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

Resurrecting lives: a contextualized data analysis and collaboration exercise in a bioarchaeology seminar


Department of Anthropology, Appalachian State University

March 28, 2015 , Archview Ballroom Add to calendar

As collaboration and large datasets become the norm in bioarchaeological research, the successful design and execution of a robust study ultimately depends on the ability to devise, manage, explore, analyze, interpret, and disseminate the data. An exercise was implemented in an upper-division bioarchaeology seminar at Appalachian State University highlighting the critical role of contextualized data interpretation and management, concurrent with the bioarchaeological concepts traditionally taught. Each student first explored, analyzed, and interpreted a subset of the post-medieval Crossbones Cemetery data accessible on the Centre for Human Bioarchaeology (Museum of London) website, for three skeletal-dental markers of their choice. Site and excavation context, coding standards, and associated images were provided. Students collaborated in supplementing the relevant epidemiological and historical contexts. At midterm, student each proposed, peer-evaluated, and improved upon two sets of “big-picture” question, rationale, and design based on their subset. After the instructor’s approval, each student proceeded with one of the proposed projects using the entire Crossbones dataset. Students were evaluated again at final for research logic, statistical robusticity, and the ability to parsimoniously extrapolate the data to reconstruct the lifeways of post-medieval England.

This exercise simulated the scientific inquiry process by integrating bioarchaeological concepts and phases of data assessment. Students appreciated the forethoughts dedicated to constructing and maintaining a transferable database and the necessity for standardized recording methods the most. Students without field training experienced more difficulties synthesizing the sociocultural context and the data, underscoring the indispensability of excavation methods that should be tightly integrated in undergraduate bioanthropology curricula.