The stereotype of a scientist as clinically analytical is dispelled in
Harrison's poem, Nazca Woman. Physical anthropologists know only remnants of a person's story rest within the bones they study, but they are drawn to wonder and discover the truth of the lives lived so long ago.
by Brian Harrison
The skeleton is female, evidenced by morphology of sciatic notch
And subpubic angle, alive
Who were you, old mother? How was your life? What language
Just under two thousand years ago, measured by cross-dating
Of polychrome shards and C-14.
passed these sand-pitted teeth? What thoughts lived in the coral
Nearly 143 cm in stature, using regression formulae
For femorae and tibiae.
gray skull, now burnished by time? Did these
She had one or two full-term pregnancies, based on scarring
Of preauricular and interosseous grooves, and
sockets shield brown eyes that danced with the words of a young
Was right-handed, from the robust radius and ulna, with
Hyperostotic development of the elbow.
fisherman, and over these calcined cheeks were there tears at
The woman spent many hours sitting on her heels, judging
From squatting facets on both distal tibial articular margins.
the death of your child? Did these arms gain strength
She suffered low-back pain from degenerative arthritic lipping
Of all five lumbar vertebrae.
from a man's embrace? And these hands: did your lover
Dentition complete, though worn, central incisors shoveled,
No crowding or malocclusion, mild enamel hypoplasia.
admire their grace? I cannot see what he most
loved about you: your intelligence and wit, the soft brown
skin in its smooth contours, a laugh that rose from the heart. Your
Age at death, from uncertain causes, about thirty years, derived
From epiphysial union and cranial suture fusion.
abandoned skull has answers to all my questions, and your extinct
thoughts hold a mystery no science of mine
will ever solve. You have taken your life
into the void. So be it.
We thank Brian Harrison, director of Columbia Diachronic Services, an archaeological consulting service based in Astoria, Oregon for his permission to post this poem.