, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 190-215
Date: 24 Apr 2008

The Bioarchaeological Investigation of Childhood and Social Age: Problems and Prospects

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Abstract

Recently, the value of the study of children and childhood from archaeological contexts has become more recognized. Childhood is both a biological and a social phenomenon. However, because of specialization in research fields within anthropology, subadults from the archaeological record are usually studied from the biological perspective (bioarchaeology) or, more predominantly, the social perspective (social archaeology), with little research that incorporates both approaches. These polarized approaches to childhood and age highlight the dualistic way in which “biological” and “social” aspects of the body are viewed. Some recent literature criticizes bioarchaeological approaches, and calls for the incorporation of childhood social theory, including social age categories, into subadult health analysis. However, few studies have explicitly addressed the practicalities or theoretical issues that need to be considered when attempting this. This paper critically examines these issues, including terminology used for defining subadulthood and age divisions within it, and approaches to identify “social age” in past populations. The important contribution that bioarchaeology can make to the study of social aspects of childhood is outlined. Recent theoretical approaches for understanding the body offer exciting opportunities to incorporate skeletal remains into research, and develop a more biologically and socially integrated understanding of childhood and age.