In my completely unbiased opinion, bioarchaeology is one of the coolest things in the world.
Known as osteoarchaeology in many countries, bioarchaeology is defined in the U.S. as the scientific study of human remains from archaeological sites. The field was redefined in the 70’s by Dr. Jane Buikstra, a bioarchaeologist I am honored to have worked with while I was a student.
A bioarchaeologist has the training to study skeletal indicators–s/he can use certain bones to estimate the age and sex of a skeleton, measure the person’s height, and study the stress the person endured during their life.
Malnourishment can show up in the teeth, specific diseases or health conditions leave tell-tale marks on the bones, and things like diet, workload and overall health can be gleaned from the bones of those long dead. Bioarchaeology is looking at the record of the past on human bones.
As a writer, I don’t incorporate bioarchaeology into my work very much (yet), but it has helped me recognize that the environment and the hardships a person suffers can have a very long-lasting physical effect on the body. Making a character a little dirty or thin may pass for most readers, but I have come to appreciate those books that put a true touch of realism in their stories.