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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Friday: September 30, 2011

Week 4: Implications of Disease (and some non-pathogens)


Bioarchaeologists focus on patterns formed by the relationship between pathological conditions and behavior. Associations of one to the other, however, does not necessitate a causation, but it does allude to the cause in some cases.

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) could be caused by genetics, large body size, age, and diet. Take a football player into account: are people of larger body size more likely to get into sports? Is this large body size part of their genetic make up? Do they eat the healthiest diets? Are they tested for DJD while they are young and playing football, or only after they are older and retired? Issues like these are multivariate so controls are used to identify the true effects. DJD begins with the breakdown of soft tissue between the bones of a joint. The bone will react by increasing the surface area and creates lipping, or osteoarthritis. In some cases, the wear can be so extreme that bone on bone contact occurs and this can be identified by the shiny, polished characteristic at joints, known as eburnation.

We discussed osteoporosis as well, which is a growing problem today. It is associated with activities, sedentism, and demographics. Bone increases robusticity through use, so the lack of use found in sedentary lifestyle could be a partial cause to the issue. People in general will lose bone mass as they age, and women experience this during pregnancy, lactation, and menopause which equates to sex being a factor.

In bioarchaeology, the use of controls is limited but it can be done in some cases. If a research question wanted to know the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and rule out agriculture of maize as the cause, an agricultural population can be compared with a coastal population, who is also sedentary but relies on marine resources. If the factor that the bioarchaeologist is looking for exists in both, it could be caused by a sedentary lifestyle. It if is only found in one population, however, it could be related to the diet or some other factor that differentiates the two groups.


We covered how the pervious class discussions can be applied to different sites, expectations from testing a research question, and new questions deriving when those expectations are not met.

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