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Components of bioarchaeological research projects

There is a variety of ways to conceptualize the tasks and objectives of bioarchaeologists, but at the heart of bioarchaeology is the analysis of the bodies and biological remnants of people who died. These remnants can be soft tissue in a variety of naturally or culturally altered states, but the great majority of bioarchaeology is focused on skeletonized remains. Bioarchaeologists are experts in human osteology and in the study of the evolution, structure, and function of skeletons and bone tissue. Bioarchaeologists are also often referred to as skeletal biologists with skeletal biology encompassing every facet of how bone and related tissues evolved from the earliest vertebrate fishes (phylogeny), as well as how bone growth and development are shaped by biomechanics, nutrition, hormones, culture, and other variables (ontogeny) and how bone changes or is altered when affected by disease (pathology).

Bioarchaeologists working today in a variety of biocultural contexts (ancient, historic, and forensic) need to have had many years of advanced training in osteology that includes exposure to different kinds of skeletal collections, that is, skeletons from a variety of time periods and cultures. For those in graduate school, bioarchaeology demands a serious commitment to a range of advanced course work in osteology combined with course work in related areas such as anatomy, nutrition, growth and development, pathology, and archaeology. Two particularly useful texts for bioarchaeologists are one by White and his colleagues (2012) that focus on human osteology and an edited volume by DiGangi and Moore (2012) that provides detail on analytical techniques.

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