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Paleodemography: From archaeology and skeletal age estimation to life in the past

NCJ Number
American Journal of Biological Anthropology Volume: 178 Issue: S74 Dated: 2022 Pages: 115-150
Date Published
36 pages

This essay describes how paleodemography enhances understanding of preindustrial demographic regimes.


The authors of this essay discuss how human skeletons contribute to our understanding of preindustrial demographic regimes, including when changes leading to the modern world took place. Much of paleodemography, an interdisciplinary field with strong ties to archaeology, among other disciplines, is oriented toward clarifying the life experiences of past people and why they changed over time. Problems with existing paleodemographic practices are highlighted, as are promising directions for future work. The latter requires both better age estimates and innovative methods to handle data appropriately. Age-at-death estimates for adult skeletons are a particular problem, especially for adults over 50 years that undoubtedly are mistakenly underrepresented in published studies of archaeological skeletons. Better age estimates for the entirety of the lifespan are essential to generate realistic distributions of age at death. There are currently encouraging signs that after about a half-century of intensive, and sometimes contentious, research, paleodemography is poised to contribute much to understandings of evolutionary processes, the structure of past populations, and human-disease interaction, among other topics.

Date Published: January 1, 2022