Osteobiography: A Platform for Bioarchaeology Research

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Lauren Hosek
John Robb


Osteobiography provides a rich basis for understanding the past, but its conceptual framework has not been outlined systematically. It stands in conceptual opposition to a traditional statistical approach to bioarchaeology modeled upon clinical studies in biomedicine, but is interdependent with it. As such, its position mirrors those of clinical case histories as opposed to statistical studies, participant-observation
ethnography as opposed to quantitative sociology, and microhistory and biography as opposed to quantitative history. Such disciplinary comparisons provide a framework for exploring the strengths and weaknesses of osteobiography. It is not merely a tool for engagingly illustrating the “typical” life history as established statistically. Rather, it allows us to understand issues that population studies cannot explore. These include both analytical directions (exploring the complexity of deeply layered data, understanding the role of contingency in human lives, integrating osteological and cultural evidence) and philosophical directions (the interaction of material and conceptual factors in the creation of human bodies, embodiment, the experience of time).

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