ATH 242-01

Analyzing the past: human remains – ethics & legalities

Human remains

  • usually found in specific mortuary zones or structures
  • elaborate mortuary treatments represent only a tiny proportion of a population
  • Anguashi (the victim’s actual name) – Jivaro Indian (collected circa 1917-1925)

disposal of the dead

  • inhumation
  • cremation
  • cryogenic freezing
  • cannibalism
  • casual disposal

why study the dead? human remains can tell us many things:

  • age at death
  • sex of an individual
  • diseases they may have suffered
  • accidents/cause of death
  • diet and health
  • customs of their culture

determining sex

  • often not possible to determine before 15 years of age
  • skull & mandible can be used, but not often reliable
  • pelvis is more accurate (90-95%) but may not always be well preserved

sexing human remains

  • relying on attributes that are not always specific for the gender of the individual
  • looking at variation across the human species
  • specimens don’t always fit into categories
  • best to have several lines of evidence before making decision

determining age

  • gumline / tooth eruption
  • fusion of epiphysis on long bones
  • skull sutures (close from the inside out)

health & pathology

  • high amounts of carbohydrates in diet increases acidity to erode teeth
  • arthritis – cartilage betw. bones breaks down, bones rub together
  • syphilis – causes pitting of the face and thickens space in long bones
  • wormian (intrasutural) bones
  • healed breaks/injuries indicate trauma
  • Harris lines: indicate malnourishment as a child. appear on long bones in Xrays
  • sabre shin – indicates periostitis
  • parturition pitting indicates childbirth

other information

  • stature: estimate based on measuring long bones
  • age at death, cause of death, gender, diet, general health, grave goods
  • DNA testing allows measure of relatedness
  • cranial deformation

cranial capacity

  • related to intelligence?
  • racial stereotyping
  • Homo sapiens neanderthalensis v. Homo sapiens sapiens
  • there is only one human race

human remains

  • what do you think about human remains being excavated and curated by archaeologists
  • should the descendants of these individuals be consulted
  • what are the benefits to be gained
  • what are the costs
  • are there ways to compromise
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