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Book review Demography in Archaeology.

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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 135:245–248 (2008)
Book Reviews
THE BIOARCHAEOLOGY OF CHILDREN: PERSPECTIVES FROM
BIOLOGICAL AND FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGY. By Mary E.
Lewis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2007.
255 pp. ISBN 0-52183-602-6. $130.00 (hardcover).
The remains of children are generally underrepresented in the archaeological record, with the consequence that many anthropologists are afforded little exposure to preadolescent morphology, especially that of
the fetal or neonatal skeleton. The opposite situation
prevails in Ireland, where archaeological excavations
continue to recover fetuses and infants of medieval and
later date from clandestine burial grounds. These sites,
known as Cı́llı́ni, dot the Irish landscape in their thousands; working with skeletal samples from them provides one of the main benefits of contract archaeology in
the Emerald Isle. With this experience in mind, I
approached the Lewis volume with great interest.
The first one-third of the book deals with fundamentals. Chapter 1 considers what is meant by the child in
historical context, including confusion over nomenclature. Chapter 2 highlights the archaeological dataset,
taphonomy and fetal bone survival, and age-differential
burial practices. Chapters 3 and 4 review the basics of
nonadult aging, determination of sex and ancestry, and
fundamentals of growth and development. The remaining two-thirds of the book deals with osteoarchaeological
evidence (or lack thereof) for mortality rates, malnutrition, weaning and feeding practices, infanticide, trauma,
child abuse, and pathological conditions afflicting the
nonadult skeleton. Whilst there are several published
works dedicated to nonadult archaeology and skeletal
biology, this is the first volume that attempts to integrate the disparate multidisciplinary threads into a comprehensive biocultural picture. By any standard this is
an unenviable task, and Lewis does not shy from highlighting the many problems that have bedeviled such
attempts in the past. She juxtaposes the biases underlining social and biological research in recent decades, noting that western views of childhood have tended to color
social interpretations, particularly in perceptions of gender roles and the underestimation of childhood maturity.
The modern mindset tends to view children as passive
rather than active agents, though she notes the many
thousands of children serving in current armed conflicts
suggest that the young are anything but. Biases aside,
Lewis makes a strong case for the research potential of
nonadults, noting that both the social and biological sciences have now ‘‘reached a level of sophistication that
should encourage communication and integration of the
disciplines’’ (p. 19).
Given the scale of the task, was Lewis successful?
Well, yes and no. There is much to recommend in the
volume. The text is well written, accessible to the nonspecialist, and possessed of considerable scope. Aspects
of the biological and the cultural are well integrated,
and whilst some might view the outcome as too deterministic in nature, it does try to present a rounded view
of behavioral reconstruction. The fact that Lewis is pasC 2007
V
WILEY-LISS, INC.
sionate about her ‘‘little waifs’’ is abundantly clear, and
she takes pains to debunk a number of myths including
the erroneous notion that skeletal remains of fetuses,
infants, and children do not survive in the burial environment. Such fallacies still prevail, as evidenced by a
2005 Irish case where police were assured by pathologists that fetal bones from a 1970s clandestine burial
would not survive such a lengthy time in the ground;
hopefully sales of Lewis’s book will circumvent such
views in future. On a related note, I was pleased with
her deconstruction of archaeological evidence for obstetric mortality. Here she argues for the use of objective
taphonomic criteria to differentiate obstetric death from
postmortem deposition, rather than accepting the presence of fetal bones within an adult abdomen as prima
facie evidence for death in childbirth.
The volume has a few weaknesses. Beyond a handful
of typographical errors and the repetition of citations in
the bibliography, my strongest complaint is that the
book is too short and includes little new data. Many
issues, most notably those relating to longstanding statistical or methodological problems of aging, are dealt
with in a superficial manner or flagged as being of interest but not given the attention they deserve. I also found
her treatment of results from conference abstracts as
though they were peer-reviewed articles a bit worrisome; one or two instances, fine, but 41 cases smacks
of bibliographical padding. Unfortunately, the inclusion of long lists of published sources of reference data
(but not a summary of the data itself) rather reinforced this idea; a shame, as a tad more effort would
have made this an indispensable reference source.
The book is at its strongest discussing pathological
conditions in the nonadult skeleton, and this is where
Lewis seems most comfortable; indeed, around 40% of
the book is given over to paleopathology. However, I
was dismayed that in discussing nonadult pathology,
Lewis focuses almost exclusively on pathogenic or deficiency-related conditions, namely syphilis, tuberculosis, rickets, scurvy, and anemia. Archaeologically recognized developmental defects such as anencephaly,
cleft palate, and spina bifida are mentioned only in
passing and not in pathological context. The wider
topic of developmental field defects and their underlying causes is ignored. In choosing to exclude an entire
class of data, the book misleads the reader as to the
wider range of childhood abnormalities present in the
archaeological record and, more importantly, fails to
fully highlight the range of conditions likely to influence fetal and infant viability. Given that congenital
defects are the second most common cause of neonatal
death in clinical practice (after prematurity and
complications of preterm birth), understanding their
incidence and expression is paramount if we are trying
to make sense of child mortality in the past. To compound the omission, I was concerned at the absence
of several core references from an otherwise extensive
bibliography. This exclusion includes the ‘‘bible’’ of
developmental defects in paleopathology, Ethne
Barnes’s Developmental Defects of the Axial Skeleton
in Paleopathology (University Press of Colorado,
1994), which should be required reading for anyone
246
BOOK REVIEWS
working with nonadult pathologies and abnormal
variation.
Complaints aside, the volume is deserving of praise,
and I have no doubt that it will be of great value in its
present form to both students and professionals. The
book fills a substantial void in the current academic
resource, although I think it falls a little short of being
the essential reference work that it was intended to
be; for that I look forward to the revised and expanded
second edition with eager anticipation.
MEN: EVOLUTIONARY AND LIFE HISTORY. By Richard G.
Bribiescas Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
2006. 306 pp. ISBN 0-674-02293-5. $28.95 (cloth).
As a research area, male reproductive ecology has
been slow to get off the ground, and it is not entirely
clear why. As has been said of the demographic perspective out of which it has grown, male reproductive ecology
is like a good mystery: it has life, death, and everything
in between, including sex and violence (if you are
inclined to the behavioral) and muscle (if you are more
inclined to the physiological). Yet, an evolutionary understanding of male reproductive biology has yielded few
larger insights into either male physiology or men more
generally, as this slim volume by one of its prime practitioners attests.
For his part, Bribiescas approaches the topic of male
reproductive effort and life history in two sections. The
first section covers the selective background, life history
theory, and evolutionary history of males in general and
human males more specifically. The second goes through
each life stage: fetal, infant, adolescent, adult, and senescent, pointing out the subtle ways in which exposure
to testosterone biases somatic investment. For instance,
the male brain comes out of the womb with a slightly
smaller left hemisphere, which may reflect the developmental effects of testosterone. Between birth and 6
months, male infants also show elevated testosterone
levels, which may make male development slightly more
responsive to environmental conditions. Compared to
females, males develop more muscle mass at puberty,
engage in riskier behavior as young adults, and are
more likely to get sick as adults, all the result of the
physiological effects of testosterone.
As Bribiescas’s clear examples, drawn primarily
from work in the United States, suggest, the single
most important element holding back the development
of a model of male reproductive ecology may be a lack
of empirical data from ecologically relevant populations. In energy-limited populations, we expect the elevated energy demands associated with testosterone to
have demonstrable consequences. The functional
impact of elevated testosterone postnatally may be a
few IQ points in our society, but in populations that
experience periodic starvation it may be a matter of
life and death. Similarly, the energetic impact of testosterone on growth in adolescent boys in Western
populations may simply result in increased food consumption. In energy-limited populations, on the other
PAT RANDOLPH-QUINNEY
Unit of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology
School of Life Sciences
University of Dundee
Dundee, UK
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20705
Published online 4 September 2007 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
hand, the energetic cost of testosterone may be
reflected in a trade-off between increased height and
reduced development of muscle mass. With aging, testosterone may play a role in heart disease in industrialized populations by altering lipid profiles. In contrast, among undernourished populations, testosterone
may be implicated in response to infectious disease by
promoting immune response.
The role of testosterone as an allocater of energy in
all aspects of the human male life course is a simple
testable hypothesis. Life-history theory is well designed
to take account of the scheduling of such costs, which,
as Bribiescas argues, may be more tied up in the development and maintenance of muscle mass than in
the reproductive system per se. But more data, some
of it just now coming out, is needed to test how phenotypic outcomes—whether muscle mass, immune function, or relationship status—may be related to testosterone in subsistence populations where energy is
clearly limited.
But perhaps more importantly, as the book makes
clear, without comparative data on the great apes, male
reproductive ecology lacks a real evolutionary perspective. The argument that humans have evolved both
biparental care and substantial fat stores to maintain
large brains and high reproductive rates in the face of
fluctuating food supplies applies to males just as it does
to females. Thus testosterone and the reproductive
effort it represents should be intimately related to variation in both body composition and pair bonding. In
contrast, among the great apes, where males provide
little if any parental care, we might expect to see testosterone related more directly to somatic effort and
male–male behavioral competition. In particular, among
male orangutans, who experience substantial seasonal
fluctuation in food availability in the wild, testosterone
may be closely related to fat and survival issues. In
contrast, among both chimpanzees and gorillas, who experience much less pronounced environmental fluctuation, testosterone may be related less directly to somatic investment and more directly to reproductive
behavior.
Bribiescas ends the book with a quote from an eightyear-old boy who has just watched the funeral of a gang
member: ‘‘We are all going to die sometime’’ (p. 225).
Indeed, life is short and leaves us with many mysteries.
With this book, Bribiescas has given us a basic introduction to the male mystery by arguing for the key role of
testosterone in allocating energy throughout the male
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
247
BOOK REVIEWS
life course. Now we need to address the basic question of
where and when the elements of a specifically human
male life history began to emerge. In my opinion, male
reproductive ecology is truly in its infancy, and there is
still plenty of time for the field to develop a more
detailed description of the evolution of human male
reproductive physiology and its adaptation to variation
in ecological and social conditions. I hope that the next
incarnation of this book will be able to provide a
more substantial vision of male reproductive ecology.
Until then, the current version will serve to whet the
appetite.
DEMOGRAPHY IN ARCHAEOLOGY. By Andrew Chamberlain.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2006. 235
pp. ISBN 0-521-59651-3. $29.99 (paper).
Demography in Archaeology is a much-needed summary of paleodemography, a field that strives to reconstruct the structure and dynamics of past populations
from archaeological data. The book introduces basic demographic concepts and theory and summarizes the various sets of data and the methodological and analytical
approaches used in paleodemography, historical demography, and ethnographic demography. Chamberlain also
discusses demographic studies of fossil hominids, the
application of modern molecular data to demographic
studies, and the evidence for and demographic effects of
disease in the past (i.e., paleopathology). He covers a
broad variety of topics related to paleodemography in a
clear and well organized book.
Throughout the book, Chamberlain provides succinct
explanations of important demographic, archaeological,
and paleodemographic concepts. For example, the descriptions of demographic concepts, theory, and methods
in Chapter 2 are both accessible and highly informative.
These descriptions are not overly simplified, and Chamberlain does not shy away from explaining demographic
models or from using statistical formulae (e.g, hazards
models for mortality, logistic growth curves for population growth, etc.). However, this section is an introduction to these topics and therefore emphasizes clarity and
readability; readers are not overwhelmed with a confusing amount of detail but, rather, are provided with sufficient references should they desire more technical
details or exhaustive descriptions.
Particularly impressive is the discussion in Chapter 4
of recently developed paleodemographic estimation
methods such as Bayesian age estimation and maximum
likelihood estimation methods for adult age (e.g., transition analysis and the latent trait method). Upon first
hearing of such methods, many students and researchers
find them to be counterintuitive and confusing, and it
can be a challenge to explain these methods to the statistically naı̈ve. Chamberlain’s descriptions are informative but not overwhelmingly technical, and they provide
readers with a basic understanding that will undoubtedly help them when presented with more advanced
literature.
Chamberlain makes explicit the fundamental problems associated with paleodemographic methods and an-
BENJAMIN CAMPBELL
Department of Anthropology
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20706
Published online 4 September 2007 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
alytical procedures. Such problems include infant undernumeration because of taphonomic and excavation
biases and the problem of age mimicry, whereby adult
age estimates are biased toward the age distribution of
known-age reference samples. These problems, and
others, complicate our attempts to make straightforward
inferences about past populations based on observations
of skeletal samples. However, Chamberlain is clearly,
though cautiously, optimistic that the solutions to these
problems either already exist or are attainable in the
near future. This is an important message, given
the unfortunate opinion held by some researchers that
the problems associated with paleodemography are insurmountable or that their solutions are too complex to
be worth the attempt. The reader of Demography in
Archaeology is left with the impression that the reconstruction of demographic patterns of past populations is
both possible and extremely important, but also that
such work should only be done using appropriately rigorous methods. Though not perfect, skeletal samples ‘‘together with evidence of the size of settlements and calculations of carrying capacity, constitute essential sources of information for archaeological demography’’ (p.
12).
For the most part, the book does not assume prior
knowledge of the subject matter, and most terms and
concepts that are not common knowledge are defined
very well. This is one reason this book would be an ideal
textbook. However, one minor weakness of the book is a
general lack of definitions or explanations of genetic and
population genetic terms and concepts. For example, in
Chapter 5, Chamberlain mentions effective population
size, heritability, and coalescent theory without defining
the terms, and yet these concepts are no more common
knowledge than are incidence and prevalence, both of
which he does clearly define. Readers might therefore
need a basic understanding of genetics to fully understand these sections.
This book is ideal for advanced undergraduate and
graduate students and professors and researchers who
are unfamiliar with the field and need a broad, straightforward overview of paleodemography. It would make an
excellent core textbook for an advanced undergraduate
or graduate course in paleodemography. It has many
illustrations, most of which are simple black-and-white
tables and graphs (e.g., age-at-death distributions, population growth rates, etc.) that complement the written
descriptions. Readers obtain from the book a basic un-
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
248
BOOK REVIEWS
derstanding of the fundamental concepts of paleodemography; for paleodemography courses, instructors can
(and should) assign additional readings from those provided in the book’s list of references. Adding to its value
as a textbook, Demography in Archaeology is both quite
affordable and a pleasure to read.
Demography in Archaeology provides an up-to-date
overview of paleodemography, presenting the most
recent methodological and analytical advances in the
field and concrete examples of the applications of those
new approaches. The book presents paleodemography as
a field that is not without problems but that ultimately
has much to contribute to our understanding of life in
the past.
SHARON N. DEWITTE
Department of Anthropology
University at Albany
Albany, New York
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20707
Published online 4 September 2007 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
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