There really hasn’t been a better time to be involved with the fantastic field of bioarchaeology. The study of ancient and historic human remains is deeply rooted within the archaeological and osteological fields, but it is its own specialised niche that carefully combines the study of cultural and environmental variables in the scientific study of human skeletal and mummified remains. It mixes the methodologies and approaches used in the hard sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, to help determine relevant interpretations and processes at play when studying past individuals and populations. Even though my day job is currently in another field completely (I don’t think my work colleagues would take too kindly to me bringing in bones to study!), I am still an active researcher within the bioarchaeology discipline (as highlighted through my recent trip to San Francisco – expect a post relatively soon).
The discipline has really grown within the last two decades (both theoretical and scientific applications in biochemistry) and it is steady embracing and using new technologies (such as 3D printing and laser scanning) to help further the information that is present in the bioarchaeological record. As such this post will briefly highlighted forthcoming conferences, some publications, and briefly highlight some of my own work in this discipline.
This small list of conferences highlights some of the larger conferences in archaeology and bioarchaeology in the UK and Europe.
Hosted at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, the city will play host to the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) annual meeting this year, with an expected c.2500 delegates attending the multiple sessions on archaeology theory, method and history. Registration for the conference costs from £145 down to £80 dependent on EAA member status (student, retiree, or Eastern European status) of the applicant and rise up to £212 for non-member status. The conference is split into seven different themes, including the following:
1) Archaeology and Mobility – Using 21st century Europe as a jumping off point for the issues of mobility, this session seeks to see how archaeological research identifies mobility in the record.
2) Re-configuring Identities – The levels of identity are important, from state, group, familial and individual. This session explores the archaeological representation of identity and how this is expressed.
3) Science and Archaeology – This sessions explores the use of hard science in archaeology, such as stable isotope analyses, lipid analyses and DNA explorations.
4) Communicating Archaeology – How do we communicate archaeology, why is this important and how can we improve it? This sessions will highlight what we do well, how to improve and why.
5) Legacies and Visions – This session will focus on the legacies of archaeological exploration and the use of vision within communities of archaeological projects.
6) Celtic Connections – Detailing the Celtic phenomenon and what it means.
7) Interpreting the Archaeological Record – How do we interpret and why?
Full details on the themes can be found here. The 21st annual meeting promises to be an exciting opportunity to meet archaeological researchers from across Eurasia, and several of the themed sessions will be attractive to the bioarchaeologist. These include the expression of identity in the archaeological record and the ability to identify mobility. The full scientific and artistic program will be released shortly, whilst the key information can be found here.
Hot on the heels of the EAA conference, which is conveniently held in the UK this year, is the more specialised British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) annual conference held at the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield. Taking place over three days from the 18th to the 20th of September, the conference is the main event for bioarchaeologists in the UK covering the fields of biological anthropology, osteoarchaeology (both human and non-human), physical anthropology and aspects of forensic anthropology. The registration fee for members is £150, non-members £185, and students prices varying from £125 to £150 for members or non members. The fee does include a conference meal at a restaurant but not accommodation.
As highlighted above there are four main session themes for the BABAO 2015 conference, each allowing for significant room for research topics. Alongside the poster and podium presentations are two exciting workshops. The first is a particularly hot topic in bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology – 3D scanning and printing of skeletal elements, whilst the 2nd is of similar importance – museum studies and curation methods. Both workshops will be delivered by experts in the field. The BABAO conference is a well-known event in the UK bioarchaeological calendar and as such is definitely of interest for both European and non-European researchers as it highlights upcoming and ongoing research of international importance. Details of the conference outline can be found here, alongside the BABAO 2015 Facebook page.
Little Lives: New Perspective on Child Heath and the Life Course in Bioarchaeology, Durham, 30th January 2014
The Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham is playing host to a one day conference on the bioarchaeological importance of non-adults (neonates, children, juveniles, etc) in the archaeological record. Non-adults in the bioarchaeological record were once accorded little status and study, however times have fundamentally changed and focus has shifted onto the importance of non-adult individuals in the archaeological record. There are no details on the cost of the day long session as of yet, but I will update the post once information is available.
The day-long conference is split into three separate sessions with keynote speakers in each. The four sessions include:
1) Life before Birth – research into current maternal and infant health in bioarchaeology.
2) Growth, Health and Childhood – studies looking at the period of growth, general health and isotope studies.
3) Back to the Future! – effects of childhood stress on adult outcomes, stature, body proportion and longevity
Abstracts, of 250 words with institute affiliation, are being accepted until the 30th of September 2015. Please send them to littlelivesdurham (at) gmail (dot) com.
Alongside the upcoming conferences above that look particularly interesting, I have also been reading a few different books recently that may be of interest to bioarchaeologists. I shall very quickly sum them up here.
In a relatively new (okay, a few decades old) English translation provides the French historian Henri-Jacques Stiker’s attempt at a framework for analysing disability across the ages – starting in the biblical age and ending in the late 20th century at the introduction and use of legal frameworks in understanding the concept of disability in society. This was one of the first books that detailed the changing nature and understanding of disability within society itself and across cultures. In particular Stiker highlights the cultural assumption and ‘contemporary Western discourse’ principle that ‘equality/sameness/similarity is ideal’, which he states exposes society’s basic intolerance of individualism and diversity as a whole. This is an interesting and thought-provoking publication that requires close reading, yet I should state here that this book has no basis in bioarchaeology. Stiker takes the reader on a journey through the changing language and thought on disability, highlighting appropriate cultural trends or changes in the perception and reality of disability (in all of its various modes) throughout some three thousand or more years of historical and cultural change.
I’ve been waiting to get my hands on a paperback version of this manual as it looks (and indeed is) fantastic. This book is largely aimed at the practicing bioarchaeologist (whether commercial, academic or student) and it is a book that profiles the bioarchaeology discipline as a whole. This includes, but is not limited to, the bioarchaeological methods used in studying human remains and their archaeological context, the role and use of theory, general best practice guidelines, and the ethics and applications involved in the discipline. As such this publication covers a lot of ground in a proficient and reader friendly way, whilst never losing its clarity or the rich depth of the subject itself. I highly recommend you read a copy if you are interested in the objectives and importance of bioarchaeology as a whole. Alongside Clark Spencer Larsen’s 1997 Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behaviour from the Human Skeleton (now in an updated 2nd edition!), which informs the reader on the past population behaviours that can be gleaned from human remains (both skeletal and mummified), and Tim D. White and Pieter Folkens esteemed Human Bone Manual, which is a key first text for the anatomical identification of skeletal elements in either the laboratory field environments, Martin et al.’s book highlights the discipline as a whole and acts as a fantastic reference book on any number of bioarchaeological issues that the practitioner or researcher faces.
I’ve mentioned this publication by Crews before on the blog but I think it is worth mentioning again as it highlights the importance of understanding the fundamental processes of biological processes at play within both the individual and population that can affect the archaeological record, and our perception of it. Late life survival, and the way in which humans senesce slowly, is a particularly interesting area of human biology – it is the how and why we age as we do, what influences are behind this and what the cultural and social expectations, or impacts, this can lead to or can be predicated. For the bioarchaeologist this is important to consider when examining an older individual as bone density decreases and osteoporosis rises as a risk, leading to both functional loss and loss of life (specifically in complications from fractures in osteoporosis cases). The biocultural, and anthropological, implications of senescence are of primary importance in the world’s population today as developed countries (such as the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States) have a higher percentage of elderly individuals across the national population than ever before, and seems to be a developing pattern across economically developed and developing countries.
I’ve put up a recent human osteological report that I have completed as a freelance specialist that analysed the partial remains of a Medieval adolescent (HCD 12), found by chance on the north-east coast of England, on my personal Academia page here. Regular readers of the site may find the report interesting in the use and application of the methods applied in the bioarchaeological analysis of skeletal remains. It is certainly an interesting individual due to the burial location of the body, however it is also frustrating due to the inability to recover the in-situ remains due to landscape instability. I should state here that this is purely an osteological analysis of the skeletal remains themselves rather than an in-depth study of the archaeological context of the remains. It is, as such, a specialist report.
Please feel free to take a look and let me know of any critique – I’d value this as this is one of my first osteological reports outside of academia itself. If you anyone wants a copy of the report that doesn’t have the skeletal inventory and associated appendices somewhat horribly marred by Academia’s upload program, then please feel free to email me at thesebonesofmine (at) hotmail (dot) com!