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Breathing New Life into the Evidence of Death

Contemporary Approaches to Bioarchaeology

Edited by Aubrey Baadsgaard, Alexis T. Boutin, and Jane E. Buikstra

Taking cues from current theoretical perspectives and capitalizing on the strengths of new and sophisticated methods of analysis, Breathing New Life into the Evidence of Death showcases the vibrancy of bioarchaeological research and its potential for bringing “new life” to the field of mortuary archaeology and the study of human remains. These new trajectories challenge old stereotypes, redefine the way research of human remains should be accomplished, and erase the divide that once separated osteologists from archaeologists. Through case studies ranging from body piercing in prehistoric Chile to Christian burials in early Medieval Ireland, the contributors to this book take a broad and deep look at themes including archaeologies of identity, the contemporary sociopolitical effects of bioarchaeological research, and materiality in the mortuary record.

2012. 360 pp., 31 figures, 6 maps, 20 tables, notes, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Aubrey Baadsgaard, Alexis Boutin, Jane E. Buikstra, Pamela L. Geller, Christopher J. Knüsel, Maria Cecilia Lozada, Susan Pollock, Rachel E. Scott, Ann L. W. Stodder, Christina Torres-Rouff

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“This edited volume includes chapters with diverse theoretical orientations and geographic focus united by the common theme of contextual interpretations in bioarchaeology. The book derives from a seminar hosted by the School for Advanced Research. Contributors address several major themes identified at these meetings, including embodied identity and the life course, materiality and contextuality, and modern social and political impacts of bioarchaeology, which the editors describe as representing an approach that is noticeably different from that of prior bioarchaeologies. The authors employ specific case studies to exemplify and describe the application of different methodological and theoretical models representing this contextual approach to bioachaeology. This book should be of value to a broad range of scholars and students of archaeology, especially bioarchaeology or mortuary archaeology, and those interested in how human remains and their context serve to inform us about past human behavior. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.”
—S. D. Stout, Ohio State University, Choice, vol. 49, no. 11, July 2012

“This book is a robust contribution toward bringing bioarchaeology firmly into the larger sphere of anthropological approaches to the past. Although the case studies range far and wide, the editors’ attention to disciplinary history and a productive thematic organization result in a fresh collection that should inspire both students and seasoned practitioners. The authors, while grounding their work firmly in established bioarchaeological method, also chart new—and essential—theoretical terrain that represents the future of contextualized work in the field.”
—Ann M. Kakaliouras, Whittier College

Breathing New Life into the Evidence of Death is an important contribution to bioarchaeology, mortuary archaeology, osteology, and osteoarchaeology. By focusing explicitly on ‘bioarchaeology as contextualized archaeology,’ the authors demonstrate several important points by means of their individual case studies: 1. contextualized bioarchaeology requires integration of both the contextual/historical and the biological/osteological, moving considerably beyond two separate analyses; 2. contextualized bioarchaeology can bring new insights to the study of the individual and social embodiment, as well as materiality and the social collective; and 3. there is real value and significance in engaging and communicating with those who have a claim, relation, or other legitimate interest in the mortuary site being studied.”
—Lynne Goldstein, Michigan State University

“Baadsgaard, Boutin & Buikstra’s collection offers various examples of contextualised bioarchaeology, from pots to piercings and painted skulls. These holistic approaches, although far from unified, are based on a variety of theoretical perspectives derived from archaeology, physical anthropology and ethnography.”
—Antiquity, vol. 86, issue 334

“This book makes a significant contribution to the field of archaeology by encouraging a holistic approach that employs a variety of theoretical perspectives and methodologies derived from archaeology, physical anthropology, and cultural anthropology (ethnography). It illustrates how novel applications of social theory can inform mortuary evidence when material artefacts and human remains are considered together.”
—Sam D. Stout, Ohio State University, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2013


  1. Introduction
    Jane E. Buikstra, Aubrey Baadsgaard, and Alexis T. Boutin
  2. Making a Difference: Mortuary Practices in Halaf Times
    Susan Pollock
  3. Religious Identity and Mortuary Practice: The Significance of Christian Burial in Early Medieval Ireland
    Rachel E. Scott
  4. The Sacrifices We Make of and for Our Children: Making Sense of Pre-Columbian Maya Practices
    Pamela L. Geller
  5. Crafting a Bioarchaeology of Personhood: Osteobiographical Narratives from Alalakh
    Alexis T. Boutin
  6. Cultural Determinants of Ancestry: A Lesson for Studies of Biological Relatedness and Ethnicity in the Past
    María Cecilia Lozada
  7. Piercing the Body: Labret Use, Identity, and Masculinity in Prehistoric Chile
    Christina Torres-Rouff
  8. Mortuary Dress as Material Culture: A Case Study from the Royal Cemetery of Ur
    Aubrey Baadsgaard
  9. Iconography and Power in Sepik Skull Art
    Ann L. W. Stodder
  10. Men Take Up Arms for War: Sex and Status Distinctions of Humeral Medial Epicondylar Avulsion Fractures in the Archaeological Record
    Christopher J. Knüsel
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.