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ANTH 235,
By and large, the archaeological record is maddeningly anonymous!
For example, exactly who made this 500,000 year-old hand-axe?
This general problem is increasingly the subject of archaeological
See, for example: Gamble, C. and M. Porr, editors. (2005).
The Hominid Individual in Context: Archaeological
Investigations of Lower and Middle Paleolithic Landscapes,
Locales, and Artefacts. London: Routledge.
It is the specialist biological anthropologist – especially the
human osteologist – rather than the archaeologist who initially
analyzes the relevant evidence. Archaeology draws on the skills of
a great variety of scientists, from radiocarbon physicists to
botanists, so the role of the modern archaeologist is to learn how
best to use and interpret all this information.
biological archaeology (bioarchaeology): has developed
as a formal interface between biological anthropology
(including human osteology) and archaeology.
Today, anthropologists have de-emphasized earlier studies
of human remains as a clue to racial distinctions to focus
instead on other explanations for the individual and
population variability observable within the human species.
The main thrusts of the work today are to use human
remains to:
 determine age & sex of the deceased
 examine state of health during life
 examine evidence of sickness (morbidity) and death
 understand the significance of the variability
discernible within populations, without resorting to
preconceived notions of “race”
 mostly osteology – the study of bones and teeth
 limited evidence also from preserved soft tissues –
intentional and natural mummies, frozen bodies, “Bog
People,” etc.
 the near future holds promise for molecular
approaches in biochemistry and genetics
 which sex? (soft tissues, bone, artistic depictions)
 how long did they live? – mortality (teeth;
epiphyseal fusion of bones)
 what was their height and weight?
 what did they look like? (forensic reconstruction)
 how were they related? (similarity in physical
morphology of skull and hair; immunological studies
of blood)
F.Y.I.: the oldest known human blood has been recovered
from stone tools at Barda Balka, Iraq and is almost
certainly Neandertal, 100,000 years old. Also, DNA has
been extracted from a preserved human brain recovered
from Little Salt Spring in Sarasota County, Florida – more
than 7,000 years old…
Three principal parameters for investigation:
 walking or bipedalism (probably at least 3.18 million
years old – “Lucy” from Ethiopia – Australopithecus
afarensis; evidence comes from shape and proportions of
bones; slightly older Pliocene-age fossil footprints from
Laetoli, Tanzania also suggest bipedal locomotion, in
fact they are impressions of feet very little different from
our own)
3.6-3.75 million year-old footprints of the fossil human ancestor,
Australopithecus afarensis, being uncovered at Laetoli, Tanzania in 1975
 handedness (90% of modern human population is right
handed). Neandertals at La Chapelle aux Saints, France
(70-35,000 BP) – left hemisphere of brain case slightly
enlarged, perhaps indicating right handedness.
 when did speech develop? Anatomical reconstruction
of the vocal tract suggests that even archaic Homo
sapiens, including Neandertals, lacked a modern
pharynx and could, therefore, make only a narrow range
of vowel sounds, not articulated speech.
Brain endocasts hint at an earlier morphology, associated
with earliest African members of the genus Homo,
capable of producing speech.
But, recent biomolecular evidence indicates modern
humans and Neandertals shared the FOXP2 gene which
is associated with speech and language in modern
humans; so this is all still very controversial!
Paleopathology: the study of ancient disease, deformity,
and death.
Anterior view of left arm of a young Ohio individual who died in the early
20th century. Softening and bending of the humerus (upper arm bone) is
prominent in this individual with hyperparathyroidism.
Ultimately, archaeologists hope to answer questions like:
What was people’s quality of life?
What was their state of health?
Did they have any genetically inherited variations?
We may know how long our ancestors lived, but how
did they die?
soft tissues
skeletal evidence
parasites and viruses
 Demographic archaeology: concerned with
estimates from archaeological data of various aspects
of populations such as size, density, and rates of
growth. It is also concerned with the role of
population in culture change. Seeks to understand
links among population, resources, technology, and
society, mostly by developing simulation models.
 Paleodemography (not synonymous with
demographic archaeology): mostly concerned with
the study of human skeletal remains to estimate
population parameters such as fertility and mortality
rates, life expectancy, and population structure.
Fundamental question: How can one estimate
population size and density from archaeological
Two basic approaches:
1. Derive figures from settlement data based on
relationship between group size and total site area,
roofed area, number of dwellings, number of hearths,
EXAMPLE: “population = one sixth of total floor
area in square meters”
2. Try to assess the richness of a particular environment in
terms of resources available for each season (“carrying
capacity”) and derive the number of people that
environment might have supported at a certain
technological level.
Ultimately, the problem for archaeologists is to use
complementary evidence from human biology and the
record of material culture to yield a reconstruction of past
life-ways that takes into account both the cultural and
biological aspects of the human experience.
For further reading, see:
Blau, S. and D. Ubelaker. (2009). Handbook of Forensic
Anthropology and Archaeology. Walnut Creek, CA: Left
Coast Press.