So I’ve been reading about ancient bones lately.
No, not the geriatric news report. More like the ancient skeletons that scientists seem to keep finding in strange places. The old bones of our distant ancestors what are unearthed when archeologist and anthropologists get grants to muck about in the wilderness.
You know what I mean, don’t you?
Take the old Kennewick Man, for example. This old native American lived up in what we now call Washington State. But he lived there around 9,000 years ago.
His bones were dug up and all kinds of smart and learned people started to analyze his life. What he ate, where he lived, how he hunted. They figured all this out just from looking at his dusty old bones.
And then there’s Ötzi the Iceman, whose mummified remains were dug up in the Alps. He did his hiking some 5,000 years ago and died on one of his treks. (One of the many good reasons why I have told my husband that I’m no longer interested in mountain climbing.)
When scientists analyzed these remains, they were able to describe exactly what the dead men had eaten, and how long before their deaths those meals has been enjoyed. They looked at the bones, at the hair, at the teeth and the stomach contents and came up with all kind of facts about the men. Where they lived, what they did for work, how far each walked in a year.
So it got me thinking.
If I died today, and somehow got myself buried or frozen or mummified or hermetically sealed in a big old bag, what would future scientists make of my remains?
If they looked at my stomach contents, they would no doubt conclude that women who lived in my time were sustained by pasta, chocolate and a boatload of wine.
Suppose those future anthropologists examined my bones? I bet they would conclude that I had lived a highly active, athletic life. They might surmise that I had spent my adulthood working with my hands.
They would think these things because they’d see several broken fingers.
How would they know that all were broken when I tried to learn how to play basketball, but managed to jam my fingers more often that palm the ball?
They would see a broken bone in one foot and broken toes on each of my feet. “Athletic”, they might think. “Maybe a runner.”
I don’t suppose it would occur to them that I might have slipped off of a flip-flop while walking in the wet grass, thereby breaking a metatarsal bone. They’d have no way of knowing that I would have then stubbornly walked on that broken foot for six weeks before going to the doctor.
And there’s no way in the world that those future scientific geniuses would realize that by slightly favoring that right foot I would have caused my ankle to freeze up and for two of my toes to basically fuse.
I’m sure that if my old mummified carcass was examined closely by future scientists, they would see the scar tissue in my jaw, too. They might use that scarring to infer that I ate a lot of very tough and chewy meats. They might assume that I used my back teeth to chomp on fibrous vegetation, or large fruits and nuts.
How in the world could they know that my jaw was out of alignment because when I was 16 years old I accidentally threw away my orthodontic retainer, which my Mom had mailed to me while I was on a trip to North Africa?
They might think that the indentation on the right side of my forehead was caused by a fight, or a war or some other heroic action.
There is nothing about that divot to tell them that I dropped a huge canister vac on my head while falling down a flight of stairs.
So I wonder.
I wonder if Kennewick man was just a clumsy old dude who got drunk and landed in a bog? I wonder if Ötzi the iceman wasn’t really a high altitude shepherd with bad teeth from eating too much grain. Maybe he was a singer who was on tour in a mountain town when he passed out from a night of eating caramel corn.
I just know that we should question our assumptions.
And that if future anthropologist stumble across my frozen carcass, they will never guess what the tattoo on my back really means.