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BABAO Service Award 2022

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At the 2022 Annual Conference, BABAO’s second Service Award was awarded to Jelena Bekvalac, Jacqueline McKinley and Charlotte Roberts.

Jelena Bekvalac MSc, FSA

For this year’s BABAO Service Award, I would like to nominate Jelena Bekvalac, currently Curator of Human Osteology at the Centre for Human Bioarchaeology at the Museum of London.

Jelena has had a lifelong passion for archaeology and in particular for perusing graveyards from a young age, greatly admiring the artistic qualities of the gravestones and memorials but always having a keen eye for noting the details of the people they represented and what they achieved in life. It is very much that personal connection with the past that human remains bring that inspired Jelena to undertake voluntary field work and her degrees both in Archaeology and Ancient History at St. David’s University College, Lampeter University, and Osteology, Palaeopathology and Funerary Archaeology at the Universities of Bradford and Sheffield, graduating in 1992. This year will therefore mark 30 years since Jelena graduated as a fledging fully trained osteoarchaeologist and it is a good time to reflect and appreciate the considerable contribution Jelena has made to the field of osteoarchaeology in that time.

Jelena has a boundless energy and dedication to the field, and by way of her personal care and compassion for not only the many researchers and students she has collaborated over the years but also for the human skeletal remains and the persons these represent, she has remained committed to the study of human remains in archaeology as a resource for inspiring the study of the past for everyone, not just herself. This culminated in her becoming first a research osteologist and then a curator of human osteology at the Museum of London from 2003. Countless students, researchers and BABAO members over the past 20 years have used data that Jelena has recorded herself alongside her colleagues at the Museum of London on the WORD database for furthering osteoarchaeology both as an academic discipline and commercial field. Jelena has also always worked with school children and members of the public in numerous workshops, talks and more recently, live stream events.

Her ability to share her positive can-do attitude and humour with a variety of colleagues from all backgrounds and disciplines has also led to her production of major exhibitions attracting international audiences, such as Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men at the Museum of London in 2012. Frankly, no audience is spared when it comes to her enthusiasm and her fascination with archaeological skeletons, whether the focus of what she might be talking about could be the ancient DNA and the Black Death on TV, digital x-raying and hair sampling at La Trobe University, Australia or Mrs. X’s splendid false teeth from St. Bride’s, London. Her more recent work has involved innovative research drawing together large osteological datasets using digital radiography, to understand how Londoner’s lives have changed over the past 1000 years in areas of health that are key today. The resulting publication, ‘Manufactured Bodies: The Impact of Industrialisation on London Health’, aimed at both a public and academic audience, was nominated for the Book of the Year Current Archaeology award, 2021. Julian Richards, as many others unfamiliar do, did struggle a bit with the pronunciation of Jelena’s name; the book is a testament to Jelena’s unfaltering hard work, while the familiarity of BABAO members with the correct pronunciation of her name reflects her enduring commitment and helpfulness to all within the field.

Having been a graduate from the first year that the MSc in Osteology, Palaeopathology and Funerary Archaeology was run, Jelena was there at the inception of osteology as a modern discipline and a kingpin in its recent development. She has sat on all the osteology related committees in the UK over the past 20 years; there really has been no escape. Having been a member of BABAO from the start and serving on the committee as Museum Representative, she is also currently the Museum Representative of APABE, Chair of the Human Remains Subject Specialist Network and works closely with the Wellcome Trust. Jelena’s long-standing career has largely been formed by a relentless campaign to raise professional standards, standardise recording of human remains and promote their accessibility through data sharing and multi-disciplinary projects. There are very few osteoarchaeologists whose careers span such a diverse range of aspects of the field, from commercial osteoarchaeology to academic research and public engagement with human remains; Jelena has come to personify all the values and principles that BABAO is founded on and has had a hugely positive influence on the direction that BABAO has followed since its foundation. I hope that this nomination will inspire her to carry on her professional dedication to bringing osteoarchaeology and the interest it holds to anyone within earshot.

Text prepared by Gaynor Western MSc, MCiFA (nominator). 

Jaqueline McKinley BSc, FSA

We are writing to nominate Jacqueline McKinley for the 2022 BABAO Service Award. Jackie is extremely worthy of this award for her extensive service to the discipline of osteoarchaeology, the commercial archaeological sector, and BABAO itself. She is a huge inspiration and has been contributing to our field for over three decades.

Jackie is a founding member of BABAO and has served eight years on the BABAO Board of Trustees (then Committee) since its inception in 1998. This comprised a year as Commercial Representative and a whopping seven years as the association’s first ever Treasurer. We all know how difficult it is to persuade people to take up Trustee posts so cheers Jackie, you deserve an award just for that!  She remains an active member contributing to ongoing discussions in the organisation.

Jackie has also been instrumental in the publication of osteoarchaeological guidelines and standards, which form the cornerstone of our discipline. The 2004 BABAO Standards (edited by Jackie and previous service award winner Prof. Megan Brickley) laid the foundation for good practice in osteoarchaeology and are still used widely to this day, now in conjunction with their 2017 update, to which she also contributed. Jackie is also a member of APABE (the Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England), which has been instrumental in compiling guidance documents which are essential in the planning stages of largescale commercial archaeological projects likely to encounter human remains.

Her ground-breaking analysis of the Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery at Spong Hill was the first major work on cremated bone in Britain. The discipline of osteoarchaeology would not be the same without Jackie’s extensive experimental and osteological work on the mortuary process of cremation, including pyre technology, cremation ritual and formation processes. This pioneering work has shaped the way in which cremated remains are analysed, researched, and understood today. This has led to a substantial academic publication record, contributions to edited volumes, authored books and monographs and countless grey literature reports. It is impossible to write a good cremation burial report without citing her.

Jackie is also an FSA, being elected in 2009. She is a visiting lecturer to several UK Universities (Hon. Staff member University of Exeter and Research Fellow University of Cardiff. She has contributed to degree programmes, teaching and inspiring students on several degree programmes over a number of years, for example, she was a guest lecturer on the Bournemouth Masters degree programmes (Forensic Anthropology; Forensic Archaeology and Osteoarchaeology). Jackie has also undertaken forensic work in the former Yugoslavia.

As well as making a substantial contribution to our wider discipline, Jackie was one of the first osteologists to work in a commercial setting when the discipline was still in its infancy. She remains a leading figure in the world of commercial osteoarchaeology today and holds an international reputation for her work, being one of the foremost human osteologists working outside of academia. She has worked at Wessex Archaeology since 1993, and now holds the role of Principle Osteoarchaeologist. Many of us have benefitted hugely from her support, advice, and experience.

It is also important to note that Jackie has spent a large proportion of her career as a public-facing representative of our field. Of all her appearances on our TV screens she is probably best known for her role on Channel 4’s Time Team. Shows such as this are an extremely valuable means of engaging the public, and Jackie’s uncomplicated explanations of burial contexts to camera made osteoarchaeology exciting and accessible to millions of people (and undoubtedly encouraged some of us to try it for ourselves). With Richard Osgood of the MoD, she is also actively involved in Operation Nightingale, using archaeology as therapy for military veterans suffering PTSD and other physical and mental disabilities.

All this and she is always the first one up to dance when there’s the opportunity at a BABAO conference social! We thank you Jackie for your service.

Text prepared by Dr. Ceri Boston, Sharon Clough, Mark Gibson, Dr. Mandy Kingdom, Dr. Louise Loe, Dr. Lauren McIntyre, Helen Webb, Dr. Annsofie Witkin (nominators).

Emeritus Professor Charlotte Ann Roberts

It is my great pleasure to nominate Professor Charlotte Roberts for the BABAO Service Award. I have known Charlotte for more than 20 years, first as one of her many students during her time in Bradford and Durham, and later as a colleague and friend. I can not think of a more deserving candidate for this prestigious award based on her profound influence and significant contributions to BABAO and the field of bioarchaeology.

Charlotte has shaped the careers and lives of her students by being an outstanding role model and mentor, not only academically but also on a personal level. I was Charlotte’s first PhD student after her move to Durham soon followed by more students and post-doctoral researchers, many of whom now have established careers in bioarchaeology. At Durham, she quickly introduced bioarchaeology as a subject at undergraduate level, teaching students the basics of human osteology and the importance of doing so in an ethical manner. Her premise was always that ‘the study of human remains is a privilege and not a right’. In addition, Charlotte designed and implemented the successful MSc in Palaeopathology (now MSc Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology) and curated our now extensive collections of archaeological human remains. Despite a heavy teaching and administrative load, Charlotte always managed to obtain substantial research grants and focussed on new areas of research to investigate how disease affected the lives of past people. Always seeing the bigger picture and possibilities of large data projects, Charlotte investigated disease patterns in Britain from prehistory to the post-modern period (Roberts and Cox 2003) as well as contributing to the Global History of Health Project (European and Asian Modules). Other seminal monographs covered global studies of tuberculosis (Roberts and Buikstra 2003; 2008), leprosy (Roberts 2018; 2020) and more general handbooks on human bioarchaeology (Roberts 2009; 2012; 2018), including the 2nd and 3rd editions of ‘The Archaeology of Disease’ (Roberts and Manchester 2005; 2010). There is simply not enough space to mention her hundreds of journal articles, book chapters and other contributions, but a comprehensive list can be found on her website.

Charlotte has been a front runner in the implementation of standards and ethical guidance in human bioarchaeology in the UK and internationally. She was invited as a member of the BABAO working group on recording standards in 2002 which produced the widely used ‘Guidelines to the standards for recording human remains’ (Brickley and McKinley 2004) and the updated version (Mitchell and Brickley 2017). More recently (2019), she was invited to serve on the AAPA’s (now AABA – American Association of Biological Anthropology) Repatriation Committee.

Charlotte served on a large number of international organisations and panels, ranging from the Paleopathology Association (Director-at-Large, Vice President and President), the Research Excellence Framework (subpanel member), and she was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 2014. Of course, she was also involved in BABAO, being a long-standing member. She organised and hosted two BABAO annual conferences at the Department of Archaeology, Durham University (2003 and 2014) and she was also influential in shaping BABAO, serving as the Association’s President (2015-18 and 2018-20). Under her presidency, the 2010 Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct were revised which form the backbone of our professional ethics and conduct. Widening participation has always been a topic that Charlotte feels passionate about and under her presidency student bursaries to help with BABAO conference attendance were introduced, followed by subsidised conference registration fees for members of the Association. With history being one of her many interests, it comes as no surprise that Charlotte researched and collated BABAO’s history, which has been published on the Association’s website.

The year before her retirement Charlotte revived the Palaeopathology Short Course that for many years successfully run at Bradford by organising a Palaeopathology Summer School at Durham. It was hugely rewarding to welcome international delegates from 10 countries and further summer schools were only prevented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her retirement from Durham in October 2020 has not stopped Charlotte’s prolific work and she is still actively involved in research projects, publications and speaking to academic and non-academic audiences. However, she is now mainly enjoying living in Swaledale, North Yorkshire, with its many outdoors activities.

To conclude, I am aware that this is only a brief outline of Charlotte’s many and varied achievements and contributions during more than 40 years of her professional life, but I hope it provides compelling evidence to demonstrate that she is indeed more than worthy of receiving the BABAO Service Award. 

Text prepared by Dr. Tina Jakob (nominator).