Bioarchaeological research at Exeter combines the study of archaeology with branches of the natural and physical sciences to address questions of health and well-being, diet, ecology, subsistence strategies and natural and human-induced environmental impacts in the past.
Our approach is holistic and inter-disciplinary, drawing its inspiration from both definitions of ‘bioarchaeology’: as a study applied to human remains (human osteoarchaeology) and, as originally defined by Grahame Clark, as related to the integration of environmental archaeology, floral and faunal evidence – archaeobotany and zooarchaeology – in archaeological research.
Active field research programmes in North and South America and Eurasia link with extensive laboratory research to address questions of social structure and social organisation, the process of animal and plant domestication, the development of social inequality and power relations, violence and warfare, the rise of élites and craft specialists, and division of labour. Our current research covers a range of themes:
- the origins and development of social inequality, violence and warfare
- morphological alteration in response to physical activity and labour in the rise of craft specialists and elites across political, social and economic transitions
- changing patterns of resource exploitation of plants and animals
- human – environment relations, in particular the early domestication of plants and animals, and the legacy of past human impact on modern environments
- how social relationships in the past contribute to funerary patterning in the archaeological record and how these relate to social processes amongst the living
Our research projects involve collaboration with scholars from other disciplines including those in biomolecular biology and chemistry, biogeochemistry, ecology, and soil science, as well as those in the humanities, classics and ancient history, and medieval history. Examples of methodological innovation include developing new approaches to the identification of early domestics, integrating field survey with palaeoenvironmental analysis, and techniques of remote sensing, as well as the use of archaeological scientific techniques in conjunction with faunal, floral and anthropological analyses of past, animals, plants, and people. Current projects include those in:
- Europe: an array of projects including the study of human remains in their archaeological context from earliest prehistory to the later medieval period
- Eurasia: including the earliest domestication of the horse and the development of steppe pastoralism in Kazakhstan
- Americas: including work on early plant domestication and the development of agricultural landscapes in South America, the exploitation of wild animal resources on the plains of North America and developing more sustainable ways of farming in Amazonia.