The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Integrating pathophysiology, human biology, and epidemiology in studies of human remains: towards a clearer vision of stress and health in bioarchaeology


Dept. of Behavioral Science, Utah Valley University, Dept. of Biology, Utah Valley University, Assoc. Investigator, Museo Nacional Sican, Peru

Friday 3:15-3:30, Ballroom A Add to calendar

Debates over the concepts of “health,” “stress,” and the interpretation of skeletal pathological conditions cut to the existential core of contemporary bioarchaeology. We have much to gain from other anthropological subdisciplines, as developing formal integrations with mortuary archaeology and political economy has shown. However, to address health and stress more fully, it may be fruitful to go beyond anthropology entirely and initiate wider engagement with disciplines further afield. In this paper, I aim for a theoretical and conceptual exploration, highlighting three potential areas of enriching cross-disciplinary synergism for bioarchaeology. First, the field of pathophysiology can impart a very precise understanding of the origins and course of many skeletal conditions. Pathophysiology can ridbioarchaeology of its biggest ‘black box ’ and transcend literalist and paradoxical interpretations of skeletal lesions. Second, the patterns and processes of health and disease in living populations as studied by human biologists are vitally instructive for the past; growing understanding of epigenetically-driven health phenomena may explain bioarchaeological relationships between, stress, developmental pathways, canalized biological damage, and age-at-death. Third, the field of epidemiology helps demonstrate that our predilection towards quantifying stress across time and space using crude prevalence may not be the most informative or sophisticated approach. Quantitative multivariate tools (odds ratios, person-years construct) may provide superior bases for bioarchaeological measurements of disease. Ultimately, this paper is a call to consider how pathophysiology, human biology, and epidemiology can help stimulate further maturity and sophistication in bioarchaeological science and bridge “stress” and “health” in a biocultural framework.

This work has been generously funded by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and Utah Valley University since 2004.

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