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Brief communication Skeletal biology past and present Are we moving in the right direction.

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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 137:234–239 (2008)
Brief Communication: Skeletal Biology Past and
Present: Are We Moving in the Right Direction?
Samantha M. Hens1* and Kanya Godde2
1
2
Department of Anthropology, California State University, Sacramento, Sacramento, CA 95819-6106
Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Knoxville, TN 37996
KEY WORDS
content analysis; osteology; research trends
ABSTRACT
In 1982, Spencer’s edited volume A History of American Physical Anthropology: 1930–1980
allowed numerous authors to document the state of our
science, including a critical examination of skeletal biology. Some authors argued that the first 50 years of skeletal biology were characterized by the descriptive-historical approach with little regard for processual problems
and that technological and statistical analyses were not
rooted in theory. In an effort to determine whether
Spencer’s landmark volume impacted the field of skeletal
biology, a content analysis was carried out for the American Journal of Physical Anthropology from 1980 to 2004.
The percentage of skeletal biology articles is similar to
that of previous decades. Analytical articles averaged
only 32% and are defined by three criteria: statistical
analysis, hypothesis testing, and broader explanatory
context. However, when these criteria were scored indi-
vidually, nearly 80% of papers attempted a broader theoretical explanation, 44% tested hypotheses, and 67%
used advanced statistics, suggesting that the skeletal
biology papers in the journal have an analytical emphasis. Considerable fluctuation exists between subfields;
trends toward a more analytical approach are witnessed
in the subfields of age/sex/stature/demography, skeletal
maturation, anatomy, and nonhuman primate studies,
which also increased in frequency, while paleontology
and pathology were largely descriptive. Comparisons to
the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology indicate
that there are statistically significant differences
between the two journals in terms of analytical criteria.
These data indicate a positive shift in theoretical thinking, i.e., an attempt by most to explain processes rather
than present a simple description of events. Am J Phys
Anthropol 137:234–239, 2008. V 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Spencer’s (1982) A History of American Physical Anthropology: 1930–1980 provided a forum for an array of
researchers to report on the state of our science. In particular, skeletal biology was critically examined in two
papers from the volume: Armelagos et al.’s (1982) commentary on the theoretical foundations of skeletal biology and Lovejoy et al.’s (1982) presentation of a detailed
content analysis of skeletal biology papers from the
American Journal of Physical Anthropology (AJPA) during that time period. Armelagos et al. (1982) reviewed
the historical foundations of the subdiscipline and characterized the first 50 years of skeletal biology as following the descriptive-historical approach, accompanied by
little regard for processual problems. Early researchers
in the field became increasingly interested in the morphological differences among extant human groups, both
populations and races. The discovery of numerous fossil
hominids during the twentieth century also stimulated
efforts to classify modern humans within the evolutionary family tree and in relation to the living nonhuman
primates. Thus, early skeletal biological studies focused
on classifying human groups using a typological approach. Few papers discussed broader evolutionary models, functional, or processual explanations. Many papers
also lacked rigorous hypothesis testing. Despite the
promising advances made during the 1970s in technology and multivariate statistical modeling using a population perspective, human skeletal biology continued to
be represented by descriptive studies in lieu of discussions of evolutionary theory, adaptation, and variation.
Armelagos et al. (1982) called for a move to explain
observed variation using adaptational and structural–
functional approaches within a broader theoretical
context and away from simple, descriptive, typological
approaches.
In a content analysis of the AJPA, Lovejoy et al.
(1982) surveyed the first 50 years of human and nonhuman primate skeletal biology. They found that osteologybased articles increased over time, indicating that skeletal biology was one of the largest subfields of physical
anthropology. While osteological studies comprised 50%
of all articles published in the AJPA, there was a substantial emphasis on descriptive studies, 2/3 of all
papers, with a slower increase in analytical works over
the decades. The authors reminded us that science is not
only about endless data collection, but should be about
explanation. They concluded that there remained a lack
of theoretical papers in the discipline.
Content analyses have been recognized as useful in
evaluating temporal differences in publishing trends. In
2003, Armelagos and Van Gerven revisited their earlier
paper and performed a content analysis of skeletal biology papers in the AJPA between 1980–1984 and 1996–
2000. Despite the advent of multivariate statistics and
the success of the functional and biocultural approaches,
C 2008
V
WILEY-LISS, INC.
C
*Correspondence to: Samantha M. Hens, Department of Anthropology, California State University, Sacramento, 6000 J Street,
Sacramento, CA 95819-6106, USA. E-mail: shens@csus.edu
Received 28 August 2007; accepted 28 April 2008
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20871
Published online 9 July 2008 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
235
SKELETAL BIOLOGY PAST AND PRESENT
TABLE 1. The frequency of skeletal biology articles published in
the AJPA by 5-year intervals
TABLE 2. The frequency of descriptive vs. analytical articles
published in the AJPA by 5-year intervals
Skeletal biology
Descriptive
Analytical
Total
Interval
Total
N
%
Interval
N
%
N
%
N
1980–1984
1985–1989
1990–1994
1995–1999
2000–2004
Total
586
595
484
492
453
2,610
282
311
282
265
226
1,366
48.1
52.3
58.3
53.9
49.9
52.3
1980–1984
1985–1989
1990–1994
1995–1999
2000–2004
Total
227
213
194
166
131
931
80.5
68.5
68.8
62.6
58.0
68.2
55
98
88
99
95
435
19.5
31.5
31.2
37.4
42.0
31.8
282
311
282
265
226
1,366
the authors reported that skeletal biology remains embedded in our descriptive past, with few papers utilizing
an analytical approach. Stojanowski and Buikstra (2005)
also examined research trends in the AJPA, exclusively
emphasizing human osteology studies between the same
two 5-year intervals, 1980–1984 and 1996–2000. They
found that while human osteologists continue to publish
on an array of descriptive, analytical, and methodological topics within human skeletal biology, the analytical
articles have the greatest impact, measured in terms of
number of citations. Additionally, the authors examined
the differences between scholars at the beginning of
their careers versus established professionals and found
that descriptive approaches characterized researchers in
the early stages of their careers. Stojanowski and Buikstra state that the differences between their numbers
and those reported by Armelagos and Van Gerven (2003)
may be due to interobserver error in categorizing the
journal articles or inconsistent tabulation methods.
Despite the success of these approaches, neither study
carried out a complete analysis of the journal similar to
Lovejoy et al.’s landmark attempt. In an effort to evaluate
the impact that Spencer’s (1982) book may have had on
the subdisciplinary field of skeletal biology, including both
human and nonhuman primate articles, we carried out a
thorough and detailed content analysis of all skeletal biology articles published within the AJPA between 1980 and
2004, spanning the 25 years since the original reports by
Lovejoy et al. (1982). The AJPA was chosen because it is
the flagship journal for the broader field of physical anthropology and routinely publishes works across a wide
array of specializations including, but not limited to, skeletal biology. Thus, the impact of skeletal biology with
respect to the broader field of physical anthropology may
be evaluated. Additionally, the analyses were carried out,
counted, and grouped following Lovejoy et al.’s (1982) original publication, to facilitate comparisons across the decades in all aspects of skeletal biological research. Furthermore, we carried out a similar content analysis of the
International Journal of Osteoarchaeology (IJO) between
1995 and 2004 in an effort to identify the type of papers
emphasized therein and any influence this journal may
have had on the AJPA. These data are addressed in the
discussion section of this article.
METHODS
Our content analysis included all skeletal biology
articles in the AJPA, including both human and nonhuman studies following the model set forth by Lovejoy et
al. (1982). To control interobserver error and decrease
subjectivity in classifications, one of us (K.G.) reviewed
each issue of AJPA from the library collections, reading
article abstracts and perusing relevant sections of the
papers when clarification was needed. Articles were first
categorized into skeletal biology and nonskeletal biology.
Subsequently, all skeletal biology articles were further
broken down into human and nonhuman primate, descriptive and analytical, and by subject matter. The subject matter was divided into seven categories following
the breakdown used by Lovejoy et al. (1982): 1) anatomy;
2) age, sex, stature, demography (ASSD); 3) experimental biology, histochemistry, biomechanics; 4) growth; 5)
paleontology; 6) pathology; and 7) skeletal maturation.
Analytical papers were identified as such if they fit three
criteria: a statistical methodology, testing specific
hypotheses and utilizing processual or functional explanations or broad theoretical modeling in their approach.
Descriptive reports were characterized by papers that
presented a simple description, sorting procedures and
identification methods, with or without statistical analyses. Many articles were reclassified after our original
presentation (Hens and Godde, 2005) because of the use
of more stringent criteria here for inclusion into the analytical category. The data were divided into 5-year intervals: 1980–1984, 1985–1989, 1990–1994, 1995–1999,
2000–2004, representing the 25 years since the publication of Spencer’s (1982) landmark volume. Chi-square
tests were run to determine whether or not the differences in descriptive vs. analytical papers between the
1980–1984 category and the 2000–2004 category were
significant (SAS, version 9.1.3).
RESULTS
The number of skeletal biology articles continues to
dominate the AJPA, continuing a tradition wherein skeletal biology hovers around 50% of the journal’s publications, even to a high of 58% in the early 1990s (Table 1).
The position of skeletal biology as the foremost subfield
within physical anthropology remains supported into the
twenty-first century. Table 2 displays the frequency of
descriptive vs. analytical articles published in AJPA over
the last 25 years. Percentages of descriptive and analytical articles fluctuate by as much as 22%. Analytical
articles are at a low of 19.5% in the early 1980s, but
show a steady increase and rise to a high of 42% in the
early 2000s. Chi-square tests comparing these two intervals (1980–1984 and 2000–2004) provided a P value of \
0.0001, indicating that the increase in analytical articles
from the early 1980s to the early 2000s was significant.
A further breakdown by subject matter and 5-year
interval is presented in Table 3. Anatomy continues to
be the leading subfield with an average of 25% of total
skeletal biology papers. However, this represents a large
decrease from the 46% average reported in Lovejoy et al.
(1982), indicating a change in research focus over
time. Growth, experimental biology/histochemistry/
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
236
S.M. HENS AND K. GODDE
TABLE 3. Frequency of articles by subject matter and 5-year intervals
1980–84
Anatomy
ASSDa
Experimental biology
Growth
Paleontology
Pathology
Skeletal maturation
Other
a
1985–89
1990–94
1995–99
2000–04
Total
N
%
N
%
N
%
N
%
N
%
N
%
71
71
25
8
53
42
6
6
25.2
25.2
8.9
2.8
18.8
14.9
2.1
2.1
63
82
21
9
57
63
16
0
20.3
26.4
6.8
2.9
18.3
20.3
5.1
0
79
58
19
5
59
55
7
0
28.0
20.6
6.7
1.8
20.9
19.5
2.4
0
61
62
22
8
47
61
4
0
23.0
23.4
8.3
3.0
17.7
23.0
1.5
0
60
39
28
5
34
54
6
0
26.5
17.2
12.4
2.2
15.0
23.9
2.7
0
334
312
115
35
250
275
39
6
24.5
22.8
8.4
2.6
18.3
20.1
2.9
0.4
ASSD represents age, sex, stature, and demography studies.
TABLE 4. Frequency of descriptive vs. analytical by
subject matter
Anatomy
ASSD
Experimental biology
Growth
Paleontology
Pathology
Skeletal maturation
Other
Descriptive
Analytical
N
N
207
182
75
23
197
222
20
5
%
62.0
58.3
65.2
65.7
78.8
80.7
51.3
83.3
127
130
40
12
53
53
19
1
%
38.0
41.7
34.8
34.3
21.2
19.3
48.7
16.7
TABLE 5. Frequency of human vs. nonhuman primate articles
by subject matter
Total
334
312
115
35
250
275
39
6
biomechanics, and skeletal maturation are represented
by the fewest number of papers, seldom exceeding 10%
of total skeletal biology papers. Pathology papers exhibit
a slight increase during the late 1980s, from 15% to
20%, which subsequently levels off 23%. Paleontology
papers maintain a consistent number of publications
with little fluctuation. However, both pathology and paleontology have increased substantially from the values
reported by Lovejoy et al. (1982). The number of pathology papers has doubled on average, and paleontology
has increased by 6% over the preceding 50 years. Overall, articles concerning ASSD also increased over time,
from a mean of 9.3% (Lovejoy et al., 1982) to an average
of 23% over the last 25 years.
Table 4 compares the frequency of descriptive vs. analytical articles by subject matter. Paleontology and pathology remain heavily descriptive; descriptive papers
exceed 75% for both fields. The values for pathology do
decrease slightly from previous decades, but descriptive
paleontology papers are characterized by a 9% increase
over that reported by Lovejoy et al. (1982). All other subfields maintain a minimum of 1/3 analytical papers, with
the greatest number of analytical papers represented by
ASSD and skeletal maturation, which approach 50%.
In a breakdown into human and nonhuman primate
papers by subject matter (Table 5), we can see that about
23% of all skeletal papers concern nonhuman primates,
with primate studies being well represented by papers
focusing on experimental biology/histochemistry/biomechanics, growth, skeletal maturation, and anatomy.
Interestingly, these areas also exhibit some of the highest percentages of analytical papers. The number of nonhuman primate articles denotes a substantial increase
over the 13% value reported in Lovejoy et al. (1982). We
were interested in a further breakdown of the human
and nonhuman studies and reclassified papers into four
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Human
N
Anatomy
ASSD
Experimental biology
Growth
Paleontology
Pathology
Skeletal maturation
Other
Total
Nonhuman
primate
Total
N
%
N
%
N
238
266
68
20
182
252
24
0
1050
71.3
85.3
59.1
57.1
72.8
91.6
61.5
0
76.9
96
46
47
15
68
23
15
6
316
28.7
14.7
40.9
42.9
27.2
8.4
38.5
100.0
23.1
334
312
115
35
250
275
39
6
1,366
categories represented by modern human, fossil hominid,
nonhuman primate, and nonprimate animal reports (Table 6). Bioarchaeological studies were classified with the
modern human group. Studies of modern human skeletal
anatomy show the highest percentage of published
papers in the journal, followed in frequency by nonhuman primate, fossil hominid, and other nonprimate animal studies. Hominid and other animal papers have
decreased in frequency over the past 25 years, while the
number of human skeletal biology papers has increased
and primate papers have remained generally the same.
DISCUSSION
This content analysis of the AJPA over the past 25
years demonstrates that skeletal biology remains at the
core of physical anthropology. Our goal was to complement and expand Lovejoy et al.’s (1982) comprehensive
and illuminating work documenting the first 50 years of
skeletal biology research as witnessed in the premier
journal for the discipline, the AJPA. The development of
our field has been categorized by the descriptive-historical approach, which one might argue is a necessary
starting point for an emerging area of research. On average, two-thirds of the skeletal biology papers published
in the AJPA over the last 25 years were descriptive
according to our criteria. However, there has been a significant increase in analytical papers, defined here as
papers with hypothesis testing, statistical analyses, and
some mention of broader evolutionary, biocultural, or
processual context, from a low of 19.5% in the 1980s to a
high of 42% in the first half of this decade. Considering
that our criteria for inclusion into the analytical category
was quite rigorous and required each paper to meet all
237
SKELETAL BIOLOGY PAST AND PRESENT
TABLE 6. Frequency of fossil hominid, modern human, nonhuman primate, and other nonprimate
animal articles by 5-year intervals
Hominid
1980–1984
1985–1989
1990–1994
1995–1999
2000–2004
Total
Human
Primate
Nonprimate
Total
N
%
N
%
N
%
N
%
N
57
59
41
36
21
214
20.2
19.0
14.5
13.6
9.3
15.7
156
202
162
165
151
836
55.3
65.0
57.4
62.3
66.8
61.2
57
42
79
63
53
294
20.2
13.5
28.0
23.8
23.5
21.5
12
8
0
1
1
22
4.3
2.6
0
0.4
0.4
1.6
282
311
282
265
226
1,366
TABLE 7. The frequency of skeletal biology articles in the AJPA with a breakdown of the
three analytical criteria by 5-year intervals
Skeletal biology
Process/function/
model building
Hypothesis testing
Statistical analysis
Interval
Total
N
%
N
%
N
%
1980–1984
1985–1989
1990–1994
1995–1999
2000–2004
Total
282
311
282
265
226
1,366
227
244
217
215
182
1,085
80.5
78.5
77.0
81.1
80.5
79.4
63
127
145
142
134
611
22.3
40.8
51.4
53.6
59.3
44.3
201
213
177
174
154
919
71.3
68.5
62.8
65.7
68.1
67.3
three criteria, we view this increase as quite impressive
and promising, even though it implies that less than
half of the published papers were analytical. This suggests that Spencer’s (1982, and references therein)
report on the state of our science may have had some
positive effect on subsequent researchers. Indeed, works
such as Washburn’s (1951) The New Physical Anthropology are known to have had profound effects on the development of the field. In it, Washburn argues for a move
beyond description to process, theory, and hypothesis
testing in order to maintain a dynamic science. Certainly
this plea is echoed by Lovejoy et al. (1982), who argue
that we need the organizational and motivational influence of broader theory to appropriately use the data we
have collected.
Reflecting on the nature of analytical studies, and
because our analytical category was somewhat stringently defined, we ran a separate analysis examining
the number of osteological articles that met any part of
the analytical criteria, i.e. some sort of overall theoretical framework or causality for discussion, a statistical
methodology rather than simple description or sorting,
or formal testing of stated hypotheses. Table 7 shows
that more than 3/4 of the skeletal biology papers published in the AJPA made some attempt to put their
study into broader context, utilizing a functional, processual, or evolutionary framework for explanation. Additionally, Table 7 reveals that a steadily increasing number of papers specifically define and test hypotheses, beginning with 22% in the early 1980s to almost 60% in
the early 2000s. We view this as a direct response to the
call put forth by Armelagos et al. (1982) to explain variation with more than a simple typological approach and
bring necessary rigor to the field. Finally, Table 7 shows
that two-third or more of all skeletal biology papers utilize a formal statistical methodology as opposed to simple sorting or basic statistical details. We believe this
positive trend is indicative of a successful attempt by
researchers to move toward a more analytical approach,
or possibly, that the AJPA favors publishing papers with
this type of emphasis. At this time, it is appropriate to
state that there should be a balance between purely descriptive and heavily analytical approaches. A science
such as ours by necessity requires a certain level of
description. Many papers over the decades have focused
almost exclusively on higher-level statistical analyses,
with little discussion of the biological significance of such
results. However, an overemphasis on description cannot
by definition move a discipline forward to explanation, a
point eloquently argued by Armelagos et al. (1982) and
Armelagos and Van Gerven (2003). We believe that the
breakdown of analytically based papers in Table 7 provides a more thorough understanding of the state of the
field as witnessed through the AJPA.
Some obvious trends over the last 25 years include the
decrease in papers with a strictly anatomical focus, and
the rise in popularity of paleontology and pathology
when compared to the first 50 years, which is interesting, given the popular alternate formats for publication
that exist for these fields: The Journal of Human Evolution and the IJO. Paleontology and pathology remain
highly descriptive fields of study, which is to be expected
considering the nature of the work, which relies heavily
on description before analysis may proceed. The array of
new fossil hominid discoveries in the 1990s explains
some of the heavily descriptive emphasis within paleontology. While the overall proportions of descriptive versus analytical papers remains similar to that documented for the first 50 years, there are reassuring
increases in the number of analytical papers within
some subfields. Anatomy, ASSD, and skeletal maturation
consistently demonstrate the highest levels of analytical
reporting. A significant trend that we found especially
interesting was that the journal has also witnessed a
substantial increase in the number of nonhuman primate papers, which also tend to display higher levels of
analytical research when compared to their human
skeletal biology counterparts.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
238
S.M. HENS AND K. GODDE
TABLE 8. The frequency of descriptive vs. analytical articles
published in the IJO by 5-year intervals with chi-square
P-values comparing AJPA to IJO results
Descriptive
Analytical
Total
Chi-square
Interval
N
%
N
%
N
P-value
1995–1999
2000–2004
Total
119
85
204
77.3
82.5
79.4
35
18
53
22.7
17.5
20.6
154
103
257
0.0020*
\0.0001*
*Indicates a significant difference in frequency between AJPA
and IJO for similar time period.
We speculated that the launch of the IJO in 1991 may
have influenced the number and type of papers printed
in the AJPA. By definition, the IJO specializes in human
skeletal biology and zooarchaeology papers and as such
is not directly comparable to the topics covered in the
AJPA. However, we carried out a similar content analysis of the IJO from two comparable time periods: 1995–
1999 and 2000–2004, examining papers that had an
explicit skeletal biology (but not zooarchaeology) focus.
During this time, the IJO published 400 papers, of
which 257 emphasized skeletal biology. Human skeletal
biology represented 95% of published skeletal biology
articles during both time periods, while fossil hominid
and other animal articles composed less than 5%. As
anticipated, there were no nonhuman primate articles
published in the 10 years examined.
Using the same classification criteria described earlier,
Table 8 presents the number of descriptive versus analytical articles published in the IJO over the two time
intervals. In addition, P values from chi-square analyses
comparing these IJO values to the breakdown of articles
from Table 2 for AJPA are also presented. The number
of analytical articles in both time intervals (22.7% and
17.5%, respectively) in the IJO is significantly lower
than those reported in AJPA during the same two intervals. In a breakdown of descriptive and analytical
articles by subject matter (Table 9), ASSD and experimental biology had the highest numbers of analytical
reports, similar to the AJPA. The high number of descriptive articles published in IJO suggests that the
three criteria for inclusion into the analytical category
were seldom met in this journal. In order to determine
where the differences might lie more specifically, Table
10 presents the results of the chi-square analyses on the
three separate requirements for the analytical classification: a discussion of process/theory, hypothesis testing,
and statistical analysis. Researchers publishing in the
IJO successfully utilize processual and functional
explanations and/or broader theory building in their
work, with values hovering around 80%. These values
are not statistically significant from those reported in
Table 7 for the AJPA. However, large differences exist
in the other two categories. Explicit hypothesis testing
in the IJO only occurs in 44% of cases during the late
1990s and in only 37% of reports from the early 2000s,
compared to 53.6% and 59.3%, respectively, in AJPA
articles. The differences between the journals in the
1995–1999 interval were not statistically significant at
an a level of 0.05 (but are significant at an alpha of
0.10). Still, there was a statistically significant difference
between the journals in the 2000–2004 interval. Statistical analyses occur in 37.7% and 28.2% of papers published in the IJO between 1995 and 2004; whereas these
values hover between 65.7% and 68.1% in comparable
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
TABLE 9. Frequency of descriptive vs. analytical by
subject matter in the IJO
Anatomy
ASSD
Experimental biology
Growth
Paleontology
Pathology
Skeletal maturation
Other
Descriptive
Analytical
N
%
N
%
Total
N
15
22
22
3
9
130
3
204
78.9
56.4
59.5
100.0
90.0
89.7
75.0
79.4
4
17
15
0
1
15
1
53
21.1
43.6
40.5
0
10.0
10.3
25.0
20.6
19
39
37
3
10
145
4
257
AJPA articles. Chi-square tests indicate that these differences between the journals are significant for both
time intervals. Thus, we feel it is fair to state at this
point that the IJO and AJPA serve quite different purposes, not just topically, but also with the emphasis on
hypothesis testing and statistical analysis witnessed in
AJPA. The increases in these analytical tools, while significantly different from the IJO, were witnessed prior
to the advent of the IJO in 1991, suggesting that the
AJPA traditionally serves as a more analytically based
journal for the field of skeletal biology. However, the importance of IJO cannot be overstated here, as it provides
a venue for additional work in human skeletal biology
specifically, including numerous site reports, and significantly furthers the development of the field through
model building and processual/theoretical explanations
to the same extent as the AJPA.
CONCLUSIONS
We have attempted to follow Lovejoy et al.’s (1982)
guidelines in order to facilitate comparisons between the
data sets and allow a smooth and continuous flow covering 75 years of skeletal biology. Our data may differ
somewhat from the subsets reported by Armelagos and
Van Gerven (2003) who used a slightly looser criteria for
inclusion into the analytical category, i.e., they did not
require that articles fit all three criteria, but tested
hypotheses or addressed issues of process or theory. Our
results differ from those reported by Stojanowski and
Buikstra (2005) as well, who focused exclusively on
human skeletal biology within the journal rather than
the field of skeletal biology as a whole. Stojanowski and
Buikstra (2005) also state that assigning articles to each
category was no easy task and required a degree of subjectivity. In our original breakdown into descriptive and
analytical categories (Hens and Godde, 2005), we also
found that article categorization was problematic. However, the breakdown presented here using the three separate criteria for inclusion into the analytical category,
allowed for a more formal, straightforward, and easy
approach. We do agree with Armelagos and Van Gerven
(2003) who stated that there is a certain coarseness to
article surveys such as this. Our difficulties were found
not in categorizing an article as descriptive or not, but
in the subject matter breakdowns. We found the original
subject categories used by Lovejoy et al. (1982) somewhat restrictive and would have liked to have incorporated additional categories such as trauma, diet, and
taphonomy, which have become popular since 1980 and
signify a growing and changing discipline. We were
required to make some subjective classifications, e.g.,
239
SKELETAL BIOLOGY PAST AND PRESENT
TABLE 10. The frequency of skeletal biology articles in the IJO with a breakdown of the three analytical criteria by 5-year intervals
with chi-square P-values comparing AJPA to IJO results
Process/function/model
building
Hypothesis testing
Statistical analysis
Interval
Total
N
%
P-value
N
%
P-value
N
%
P-value
1995–1999
2000–2004
Total
154
103
257
120
84
204
77.9
81.6
79.4
0.4288
0.8270
68
38
106
44.1
36.9
41.2
0.0627
0.0002*
58
29
87
37.7
28.2
33.9
\0.0001*
\0.0001*
*Indicates a significant difference in frequency between AJPA and IJO for similar time period.
dental wear studies were grouped with anatomy studies,
trauma was grouped with pathology, and counting methods were grouped with anatomy or pathology depending
on whether anatomical structures or incidence of disease
were being tallied. While there is some degree of subjectivity required for classifying articles by topic, attention
to the main point of the study, rather than additional information that was presented, allowed us to substantially limit most subjective classifications.
We may look favorably upon our recent past, for we
have increased our focus on analytical vs. descriptive
approaches in many subfields of skeletal biology. It is
especially encouraging that the majority of researchers
now explicitly state and test formal hypotheses in their
work, and attempt to provide some sort of causal, functional, and evolutionary framework for their conclusions.
We believe that skeletal biology has found a healthy balance between the necessary descriptive beginnings
required of a discipline that is based on the examination
of materials and the analytical approach required to
move the discipline forward and take the strides necessary for explanation and theory building.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We thank Martin Biskowski, the Editor, Associate
Editor, and two anonymous reviewers whose thoughtful
consideration of our study and suggestions for improvement significantly improved this manuscript.
LITERATURE CITED
Armelagos GJ, Carlson DS, Van Gerven DP. 1982. The theoretical foundations and development of skeletal biology. In:
Spencer F, editor. A history of American physical anthropology, 1930–1980. New York: Academic Press, p 305–
328.
Armelagos GJ, Van Gerven DP. 2003. A century of skeletal biology and paleopathology: contrasts, contradictions, and conflicts. Am Anthropol 105:53–64.
Hens SM, Godde K. 2005. Skeletal biology past and present: are
we moving in the right direction? Am J Phys Anthropol
(Suppl) 40:114.
Lovejoy CO, Mensforth RP, Armelagos GJ. 1982. Five decades of
skeletal biology as reflected in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. In: Spencer F, editor. A history of American
physical anthropology, 1930–1980. New York: Academic Press.
p 329–336.
Spencer F. 1982. A history of American physical anthropology,
1930–1980. New York: Academic Press.
Stojanowski CM, Buikstra JE. 2005. Research trends in human
osteology: a content analysis of papers published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Am J Phys Anthropol
128:98–109.
Washburn SL. 1951. The new physical anthropology. Trans NY
Acad Sci 213:298–304.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
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