seen more historical remains, and/ or contemporary remains in a controlled space like a museum or classroom. These are great spaces for learning, but for the most part I worked with the same sets of remains over and over. The variety in Cyprus meant I was seeing new things or the same things presenting in different ways all the time. This is one of the most valuable aspects of this particular internships.
(I’ll post separately on some specific, interesting bone thinngs. This post is meant to be an overview of the program.)
We were also encouraged to have some fun! Like good bioarchs, we skipped the nightclubs and went on archaeology adventures- visiting tombs, historic sites and finding good meals. Below are a few fun pictures from our adventures!
Stay tuned for the next post when I start talking more about the bones!
What did you do on break?! I wanna know! Enjoy the last few weeks of summer and for those of you who have just started back to school or work, here’s to a great year!!