Postgraduate Research Archaeology Symposium

Stephanie Evelyn-Wright (2016)

Keywords: Bioarchaeology, Osteology, Disability, Identity, Mortuary archaeology, Human skeleton, Osteobiography, Roman


Academic discourse concerning disability in the past is a growing field, particularly in archaeology. An exceptionally rich, but in my opinion under-utilised, source of evidence comes from ancient burial contexts. Discussion of this material and disability is often split; Bioarchaeologists focus on the skeletal remains and pathologies evident, often using clinical data to infer suffering and helplessness. Mortuary archaeologists use the burial context as evidence of status and social attitudes towards the impaired person. Rarely are these two perspectives integrated. My aim is to develop a methodology that uses all aspects of the burial evidence available. An Osteobiography approach allows a skeleton to be studied in detail to gain some insight into an individual’s life experiences. Markers such as osteoarthritic lesions, metabolic disease etc. can be compared across the broader population to see how typical an individual’s experiences were. The overall perception gleaned from the skeletal remains can then be compared with that from mortuary archaeological data to see how representative the latter is of everyday experience. This can then offer discussion of an impairment’s consequences on an individual’s identity during that time. During this paper, I will present an update on the progress I have made so far, including some preliminary osteological results obtained from 3rd-4th century skeletal remains found at Alington Avenue in Dorset.