skull pillow & tuatara

I would be seeing my bioanthropology friend from New Zealand at a conference so I wanted to make her something – of course I chose a skull pillow!

She also brought me a gift; a tuatara – a native reptile of New Zealand. It is from a company called dodoland and there are many cool options. Super easy to put together so even small children could do it (with adult supervision). I love it!

Skull pillow

I am back from Mexico and will post about that trip some day, but first I wanted to share with you something I whipped up yesterday. I’ve been invited to go analyze some skeletons discovered by a road construction project and it reminded me that I wanted to make some skull pillows. These are useful for nestling a human skull so that it can be analyzed – while you may not understand the importance of doing such a thing, the remains have already been disturbed by modern construction, and it is crucially important to certain groups (such as many Native American populations) to know whether or not the individuals are their ancestors. If so, they will be repatriated to the appropriate tribe for the proper ceremonies to take place; if not, they will be reinterred elsewhere in a place hopefully to not be disturbed again. This is why I do skeletal analysis.

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The first order of business is to cut out some circles. I use a stack of pre-cut white circles that my gramma bought and gifted me, and a tupperware container as a guide for the larger circles. This pattern went through a couple of prototypes about a year ago, but I seem to have not taken any photos of that mess. This process seems to work ok though, for those of you who may do bioarchaeology or know someone who handles human skulls… Let’s be real: probably no one who reads this post will find it useful, but at least I have a record here for the next time I might need to make one.

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Next, I fold one of the large circles into a quarter and use a glass to trace around. The glass happens to fit over the white circles with a quarter-inch allowance, so it is the perfect tool for this step. I just line of the center of the glass to the corner of the folded fabric and give it a whirl with my marking pencil.

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Unfold, line up the glass to the line, and complete the circle. I did this on both sides of the same fabric, which will come in handy later.

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Then, place the two large circles right-sides together. Sew around, leaving a fairly wide opening so that you can complete the stuffing later. To sew a fairly perfect circle, I held a pin poked into the center of the circle to hold the fabric as the machine sewed (at the white dot in the image below the next). Clip the allowance, being careful to not clip through the seam.

Before turning out, align the two inner circles and pin them to the center of one side of the fabric. A single pin is better than the photo below (taken before I realized this) because you need to be mindful of how the pin is facing in order to remove it once you turn everything out – place the head of the pin pointing at the seam opening of the big circles. Make sense? Don’t do what I did here! (Marking the inner circles is also unnecessary.)

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This is where that marked line on both sides of the fabric comes in handy. First – re-pin the inner circle from the outside (now right-side). Using the same trick mentioned above, with a pin holding the fabric in place against the machine (just hold it with your fingers vertically), sew a circle in the center of the big circles, but leave a small opening in the same direction as the big opening in the big circles.

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Now, it gets a little tricky but not difficult. Using a tiny funnel, fill the inner circle with weighted fill – I use spoonfuls of rice but I heard this might not be the best choice if you are worried about vermin of any kind. This part probably doesn’t even need to be weighted, but it gives a bit of a heft to the pillow, which makes it feel like it will protect the skull more. Emotions trump knowledge, right? Otherwise, you could fill it with stuffing – the important part is that you want the center of the pillow to be sunken so that a skull doesn’t roll off it. Kapish?

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Only fill the rice bag about ⅔-¾ full, and pin all the rice to one side. Stick it back under the machine and complete the inner circle stitch. Using small wads of stuffing, stuff the donut-part of the pillow somewhere between medium and fully stuffed. Hand stitch the closure and voila!

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I just used some left-over fabric laying around that kind of sort of went together. You can have fun with the fabric choices, but it should be a fabric that is not too rough (some bone is quite delicate) and not too weak (which will become yucky with bone bits and frays).

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And obviously, my circle-stuffing skills could use a little work!

Troweling around

As an archaeologist, I own a trowel. They begin as mortar trowels, but we sharpen them to cut through dirt. Ergo, you need a holster. The ones you can buy are bulky and have a small amount of weight to them. I wanted something different. Enter Boy and his leather. I used a white pencil to trace around the trowel blade, some leather scissors to chop it up, a leather needle and sinew to sew along the sides, and a leather tong to make sure the holster stayed put once in my pack.

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I am pleased with the results! I just got my pack last week and am currently in the field (for a total of eight plus if you can believe it!). So far, things seem to be working ok and I needn’t be concerned of my trowel damaging any other goods or the pack itself. Bravo me! Time will tell if the continued use will wear out the sinew. Fingers crossed!

Scrapping Peru

Not only did I finish my pillow, but I finally, finally, finally tackled the scrapbook layout from my Peru fieldschool that has been sitting in a closet for literally years (I mean, the trip alone was in 2007!!).

These pages are from my excursion to the Museo de la Nacion (the National Museum). The blank spots will be filled in with a little story of my trip, but I am out of ink at the moment and to match the pages I began years ago, I want to keep the printed font theme rather than go to handwriting.

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The recreation of the man by the hut represented some of the work of our field advisor.

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I’ve learned now not to take photographs of human remains as many cultures find it distasteful, but I was young and naive then and I thought it was really cool. Now, I recognize photographs are best spent on research reasons, not “cool bones”.

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That’s me, pointing to Machu Picchu, and I was terribly excited to go (I would go at the end of my 5 week stay stay in Lima, the capital). The statue art in the lower left was an exhibit just getting set up, and I got in trouble for taking photographs (I had no idea, as I do not read Castilian, was separated from my group, and only guessed that’s what the security people were trying to tell me).

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The images in the top left were sad. It was a special exhibit detailing some of the political unrest and civilian casualties from recent history. We didn’t stay in that exhibit long (I may have lingered longer could I read anything).

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Let’s just put it this way: the ancient Moche loved what we would now call erotic art.

I am not sure how much more I will scrapbook, but I do hope to get back into it this winter break. Now that I am getting the hang of teaching, I feel the joy of free-time again. Of course, this semester is a study in organization but otherwise simple. Next semester may be more complicated…

the future of a case of the crafties

The future is uncertain.

I may post considerably less often. Or nothing may change at all. At this point, I really have no idea just how much of my life will be changing, but the comments I made about postponing house updates or making much cheaper decisions, are all related to this:

I am accepted into a graduate program in a city roughly 2 hours away from home to gain a
Master of Science in anthropology, studying bioarchaeology.
W00t!

Boy and my kitties will stay here, and I will be staying with my gracious mother-in-law during the week. (That may scare the heebie jeebies out of some of you, but I tell you, she is a good friend of mine:) I will commute home each weekend when possible, or Boy will come visit me. It will be hard, make no mistake about it. At least this time, cellphones and the internet is in abundance (we started out as a long distance relationship basically at the brink of those things becoming common household items).

Things I will miss:

Boy, Maya and Sasha, the friends I see every day at work, freedom of my paychecks (good bye great job of over 10 years), not having to go to a bank to make a deposit, my craft room, my huge amount of free time, freedom of living nightshift hours and never using a damn alarm clock, my kitchen, my 10 minute commute, getting gas once a month or less, kitties, kitties, kitties, boy, boy boy.

Things to make up for it:

Education and enlightenment and fulfillment, partaking in real research, pursuing a career that I actually enjoy, opening doors to the future, meeting new friends, hanging out with MIL, a pool and gym and bike trail, stepping outside of my comfort zone, having no regrets about something I never did and should have.

About bioarchaeology:

This article at wikipedia explains what bioarchaeology is. I learned it first hand on my field school to Peru in 2007. It is not archaeology – archaeologist do the digging part and mostly work with artifacts – the things that people made. Instead, it is essentially studying the skeletal remains of past populations to put together a picture of how they lived, what activities and diets and pathologies they had, and how they died. Most of you have probably seen Bones, and that is not it either – she is a forensic anthropologist who’s purpose is to identify an individual for the purposes of law. The two fields are similar in my mind, except I will be working outside of the realm of crime and generalizing to populations.

About the program:

The program itself is brand-new, and I will be among its first students so my cohort will be very small – this is good: lots of individual attention from the specialists in the field. It will take two years so I will be finished around May of 2013. Over next summer, I am required to do another field school, which I am looking forward to. My main advisor seemed really passionate about the work and the program so I feel I will be in very good hands. There are a couple projects that we talked about that I am interested in and can begin research on day one. In the lab is a technology that only exists in one other place in the states, and one other place in another country. That has created a global network of anthropologists for this budding program already.

I hope to start a blog for my academic life, and if you are interested in following it, be sure to email me for the link (I will not be making it public here). calynn ((at)) thecrafties ((dot)) com.

Do you have anything that you could ask yourself “If I don’t do this now, when will I?” ?