Bodies as Narratives: Revisiting Osteobiography as a Conceptual Tool

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Bodies are stories. They combine a lifetime of biological change and culturally negotiated activities with corresponding bodily responses. The traces of the lifecourse are embodied in the skeleton itself. The term "osteobiography", introduced by Saul and Saul (1989), refers to the life history recorded in the human skeleton. Reading skeletal data interpretively within cultural and behavioral contexts to trace unique life paths can help to bring human remains out of the ghetto of specialist appendices and into humanistic and multidisciplinary analysis. However, the concept of osteobiography has rarely been systematically explored, remaining simply the detailed description of the skeletal remains of a single individual. This session provides a focused discussion of the concept. Among the topics

to explore are:

• The normative biography as a cultural narrative weaving together time, history, and individual experience

• The experience of activity, health, and illness

• How bodies become gendered, aged, and individuated

• Habitual activity molding the body and its identity

• The role of narrative, contingency, and risk in human lives

• Methodologies for constructing osteobiographies, tacking between individual and social scales of analysis and combining archaeological, textual, and/or iconographic evidence

• Biographical narratives as bridges for outreach, education, and communication