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Osteobiographies: Local Biologies, Embedded Bodies, and Relational Persons

Jo Appleby


In this contribution I explore what osteobiographies represent by investigating them through the lens of local biologies, embedded bodies, and relational personhood. Rather than resulting from processes and events that happen to skeletons, osteobiographies are produced through the continuing interaction of genes, environment, culture, and society over time. Osteobiographies thus represent the result of the interplay between “local biologies” (Lock 1993) and the individual life course. Drawing on the interaction of the biological and the social, I argue that bone is not overwritten by social action but continually emerges through interactions of the social and the biological, which can be related to the creation and maintenance of personhood. The skeleton after death acts as a fossilization of a personhood that is dynamic during life. The future potential of this approach is explored
through consideration of the skeleton of King Richard III of England. Richard’s body acted as a locale in which elite biologies played out in combination with the specific factors embedding his body in its milieu. At the same time, isotopic analysis of Richard’s skeleton illustrates how his negotiation of his personhood as king caused changes in his lifestyle that altered his bone chemistry. While evidence for increased consumption of high-status food and drink could be interpreted as resulting from increased access to these resources, such consumption was in fact a central aspect of his approach to building and maintaining alliances; an embodied political act.


local biology; embedded body; relational personhood, Richard III

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