“This is the first volume to take such a comprehensive approach to this timely subject. It will make a wonderful reference book for those working on reconstructing past lifeways.”—Marie E. Danforth, University of Southern Mississippi
“Provides key information on the underlying biology of activity patterns and abundant perspectives on the relevant literature. Reading the Bones will pave the way to new, thoughtful research.”—Douglas H. Ubelaker, editor of Forensic Science: Current Issues, Future Directions
What can bones tell us about past lives? Do different bone shapes, sizes, and injuries reveal more about people’s genes or about their environments? Reading the Bones: Activity, Biology, and Culture tackles this question, guiding readers through one of the most hotly debated topics in bioarchaeology.
Elizabeth Weiss assembles evidence from anthropological work, medical and sports studies, occupational studies, genetic twin studies, and animal research. Examining the most commonly utilized activity pattern indicators in the field, she reevaluates the age-old question of genes versus environment. While cross-sectional geometries frequently inform on mobility, Weiss asks whether these measures may also be influenced by climate-driven body shape adaptions. Entheseal changes—at the locations of muscle attachments—and osteoarthritis indicate wear and tear on joints but are also among the best predictors of age and can be used to reconstruct activity patterns. Weiss also examines the most common stress fractures, such as spondylolysis and clay-shoveler’s fracture; stress hernias or Schmorl’s nodes; and activity indicator facets like Poirier’s facets, Allen’s facets, and Baastrup’s kissing spines.
Probing deeper into the complex factors that result in the varying anomalies of the human skeleton, this thorough survey of activity indicators in bones helps us understand which markers are mainly due to human biology and which are truly useful in reconstructing lifestyle patterns of the past.
Elizabeth Weiss, professor of anthropology at San José State University, is the author of Paleopathology in Perspective: Bone Health and Disease through Time.