By Carol Clark
Katy Marklein entered Emory with aspirations to go to medical school, but that changed when she took a freshman anthropology seminar, “Reading the bones of the ancient dead.”
"I was hooked," Marklein recalls of the first day of class, when she walked in and saw two skeletons laid out on a table. "I immediately wanted to understand and appreciate their lives. It's fascinating to learn about the person behind a skeleton."
The seminar is taught by anthropologist George Armelagos, one of the founders of the field of bioarcheology – the study of skeletal remains of past human populations. “I see her as one of the legacies of my teaching,” says Armelagos. “Katy will be able to pick up and carry on skeletal biology in a way that it should be carried on.”
Marklein, a senior majoring in classics and anthropology, recently received a Marshall Scholarship for advanced studies in Britain. She will use the all-inclusive scholarship to pursue two masters degrees over two years: the first in skeletal and dental bioarcheology at the University College London, and the second in osteology and funerary archeology at the University of Sheffield.
Started by a 1953 Act of Parliament, the Marshall Scholarships commemorate the humane ideals of the Marshall Plan, and are designed to give future U.S. leaders an understanding of British life.
While many bioarcheologists focus on prehistoric populations, Marklein is applying bone biology to unlock secrets of the classical era. She spent the summer working in the Weiner Laboratory at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.
“There was a big box of skulls, and my first task was to clean them with toothbrushes,” says Marklein, who was dubbed “the Skull Washer” by a graduate student in the lab. “It probably sounds like a bad horror movie to a lot of people,” she says, adding that for her, it was a dream come true.
Marklein is continuing to work on an analysis of those remains from the classical and Hellenistic periods. “I’ve found some interesting cases of pathologies, and I’m getting some good portraits of a few individuals,” she says, explaining that bones can provide clues of people’s diets, whether they suffered from a disease or trauma, and even what they did for a living.