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New Article: Controlled experimental observations on joint disarticulation and bone displacement of a human body in an open pit: Implications for funerary archaeology

Hayley L. Mickleburgh (Leiden University) and Daniel J. Wescott (Texas State University) recently published a new article in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports entitled 'Controlled experimental observations on joint disarticulation and bone displacement of a human body in an open pit: Implications for funerary archaeology'. Read the abstract below!


The study of death and burial in prehistoric populations is fundamental to understanding the human past. In recent years increasing attention has been given to methods and techniques to understand important aspects of funerary ritual such as body treatment, and concepts of death and decay of the human body. The French- developed methodological approach archaeothanatology aims to understand how the dead body was treated, and which factors influenced the final condition and position of the skeletal remains. A core part of the approach is assessing the anatomical articulation of the joints of the skeleton. Sequences of the relative order in which the joints of the body naturally disarticulate are used to reconstruct body position and condition upon interment. These disarticulation sequences are largely based on observations of archaeological skeletons, in which distin- guishing the effects of different variables is highly challenging. Experimental studies (actualistic taphonomy) allow observation of disarticulation and bone movement under controlled conditions.

This paper discusses the actualistic experimental study of a willed donated human body to examine the process of decomposition and skeletal disarticulation under controlled conditions. The results support earlier indications that burial environment and variations in body position can greatly affect patterns of disarticulation and bone displacement. Furthermore, the process of disarticulation observed in this study was complex, in- volving multiple instances of displacement of bones out of anatomical position prior to loss of the connective tissues, as well as cases of disarticulation followed by ‘re-articulation’. This demonstrates that sequences based largely on archaeological data may not capture the entire process. Further actualistic studies are needed to better understand the effects of different variables on disarticulation and final bone position. Such studies provide the opportunity to refine and improve the existing framework used to assess body treatment. Understanding body treatment in the past contributes to the wider conceptualization of human death and burial.

To read the article click the link!

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