Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-598jt Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-29T04:47:50.496Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

4 - What did agriculture do for us?

The bioarchaeology of health and diet

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 May 2015

Graeme Barker
University of Cambridge
Candice Goucher
Washington State University
Get access


This chapter focuses on what kind of evidence can be productively used from human remains to tell us something about a population's diet and health. It addresses the questions of how agriculture contributes to our health and diet and how bioarchaeology can help people understand this relationship better. Essentially, bioarchaeological studies of health and well-being provide a deep-time perspective on understanding the origin, evolution, and history of disease, which is very relevant to the emerging discipline of evolutionary medicine. It is much easier to consider the health of contemporary people who hunt and forage, and ecological factors specific to living hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists can be used effectively to understand the diet they eat and challenges to health they experience. Advances in understanding the nature of the agricultural transition and its impact on humans have particularly been seen recently in genetic studies, for example how plants and animals have evolved.
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Further reading

Agarwal, S.C. and Glencross, B.A.. Social Bioarchaeology. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Barrett, R., Kuzawa, C.W., McDade, T., and Armelagos, G.J.. ‘Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases: the third epidemiological transition.Annual Review of Anthropology, 27 (1998), 247–71.
Brickley, M. and Ives, R.. The Bioarchaeology of Metabolic Bone Disease. London: Academic Press, 2008.
Brown, T. and Brown, K.. Biomolecular Archaeology: An Introduction. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Buikstra, J.E. and Beck, L.A. (eds.). Bioarchaeology: The Contextual Analysis of Human Remains. London: Academic Press, 2006.
Buikstra, J.E. and Roberts, C.A. (eds.). The Global History of Paleopathology: Pioneers and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Chamberlain, A. Demography in Archaeology. Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Cohen, M.N. Health and the Rise of Civilisation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.
Cohen, M.N. and Armelagos, G.J. (eds.). Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture. 2nd edn. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013.
Cohen, M.N. and Crane-Kramer, G. (eds.). Ancient Health: Skeletal Indicators of Agricultural and Economic Intensification. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007.
Jurmain, R. Stories From the Skeleton: Behavioral Reconstruction in Human Osteology. Williston, VT: Gordon and Breach, 1999.
Larsen, C.S. Our Origins: Discovering Physical Anthropology. London: W.W. Norton, 2008.
Mays, S. The Archaeology of Human Bones. 2nd edn. London: Routledge, 2010.
McElroy, A. and Townsend, P.K.. Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective. 5th edn. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2009.
Nesse, R.M. and Williams, G.C.. Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine. New York: Vintage, 1994.
Panter-Brick, C., Layton, R.H., and Rowley-Conwy, P. (eds.). Hunter-Gatherers: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Biosocial Society Symposium Series. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Pinhasi, R. and Mays, S. (eds.). Advances in Human Palaeopathology. Chichester: Wiley, 2008.
Pinhasi, R. and Stock, J.T. (eds.). Human Bioarchaeology of the Transition to Agriculture. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Roberts, C.A. Human Remains in Archaeology: A Handbook. CBA Practical Handbooks in Archaeology 19. York: Council for British Archaeology, 2009.
Roberts, C.A. and Manchester, K.. The Archaeology of Disease. 3rd edn. Stroud: Sutton, 2005.
Smith, B.D. The Emergence of Agriculture. New York: Scientific American Library, 1995.
Steckel, R.H. and Rose, J.C. (eds.). The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Waldron, T. Counting the Dead: The Epidemiology of Skeletal Populations. Chichester: Wiley, 1994.
Wood, J.W., Milner, G.R., Harpending, H.C., and Weiss, K.M.. ‘The osteological paradox: problems of inferring health from skeletal samples.Current Anthropology, 33 (1992), 343–70.
World Health Organization. Research Priorities for the Environment, Agriculture and Infectious Diseases of Poverty. WHO Technical Report 976. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2013.

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats