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

Bioarchaeology and “disability”: using the present to inform interpretations of past impairment


Archaeology, Durham University, England

Saturday Morning, 200DE Add to calendar

This poster takes a theoretical approach to recognising “difference” and reconstructing “identity”, an increasing area of study in bioarchaeology. It discusses the ways in which bioarchaeological data may be used to provide a perspective on how impairment affected our ancestors' lives. It argues that it is important to interpret our data within 'context', use multidisciplinary approaches, and the physical and mental experience of their impairment. People living with the mycobacterial diseases leprosy and tuberculosis, and associated signs and symptoms, will be used to support the discussion, but reference to competitors in the Paralympics (London 2012) will also be presented to show how impairment does not necessarily impact ability to function as a “normal” member of society. Evidence from ethnographic studies suggest that the level of impairment experienced depends on many variables, such as views of the body, sex, social status, ethnicity, the nature of the impairment (e.g. permanent or temporary, major or minor, congenital or acquired, visible or invisible, and how much support there is within the community. It is also argued that assumptions about how people coped with impairment in the past, using bioarchaeological data, are much more complex than has been previously recognised. This study advocates taking more of a clinical perspective to understand the challenges that people with impairments faced in the past by accessing medical anthropological studies of the impact of impairment on people. Humans are very adept at adapting to physical and mental challenges in their lives as the Paralympics 2012 in London have shown.

comments powered by Disqus