The Anthropology and Bioarchaeology of Quotidian Experiences

  • Sarah Schrader
Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


This first chapter introduces the reader to the concept of quotidian (or everyday) actions and occurrences. An understanding of these events is important—it exemplifies how people actually live(d) by addressing their mundane experiences. Further, as practice theory illustrates, these everyday events form the basis of social structure, self, and community. Everyday life is complex, however; these experiences are varied, contextual, and differ throughout time and space. Anthropology is ideally situated to address these complex issues because of its continuing interest in human diversity as well as its four-field, holistic approach.

I will discuss how the subdisciplines of anthropology have examined everyday practices. For many, the primary aim of sociocultural anthropological research is to document, understand, and experience day-to-day life among the individuals and/or community being studied. Typically, this is achieved through participant observation, or what Geertz has referred to as “deep hanging out.” In this way, the anthropologists shadows a person or group, gaining an understanding of their processes, techniques, and experiences; further, sociocultural anthropologists have the opportunity to not only observe these contexts but also interview and discuss these activities with their participants. Archaeologists add to this perspective the ability to analyze diachronic similarities or changes, over hundreds or thousands of years, in everyday practice; this, of course, is at the expense of not being able to interview the individuals or group under study. Through meticulous excavation, archaeologists are able to excavate cultural strata to reveal how, for example, the organization of space, refuse deposits, and/or ceramic typology, changed through time.

A Bioarchaeology of the Everyday Approach contributes to this dialogue. Through the examination of human skeletal remains and their archaeological context, bioarchaeologists are able to address day-to-day action from a unique perspective. Unlike archaeologists, bioarchaeologists can examine the everyday activities of an individual, a group, or an entire population. Furthermore, the changes that occur in the human skeleton as a product of everyday life provide direct evidence of those embodied experiences. This is not to say that the osteological examination of daily life is without shortcomings; for example, when examining muscle attachment sites as a proxy for activity, bioarchaeologists are really addressing the product of long-term activity that has accrued, so to speak, on the skeleton. Thus, when using this method it is not possible to reconstruct a single action, or subtle movements. However, by employing a multi-method approach and comparing individuals or groups diachronically, bioarchaeologists can begin to address new facets everyday life in the ancient past.


Everyday Archaeology Embodiment Multiscalar Nubia 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Schrader
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of ArchaeologyLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

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