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Archaeology-Chapter 3 Reconstructing The Past- Analysis and Interpretation Oct 30 2008


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Marcel Danesi

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Chapter 3: Reconstructing The Past: Analysis and Interpretation
Analyzing Artifacts
y Conservation: process of treating artifacts, ecofacts, and in some cases even reverse the
deterioration process
y Can be simple and complex
y Reconstruction: like putting together a puzzle; long difficult process- can take several years
What Can We Learn From Artifacts
y (1) Form: how it is shaped?
y (2) Measure: dimensions
y (3) Attempt to understand how it was made
y (4) Attempt to understand the function of an artifact
y Typology: a way of organizing artifacts in categories based on their particular characteristics
y Use-Wear Analysis: can determine how a tool was used through careful examination of the
y By knowing how an artifact was made allows us to understand: technology, technical
abilities, social organizations, gender roles, religious beliefs of the past
Analyzing Human Remains
y Osteology: the study of the form and function of the skeleton
y Palaeodemography: analysis of demographic structures
y Palaeonutrition: analysis of diet and nutrition
y (1) identifying skeletal remains as being humans
Estimation of Age
y Skeletal Age-Indicator Techniques: osteological techniques that are used to estimate the age
at death of an individual from skeletal remains
y Remodelling: occurs after growth has ceased and replaces old tissue with new formed bone
to maintain bone strength from microscopic fractures from normal biomechanical stress
y Estimation of age from the skeletal remains of children is based on the development of
dental and skeletal tissues; easier than determining age of adult
Sex Determination
y Pelvis or hip bone- most reliable part of skeletal determination of sex (95% accuracy rate)
y Sexually Dimorphic: refers to species in which males differ markedly from females in size and
Ancient DNA
y Ability to extract DNA from prehistoric remains
y Determination of sex, population affinity, identification of maternal biological lineages,
y Palaeopathology: the study of health and disease in the past from skeletal evidence:
appearance, spread distribution of diseases in a bicultural context
y Within individuals and populations
y Human behaviour plays prominent role in distribution and spread of infectious diseases
y Differential Diagnosis: the assessment of potential diseases that are consistent with the
observable traits/criteria on bones within an individual
y Limitations- only diseases that affect the hard tissues will generally be available for study
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y There is a consistent relationship between the presence of skeletal lesions produced by a
specific disease process in the individual, and the risks of sickness and death associated with
that disease within the population as a whole
y The more often you can see for a specific disease in the archaeological record, the greater
the risk of illness from that disease for individuals in the living population who were exposed
to it
y Different levels of disease observed archaeologically must be related to cultural differences
between populations
y Selective Mortality: skeletal samples represent not all the people who were susceptible for a
given age group, but only those 5-year old individuals who died at that age
y Focuses on sex and structure of population
y Palaedemography: the study of demographic structure and process in past populations from
archaeological evidence
y Ethnographic Analogy: method of comparative cultural study that extrapolates to the past
from recent or current societies
y Life Table: a tool used by demographers to place individuals into age groups
y Stationary: in demography, a population is considered to be stationary when there is
no-migration or out-migration and the number of deaths equal the number of births per year
y Can use the mean or average age-at-death in skeletal sample to estimate life expectancy at
y Two key factors that affect stationarity in populations are growth and migration
y Ppl who move to new locations are not always representative of all age groups and therefore
can affect birth and death rates unequally at the new location
y Potential changes in gene pool or genetic background of migrants can change the overall
susceptibility to different kinds of diseases
Reconstructing Past Diets
y Preserved remains of the food itself
y Rare cases can be found where mummified human remains may still have preserved stomach
y Coprolites: the fossilized remains of human feces
y Zooarchaeology: the study of animals remains from archeological contexts
y Determining the number of different species represented, the min number of each species,
and at the age structure of those species
y Info can provide info about: hunting strategies/practices, process of domestication
y Domestication: the modification of plants and animals for human use
y Animals associated with human populations may reflect the kinds of foods that were
consumed, also big game hunting techniques
y Sedentism: settling in a single, permanent location
Experimental Archaeology
y Experimental Archaeology: a specialty within archaeology used to explore a variety of
historical questions, especially those related to diet and subsistence by reproducing or
replicating technological traits and patterns observed in the archeological record
y Polishes or wear patterns and organic residues left on the tools used in food-related tasks
by past populations is another relatively new area of research
y Molecular Anthropology: the study of anthropological questions using genetic evidence
y Identify and analyze microscopic traces of organic material left on prehistoric tools-
preserved traces of blood from animals killed
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