The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Between the Lines: Interpreting Disparate Data in Castration Studies


School of Archaeology, University of Oxford

March 26, 2015 , Gateway Ballroom 4 Add to calendar

Castration is a wide-ranging social phenomenon that has greatly impacted human history, but its modern, systematic study has been patchy, especially in the medico-anthropological fields. This project was designed to identify the changes in the human male skeleton caused by prepubertal castration and bring them to the attention of modern palaeopathologists. In this study, social, historical, and anthropological data illuminated the daily lives and status of castrates within multiple societies. Historical and archaeological data determined the most likely places in which castrate burials and skeletons might be found. Historical, medical, and palaeopathological data gave insight into the changes to expect in a prepubertally castrated skeleton. Conversion formulae were created to combine osteometric and anthropometric data. This was then analyzed and compared to zooarchaeological data to determine the changes to the mammalian skeleton most likely to be caused by prepubertal castration. Statistical methods were used to detect castrate presence within skeletal assemblages, and a new palaeopathological checklist of castration traits was created to aid in the identification of castrate skeletons. Castrate bodies within the skeletal record represent a group of archaeologically invisible intersex individuals who had a great impact upon human history. Identifying intersex bodies within archaeological skeletal assemblages is important not only for historical purposes, but for tracing the history of conditions which affect considerable portions of the human population today. The methods used to combine data within this study can be used to identify other intersex individuals, broadening our understanding of human skeletal and sexual diversity through time.