The human and animal sciences play a pivotal role in archaeological science and are at the forefront of exciting new directions in modern archaeological research. The study of human and animal remains – from the microanalysis of individual proteins to the investigation of large burial assemblages – provides direct evidence for ancient human life ways, including diet and subsistence, health, living conditions, mobility, demography and even modes of occupation and inter-personal violence.
‘Bioarchaeology’ draws on biological science methods in order to elucidate aspects of the lives of past individuals and populations, from the microscopic to macroscopic level. The discipline incorporates a large number of different technical approaches and analytical tools, including field archaeology and anthropology, osteoarchaeology and palaeopathology, biomolecular and geochemical techniques for dietary reconstruction and mobility studies, palaeodemographic studies, palaeoepidemiology, biological distance studies and biomechanical approaches for understanding patterns of activity. As well as drawing on bioscience methods, bioarchaeological data in turn has potential implications for the modern biological sciences, including studies of health, nutrition, demographics and epidemoiology. Archaeological case studies have the potential to deliver diachronic data on the scale of millennia, rather than decades, and study across archaeological time-scales provides models of human subsistence choices, health, gene-flow and adaptability in the face of broad-scale climatic, ecological or demographic shifts – adding vital time depth which modern studies can rarely provide.
The study of animal and human remains is a rapidly progressing field, as new technologies and new analytical techniques emerge. These methods offer new opportunities, not only in the study of new materials and new questions, but also in the re-evaluation of previously studied materials and long-standing archaeological problems. Along with this emerging expertise, a new awareness of the field is surfacing, with issues such as ethics in the study of human remains becoming ever more pertinent. With reburial of human remains becoming an increasing public expectation, and retention for re-study being an academic prerogative, adaptability to these changing states is key to the future of bioarchaeology as a discipline. As threats of climate change, resource depletion and global pandemics shape policy making, the need to make provision for the study of the human past becomes ever clearer. In addition to providing the infra-structure and cross-disciplinary access to state-of-the-art technologies, there is also a responsibility to ensure the development and retention of a skill base and range of expertise within Scotland. As with many fields, national and international collaborations will also be pivotal to ensuring that there is the expertise, infra-structure and oversight to approach future challenges and opportunities.