Despite a busy schedule attending classes at UC San Diego and rowing for the Tritons’ Varsity 8 crew, Jones can be found in the lab twice a week analyzing the ancient bones.
“I work with other interns to process what they collect from different archaeological digs from around San Diego county,” Jones explained about her role. “From those sites, they get a lot of different bones. What the other interns and I do is we identify those bones. We’re able to look at little fragments and say, ‘This is this bone from this animal.’”
The process of identifying the bones is not an easy one. Jones and her fellow interns typically focus on the small mammals collection, which consists of animals like jackrabbits and squirrels.
“We have complete skeletons of [the small mammals],” Jones described. “We compare our small fragments to those based on the morphology of the bone, or the size or different diagnostic features. It’s really tedious and challenging, but it’s like a big puzzle. Once you identify a bone, it’s really satisfying.”
Jones’ work at the Natural History Museum goes hand in hand with her studies at UC San Diego. Although she entered UC San Diego as a biology major, the sophomore decided to change her major to anthropology. It was before she even had taken an anthropology class that she jumped into her position at the Natural History Museum.
“I was searching for different opportunities at the different museums and I saw this,” said Jones. “I hadn’t really heard of zooarchaeology or anything like it, so I was really interested, and just went from there.
The interns range in experience when starting at the lab, from undergraduate students like Jones with no experience in identifying bones, to graduate students working on their theses. Jones recalled the challenges she faced during the learning process.
“It was really intimidating because some of these people had been there for multiple years and were really experienced with identifying bones, and I barely had any knowledge of the skeleton at all,” Jones recounted. “It was really hard at first, but everybody there was really helpful in teaching me. I went from not knowing anything about the skeleton to knowing a lot.”
The firsthand experience with anthropology has been a beneficial one for Jones. The work she performs has helped her realize her love for the field.
“It’s definitely reaffirmed to me that anthropology is what I’m really passionate about and interested in,” Jones stated. “I had never really felt that way when I was doing biology. It was really interesting to me, but it kind of felt like I was doing busy work. I think working in this lab has helped me figure out that this is what I want to be doing.”
In addition to thinking about her work in relation to her career path, Jones has considered the significance of what she does in the lab each week.
“Sometimes it’s easy to think, ‘This is just a tiny bone,’ when it’s really representative of a huge part of these people’s cultures,” Jones reflected. “It shows what they were eating and how they were processing the bones and what they were doing. It’s also super relevant to San Diego in general because it’s all from here. It’s giving us a better knowledge of where we live.”
Through it all, the highlight of the experience for Jones has been the knowledge she has gained.
“From when I first started until now, I’ve learned so much in such a short period of time,” Jones shared. “It amazes me that we’re able to identify an animal off a tiny, tiny piece of bone.”