With study of material remains, not only is it

With the rapid increase in
technological advances within the past few decades, we have seen a growth in
advancements in knowledge and scientific technique, many of which can be
applied to Archaeology, more specifically, Archaeological Science. Archaeological
Science is the scientific application of processes to Archaeology.  This allows the study of individual humans to
have greater significance then technology would allow for previously, with much
study having to remain generalised on past populations rather than individuals.
The significance of scientific advancement within Archaeology is
unquestionable. Exactly how has Archaeological science enhanced the study of
individual people rather than past populations is a question that needs
exploring.

 Firstly, the key differences between
individual humans and past populations need to be understood. Past populations
refers to larger groups of people, study of individuals within these groups
before scientific advancement could only show trends whereas now it is possible
to look more in depth at one specific individual and how they lived personally rather
than as a group.  There are several case
studies which show the extensive use of Archaeological Sciences and how it has
enhanced this study of individuals. One such example is the case of King Richard III and his
remains. To calculate whether or not the remains found were King Richard’s, analysis
of the complete mitochondrial DNA was done, linking the remains with one of his
current living relatives. This also allowed for certain phenotypes such as hair
colour, eye colour and in the future potentially height to be uncovered.  Another example is the Strontium
found within a tooth that builds up over a lifetime which can track a person’s
movements and lineage.  From these case
studies and the scientific methods used, it is clear that Archaeological
Sciences has enhanced the study of individuals as we know more about the past
now than we ever have done before.

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Enhancing the study of individual
people rather than past populations can be done through DNA analysis of
skeletal remains. This allows the Archaeologists to identify a specific human
or animal scientifically rather than relying on the less accurate method of
material remains from the body which may give an indication as to the person’s
gender, age, location or even name. DNA analysis however, provides a greater
picture than the study of material remains, not only is it more reliable, it
allows the Archaeologist to predict the person’s hair colour, eye colour and
potentially height (Y.S. Aulchenko, 2009). Even though this scientific method
is relatively new with the first two studies that conducted
DNA-based iris (eye) colour prediction being published in 2007 (T.
Frudakis, 2007),
the reliability of such scientific methods is high. 

One of the best examples of where this method
has been conducted, is identifying the remains of King Richard III. In
September 2012, a skeleton was excavated at the presumed site of the Grey
Friars friary in Leicester, the last-known resting place of Richard III (King, T.E, 2014).
To identify the skeleton, analysis of the complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was used. It showed a
perfect match with the mtDNA sequence of one living female-line relative of
Richard III, concluding that the skeletal remains were in fact King Richard III.
Further analysis using HIrisPlex DNA markers and prediction
modelling revealed a blue eye probability of 96% and a blond hair probability
of 77% (T.E. King, G. Gonzalez).
This was compared with paintings of King Richard III to help build a picture of
what he looked like, something which would have been impossible before this
scientific advancement. Several other skeletons were also found at the site of
Greys Friars therefore without this scientific method of DNA analysis; it would
have been near impossible to get a definitive answer as to the identity of the
skeletons as radiocarbon dating could only prove that the person died around
1485 and not prove conclusively the identity of an individual. This example
shows how Archaeological science has enhanced the study of individual people
rather than past populations.

Strontium isotope analysis is
another Archaeological science method that has been implemented to further
enhance the study of individuals rather than past populations. Strontium
isotope analysis allows us to track individual’s origins and their specific
movements during life.  In addition to
this, it also allows an Archaeologist to get sense of the diet that the person
was consuming. This enhances the study of social patterns of the period as well
as building a profile on how an individual acted throughout life. Previously, questions
such as these could not be answered as Archaeologists had to rely upon
difference in bone structure through osteology, burial rituals and burial items
to identify the potential origins of an individual and their diet (Montgomery, J., 2010).  Strontium
isotope analysis is typically done by comparing 87Sr/86Sr
in adult tooth enamel formed between four and twelve years of age, and in the bones,
which remodel throughout life and therefore represent adulthood (Bentley, R.A., 2006). This is then compared to cored samples of earth
and the levels of strontium within it to identify the probability that the
person in question was at that location during some point of their life.  From these core samples, it is also possible
to calculate the diet that someone had consumed during their life as the
varying nutritional content in the soil is absorbed by plants or animals and
passed onto the human (Kusaka, S. 2009).

An example of the
use of Strontium isotope analysis is in 2005, where four multiple burials were
discovered near Eulau, Germany (Haak, W, 2008).
Whole potential families were found within these burials. Here, Strontium
isotope analysis was used to provide data on areas of origin, mobility, and
migration, traditions and exogamy of the members of ancient communities. (Haak, W, 2008).  It was found that both the children and
father had a similar Strontium level compared to the females’ who had a higher
Strontium level within her teeth.  This indicates the practice of exogamy and patrilocality by the female,
moving to where the males were. Therefore, scientific processes such as
Strontium isotope analysis is valuable to enhancing the study of individuals as
it can provide detailed information on the location of someone’s origins,
social interactions with other communities and the type of diet that they
consumed during their life.

Lastly, Forensic Anthropology can
also help to enhance the study of individuals. As the understanding of the
human bone structure increases it allows for Archaeologists to identify the
types of occupations that the person had done whilst alive and can also give an
indication as to their diet, health during life and potentially what caused
them to die through Perimortem wounds. Despite the science being around for a
while, as our understanding of the skeleton has improved and scientific methods
with it, the accuracy of the results is higher. The ability to recreate a
skeleton as a 3D model on a computer generated system means that you can try
and identify what the person succumb to without disturbing the remains. The bone
structure and potential damage, can indicate the job that that individual had
during their life, same is true of diet.

For example, someone who exhibits
Rickets may have bowed legs and potential fractures from the lack of Vitamin D (Wagner,
C.L.2009). This can also cause the individual to get Osteoporosis and other
bone conditions from a nutrient deficient diet. A fantastic example of how bone
structure can inform us of an individual’s occupation is that of a lowbowman. Archaeologists
and Anthropologists can actually identify a longbowman’s skeleton by the damage
they have done to their bones. Longbowmans skeletons have extra bone growth in
certain stress areas such as the shoulder blades, wrists and elbows (Stirland.
A, 2005). In comparison with the past where material goods were the only real
indicator of an occupation, this development in Science has helped to give more
certainty to an individual’s occupation, furthermore it can help identify Archaeological
sites of importance. If multiple archers were found in a burial all suffering
from severe trauma as a cause of death, it could indicate that a battle had
taken place.

To
summarise, Archaeological Sciences has enhanced the study of individuals rather
than past populations. The scientific development of processes such as
Strontium isotope analysis, DNA analysis and Osteological sciences has helped
to differentiate between individuals rather than grouping them together as a
population. Furthermore, the ability to create these profiles on individuals
allows Archaeologists to get a more informed view of the past, allowing for
more detailed analysis of an individual, their birthplace, diet, what
occupation they held and social traditions all of which help to enhance the
study of Archaeology as a whole and help to increase the knowledge of the past.

 

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