Syllabus: Inequality and the Body in Archaeology and Bioarchaeology

A Pittsburgh salad

As you may know, I spent this past year in Pittsburgh, figuring out when and where it is appropriate to say “yinz” and eating Pittsburgh salads.

However, I also had a position at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Comparative Archaeology. As the torch has just been passed to the 2017-2018 Visiting Scholar  Claire Ebert, it seems like a good time to discuss what I did besides inadvertently festooning my office with snack foods.

My primary professional responsibility was co-teaching a graduate seminar with another faculty member, in my case Liz Arkush. I pitched the course Inequality and the Body in Archaeology and Bioarchaeology:The first half of the seminar was focused on intersections between inequality and aspects of identity such as gender, age, disease, and disability. The second half of the course covered links between inequality and broad political or economic transitions– namely agriculture and colonialism – as well as different kinds of mortuary practices, focusing on sacrifice and post-mortem manipulation of human bones.

This was my ANIMATED agriculture slide. None of my students appreciated this as much as I did, making me feel like a Dad with his first selfie-stick.

A handful of the readings were inspired by mortuary seminars I’ve taken in the past – one called Social Life of Death with Nicole Couture at McGill University, and one called The Archaeology of Death and Burial with Rob “No Relation” Beck  at the University of Michigan. The heavy Andean bent of some of the meetings is a direct result of Liz introducing me to a new and fascinating regional record, and I included a number of readings from related fields, including social epidemiology, cultural anthropology, medical anthropology, and history. In future expanded iterations of the seminar I plan to break up disease and disability into two sessions, add a unit on “social deviancy,”and include warfare and slavery in the second half of the course.

On the last meeting of the seminar I had a terrible, debilitating cold, lending my voice a mellifluous Darth Vader-style huskiness. I offered students donuts and my most thematically appropriate earrings as compensation.

In the fall semester we had 14 students (12 archaeologists, 2 bioarchaeologists) and in the winter semester we had 8 (6 archaeologists, 2 bioarchaeologists), a drop-off rate that is fairly consistent with other years of the course due to heavier workloads in the winter semester. Faculty within anthropology always had an open invitation to attend, and older graduate students would drop in for particular topics that interested them. All told this created a wonderful environment for debate, with both bioarchaelogists and archaeologists at all career stages chiming in to discuss how best to discuss inequality in the archaeological record.

Many participants from the fall and winter semesters, celebrating the end of the year at a pizza place in Bloomfield.

I’m attaching the syllabus as a pdf here. Future versions of this seminar will likely run between 12-14 weeks, so I welcome suggestions for expansion for anyone working on similar topics. Happy summer everyone!

ANTH 2536:ANTH 2537 – Inequality and the Body in Archaeology and Bioarchaeology Syllabus

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