Lecture 9: Bioarchaeology & Zooarchaeology

Humans, Animals and Plant Analysis


Study the human biological components of the archaeological record

Is it Human?

Sex Determination

  • Juvenile - Very difficult because you get your sex determining factors when you reach puberty
  • Adult - Primarily from the pelvis – Female pelvis is wider

Age Determination

  • Juvenile (Dentition, epiphyseal growth plates)
  • vs Adult (Pelvis, skull – Popoulation dependent)

Bioarchaeological Analysis

Paleopathology - Study of diseases

  • Trauma - antemortem; perimortem; postmortem.
  • Disease affect bone


  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Porotic hyperostosis
  • Cribra orbitalia
  • Harris lines – Growth arrest lines – Disease trauma, malnutrition
  • Enamel hypoplasia – Growth arrest in laying down of enamel – Enamel is laid down in layers – Body shuts down growth during stress and there is a line on the teeth

Due to habitual behaviour

  • Osteoarthritis – joints – worn down osteophytes

Paleodemography - Study of the structure of populations

  • Patterns of mortality
  • Life expectancy at birth
  • Age & sex profile of a population
  • Ages at death
  • Mortality Profiles - Age & sex data of burials

Paleonutrition – Determination of dietary components of ancient populations

Isotopic Analysis

Human bones reflect the isotopic ratios of plants ingested during life

  • Look at ratio of carbon isotopes in bone collagen
  • High C4 plants in diet – Bones with higher ratio of C13 to C12 than diets low in C4 plants
  • Nitrogen - N14 and N15
  • Dental Caries
  • Simple carbs (Refined sugar) in diet
  • Stature – Estimated by long bones

Faunal assemblage - Animal remains recovered from archaeological sites

  • Human behavior is involved in the assemblage (so different from palaeontological sites)

Kill sites - Bones lie more or less the way they were when the hunters left

Faunal Analysis

Identify the bones – Compare to faunal collection

  • Commingled
  • 1st assign every fragment to an element (Example - Proximal end of rib - Phalange) - skeletal part of the body
  • 2nd assign every fragment to a taxon (species, genus, family, order)

Naturally or culturally occurring

  • Look for evidence of human activity on bones
  • Tooth marks (carnivorous tooth marks) - cut marks

Faunal Patterns – Meaningful patterns in bone evidence may indicate human activity

NISP - Number of identified specimens

  • Raw number of identified bones (specimens) per species

MNI - Minimum number of individuals

  • Minimum number of individuals necessary to account for all the skeletal elements of a particular species found in a site
  • Can be difficult if lots of fragments
  • Similar to zooarchaeological kill sites in mass graves

Paleoethnobotany - Plant remains

  • Specialize in recovering and identifying plant remains focusing on the world of plant-people interactions
  • Plants are vulnerable to decomposition

Macrobotanical Remains - Nonmicroscopic plant remains

  • Best evidence in arid climates
  • Humid climates - Primarily burned or carbonized plant remains
  • Use flotation

Coprolites - Desiccated feces often contain macrobotanical remains, pollen & remains of small animals

  • Evidence of past consumption
  • Ancient human stomachs (preserved through mummification)

Microbotanicals - Phytoliths (Plant stones)

  • Tiny silica particles contained in plants
  • Occurs in members of grass family & rushes, sedges, palms, conifers, decid trees
  • When plant decays – Indestructible opal phytoliths – They can last for millions of years
  • Phytoliths take the shape of the cells in which they are deposited
  • Different phytoliths can be in the same species
  • Phytoliths are most useful for identifying the abundance of different kinds of grasses

Palynology - Analysis of ancient plant pollen and spores

  • Useful to study prehistoric ecological adaptations
  • Pollen grains are microscopic male gametes
  • Very hardy
  • Excavated manually from stratigraphic profiles, burials

Pollen Diagrams - Show proportional shift in pollen frequency between stratigraphic levels within a sit

Note Created by
Is this note helpful?
Give kudos to your peers!
Wanna make this note your own?
Fork this Note