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

Paradox and promise: The role of recent advances in paleodemography and paleoepidemiology to the study of ancient “health” patterns


Anthropology, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)

Friday 4:45-5:00, Ballroom A Add to calendar

In the twenty years since Wood and colleagues published the “Osteological Paradox,” bioarchaeology has made tremendous analytical and methodological strides reflecting its commitment to a truly inter- and multidisciplinary framework. While scholars continue to reference the publication and ponder the theoretical implications with respect to their data, the methodological challenges presented in the publication and associated with analyzing death assemblages have been largely ignored with several notable exceptions. An unfortunate result has been the fragmented conceptual and operational definitions tied to such terms as stress, health, adaptive success, and morbidity, among others. In far simpler terms, it is unclear what bioarchaeologists are measuring when counting lesions on bones and teeth.

In response, this paper highlights recent methodological advances in paleodemography and paleoepidemiology through case studies from the Late Pre-Columbian periods in Illinois and Ohio River valleys and elsewhere. Fundamental issues addressed include 1) effective age estimation techniques, 2) coding for paleopathological data, and 3) statistical models for right-censored data. The results from recent analyses of well-known skeletal assemblages, such as Dickson Mounds and Norris Farms, are compared and contrasted with previous investigations. Emphasis is placed on analyzing age- and sex-specific mortality patterns prior to, and in conjunction with, the statistical analysis of lesions and other routinely collected data in bioarchaeology. The methods and results presented provide one means to tackle the issues of selective mortality and heterogeneity of frailty.

This research was supported by the Nation Science Foundation (BCS-0751484), Wenner-Gren Foundation, and an IU School of Liberal Arts Research Grant.

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