Quantifying the Dead: Using Bone Counts and Mortality Profiles in Burial Archaeology [Paperback]

Pascal Sellier(Author)

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ISBN: 9781789252903 | Published by: Oxbow Books | Series: Studying Scientific Archaeology | Volume: 5 | Year of Publication: 2022 | Language: English 320p, H9.44 x W6.7, b/w and color
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Quantifying the Dead


From the Mesolithic period onwards (and moreover with the first collective or mass graves from the late Neolithic), the dead are gathered in groups, bundles or cemeteries and the skeletons and human bones unearthed by archaeo-anthropologists must be dealt with as a population (or part-population) and not as mere individuals or isolated bones. When skeletons or bones are discovered in a certain quantity, bioarchaeology has to deal with figures and quantitative data and has to question the issue of the representativeness of such an osteological sample and of the meaning of the whole collection, as far as mortality and burial practices are concerned.

This is the first comprehensive account on the quantitative aspects of human burials. It is both a handbook for bioarchaeologists dealing with mass graves, burial selection phenomena or fragmented and commingled human remains, and a theoretical statement on the use of mortality profiles and quantitative osteological data in funerary archaeology. For instance, it shows, step by step, how to calculate probabilities of death and the other parameters of a life table, but also what are the basic hypotheses to do so. It also discusses the potential to reconstruct the living population from burial and osteological data.

The main topics are: quantitative osteology, including the question of the MNI (Minimum Number of Individuals), the significance of the different anatomical parts represented, and the dental remains; the history of demography and paleodemography and their theoretical relationships; the use of some “demographic tools” (including standard life tables as references) and the interpretation of paleodemographic reconstruction; the assessment of mortality profiles as a means for identifying peculiar bone assemblages, in relation to their archaeological significance and history. Each chapter is enlightened by practical archaeological case studies (Neolithic funerary practices, plague mortality, burial selection in a parish cemetery).

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