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Human Bioarchaeology

Human Bioarchaeology is a subfield of Biological Anthropology that focuses on human remains (usually skeletonized) from archaeological contexts. Strictly at the biological level, the analysis encompasses the identification of human bones, the evaluation of the profile of each individual (age at death, sex, stature, population affinity) and the identification of skeletal lesions possibly related to diseases or trauma. Such observations contribute to the better interpretation and understanding of the life (and death) of our ancestors by adopting a biocultural perspective. This kind of approach allows putting together the data from different archaeological sciences with the aim of attaining the best possible understanding of the reality under study.

As much as possible, the isolated analysis of each individual or population is ideally replaced by a more framed analysis within their environmental and socio-cultural context.  In terms of past cultural expressions, an important portion of the work done by human bioarchaeologists refers to the record and description of funerary practices. This is because a large part of archaeological human remains is recovered from necropolises or from other kind of mortuary contexts. For example, the crossing of osteological data with other archaeological data allows identifying specific population practices and, eventually, contributing to the discussion involving the understanding of their beliefs concerning the afterlife.

By using a transdisciplinary approach (for example, by combining osteological data with archaeogenetic and palaeoisotopic data), skeletal human remains also have the potential to help elucidating other critical questions such as the ones regarding the identification of patterns of diet, migratory movements, social organization, health and well being and form of postmarital residence.


*Currently, no resident researcher ensures this field at the Laboratório de Arqueociências. As a visiting researcher, David Gonçalves is developing research in human bioarchaeology in diverse chronologies that extend to the prehistory.