The dead tell no tales. Or do they? In this fascinating book, Clark Spencer Larsen shows that the dead can speak to us--about their lives, and ours--through the remarkable insights of bioarchaeology, which reconstructs the lives and lifestyles of past peoples based on the study of skeletal remains. The human skeleton is an amazing storehouse of information. It records the circumstances of our growth and development as reflected in factors such as disease, stress, diet, nutrition, climate, activity, and injury. Bioarchaeologists, by combining the methods of forensic science and archaeology, along with the resources of many other disciplines (including chemistry, geology, physics, and biology), "read" the information stored in bones to understand what life was really like for our human ancestors. They are unearthing some surprises.
For instance, the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago has commonly been seen as a major advancement in the course of human evolution. However, as Larsen provocatively shows, this change may not have been so positive. Compared to their hunter-gatherer ancestors, many early farmers suffered more disease, had to work harder, and endured a poorer quality of life due to poorer diets and more marginal living conditions. Moreover, the past 10,000 years have seen dramatic changes in the human physiognomy as a result of alterations in our diet and lifestyle. Some modern health problems, including obesity and chronic disease, may also have their roots in these earlier changes.
Drawing on vivid accounts from his own experiences as a bioarchaeologist, Larsen guides us through some of the key developments in recent human evolution, including the adoption of agriculture, the arrival of Europeans in the Americas and the biological consequences of this contact, and the settlement of the American West in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Written in a lively and engaging manner, this book is for anyone interested in what the dead have to tell us about the living.
"In great detail, [Larsen] demonstrates how a competent expert may read an enormous amount from the subtle patterns present on bones. . . . There is much in [the book] to provoke debate."--Publishers Weekly
"Osteo-archaeology has certainly developed an impressive array of scientific tests that can be used to identify physical and biological stresses that is turn reflect lifestyle. Larsen goes into great detail to explain these methods and show how they can be used. His major theme and concern is the transition from a hunter-gatherer to a farming lifestyle some 10,000 years ago."--Hedley Swain, The Times Higher Education Supplement
"The dead speak in Clark Spencer Larsen's new book. Chattering through worn teeth, gesturing with ossified limbs, theirs is the testimony of articulated bones. . . . Larsen shows how he and other researchers in the emerging field of bioarchaeology have used skeletal evidence to challenge the tradition of equating the rise of agriculture with the betterment of the human condition."--Nina C. Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education
"This book represents a unique and valuable contribution to public scientific education, to bridging the gaps in our society between 'science' and 'history', and most importantly, to illustrating just how fully the dead can tell the stories of their lives to us, the living."--Mary Lucas Powell, University of Kentucky
"If my ancient Greek ancestors, who defined the skeleton as 'withered' or 'dried up,' had read Clark Spencer Larsen's Skeletons in Our Closet, they would surely have reconsidered their description of the term. Larsen brings the bones of all our ancestors to life. His interpretation of bioarchaeology provides one of the best treatments of this important topic."--George Armelagos, Emory University
Table of Contents:
INTRODUCTION Tales from the Dead: "What Bones Tell Us about Our Past, and Why We Should Know 3
CHAPTER 1 The Lives and Lifestyles of Ancient Hunter-Gatherers: "Poor, nasty, brutish and short" in the American Great Basin? 13
CHAPTER 2 Skeletons from Stillwater. Good Times and Bad Times 35
CHAPTER 3 From Foraging to Farming. A Regional Perspective 65
CHAPTER 4 Going Global: Bioarchaeology of the Foraging-to-Farming Transition 96
CHAPTER 5 Europeans Arrive: Circumstances and Settings for Native Population Collapse in the Americas 121
CHAPTER 6 Bioarchaeology of Population Decline and Extinction in Spanish Florida 145
CHAPTER 7 Sot-Weed to Sangamo: Life and Death in Frontier North America 179
Chapter 8 On to Sangamo Country: Colonizing the Midwest 203
Chapter 9 Life's Transitions: The Bioarchaelogical past 228