Engaging bodies in the public imagination: Bioarchaeology as social science, science, and humanities

Christopher Stojanowski, William N. Duncan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Bioarchaeology is the contextual analysis of biological remains from past societies. It is a young and growing discipline born during the latter half of the twentieth century from its roots in physical anthropology and archaeology. Although often associated with the study of ancient diet and disease, bioarchaeology leverages variable temporal scales and its global scope to provide a uniquely comparative perspective on human life that transcends traditional boundaries of the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Here, we explore the public face of bioarchaeology and consider the trends in publication practices that reflect diversifying research strategies. Bioarchaeology is a popular topic on web-based science news aggregators. However, we identify a disconnect between bioarchaeology's traditional research emphases, emerging research foci, and findings that actually spark the public imagination. A majority of popular news articles emphasize basic discovery or "natural curiosities." Publication data indicate the field also remains regionally focused with relatively little emphasis on nomothetic goals. Nevertheless, bioarchaeology can do more to leverage its historical perspective and corporeal emphasis to engage a number of topics with importance across traditional academic boundaries. Big data, comparative, multi-investigator, interdisciplinary projects on violence, colonialism, and health offer the most obvious potential for driving research narratives in the biological and social sciences. Humanistic approaches that explore emotional connections to the past can also have merit. The diversity of research outlets and products indicates the field must embrace the importance of nontraditional activities in its value structure to maximize our potential in public arenas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-60
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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