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The Body as Material Culture
A Theoretical Osteoarchaeology

Part of Topics in Contemporary Archaeology

  • Date Published: February 2006
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521521468


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About the Authors
  • Bodies intrigue us. They promise windows into the past that other archaeological finds cannot by bringing us literally face to face with history. Yet 'the body' is also highly contested. Archaeological bodies are studied through two contrasting perspectives that sit on different sides of a disciplinary divide. On one hand lie science-based osteoarchaeological approaches. On the other lie understandings derived from recent developments in social theory that increasingly view the body as a social construction. Through a close examination of disciplinary practice, Joanna Sofaer highlights the tensions and possibilities offered by one particular kind of archaeological body, the human skeleton, with particular regard to the study of gender and age. Using a range of examples, she argues for reassessment of the role of the skeletal body in archaeological practice, and develops a theoretical framework for bioarchaeology based on the materiality and historicity of human remains.

    • Investigates one of the most intriguing aspects of archaeology, archaeological remains
    • Bridges the two traditionally distinct and separate approaches to the subject, namely the scientific approach and the social theoretical approach
    • Presents a significant model for the study of the subject which merges the two distinct approaches
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '… [Sofaer] thoughtfully appraises the theory of the body. She has tried to do something quite different from other texts on either osteoarchaeology or the theory of dead bodies, and she has succeeded. What is presented is a way of bridging the methodological divide by viewing the skeleton as both a material and a cultural object. … By shifting 'the body' into the realm of material culture, Sofaer proposes to combine the study of the diversity and biological fluidity of human skeletons with that of their intersubjectivity and materiality. … For those archaeologists who 'switch off' at the thought of theories of the body, sex, gender and age, this book is an essential read. It is a valuable excursion into how archaeology has conceived and is conceptualising the body as both a biological and a cultural resource. … manages to convey the theoretical association between bodies and objects in a direct, engaging and thought-provoking way.' Antiquity

    'Sofaer's discussion of a 'theoretical osteoarchaeology' is convincing and scholarly …' Journal of Medieval Archaeology

    'This sophisticated integration of constructivist and biological perspectives demonstrates her [the author] ability to draw insights from both 'sides' and she encourages other scholars to do the same. … Her book is a valuable contribution that provides exciting prospects for osteoarchaeologists who have been striving to incorporate 'anthropology of the body' into their work and it demonstrates a maturing of the discipline. Social anthropologists and archaeologists with interests in anthropology of the body, mortuary practices, gender roles and the changing life course would also benefit from this reading. I think they will be pleasantly surprised by all that osteoarchaeology - of the kind that Sofaer espouses - can offer.' Cambridge Archaeological Journal

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2006
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521521468
    • length: 208 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 150 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.29kg
    • contains: 10 b/w illus. 3 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Bodies and boundaries
    2. The body as an archaeological resource
    3. The body and convention in archaeological practice
    4. Material bodies
    5. Gender
    6. Age.

  • Author

    Joanna R. Sofaer, University of Southampton
    Joanna R. Sofaer is Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Southampton. As an osteoarchaeologist and prehistorian, she has published widely on human bioarchaeology and European prehistory. Her previous publications include Children and Material Culture (editor) (2000).

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